Alan Dean Foster’s The Force Awakens – Part Two – The REAL Review this time

The Force Awakens Novelization CoverI explained last week why I’m so excited that Alan Dean Foster is back to novelize a new Star Wars film. The Force Awakens comes at a time when film novelizations aren’t as much of a thing as they used to be. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, we weren’t a culture that went to see a movie multiple times, and there was no such thing as Blu-Ray, or its older brethren DVD, VHS or Beta. From the time a film went out of the theater, until it was bought for lots of money (and shown heavily edited) by a TV network, there was no way to enjoy the story and characters from your favorite film, other than by buying the novelization. Back in the day, even comedy films got novelizations. Now, it’s pretty much confined to SF films, and that’s pretty much because fans of those films tend to be both collectors and readers.

I still like novelizations because, if I really get into a film’s story, it’s a way to go back and enjoy that story in detail and at a slower pace. And a really good author can enrich a film as he adapts the screenplay. (Or she adapts it–Vonda N. McIntyre, D.C. Fontana and Joan D. Vinge have all written enjoyable film adaptations.)

Foster steps into the world of Star Wars as if it hadn’t been almost 40 years since his first novel in this universe was published. He fleshes out the new characters and makes them feel completely real. Under his hand, these are not merely retreads of Luke, Leia and Han; but meeting Rey, Fin and Poe does rekindle the feelings I had the first time I met Luke Skywalker in the pages of The Washington Star. (See last week’s entry for an explanation of that.)

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Review – Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars – The Force Awakens – Part One – Why this book matters to me

Force Awakens novelization coverSo, before talking about The Force Awakens, let me tell you a little bit about my introduction to Star Wars. A lot of fans my age will tell you they saw it on opening day, or at the advance world premiere. They camped out in line, or they stood that morning for hours, or they snuck in the side door with their friend, who was the adopted child of a great, forgotten film director, because they couldn’t pay, because they were orphans who lived in train stations…

Wait, that’s another movie, isn’t it?

Anyway, I didn’t see the film under any of those circumstances. I saw it, oh, sometime after it premiered in regular release. It might have been the first Saturday. But my first exposure to Star Wars was not the film.

You see, in 1977, none of us knew the word “spoiler” other than as it referred to something that went on the front end of a car. Studios were not paranoid about plot leaks, and no special measures were being taken to keep audiences from finding out in advance what happened in a film. That’s because, until 1977, there had never been a film like Star Wars. Indeed, except for the James Bond series, and things like Tarzan, Bulldog Drummond or the Thin Man, there hadn’t really been–well, damn. There really had been a lot of movie series, hadn’t there? I just named a bunch. But those series were all pretty episodic. No film really left you hanging on the edge of your seat, waiting to find out if Tarzan would find a son, or if Drummond would get married, or if Asta would chew off William Powell’s mustache.

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Even at His Worst He’s Still the Best – Robert A. Heinlein’s I Will Fear No Evil

Robert A. Heinlein's I WILL FEAR NO EVIL late 1970s Paperback CoverI Will Fear No Evil was Robert A. Heinlein ‘s 26th novel, published in 1970. At this point, the Grandmaster was 62 years old that year, and had four Hugo Awards for best novel to his credit. IWFNE is widely regarded by science fiction fans (and there are no higher authorities on everything) as the worst thing he ever published.

I love this book. I’ve read it a half dozen times since high school (as I’ve read all of RAH’s later novels repeatedly) and will probably read it a half dozen more if I live long enough.

But, before I tell you why I love it, let me heap a little more evidence on the other side of the scales, because I love a challenge. Heinlein was a pantser, not a plotter. That is to say, he wrote by the seat of his pants, without an outline. He also did not like to rewrite–although he did substantial re-writing on his most problematic and best-known work, Stranger in a Strange Land. He preferred to write and write and write, and then cut out the chaff.

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What Drives Kylo Ren? The Psychology of a Poor Little Fascist Boy

“You,” she heard herself saying clearly, “you’re afraid. That you’ll never be as strong as–Darth Vader!” –from Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster

Spoilers. See the movie first. Blah, blah, blah.

Think about it—a kid raised to privilege. He’s the son of a princess who’s also a senator and a general. She may be on the run from enemies sometimes, but this is a lady who has access to entire planets to spread out and live on, and who commands a large, imposing fleet of space fighters. He’s also the heir to two generations of Jedi Knights, elite warrior monks who have control over the Force which binds the universe together.

Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens Continue reading

Review – Ultraman (the Manga)

9781421581828_p0_v2_s192x300I don’t read a lot of Manga. I’ve read a half-dozen of them in my life. I have nothing against the genre, it just doesn’t often grab me. Even when a sort of hybrid Manga is produced, which stars characters I know from other media, the product usually doesn’t reach out and grab me.

According to Wikipedia, by the way, “Manga” simply refers to comics created in Japan; so the word “Manga” then wouldn’t necessarily refer to a body of work whose members all share the same characteristics, any more than American comic books all share the same characteristics. It would seem a bit silly to say that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and My Little Pony are the same genre. But the Wikipedia article does specify that Manga works do conform to a particular style developed in late 19-th Century Japan, so I guess I’m not insane for thinking of them as a distinct genre.

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Review – The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LePore

SHoWWI discovered Wonder Woman when I was about nine years old. The very first story I ever read was her first cover appearance in Sensation Comics #1. (Not the original issue, but a repro from the 1970s, when DC Comics cared about its history and took lots of opportunities to introduce new readers to old stories.) I quickly ordered a similar repro of Wonder Woman #1, and so I pretty much knew from the beginning that Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, who wrote under the name Charles Moulton, was a psychiatrist. I knew he was the inventor of the lie detector test (but, sadly, not the person who wound up with the patent for it), and that he had created his character intentionally to give comics readers an example of a strong female. (Not just, it turns out, as a role model for girls, either.)

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Review – When a Story Is Not a Story – Daniel F. Galouye’s The Infinite Man

175px-DanielFGalouye-InfiniteManTheThere’s nothing more disheartening for a writer than to read something published by a major house and think, “I can write better than this!” That’s especially true for a writer whose collection of rejection notices exceeds his collection of pay checks for work sold. (Isn’t that most of us, though?)

Oh, yeah, there is something more disheartening… having that work be authored by someone that one of your literary idols thought was a real talent.

I picked up a couple of books by Dan Galouye because he’s mentioned, in Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, as a writer whose work the Grandmaster really admired.

RAH must have read something by Galouye other than The Infinite Man.

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Review – Imitation of (a Very Sad) Life – The Imitation Game

THE IMITATION GAMEThis is the saddest film I’ve watched in a long time. Maybe ever. And, right up front, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS. Yeah, that’s kinda strange to say, given that the movie chronicles real-life events that happened 70 years ago and more, but, if you want to be “surprised” by events you didn’t know about, stop reading now.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, arguably the inventor of the first electronic computer, and leader of the effort to break the Nazis’ top secret “Enigma” code during World War Two. Turing was a misfit from the word go. He was the smartest kid in his class, suffered, suggests the film, from OCD, and was gay at a time when homosexuality was an offense punishable by jail time or forced “chemical castration.”

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Random Harvest – Sadness as a Story Device

38aI tend to watch Random Harvest every Christmas. Funny, as I don’t think it actually contains any Christmas scenes. It’s a story that’s probably considered trite today, with a plot device that seems contrived: a World War I Captain (Ronald Colman) gets amnesia after suffering a trauma in the trenches at Arras. He establishes a new identity as “John Smith,” falls in love, gets married, becomes a father… then slips in the mud in front of a taxi cab, gets bonked on the head, recovers his original identity… and forgets that he was John Smith, a man with a family. Now aware that he’s Charles Rainier, a wealthy industrialist, he spends years searching for his lost identity. Continue reading

Soylent Green is… Not Mentioned in this Article on Cannibalism in SF!

SoylentGreen_156PyxurzAs with most of my blog posts, this one has grown out of many intertwined roots. The first was the featuring of cannibalism as a theme in the opening episodes of The Walking Dead’s fifth season. The second was my reading, at the same time, of Robert Wood’s well-researched volume Destination: Moonbase Alpha, a re-visitation of the making of one of my all-time favorite SF series, Space: 1999. (A show which many in the SF community hold in utter contempt. 1999 fans long ago learned to stop caring in the slightest.) The final contributing factor was my participation at PhilCon, only days ago as I began writing this, in a panel discussion about William H. Patterson’s authorized biography of the Dean of American SF, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century. This was a well-attended discussion moderated by author Michael Swanwick.

PhilCon was before Thanksgiving, and The Walking Dead has already reached its mid-season finale for this year. As you can tell, this discussion has been brewing for a while.

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