“She Moves On” – Farewell, Carrie Fisher


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My iTunes this morning randomly played Paul Simon’s “She Moves On.” I made plans to go with my father to see “Rogue One.”
 
I saw the news about Carrie Fisher on Twitter.
 
The song is one of a handful of Simon’s colored by his brief marriage to Fisher, along with “Hearts and Bones” and “Graceland,” arguably among his best. I’d not realized her connection to “She Moves On” until I went looking to see what of his she’d inspired; when you can’t find words, Paul Simon is a good place to start.
 
And I wanted words better than the easy one. It’s easy to say “RIP Princess Leia,” and, sure, I’ll admit that for a child of the ’70s, that’s a big part of how I process the news. It irks me a little when people reduce a celebrity to their biggest or favorite role. It was Leonard Nimoy, not Spock, who died last year. Spock will outlive Nimoy, and, unlike Nimoy, leaves behind no family and friends to mourn him. But I’d be lying if I denied being sad that, in a way, Leia has died — her story remains unfinished, and, while I hope much the bigger story will continue, there is a best version of it that we’ll now never see.
 
My day starts with a song Carrie Fisher didn’t write, it ends with a movie she didn’t work on; and yet both spring from her indelible mark on the world. She touched my day without even doing anything.
 
It’s a little unfair but also undeniable that, despite being a talented and prolific storyteller, she’ll be remembered most for her part in someone else’s story, but it’s a story that she helped shape into one of the most iconic and resonant of the last century, a modern myth. For that, and for so much more, thank you, Carrie Fisher.
 
“When the road bends
And the song ends
She moves on”

Sort-Of Review: “Finn’s Story” by Jesse J. Holland


photo-on-9-14-16-at-8-04-amSo yesterday after work I left the office and immediately headed for Barnes & Noble to pick up the newest Star Wars book, just released that day.

To be sure, I like Star Wars and all, but generally speaking I haven’t been a “read the books” fan for many many years.
This book, Finn’s Story, though, is written by my friend and former editor Jesse J. Holland, so I made an exception.

Jesse’s the second person I know to have released an official Star Wars book in the last year, and it’s kind of surreal that he’s getting to contribute to the Star Wars canon. Jesse’s already an accomplished author and well deserved this opportunity, but for some reason the success of his first two books, The Invisibles: African American Slavery Inside the White House and Black Men Built the Capitol, falls into a mental category of “stuff of course Jesse could do” (alongside having an office in the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court building at various points), while telling an official Star Wars story is a different beast altogether. (Not because it’s better or more impressive, but because it seems more … untouchable, somehow.)

The book is a young-reader companion piece to last year’s Force Awakens movie, told, obviously, from the perspective of Finn, and the highest praise I can give the book is that, while reading it, I would forget why I was reading it; my mind alternating between this “Oh, OK, so that’s what was going on there” I’m-just-reading-a-Star-Wars-book-here mentality to occasional flashes of “Hey, wait, JESSE wrote this!”

Not bad, sir. Not bad at all.

The Starship and the Rocket: Star Trek, NASA & Me


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“Space… The Final Frontier…”

I am not where I am because of Star Trek.

You’ll see interviews sometimes with NASA folks, including astronauts, who say Star Trek inspired their love of space.

For me, if anything, it was the opposite.

I grew up in a golden era for space. The first Star Trek movie came out when I was four. “Empire Strikes Back’ was the next year. The first space shuttle launched the year after that.

The idea of space, the excitement of exploration, the siren call of the stars and the adventure that lay between them was a thread woven liberally and integrally into the fabric of my childhood. It fed my love of Star Trek and Star Wars, of the Black Hole and Battlestar Galactica, and it fed my love of NASA and the real world of space exploration.

For years, I’m not sure if I leaned more toward the lightsaber or the phaser, but by middle school, Star Trek had won out. I was Spock for Halloween. I built model starships. I read new Star Trek novels voraciously as they came out each month. I eagerly awaited the launch of The Next Generation, and then followed this new crew’s adventures each week, even if they were clearly inferior to the classic.

At one point, I began writing my own Star Trek novel. It’s long since lost now, but my memory is that I got decently far into it for a middle schooler. The plot involved a hole in space that turned out to be a temporal anomaly, such that the probe the Enterprise fired into it went back in time and landed on the Klingon homeworld, causing the Klingons in the Enterprise’s time to suddenly be technology advanced. What are the odds, you know?

I was writing in a time when the Star Trek canon consisted of 79 episodes and four movies. Today, there’s probably some continuity bible that officially proscribes the name of the first wife of Sulu’s second cousin, but back then, the universe was largely unexplored, and there was room for writers to fill it out. Some of my additions in retrospect were cringeworthy, but back then, they weren’t wrong. There was no official reason to preclude the possibility that Klingons often drank a beverage called “kol’tuns,” other than good sense.

I never finished my Star Trek novel.

I have written two books about actual space.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Star Trek novel, but I still watch every Star Trek movie that comes out, and I’m very interested in the new TV series. But today, my favorite space vehicle has neither S-foils nor warp-nacelles, but two five-segment solid rocket boosters.

It was an incredibly experience writing books not about the fictional future of space, but about actual accomplishments of real spacefarers. But even more amazing is now getting to do in real life what I sought to do with that book — to be part of adding to the story, of filling out the next chapters. Of exploring a little bit more of that universe.

Because, on this 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the work we’re doing in the real world echoes back to the work of Kirk and his crews.

I get to sit in on meetings regularly about such topics as the first human landings on Mars, or sending probes to icy Europa, and the plans scientists have for studying the past or current habitability of those places.

Or, to put it less prosaically, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life.

But there’s more to it than that. A big part of the appeal of Star Trek was always the idea of a brighter future, and of the call of the unknown. It’s the part that resonated with me; it’s the part that has inspired others. It’s the part that I aspire to in my own work.

NASA, like Star Trek, offers the idea that we can be more than what we are, as a society and as individuals. It encourages and challenges us to reach further than we have. To know all that is knowable. To learn, to build, to explore.

To boldly go where no one has gone before.

The Turnabout Intruder


It was bad enough with Star Wars.

The boys saw a scene from the Original Trilogy on a television, watched for a moment, turned to me, and asked, “Why are those clonetroopers shooting good guys?”

Sigh.

But then, yesterday, the seven-year-old and I are talking about aliens, in reference to the movie Megamind, which has one character, Megamind, who is very clearly and alien, and another, Metro Man, who looks like a normal person, despite both being from other planets. So I’m explaining the diversity of aliens in science fiction.

And then there are the aliens that look almost like humans, like Mr. Spock.

“Who is Spock?”

Knowing that he’s seen the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie, I try to explain which one Spock is.

“Is he the one who was always kissing the girl?”

Um, yes. Yes, he was.

The next generation thinks that stormtroopers are good guys, and that the guy on Star Trek who’s always kissing a girl is Mr. Spock.

Angels and ministers of grace defend us…

Kinda-Review: Green Hornet (In Which I Become An Old Fuddy-Duddy)


I wanted to go see Tron again.

Heather was going out for a girls’ night with some friends, so the boys and I were having a guys’ night — dinner and a movie. There aren’t many kids’ movies out right now; and they’d pretty much seen them, except for Yogi Bear, and I do have some standards.

I’d seen Tron thrice before, and the boys had seen it twice. They’d seen Green Hornet once before, and I’d not seen it at all, and Finn really pushed for Green Hornet (because he wanted me to see it) over Tron.

I normally would have balked at the PG-13 rating — the recommended age is older than both boys put together — but their granny had already taken them, and all involved swore it wasn’t that bad. So I’m not going to be exposing them to anything they haven’t already seen. Well, OK, then, Green Hornet it is.

I should have stuck with Tron.

The thing that I’ve been wondering since then is whether it was really that reprehensible, or whether it was just my perspective was different watching it with the boys. What would I have thought if I was watching it by myself?

And it was reprehensible. The “heroes” treated each other badly. They treated women badly. Their language was awful. They fought police and put them in mortal danger on a lark. (And these are the good guys.) They were cavalier about destruction of property and endangering bystanders. Arguably, they had no redeeming traits at all. Sure, there’s a “redemptive” level of “helping others,” but it’s really far more about their own self-indulgence; their “help” is self-centered, dangerous and largely unproductive. Even their climactic battle, presented as being important, is ultimately pretty whimsical.

And I’ll admit a further bias that, while I’ve never been a huge Green Hornet fan, I felt like the movie was disrespectful to the original source, which is something that’s a big turn-off for me in movies. If you want to remake  a property, remake it in the spirit of the original. If you want to make something in a different spirit, then use some creativity and do it with your own invention instead of someone else’s.

So I can’t swear that I wouldn’t have enjoyed Green Hornet if I had seen it by myself, but I would imagine probably not. (Adding to this theory — I’ve never seen, nor had any desire to see, any other Seth Rogen movie.)

But it’s another piece of evidence for the state in the growing case that being around the boys is making me an old fuddy-duddy. Exhibit #193 — Last week, I was at the comic book store, picking up my weekly comics. (A good exhibit for the defense, let the record show.) Caden wanted a book, and I grabbed a Star Wars comic off the shelf because it featured on the cover a large number of Clone Troopers, which Caden loves. (I’m not sure whether the prosecution or plaintiff arguments are supported better by the fact that part of me finds it wrong that their post-prequel upbringing makes them think stormtroopers are good guys and not care about Han Solo.)

Flipping through it, I saw that it showed Anakin, sans a good chunk of his arms and legs, dangling from the ceiling, having his cybernetic systems replaced. Later in the book, and somewhat subtly, a minor character’s head is visible mid-frame, having been removed from its proper place via lightsaber. Is this appropriate for a five-year-old? How am I supposed to know? Is it any worse than the last Star Wars movie, which he’s seen?

And I found myself thinking a weird thought, that I never thought I would think.

And let me point out, I think it should be optional, I think you should be able to publish whatever sort of comic book you want, but I think there should be a way of knowing what comic books are appropriate for what audiences.

But, dadgumit, I miss when books were approved by the Comics Code Authority.

“Silent Night” — Chewbacca


Ackbar Postmortem


(Thanks, Bart)