Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant— a brief review

Okay, I am a sucker for a good title, and this book has a good title and a good cover. Win-win! And it is about Star Trek, which I like quite a lot. But it is rather deep at times, so I wouldn’t rate it five stars, but fans of Trek who have some knowledge of philosophy might award it a solid four, perhaps.

What is between the covers is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. These essays use Star Trek’s various television shows and movies to explore philosophical issues, and it helps quite a lot if the reader is familiar with all forms of Trek. Since I never watched all of DS9 or Enterprise, I was sometimes a bit lost.

The first essay is a nifty one, as it is based upon a Next Generation episode, “Darmok.” Both the essay and the episode dealt with the difficulty of translating a totally alien language. Throughout most of the Trek episodes there was a “universal translator” which was a bit like Google Translate, but it depended upon languages having some commonalities. Of course, communication via such means can go astray quite easily, but what about an alien species that doesn’t communicate the way we do? The issues would be far beyond going from English to Chinese, and I understand that can be difficult.

As the essays in this book are by different authors, the tone and topics vary quite a lot. For me, it was a book to nibble at, but not a cover to cover read. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as more intellectual than Star Wars, but this book takes it to an even higher plane. For fans of all things Trek, there are some really delicious ideas to examine in this collection, so if that describes you, go for it!

Winter’s Bone— review and commentary

Winter's BoneAs the film Winter’s Bone is based upon a novel, let me be clear— I am discussing the film, not the book. Hubby and I watched it via Amazon Prime, due to seeing it listed as one of the best films available via streaming, and it stars a young (pre Hunger Games) Jennifer Lawrence. I knew little else about it, other than the brief description on Amazon.

Honestly, it is a haunting movie, but is isn’t a horror story. This film is a polar opposite of a action adventure. Not that it isn’t interesting, because it is, but this is a window into a world that will be foreign to many of us, but maybe not as foreign as we’d like, because drug users, abusers, and dealers are an ever growing aspect of modern America.

Basically, the story follows the efforts of seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Lawrence) to find her missing father, after a bail bondsman informs her that if her dad doesn’t show up for his trial, the family home is forfeit. The setting is in the Ozark Mountains, within the past few years, based on the cars. The father manufactures meth, and this is apparently no secret. Jessup Dolly hasn’t been around for a while, and there is little to eat, for the family or their animals. Ree is also burdened with younger siblings who rely upon her, because the mother is a mentally ill mute. As Ree goes from person to person, asking for news of her father, the viewer learns much about the poverty and other issues that inhabitants of this community endure.

When I was a youngster, I remember reading Oliver Twist and thinking that if one more bad thing happened to that kid, I was going to return the book to the library, unfinished. More misfortunes did befall young Oliver, so I didn’t finish the novel. A few years later I saw the musical Oliver on school field trip, so I did finally learn what happened to the characters. And while Winter’s Bone has little in common with Oliver Twist, the relentless despair with only a small germ of hope is similar.

As I do hope readers of Visions and Revisions will take a look at the film, I’m avoiding spoilers. Certainly, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this film, but the rest of the cast is excellent, too. The filmmaker did a fabulous job of showing the situation but not telling the viewer what to believe.

I have to agree that Winter’s Bone is an excellent film, and it brings a simple yet sophisticated treatment to the problems associated with the drug culture in rural America.

Air Force One is Down— review and commentary

I was watching Netflix with hubby, and I saw a British mini-series entitled “Alistair McLean’s Air Force One is Down” as an available title, so we spent a couple of evenings with it. Although this film ended up as a recommendation for me because it has Linda Hamilton (of Terminator and Beauty and the Beast fame,) I chose it because it was supposed to be based on a novel by Alistair McLean. He was a favorite writer of mine when I was in my teens and 20s, and yes, I am fully aware that I am dating myself by mentioning that.

Oh, my gosh, how wonderful were those reads. He wrote twenty something novels, several of which were the basis for films (including The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, and Breakheart Pass.) My intro to his work was actually his only sequel (Force 10 from Navarone) but it was stood alone well enough that I wanted to read more from the author.

Alas, hubby and I were disappointed by this film. The cinematography, special effects, score, and cast were all pretty good. The problems were, for the most part, in the writing. In part, plot devices that worked in novels in the 50s and 60s just do not work now. For instance, the dastardly villain has captured our hero and his two compatriots. He places the hero character in a deadly situation, and the hero’s two sidekicks are locked into a pit that rapidly fills with water. Of course, the hero manages a super human feat and the all of them survive. Nowadays, the villain would shoot the hero and his sidekicks and be done with it. This doesn’t happen just once in the two part story; it happens over and over. As hubby said, “This thing has major plot holes.” And it does.

After we finished watching the entire film (at my insistence, as hubby would have bailed during part 1) I looked up the novel. According to that scholarly resource Wikipedia, McLean did not write the novel. Instead, he sketched out some plots for a series of novels which bear his name, but other authors wrote the books. In this case, John Denis is the author of the book that the mini-series is supposed to be based upon.

So… the film is sorta interesting, but I really can’t recommend it. Oh, and as of this post, it is free on YouTube, so here’s a link:

American Sniper— the book

American Sniper by Chris Kyle coverOkay, I admit, I have a tendency to do certain things backwards. Hubby laughs at this one: whenever I pick up a magazine, I thumb through and begin reading somewhere near the back. I sometimes do that with catalogues, too. Why? Because the snazzy pictures are in the front, and the words are in the back. I like words.

American Sniper, the movie, is in theaters in my area of the country as I write this, which means it is the perfect time for Pam to read the book! I ordered American Sniper (for the Kindle) and read it on my iPad, and I was impressed. Chris Kyle’s exploits are apparently quite controversial, based on the reaction to the film, but I did not find it so much controversial as conversational. After I finished, I felt like I has spent a while talking with this Texas cowboy turned Navy Seal, who loved guns and his country enough to go back into a war zone, over and over.

Why is Kyle’s career a controversy? There are those who feel that Americans were invaders in Iraq. Okay, I see that. A little bit, anyway. Any war on foreign soil will have that aspect. And there are those who feel that being a sniper, hiding behind a big rifle with a bigger scope, is a cowardly way to fight. That I don’t get, at all. Guerilla warfare is not new. And, in the war in Iraq, with insurgents attacking government installations and convoys, having a sniper on every tall rooftop made a lot of sense. As he often puts it in the book, Iraq was a “target rich” environment. His recorded number of “kills” is far above any other sniper, and he is matter of fact in explaining that his accomplishment was in part due to being in the thick of things for four deployments.

Kyle’s story, which begins during his childhood in Texas, is entertaining and quintessentially American. When he discusses the war, it is the voice of a military man, explaining what happened from his point of view. Also of interest are brief interludes where his wife, Taya, discusses what was happening from her perspective. This gives the story more depth because modern warfare can happen so far away that the combatant’s home country is isolated from the realities of war. The price paid by the family is made quite real through her observations.

If you haven’t read Kyle’s autobiography, you might want to give it a try. Although it becomes a bit repetitive, because what he did on a day-to-day basis didn’t change all that much, his voice is strong throughout the book, and Chris Kyle was a man’s man in a country that has, by and large, gone soft.

Leonard Nimoy, one of the original stars of Trek, has died

Leonard Nimoy as Spock

Mr. Nimoy, in black and white, for that is how I first saw him, on my parents’ old console television.

That sucks. Really.

He was in poor health, but really, I am feeling loss right now. As a youngster, I enjoyed TOS when it was first telecast, and I enjoyed it even more in re-runs when it was in syndication and I could watch it without any disparaging remarks from my father. (Nothing against dear old J.R. but he liked westerns, and just didn’t realize that Trek was a western, set in outer space.) And, Nimoy’s character, Spock, was just a lot more interesting than Dr. McCoy, Scottie the engineer, or even the feisty Captain Kirk. Lots of girls swooned over the intellectual Mr. Spock, and maybe that was part if the attraction, but I really think it was his brainpower that made me love the character of Spock. During my life, I only dated two young men for any length of time, both of whom had very dark hair and lots of brainpower, and I feel very fortunate to have married one of them!

Anyway, I’m not sure how others will react to Mr. Nimoy’s passing, but for me his death touches my heart even more than the deaths of his co-stars, James Doohan and DeForest Kelley, or even the great bird of the galaxy, Mr. Roddenberry himself. I never met Leonard Nimoy, but I feel as if a long time friend is gone. Since I watched TOS countless times, as well as the movies, I suppose my feeling of loss is logical.

We’ll miss you, Mr. Nimoy!

Coolest cover art

I’ve been looking online for information about the new versions of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels— there’s a video game, comic books, and a forthcoming movie! While the news is interesting, the art files coming from the comic books are seriously cool. I am looking forward to all of it, especially the film version, because Honor is one of my favorite characters of all time.

But, I saw some cover art files from an artist in Europe who is absolutely nailing the image I have of Honor and her universe in my miid. Wonderful, powerful images. Check this out, HH fans!

honor_among_enemies_2_by_genkkis-d5c6lhm honor_harrington___field_of_dishonor_by_genkkis-d72fwyj honor_harrington_war_of_honor2_by_genkkis-d2mtz6ahonor_harrington_flag_in_exile_by_genkkis-d2mty9d

There are more files, as well as some interesting discussion between fans and the author over at Deviant Art.

Honestly, I am simply blown away by the talent and the skillful interpretation of the artist.

A Brief History of Science Fiction, and why a good title is so important.

My Youtube Channel has three videos on it, and I created them for marketing purposes, but mostly because I had taken a class in MovieMaker, and I wanted to practice what I learned. As a Mac user, I made them with iMovie, but the programs are similar.

First, I made a video for my then recently published Trinity on Tylos. That title, although I like it, hasn’t been a winner for me. Some people think it is about religion, due to the first word, and it certainly isn’t. I guess I could have titled the book “Love Triangle in Outer Space” but that has even less of a ring to it. Anyway, after five years, the video has only about 500 views. My second video was for my debut novel, The Gift Horse, and since I didn’t have any nifty space images from NASA to use, I spent about $10 on stock images. While The Gift Horse has sold far better than my second novel, the video lags behind.

My third video was my first attempt at three channel video making: In addition to a music track, I recorded myself reading a script. Then I had to put the video together. For me, that was an arduous task, perhaps because so much time had gone by since I took the class. However, this third video needed a title, and I gave the matter about fifteen seconds of thought and used “A Brief History of Science Fiction.” In my mind this is lazy; I obviously adapted the title of Stephen Hawking’s brilliant work, A Brief History of Time. The title proved to be much more successful than the ones I chose for my books, because this video has been viewed over five thousand times. Of course its success may be because it is a bit more ambitious.

I wanted to be succinct, but I also wanted to incorporate much of what I have learned during years of studying literature, as well as my interest in science fiction, and I spent a bit of time on the script. A few months ago, I noticed that my video was cited in an online article on the history of science fiction. I was impressed that anyone would watch the video enough times to be able to quote it.

For anyone who is interested, here is the script, which is close to the recording. I think I skipped a few sentences in order to match the voiceover with the music track, but it is close.

I love science fiction, in print and on the screen. Here is my very brief history of the genre.:

 • Many literary scholars name Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the first science fiction novel.

 • Some of Nathanial Hawthorne’s short stories have science fiction thems, especially those which deal with the problems associated with man interfering with nature. The Birthmark, Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, and Rappaccini’s Daughter all share that cautionary message.

 • British author H. G. Wells and French author Jules Verne gave us turn of the century classics including The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Journey to the Center of the Earth & Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.

 •Edgar Rice Burroughs produced fantasy and adventure, but his Martian settings help form the under-pinings of later space operas.

 During the first half of the twentieth century, several new magazines became the most important venue for scientific fiction writiers. Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction provided the publishing forum for such writers as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. This period is considered to be the beginning of the Golden Age of science fiction.

 While those authors were producing science based fiction, the less than scientific stories seemed more apt to become the basis for Hollywood “B” movies, and such stories as “The Blob” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” terrified movie audiences during the decade of the 1950’s.

 Despite some serious efforts in the movie world, it took a television show to bring science fiction into the mainstream. Although it lacked a movie sized budget, Star Trek made travel through space seem more plausible than ever before. The govenment run space program of the 1960’s no doubt helped lend some plausibility to the journeys of the Enterprise, but Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic vision entranced a generation.

 While science fiction began to flourish on the screen, in print, it became increasingly channeled into separate genres, with “hard” and “soft” science fiction being the over-arching labels. Works which kept science and the scientific method at the forefront became known as hard science fiction, but stories which concentrated on the human reaction to advancing technology became known as soft science fiction.

 In the following decade, George Lucas kicked space opera into box office bucks with Star Wars. Authur C. Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssey and the book based upon it exemplfy the integration of the best of hard and soft science fiction, while the Battlestar Galactica, followed the more popular trend of space operas making the move to the small screen.

 In the past two decades, many of the box office champions have owed much to science fiction. Print publishers have not been able to replicate the success of the movie studios, but science fiction contines to thrive, especially with smaller presses. My own novel, Trinity on Tylos, owes quite a lot to the great writers who created the genre known as science fiction.

Two Reviews— Waiting for Superman and Temple Grandin

While I have made most of the money I have ever made (or ever hope to) in public education, I genuinely enjoyed and appreciated the expose of public education called Waiting for Superman. The film is captivating, and somewhat suspenseful for a documentary.

As it opens, viewers meet five young people, of different ages, genders, and ethnicities. Each one has hopes and dreams which can only be fulfilled by a proper education. And each one is in a school which feeds into a “failure factory.” That term is applied to high schools where most students either drop out or fail to have the right background to get into college and succeed there. The facts and figures are playfully represented, and the stories of the five subjects introduced early on unfold gradually, along with commentary from educators.

Viewers will take away different images, I am sure, but I certainly identified with the “hidden camera” video of a classroom where the students were in the back of the room, playing craps, while the teacher sat in front of the room, with a magazine, waiting for his time to be up. My husband found that footage to be shocking, but I did not. Certain classes are like that. Really. I know, because I used to work in a public high school.

My experience tells me what the filmmaker does, and that is the answer to education problems is to hire good teachers and only good teachers. A good teacher is indeed “a work of art.” Of course, making sure that only good teachers are employed in public schools would entail firing bad ones. The filmmaker explains how difficult it can be to fire a bad teacher, and he professes to have an answer for this problem. I enjoyed the film, including the solution part; but as an educator, I am also skeptical that the solution can be so simple. (No, I won’t say what it is, but I hope readers of Pam’s Pages will want to know and will watch Waiting for Superman.) As the film draws to a close, viewers get a glimpse of the future of each of the youngsters, with mixed results, of course.

On a recent evening, our whole family enjoyed the excellent biopic from HBO which explains the life and thought patterns of the most famous autistic person in America, Dr. Temple Grandin. Anyone who has dealt with autism, or merely wants to know more, should see this film. And anyone who likes a good story will probably be just as impressed with it. Clare Danes is simply amazing, as she becomes the namesake of the film, Temple Grandin, in her speech patterns, her mannerisms, and she does a fair job of suppressing her movie star looks to appear more like Grandin would have looked in her earlier years.

Dr. Grandin writes well, and I first learned about her via her articles on how autistic people think. But, before she was famous for speaking out about autism, she was famous for being an expert in animal husbandry, and this biography begins with her summer trip to her aunt’s ranch, which was the beginning of her intense interest in animals and how they think. Grandin believes that there are distinct similarities in the thought processes of animals and autistics, and that is in pictures. Indeed, she has authored several books, as well as becoming a college professor, and one of her books is entitled Thinking in Pictures.

There is quite a bit of humor in this film, as Grandin blunders through social situations, but there is plenty of heart, too, as she is befriended and mentored by various people. As a mother, I do identify with Grandin’s mother, ably portrayed by Julia Armond. There can be no greater task than that of the mother of an autism spectrum child.

Unfortunately, neither of these movies will attract the viewers of the latest sci-fi blockbuster, but they are such worthy films that I hope you’ll go rent them or buy them and then share them so their messages will be spread a bit farther.