The Way of the Word

31. December 2009

Happy New Year

Filed under: general — jensaltmann @ 12:05

May it be kind to you.

29. December 2009

Star Trek Phase 2 – the Webseries

Filed under: review,TV — jensaltmann @ 11:30
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A few weeks ago, I mentioned the upcoming Buck Rogers webserial. Today, I want to give a shout-out to the other thing the people behind that webserial do: Star Trek Phase 2. The serial has been online since 2004.

Star Trek Phase 2, which is a free web serial, is a fan production with the ambition to tell the missing years of the USS Enterprise’s original five year mission. But don’t underestimate it, just because it’s a fan production. Because there is some serious talent behind this.

I’ll grant you that most of the actors are amateurish. That’s most likely because they are amateurs. But you shouldn’t sell them short, because they do improve with practice. Plus, and this is the amazing thing, they manage to get established Star Trek actors for their fan project. Walter Koenig and George Takei have reprised their roles of Checkov and Sulu, respecively, and the current episode Blood and Fire has Denise Crosby as a scientist who is clearly intened to be an ancestor of Star Trek TNG‘s Tasha Yar. Heck, even Majel Roddenberry returned as the voice of the ship’s computer.

The special effects are first rate and can easily compete with the effects of the remastered Classic Star Trek release. The stories are captivating, which is no surprise considering that they were written by the likes of (among others) D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold. According to Wikipedia (and yes, I know, shut up), several of the scripts for this show are retooled scripts for the official TV shows, which were for some reason or other not used. STP2 has an alleged budget of US-$ 70,000 per webisode. It shows.

In summary, what Star Trek Phase II is: it’s a lovingly and competently produced fan-webserial with a budged and terrific production values. If you’re a fan of Star Trek in any of its incarnations, you will want to see this.

28. December 2009

Review: Stephen Lawhead – Hood

Filed under: books,review — jensaltmann @ 11:15
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Originally published in 2007.

Hood is the first novel in Stephen Lawhead’s Raven King trilogy. His Robin Hood is the Welsh Prince Bran. After his father is killed by the Franks in an ambush, Bran discovers that his kingdom of Elfael has been sold to a Frankish nobleman for 200 Silvermark. And that he can buy it back from King William the Red for 600. Upon his return, Bran discovers that the money he had given to a local monastery for safekeeping has been handed over to the usurper. He now has to flee for his life. Hunted like a wild animal, Bran is apparently killed.

What saves his life are the ministrations of the Wise Woman (we’re not allowed to call them witches anymore) Angharad, who nurses him back to health. At the same time, she educates his spirit, so that he may fulfill his destiny.

Once recuperated, Bran takes on the mantle of the Raven King, a legendary figure, to terrorize the invaders and aid his people. When he hears of a transport of silver, he decides to steal the money, as it will give him the funds to buy back his kingdom. The heist succeeds, making Bran a new enemy of Guy de Gysburne. But when all his plans are foiled by the treachery of the Franks to whom he turns for aid, Bran has no choice but to return to the forest and continue the fight.

The various plot threads in this novel remain unresolved, but that’s par for the course, as the first novel in a trilogy usually exists mostly as the first act of a larger story. Lawhead has taken the familiar characters of the Robin Hood legend and moved them to Wales, some years before the by now generally accepted timeline. (Generally accepted by moviegoers, that is.) As Parke Godwin in hi’s novel Sherwood, Lawhead proceeds on the idea that a Robin Hood who resists the invasion of the Normans is somewhat more logical than the outlaw of the time of Richard Lionheart.

Lawhead tells his story fluently and competently, but not compellingly. The novel’s greatest problem is its predictability, a predictability that doesn’t follow from the familiarity with the Robin Hood legend, but from Lawhead’s approach to this work: it is the quintessential hero’s journey:

Bran, a brash and selfish young man, loses first his mother, then his father, then his home, then his friends, his fortune, his freedom and finally his life. He is brought back to life and transformed, essentially reborn, by the mystical power of the wise woman Angharad. When he accepts his responsibilities as The One, he is united with the outlaws of the forest, whom he leads to guard, protect and eventually liberate his people.

It would be very easy to summarize this novel so that you wouldn’t know if I’m talking of Hood or Star Wars. This over-reliance on tropes hurts the reading experience, because once the reader has figured out just what the story is, eliminating all possible surprises, the question becomes, do I stick around for the ride or do I go and get something a bit more original, something that uses the hero’s journey a bit more subtly? You might want to stick around for the characters, but those are also not particularly engaging. Hood takes great pains in laying them out for us, making their ambitions clear, and if you know their ambitions and proceed on the assumption that they are all untrustworthy, you will be able to predict exactly what is going to happen.

The one thing Hood has going for it is Lawhead’s writing style. It’s light and entertaining. But Hood remains the literary equivalent of a light snack: when you’ve finished, you’re still hungry for something more substantial.

Verdict: mildly recommended

27. December 2009

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

Filed under: books,workblog,writing — jensaltmann @ 17:14
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The novel’s current status is: approximately halfway done.  The more observant among you might have noticed that I haven’t written a NiP post for quite some time. The reason is simple: I didn’t have anything to post.

In this household, December is traditionally the month where I don’t get anything done. Well, not anything, there’s the translation work and the magazine freelancing, both of which have deadlines and need to be gotten done. And do get done.

But spec stuff like Revenge of the Walking Dead? That somehow falls by the wayside. In this particular case, one evening I sat down and realized that it was the first evening in quite some time where I would have had the time to work on the novel. I also noticed that, even though it’s still a couple of days within this year, a lot of my evenings are already spoken for one way or another.

Which was why I decided to put Revenge aside for 2009 and pick it back up in January. Instead, I’m doing other things. Like reading Stephen Lawhead’s Robin Hood trilogy. I’m supposed to read the trilogy for work, as part of an article about Robin Hood, and as preparation for a possible interview with Stephen Lawhead.

I hope and expect that when I return to work on Revenge of the Walking Dead in the new year, I’ll burn through the rest of the story with renewed energy and vigor. As I have mentioned, I want to wrap it up before March, when I want to begin work on the Berserker: The Wild Hunt novelization.

26. December 2009

Go Western, Young Man

Filed under: general,TV,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 16:52
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m dating myself here when I admit that I grew up on TV westerns. It wasn’t so much that I had a particular fondness of the genre, but I was allowed to watch these shows. (Hey, I’m not that old.)

The most famous ones are, of course, Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I always liked Bonanza better than Gunsmoke, but I over the years I’ve come to wonder if that was perhaps because there were some aspects of Gunsmoke that went over my head at the time. These days, for example, I have a much better idea of what Miss Kitty really did for a living. Perhaps I should get the DVDs one of these days and see if my guess is right.

Considering that these two shows ran for a very long time (Bonanza from 1959 until 1973, with several attempts at revival since; Gunsmoke from 1955 – 1975, with some later TV movies), it’s anyone’s guess which of them was the more successful one. My vote goes for Bonanza, since I had the complete set of Bonanza toys (action figures etc.), but I never saw Gunsmoke toys.

(I picked the German Gunsmoke intro on purpose.)

Neither of them was my favorite. For example, I always liked High Chaparral (1967 – 1971) better than Bonanza.  There was something rough and dangerous about the world of High Chaparral that Bonanza lacked. Like everyone else at my school, I was a fan of Henry Darrow’s Manolito.

The Virginian was almost on the same level of enjoyment as High Chaparral. Amusingly, I wouldn’t have minded if the show had gotten rid of the title character and done more with Trampas. (Which is why I picked the German intro for this blog post.)

Another show that had me glued to the TV set was Big Valley (1965 – 1969). Unlike the other shows, it had a character with which I could identify: Lee Majors’ Heath Barclay and I had a lot in common.

In a way, I could also identify with Chuck Connors’ son on The Rifleman (1958 – 1963). All the kid wanted was a gun, he thought he was old enough. And each episode, his peace-loving father had to solve a problem by shooting with his rifle. The Rifleman has one particular distinction: in the US, the last episode was broadcast the day I was born. (Now you know the secret of why I watched all these shows while I was a kid: I watched them as they were broadcast in Germany, and that frequently happened years after the original broadcast.  The Rifleman, for example, was broadcast in Germany from 1969 – 1972.

The threethat I remember as my favorites from those years? That would be Laramie.

At the time, Robert Fuller was voted Germany’s most popular TV actor.

I was probably alone in my appreciation of Yancy Derringer, but how could I (at age six or seven) not like a show where the character shared my first name (at least phonetically) and had the name of a gun as his last name? (Sorry, the only intro video I found that I can post here is at the end of the compilation below.)

And, like for everyone else of my generation, the perhaps most original western series of all: Kung Fu.

And my god, did I love that anthology series that showed the three western series Johnny Ringo

I was particularly fond of that trick gun.

The Westerner

which I watched because I was a fan of Brian Keith’s Uncle Bill from Family Affair. And Broken Arrow, starring Michael Ansara as Cochise. Who, as I understood at the time, was something like the US version of Winnetou.

One show that came on later than the others was Wanted: Dead Or Alive, which made me a Steve McQueen fan.

And of course, although it doesn’t really count because it wasn’t on during my formative years, Alias Smith and Jones.

Gods, this post has made me nostalgic. Now I really wish I had the money to buy all the DVD boxes, and the time to watch them.

24. December 2009

The Road Ahead

Filed under: books,comics,general,Uncategorized,workblog,writing — jensaltmann @ 18:00
Tags: ,

So, what’s the plan for 2010? Other than the usual passle of translation work and non-fiction (columns and articles) writing?

Intrepid seems to be making progress. It has a publisher. That came completely out of nowhere this morning. I’m giving up on all other comics projects.

– In 2010, I will focus on prose projects. I have full and complete control over prose projects, because I’m doing them all by myself. I don’t have to rely on anyone else.

– I will continue to look for an agent. If anyone has/knows an agent and is willing to refer me, it would be much appreciated.

– I will finish my zombie novel, Revenge of the Walking Dead, before March. Then I will use it for agent hunting. I’m writing this one in German, so there is no overlap with my anglophone agent hunting.

– When Revenge is finished, I’m going to take Berserker: The Wild Hunt and turn it into a prose novel. Berserker is a completely scripted 100 page OGN. The artist flaked out on me about halfway through the art. The plan is to first release the Berserker novel online on my blog (or I might start a new blog just for this novel), before trying to sell it in ebook format. Who knows, it might even find a print publisher.
– I should be able to finish Berserker within 2010. Which should leave me enough time to start a third novel in 2010. There are several ideas that I want to tackle. Which one will depend on various factors: will I get an agent, will one of my other novels find a publisher and if so, which one. And other things.

– I don’t believe in self-publishing. I’m part of the generation that believes that if you can’t find someone to pay you for your work, you’ve failed. But I may have to look into it next year. Considering some of the stuff I did this year, I am already a complete failure by my standards. I might as well throw the pitiful remains of my dignity completely out of the window.

23. December 2009

Christmas Carols

Filed under: general,music,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 09:49
Tags: , ,

What is your favorite Christmas song, and which is the one you dislike the most?

Apparently, most people here in Hamburg hate the song Last Christmas. Probably because it’s played all the time all over the city these days.

The Christmas tune that I hate the most, and I really do mean hate, to the point where it makes me borderline homicidal, is Jingle Bells. It doesn’t help that almost all the street musicians here in Hamburg seem to know only two tunes: Jingle Bells during Christmas season, and The Godfather theme the rest of the year. The reason why I hate Jingle Bells so much is because it reminds me of happier times, times that are irretrievably lost. Unfortunately, being reminded of that doesn’t make me happily nostalgic. Instead, it makes me miserable for having lost those times. I don’t blame the song, but if something were to remind you all the time just how miserable your life has become, you’d get borderline homicidal too.

My favorite Christmas song is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as performed by Dean Martin. The other versions are also okay, but I have always liked the timbre of Dean Martin’s voice.

So: your turn: what are your favorite and least favorite Christmas songs, and why?

20. December 2009

It’s That Time of Year Again?

Filed under: general,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 17:07
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Looking at all the snow outside, and the bustle in the stores, it has to be Christmas. Again. Didn’t we just have this last year? Plus, considering that the stores started selling Christmas stuff as early as September (at least over here in Hamburg), it’s a bit surprising that people aren’t fed up with it already.

But no, they’re really getting into the Christmas spirit. Like every year.

(Warning: Rant and snark ahead.)

So. The question is, what does Christmas really mean? Show of hands all those who think of a little baby boy in a crib. Thank you. Now, show your hands all those who think of a fat bearded guy in a red suit. Thank you.

Be honest: which side did you pick? Full disclosure: I’m in the red suit camp. Even when I was a child, Christmas didn’t mean the birthday of Jesus the Nazarene. It was all about Santa bringing gifts. It was a happy time, full of warmth (I grew up in a house with wood/coal stoves and ovens. Coziest warmth you’ll ever know) and presents.

In the years since my childhood, Christmas has become increasingly commercialized. I remember days when stores didn’t sell Christmas stuff before late November. Now, as I mentioned above, the first chocolate Santas show up in September. I’m not a religious person, far from it (I’m more of an atheist). I’m also not opposed to Christmas presents, I consider them an essential part of Christmas. But this commercialization sickens me.

(It’s par for the course, though: every holiday has been completely taken over by merchandising. Easter, for example, has apparently become something like Christmas, in that gifts are now expected. Halloween is all about parties and candy. Pick any holiday, it’s all the same. And let’s not forget the fake holidays, like Shopping Friday in the US, which exist only to make people spend money.)

I’m sounding like one of those nostalgic old coots, aren’t I? But think about it: wasn’t Christmas better back when giving a gift said that the person to whom you gave it meant something to you? “It’s the thought that counts.” That used to be the Christmas spirit. These days, it means that the gift was unappreciated, and the one receiving it is trying but failing to hide their disappointment.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Christmas is a fake holiday. It’s supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ (hence the name), but it actually co-opted the pagan rite of winter solistice. (If you look into it, you’ll find that Christianity has co-opted a lot of pagan festivals back when they were still establishing themselves.) (Although I’m in the camp of those who think that, since Christians are lapsed Jews, the schedule was appropriated from the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.) Still, Christmas is supposed to be a time of loving an being loved, of giving and receiving. These days, it’s about ipods, e-book-readers (and yes, I wish someone would give me one for Christmas — I also know it’s not going to happen) and whatever else is currently expensive and hip. Instead of spending time with the families, strengthening the bonds, people move out. To parties, if they’re young. Away from everything, if they’re a bit older. To do precisely that: get away from all that family crap.

The PC camp has nothing to be proud of, either. It seems as if Christmas is about to be outlawed. There are a ton of other festivals being created, all taking care at Christmas time. (Which makes me wonder how many of those are for real, and how many are just based on the concept of “I don’t want anything to do with that Christian shit, but I want the presents and the time off from work.”) Each of them is supposed to be honored instead. A few years ago, another blogger made a list of “I wish everyone a happy …” (fill in the holiday designation of your choice). A few days later, they added several more that they had forgotten, apologizing for it.

You know something? That’s taking PC way too far. So far as I’m concerned, I’ll wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If you wish me a Happy or Merry Whatever-You-Call-The -Festival, I’ll take the holiday wish in exactly the spirit of “a holiday by any other name…” If, instead, you choose to take offense, that’s your problem, not mine.

Just don’t bother wishing me anything non-denominational, like Festivus or Happy Holidays. I choose to take offense at that PC crap. If you don’t want to celebrate the holiday, then go all the way. Otherwise, you’re just a hypocrite. (I’ll accept a Merry Giftmas, though, because that’s what it’s really all about this century.)

In closing, a word about Christmas cards. I like getting Christmas cards. We’ve already established some posts ago that I’m a sentimental bastard. It’s a nice way of saying, “I’m thinking of you.” (It’s kind of telling when all the Christmas cards you get were sent by your business contacts.) I make no difference between e-cards and real cards. (I actually prefer e-cards; real cards get tossed into the trash during the first week of January anyway, so e-cards make much more sense.) The one thing a Christmas card needs to remember, however, is to remain agenda-free. Even a pre-printed card that someone just signed their name to is nice. But if I get a Christmas card, open it, and get a political rant to read? Off to the trash, right away. Christmas cards that propagate agendas are as bad as selling cholocate Santas in September.

18. December 2009

RIP Dan O’Bannon

Filed under: general,movies,RIP,writing — jensaltmann @ 12:06
Tags: , ,

Actor and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon died today at the age of 63. He was born on September 30, 1946.

His most noteworthy movies were the science fiction comedy Dark Star (1974), which was directed by John Carpenter. O’Bannon also played the role of Pinback in this movie.

His most famous screenplay would be 1979’s Alien.  Among others, he also wrote the screenplays to the famous movies (some, such as myself, would call them classics) Blue Thunder, Lifeforce and Total Recall.

O’Bannon was a legend in his own time, and he will be sorely missed.

Review: White Noise 2 – The Light

Filed under: movies,review — jensaltmann @ 09:11
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USA 2007; Directed by Patrick Lussier; Written by Matt Venne. Starring Nathan Fillion and Katee Sackhoff; Runtime 95 Minutes

White Noise 2 is technically the sequel to the movie White Noise, but the only thing they share is some superficialities regarding the premises. White Noise 2 is completely stand-alone.

After the brutal murder of his wife and son, Abe Dale (Nathan Fillion) tried to commit suicide. He has a near-death-experience, but he is brought back. As a consequence, Abe discovers that his perceptions have changed. He can now see ghosts, and auras around people. When he discovers that the auras he sees indicate that the person will die, he decides to use that knowledge to save their lives. Among these is the nurse Sherry (Katee Sackhoff). Subsequently, there are hints of a potential romance between them. If only… Because Abe discovers that exactly 72 hours after he has saved them, the people he saved go on a murderous rampage. And it seems the only way to stop this is by killing them.

The work itself is excellent. Fillion and Sackhoff work well together, with good chemistry. Both actors bring their characters to life. Director Patrick Lussier brings some disturbing visuals on the screen that serve to enhance and represent the disorientation Abe gets with his new, enhanced (or at least altered) senses. The sounds and sights make as little sense for the viewer as they do for Abe.

That said, I didn’t like the movie, and the faults all lie in the story. The dialog is frequently clunky, so much so that I sometimes wondered how many takes it took until the actors could say those lines without cracking up. The story also draws from various clichés, such as Abe discovering the notes of his predecessor and through them following into the man’s obsession. Except for a couple of “boo-moments” (you know what I mean, something flying out of a corner to startle you for a second), the movie is not scary at all. It’s more like a character piece.

Plus, I hated, just hated the ending. The movie’s message is, “I shouldn’t have saved you.” Because, saving people is wrong. If you save someone’s life, the Devil (yes, really) will take them, they will do evil acts, and you will be responsible. So you need to kill the people you initially saved to keep them from committing mass murder. Abe frequently mentions that by saving the people whose death-auras he sees, he plays god. (As opposed to, I guess, medical professionals who regularly saves peoples’ lives without seeing their death auras — notice the huge plothole?) Does that mean that if Abe plays god by saving people, God gets pissed off at him? Apparently so. Otherwise, why would the Devil get to take over those whose lives were saved?

I admit that I have a huge, personal problem with movies that send the message, “Don’t save people.”

Verdict: Not recommended.

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