Thursday, August 21, 2014

Finding My Voice

As I mentioned earlier, I'm currently studying for a test, and that means a break in most everything else I'm doing in life.  Over the past couple of months, I've been getting out these last few posts before shutting everything down.  So, this will be my last post on this blog until November.

In the meantime, I'm going to let my subconscious mind work on a problem ... what exactly is the voice I'm pursuing?  What separates the aspiring writers from the ones that everyone wants to read?  What separates the composers who write just interesting music from those who everyone wants to download?  What separates the viral videos from those who are trying too hard?

The answer: those who catch everyone's attention are those who have something to say--the ones who have found their voice.

Think about it.  I know my aspiring writer cohorts are reading their aspiring writer friends' books, and they are also reading the big name authors ... and guess which books they are enjoying more ... the ones written by the established authors who have already found their voice.

Yeah ... it's kind of depressing, isn't it.

I have spent the last several years working on my technique, improving my writing, learning to better organize my stories.  But nobody wants to read something that's only well-written.  They want something that moves them--takes them places they've never been before--something that makes them forget they're reading a book.

If you take a really close look at a book that many find fun to read, I bet you'll find the same things I find--mistakes up the wazoo--mistakes that established writers tell us we should avoid or our submissions will be thrown out.  But who really cares about the mistakes if the books are FUN to read?

So, when I come back, it'll be time for me to do what I'm suppose to do:  WRITE.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey

I've enjoyed watching the COSMOS reboot (A Spacetime Odyssey) over the past couple of months.  Overall, it was a positive experience.  It took many scientific ideas and presented them in a fun way for many to enjoy.  Special effects were top-notch (mostly), and the music by Alan Silvestri was superb.  The historical stories told were very interesting and provided many new details I had never known before.

Possibly my favorite episode was the one on Global Warming.  Seldom do we see non-partisan, non-biased views on the subject.  Republicans want to pretend like it doesn't exist, while Democrats seem to want to go overboard and panic.  Neil deGrasse Tyson presented scientific facts without all the politics, and it was very much appreciated.  He even presented some valid solutions to the problems--many of which scientists are already researching and/or implementing.  After watching the show, I felt inspired, realizing that Global Warming is real, and we're going to okay, since we're going to figure it out eventually.

I would love to see another 13 episodes produced.  Tyson says he most likely wouldn't host another series, but fans are calling for the likes of Bill Nye or other prominent well-known scientists.  We'll see.  The 13-episode series stands as-is on its own.  I strongly recommend catching this now on Netflix (or some other online source).

The show isn't without its faults, though.  I still find the original Carl Sagan's COSMOS to be a greater and more inspirational show.  There were a little too many cutesy Seth MacFarlane-ish funny bits that didn't work for me.  In one episode when Tyson spoke of the electromagnetic spectrum, there were several moments when the light surrounding him went dark and we heard a short discordant clip from Gershwin.  Tyson would then give a funny smile and ask, "What was that?"  When the show ended, I still didn't know what the heck that was.

In another episode, we were treated to a closeup view of the photosynthesis machine, which looked oddly like a factory.  I have yet to talk with anyone who had a positive reaction to that graphic.  Unfortunately, it started getting to where it was hard to determine when something was an artist's rendition and when it was an actual video of something.

For example, when Tyson was in the underground Super-Kamiokande chamber, I didn't know whether the blue flashes of light in the dark were real as presented or exaggerated.  I tried to confirm on Youtube to see if anyone else captured this amazing radiation (at that brightness, and with that frequency), but was unable to find a single video.  My conclusion is that the producers exaggerated the effect.  Though, I'd appreciate it if a reader could help confirm with an independent video that this effect was not exaggerated.

I was also a little disappointed with the level of technical knowledge shared.  The science felt dumbed down for general consumption.  Many times, when the actual science started getting interesting, Tyson would stop and move on to the next topic.  I felt that Sagan's COSMOS went into more detail and covered more interesting topics overall.

And lastly, I'd like to talk about Tyson himself.  To me, he comes across as the cool uncle who has plenty of cool stories to tell, and cool things to show, but he's also cranky and always complaining about something, always more than willing to point out when you're being stupid or wrong.  In comparison, Carl Sagan was like the wise old man who not only tells you stories, but also makes you think, slow to judge you, and more than happy to help you figure things on your own.

While I praised Tyson's episode on Global Warming and its mostly nonpartisan approach, there were still many times during the 13 episodes that Tyson took direct stabs at several different "silly ideas."  Tyson claims that he was just presenting scientific fact, and that we were the ones making it controversial, but I'm going to call him out.

I will present as evidence, the following.  In one episode, Tyson was talking about how long it takes light to travel.  He was doing well until he stopped to say, "There are some who believe that the universe is 5000 years old.  But if that were true, then we could only see this much of the universe."  Then a graphic showed how our view would fall short of some famous nebulae.  I found this to be a low blow.  His comment (though really convincing) did not really add to the episode.  He had already provided the information a person needed to come up with this observation on their own, but then he stopped the flow of the show to attack a "silly idea."  This wasn't just presenting scientific fact, but rather going out of his way to disprove a controversial topic.

Atheists watching cheered in unison, praising Tyson's slam-dunk presentation, while at the same time high-fiving each other and talking about how stupid religionists are.  At the same time, many religionists watching decided to turn it off, and unfortunately missed out on the rest of the show.  I would have preferred that Tyson et al had read Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," and come to more of a realization as to how they pushed some of his audience away.  Tyson missed an opportunity to reach a group of people who initially wanted to hear what he had to say.

Sagan, who was as much of an agnostic as Tyson is, was much better at not alienating his viewers.  He inspired me as a child to appreciate science.  He still remains my favorite scientific philosopher/presenter.

Despite Tyson's flaws, I believe he does have a good command of logic, and he remains on my short list of people I would love to meet in person.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mockingjay - Book Review

Most people I know say that the book, Mockingjay, is the weakest of the Hunger Games trilogy, but I disagree.  This final book is the pinnacle.  It's everything that the first two books lead up to.  And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Though, I can see why many don't like this book.  Some say it's a lack of direction.  Others say it's a disappointing ending.  Some even say it's the extra amount of violence one wouldn't expect in a young adult book.

That's because this book is about when chaos rules.  It's all out war.  In many ways, it's entirely different than the two books preceding it.  What I like the most is how consistent the old characters remain in this new world.  No one knows exactly what's going on, and there are conflicting incentives.  It's a lot of fun bedlam.

Plus, there is much more opportunity for the introduction of all kinds of cool sci-fi gadgets, traps, and solutions.  And as being the last book in the series, no major character is safe.  (I hate a book that's too wimpy to let its characters die.)

If you've read the first two books, chances are you'll read the third.  I highly recommend continuing the series.  I also recommend keeping an open mind.  Embrace the chaos!

To the naysayers (who say the first book is the strongest), I'd like to make the following prediction.  As the second movie has proven to be the better of the two, the third movie (despite being torn into two money-grabbing parts) will prove to be "really cool," as the writing in the third book should lend itself to the big screen very well.  Then, I think everyone will gain a better appreciation of the third book.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Goodbye: Revolution and Believe

Here are a couple more shows ending in 2014 that I'll miss (spoilers may appear):

Revolution (NBC): Season 1 was good.  It started with electricity turning off all over the world.  Then it jumped a couple of decades into the future where most of the story takes place.  The Monroe Republic ruled the northeastern portion of what used to be the United States.  The show focused on the lives of a few selected families as they all struggled to make things right (that is, according to what they thought was "right").

As the show progressed, we learned some interesting tidbits.  The uncle turned out to be a major part of the Monroe Republic.  That mom from LOST turned out to be alive, and also the one who caused the whole electricity-turning-off incident.  Similarly, every character turned out to have an interesting backstory.

My only complaint would be that the action scenes relied heavily on coincidences and bad guys shooting like storm troopers.  Are we really supposed to believe that Miles armed with nothing but handguns, could take down twenty trained gunmen?  At least the plot kept things interesting.

The season ended with a very believable explanation as to how the electricity went out.  Cool ... and freaky.

Season #2 was bold, as if looking for a fresh style ... perhaps borrowing from the successes of The Walking Dead?  I actually found it to be more interesting, though a lot more violent.  I'm sure the show lost a lot of viewers because of the change in formula.  I'm also sure that very few new viewers came onboard.  The change in tactic was a failed attempt to keep the show on air, and sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if they had stuck with the formula and kept the show how it was.

After the Monroe Republic was destroyed, life seemed to be a lot more hectic.  At first I was annoyed with the first few episodes in the season #2, as the writers were holding back information from us that the characters knew.  Plus, we were four months in the future.  (Why do show writers feel they have to add in four months so as to simulate the passage of "real" time over the summer?)  Eventually, though, the writers made with the details, and the show became watchable again.

Season #2 dealt with the nano tech striving to become some kind of god.  At first this was cool, as the nano seemed to be watching over the good guys, but then as the season progressed, it became very freaky as we learned what the nano really wanted to do.  At the same time, Monroe tried to regain power, while Miles constantly tried to keep him in check.

I think it came to a satisfying end, except for the very last bit about the nano starting to collect people.  I wasn't sure where that could lead.  Either way, we won't find out since the show is cancelled.  Despite the efforts of fans trying to get someone anywhere to pick up Season #3, there's no sign that this will happen.  It's a shame, but I'm nowhere as torqued up as I was with Firefly and Jericho.

Believe (NBC):  This show was a pleasant surprise this past Spring (along with Resurrection).  This show is Touch without the annoying mathematical coincidences, and slightly better writing.  It also allowed itself to come to a satisfactory end in just one season (just like Awake, though not as good an ending).

The show started out showing William Tate getting busted out of jail just before his execution.  By the end of that first episode, he learned that he was being asked by some questionable people to watch over a little girl, Bo Adams, who had amazing powers.  Bad guys were after her, but of course, as the series progresses, we come to learn that the bad guys weren't quite so bad, and the good guys not so good.

The show does get to be a little slow sometimes.  As Tate tries to hide Bo and protect her, she always ran into some stranger that needed her help--thus getting in the "damsel in distress of the week."  Whenever any of these subplots became slow, I think it helped to make the show less interesting.  Being a spring show mixed with these slow parts most likely killed off any renewal chances.

Even as it is now, I think the show does fine with just one season.  There doesn't seem to be too much material for a second one.  But since it comes to a satisfying end, I recommend catching this online.  Right now the whole season is on for free, and I'm sure it'll eventually show up on Netflix.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2014: A Few Shows That Are No Longer With Us

My blog blitzkrieg continues (slowly) with this report on shows ending in 2014 that I'm going to miss.

First off, I'll start with an honorable mention ... one show that I've given up on that's still showing.  I've really, really enjoyed watching Grimm, but the third season was losing me big time.  The zombie line was kind of cool, but then the writers decided to bring in a few non-Wesen weirds of the week--an unfortunate signal of "we're running out of ideas."  And they were also focusing on the most uninteresting plot line (at least to me) ... the whole Prince/Adalind thing.  Boresville!  I stopped after the Santa Claus episode (which was actually pretty good) as the direction in the show seems to be lost.

Okay ... now on to the really dead shows.  Warning ... spoilers may follow.

Psych (USA) was a hilarious show.  Who could not love Shawn pretending to be psychic, and his trusting but often reluctant sidekick Gus?  These guys were not just funny, but they were from my generation--growing up in the 80's and 90's.  It was also the perfect companion detective show to Monk.  (Didn't they used to come on right next to each other?)

It lasted eight seasons, which was both good and bad.  Good in that Shawn and Gus could both make funny fresh.  And bad in that some jokes started getting stale.  The tone of the show started getting raunchy.  In fact, it almost seems that they hired one writer who had a potty-mouth and his mind in the gutter, and he got to write one out of every five episodes toward the end.  And what the heck did they do to Woody's character?  He went from likable to major creep over one of the season breaks.

Still, Shawn and Gus kept their characters going, always staying likable to the end.  Man, that Jamaican Inspector Man bit was pretty funny.

Thanks for all the memories, and thanks for a semi-satisfactory ending.

24: Live Another Day (FOX) started out as more of the same, with the silly twists and turns.  They stuck with the annoying formula, and it actually worked.  Once I finally got to the 5th episode, I was hooked.  The excitement was about as great as I remembered from my favorite 4th season.  The bad guys were fun to watch, and fun to hate.

My favorite line came after the mother terrorist said, "Tonight, all this blood is on your hands."  Then Jack replied, "The only blood on my hands tonight will be yours" as he threw her out the window.  That was surprisingly satisfying.

The last episode was mostly good, but it was really, really, really, really, really dumb that everyone didn't think there might be a "second shooter."  The writers might as well have thrown a bear trap in Audrey's face, and it would have been more believable.  But once she died, the reactions from Bauer and the President were priceless.  I felt sad ... not because I liked Audrey's character, but because how others acted when she was gone.  (Reminds me of the end of Godfather III.)

The biggest disappointment was ... yeah, Bauer's in trouble again.  Stupid non-committal ending.  It sets up for a sequel, which I would place a surety of 90% of it happening.  But they already did this ending with the Chinese in an earlier season.  Just once, can one of these seasons simply give a final ending?  (Don't worry ... a "final" ending doesn't mean there can't be sequels.)

When it comes on again, I'll probably watch.

Warehouse 13 (Syfy) will be a show to remember.  The science was doggone awful, and the idea of "genius endowed artifacts while the rest of the world is oblivious" can't really be sustained.  But I didn't really care.  These characters were enjoyable, interesting, and funny.  The world that was built was mostly consistent.

This show had an almost perfect balance of humor mixed with action.  Toward the end it seemed they went a little too far on the humor side, but on the most part they kept everything together.

One complaint I have about the show, was it was hard to determine when it was time to be sad about a death or disappearance of a major character.  More often than not, an artifact would kick in to bring a person back to life.  When Leena died, I was all, "Don't worry.  She'll come back."  But she didn't come back.  Oh well.

The show had some funny cameos as well.  Go, Brent Spiner!

The ending felt rushed, but it provided closure while ending the show on a high note.

BTW, did your DVR cut off the last minute?  I was super-annoyed.  Especially when I discovered there was no free way to watch it on demand.  Though, I think Syfy received enough complaints, and you can now catch that last minute at  Here's a link, but there's no telling how long it'll be good for.

Anyways, it's all over.  Good show.  I'm glad I watched it to the end.

I'll be back tomorrow with two more shows to kill off.