04 June, 2023

Madison Mallards

We've been getting mallards in our backyard will some frequency this year. I think this is the first time it's happened as I don't recall seeing them waddling around our back .040 before.


The long shadows of Madison Metro Transit.

02 June, 2023

Improbable Physics on the Move

Quite a change here from the previous Christmas tale. The Second Doctor and the Fifth! Alas, they never meet and the Doctor's later incarnation (and Turlough) are mainly seen in flashback.

The Doctor and Jamie are in the middle of the Yelyahj Peace Festival which celebrates the survivors of a plague that killed most of the Atkyans nearly a thousand years ago. Before we ever saw Jenny Flint strutting around London with her Silurian wife, Madam Vastra, Jamie had the hots for a Soji, "a lass with scales on her face". Soji's family agrees to put the time travelers up for the night.

The next morning Jamie wakes up to discover that there's not a snowball's chance in Hades he's going to get into Soji's pants. She hates him. In fact, all Atkyans have taken on a more Spartan countenance with the society now rife with aggression and ill-will.

A clue as to what happened comes in a flashback to the Fifth Doctor working on a cure for the plague that afflicts the Atkyans. He eventually does find a cure but a side effect is discovered as well: it makes the patients very belligerent. A little more elbow grease and he comes up with a cure for this too.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Jamie mysteriously find themselves in an old, decaying museum. The Doctor manages to get one of the displays working with his sonic screwdriver and it tells the story of how the (Fifth) Doctor's cure cut the life expectancy of the Atkyans dramatically with each successive generation and that they're now gone.

The Doctor deduces that there's some timey wimey stuff going on with his future self and Turlough in an alternative time line. In the end, time corrects itself and the Doctors all get the same memories.

A bit of a downer considering the more cheerful Christmas tale that preceded this one and the fact that Jamie never got a little Soji nookie. Oh, and that the Atkyans died off. Still, I enjoyed having two doctors in this story and how his imperfection was shown to have consequences. No easy fix. The Fifth Doctor seemed spot on to me.

He Saw Him and Through His Disguise

An old duffer named Chas Baxter lives in a retirement home. One December, another gentleman by the name of Malcolm Harbottle moves in. A couple weeks later at Christmas, Chas is dismayed at not receiving his usual Christmas gift from an anonymous giver who only goes by "S". In addition, he suspects this new fellow, Malcolm, is an alien. And a thief to boot as other residents report missing items.

This Malcolm guy keeps to himself and, oddly, doesn't allow anyone into his room. One night Chas sees an iridescent glow coming from beneath Malcolm's door which only bolsters his suspicions.

One day he steals into Malcolm's room and discovers a suitcase with all of the stolen items. There's also a refulgent globe and inside of it he can see countless worlds spinning around a brilliant star. Putting his ear to it, he hears billions of voices. Chas takes it for his own.

Harbottle eventually confronts Chas over the globe which gets broken during the confrontation. It turns out that Malcolm is indeed an alien, a member of the Kleptorodon race, a fine aptronym if there ever was one. And the globe held the Acteon galaxy, which was freed, and the TARDIS, which was freed too. It materializes in the room. Chas, sadly, dies from the shock, while Malcolm is taken under citizens arrest by our heroes.

The Doctor sees the Kleptorodon's suitcase of stolen goods and vows to have the TARDIS replicate them so that he and Jamie can go back in time and leave them as Christmas gifts for Chas throughout his life.

A neat little tale that is made all the better with the judicious use of flashbacks. They depict the Doctor and Jamie delivering the gifts and fill out Chas' character nicely.

There's Always Magic in the Air

A couple weeks or so ago I went down south to see The Musical Box, the Canadian band that recreates Genesis shows from the 1970s. Just like last year, they were doing '74-'75 shows in support of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I've seen them 6 or 7 times now and it's gotten to be like going to church for me with Lamb shows being the equivalent of a High Mass. But instead of incense, more prayers and homilies, and extra communion wine, audience members get a fog machine, more slides on the screens in back, and extra crazy costumes.

I've become accustomed to the cadences of these shows. I love how slow songs sit next to faster ones - think "Cuckoo Cocoon" into "In the Cage" - and how some pieces build in tempo and power until they reach a climax, such as "The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging". There are peaks of intensity scattered throughout and I can imagine that liturgies are the same way - you listen to the priest and then sing in communion with your fellow churchgoers.

As showtime is reached and I wait for the lights to go down, there is a palpable magic in the air. I am about to go on a musical journey and engage with a story. Then I am suddenly cast into darkness and some piano notes emerge from the speakers. It has begun.

A shiver runs down my back when the band play "Fly On a Windshield". This time I closed my eyes as our Canuck Rael sang the last few syllables of "on the freeway" as tears welled. Then I opened them just as the band came crashing in. Simply magical!

"Lilywhite Lilith" has only gotten creepier for me over the years with that woman's face that slowly comes closer until you can see close-up that her pupils are oddly triangular becoming more unnerving with every performance. Those are three very disconcerting minutes and then the song gives way to the evil jam that is "The Waiting Room" where I get blinded by the footlights. No death this time, though.

"Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats" was very intense even though it's a mellow tune. There's something primal and almost hallucinatory about having that Mellotron chorus sound wash over you at near max volume.

The band were great but, sadly, there was a drunk guy a couple of seats away who talked very loudly through a lot of the show. I had to wonder why he was recounting the airplane at the Roger Waters concert he attended as The Musical Box were performing. It's like he ignored them for large stretches. Then he'd turn on his phone light occasionally. One time he was looking at some pills in his hand.

While the concert would have been much better without his presence, there were still several magical moments to be had. I love that anxious feeling I get just before the show when it's like I'm strapping myself in and then, when the light go down - "Here I go!" There's intense, kinetic rock (the drumming is always pure genius) plus uncanny moments that are genuinely eerie. And "Counting Out Time" always makes me smile.

This tour is supposedly the band's final one where they'll do The Lamb in its entirety. We shall see if that is the case. It was announced that they'll be back in the fall for a Selling England by the Pound show, however. I'll be there.

Some footage from that night has been posted online.

01 June, 2023

What goes up must come down

Last night I went to see the new documentary, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? at the cinema. After the credits finished and the lights came up, I remarked to my companion that this was the most of anything Blood, Sweat & Tears I've ever encountered in my life.

For me, they've just always been this fairly popular R&B/rock band who did "Spinning Wheel". But, in the late 60's, they were immensely popular. I had no idea their second album won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1970 and was #1 in the charts for several weeks. I knew that they played at Woodstock but was blissfully unaware of 3 consecutive hit singles.

What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? opens by introducing us to the band and to the social chaos of the late 1960's, especially the war in Vietnam and how it was dividing Americans. The movie portrays the band, excepting one member, as being largely apolitical, however. In June 1970, BS&T became the first American rock band to perform behind The Iron Curtain when they embarked on a short tour that took them to Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland. The kicker is that the tour was sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

There might have been some goodwill mixed in but the tour was largely a propaganda effort. The U.S. government wanted to give the Eastern Bloc audiences a taste of America, a taste of freedom. The tour was to be filmed creating even more ammo to use against the Soviet clients. In the end, however, the footage shot on the tour was not used by the State Department and secreted away. Apparently most of it remains locked away to this day with the exception of an hour's worth or so which was discovered quite recently.

We get to see that there was much more than "Spinning Wheel" to BS&T. The performances we witness are powerful and kinetic with singer David Clayton-Thomas really belting it out as drummer Bobby Colomby pounds the skins. Really, everyone in the band simply rock and the concert footage features tight, energetic performances.

The audiences caught the vibe and responded rapturously to the previously forbidden sounds of rock music. A few fellows who were at these shows talked of how they made them feel. That sense of the music offering a feeling of freedom, a sense of escape, and that there was something better to be had in life. However, some listeners responded too rapturously. Other scenes show Romanian police using dogs to disperse the audience at one show. This naturally caught the attention of some hall monitor apparatchiks who deemed the ecstatic responses unacceptable and endeavored to get the band to tone things down. It didn't work.

Upon returning to the States, the band talked about what they saw over there. We get press conference footage in which some of them speak about how the tour changed them and their views. Witnessing life behind The Iron Curtain and meeting some of the people gave them a more nuanced view of the world, including an appreciation for the United States, despite its flaws.

These views coupled with the band's association with the State Department equaled heresy, for some. They had sold out to the Man and were rejected and ridiculed by the Left. Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies are mentioned in the movie including being responsible for a bag of horse shit being thrown onstage at their first concert on U.S. soil after returning from behind The Iron Curtain.

The movie claims that the band's decline in popularity was due to their government sponsored tour. For their part, the band claims they were between a rock and a hard place. Singer David Clayton-Thomas is Canadian and was being threatened with deportation at the time. Doing the tour was the only way for them to have kept him in the country and in the band.

Despite the brouhaha, the band's next album, 1971's B, S & T; 4, did reach #10, although the singles never reached the heights of previous ones. It'd be interesting to actually read reviews of the album from the time to get an idea of critical opinion. Was the music appreciably different from the stuff on their previous two albums?
Was their fall from the good graces of fans a fait accompli? Or would having consented to be in the Woodstock movie helped ameliorate some of the criticism?
In searching for chart info, I found this ditty in what I think is the first edition of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock (1976):
"BS&T's later albums, though not as pretentious as the second, have been about equal blends of cold technique and ersatz emotion, this disintegratory trend reaching a nadir with the more posturingly meaningless performances of vocalist David Clayton-Thomas."
I don't recall anything in the movie directly comparing what happened to BS&T to today's Cancel Culture but it's hard not to make that comparison. The movie, however, seems to be less of a critique and more of a warning that movements will spawn purity police and eventually eat their own. More importantly, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? really just wanted to tell a good story above social criticism.

I really enjoyed What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?. I learned about a band that I was previously all but totally ignorant of. It gave the context of the times and illuminated a little known chapter in the history of rock music.

On a complete tangent, I went looking for Blood, Sweat & Tears shows and only found a few. To wit:

Newport Jazz Festival, 4 July 1969
Cafe Au Go Go (basement of the New Andy Warhol Garrick Theatre), 6 September 1968
Winterland, San Francisco, 10 March 1968
Kenmore Square, Boston, MA, 23 February 1968
Jahrhunderthalle, Frankfurt, West Germany, 26 May 1973

God Rest Ye Merry, George Washington

The Doctor and Jamie land in Revolutionary America - Trenton, New Jersey, to be specific, to celebrate Christmas. Well, their Yuletide celebrations are cut short when they are arrested by some Hessians and thrown in the clink.

There they meet George Washington who has been imprisoned after being captured when one of his attacks goes wrong. The Doctor knows history has been changed and he knows who is to blame: Edward and Stephanie, a couple of time traveling teachers from the 30th century whom the Hessians have also jailed.

But a little sonic screwdriver action unlocks the jails cells, Jamie takes care of the guards, and Edward creates a diversion allowing everyone to escape.

A slight tale, but funny. For instance, Jamie is wearing a kilt during the winter - let's hope he had a sporran to block the wind. And he recalls how Polly once said of the Doctor that he "looked like a fifth beetle".

A nice, easy-going holiday tale.

The Good Gavin is in the Lodge

This was a funny little tale that features the Doctor and Jamie only, now that Victoria has left the TARDIS. As the story opens, they are in the midst of a celebration for they have helped good King Gavin ascend to the throne instead of his evil twin brother, Conrad. Just how good was Gavin? Well, he instituted a long list of just reforms such as universal health care, redistribution of wealth in an equitable manner, and the invention calorie-free chocolate.

Having had enough of whooping it up, the Doctor and Jamie depart only to land at the same spot they left but 10 years ahead in time. Now Conrad is on the throne and our heroes aren't quite sure what happened. They did help Gavin, right? Why were the siblings at war with one another, anyway?

The Doctor tricks Gavin and Conrad to meet so that they can hash out their differences but find that those differences are about petty things like eating with one's mouth open and breathing in an annoying way. No compromise is found and the kings go their separate ways.

The Doctor and Jamie ponder if there are Doppelgängers of themselves out there. They agree that neither of them could cope with a second Second Doctor running loose in the universe.

A fun, lighthearted tale with a dash of timey-wimey thrown in for good measure.

Nori That Eats YOU!

I think that most "missing" Doctor Who stories have at least one episode that survives but Fury From the Deep does not have a single one intact. The bonus features here have about 5 minutes of broadcast footage that has come down to us. And so the entire story has been animated with no option to insert a remaining episode into the mix.

Jamie noted at the end of The Dark Path that the TARDIS was landing in the sea and, as this story opens, the ship comes straight down from the sky and lands on the surface of what we later learn to be the North Sea. One inflatable raft ride later and our TARDIS trio are on the shore where they encounter large mounds of foam and proceed to play in it as if it were snow. This scene should probably have been accompanied by a "Do Not Try This At Home!" warning as big mounds of foam on the beach either portend a nasty beastie, as it does here, or are the result of some chemicals fresh from having killed off a bunch of fish and you don't want the stuff on your skin. A large pipe emerges from the sea and leads to an industrial-looking complex up the cliff. There's a box on top of the pipe which draws the Doctor's attention. Although screwed down tight, our hero busts out this hoolie which looks a lot like a straw but turns out to be the beloved sonic screwdriver!

Troughton wields a very simple doodad in contrast to the nearly omnipotent intergalactic Swiss Army knife of the current iteration of the show.

The TARDIS trio each hear a rather ominous noise emanating from the enormous pipe. Something like a heartbeat. And then, one by one, our heroes are laid low by darts laden with a sedagive. Er, sedative. When they awaken, they are confronted by one Mr. Robson. The animated version of the character looks suspiciously like Paulie Gualtieri from The Sopranos. Robson is the ill-tempered, ornery, and just plain mean guy in charge of the gas refinery that the Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie have stumbled upon. He suffers no fools and expects immediate compliance with his orders.

His mood is especially foul with what appear to be equipment failures hindering gas flow and contact with the rigs out at sea having become sporadic with some of them. Something is clearly amiss here. We get a hint when a piece of seaweed falls from a file of a scientist named Harris and it stings his wife.

The story takes a bit of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with this intelligent seaweed possessing human beings and mixes it with a base under siege premise to good effect. The use of the heartbeat to represent an unknown danger lurking off somewhere unseen was very effective.

In one scene, which still exists on film, thankfully, two men, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, who are possessed by the evil seaweed, go pay Harris' wife, Maggie, a visit in order to convince her to join the cause, shall we say. Mr. Quill, the taller, thinner of the two, opens his mouth and goes all bug-eyed as poisonous gas comes out of his pie hole. (Hard not to think of Donald Sutherland's body-snatched Matthew Bennell here.) His shorter, semi-portly co-worker does the same. Some synth notes are played atop a rapid metronome of a beat and Maggie screams while closeups of the possessed engineers' mouths fade into one another bringing back visions of lamprey mouths that I've seen on the internet and it's just all very disconcerting, if not downright scary.

Victor Maddern, who played Robson, must have had a cathartic experience making this story because he's just a great, big asshole who yells and insults any and everyone. It was so nice to see him get his just desserts and be taken over by the seaweed.

The final showdown was really neat. The creature is largely hidden in foam but its weedy tentacles reach out menacingly. As we learned in the short story "Screamager", Victoria's got quite a set of pipes. Almost in bit of post-modern self-reflexivity, her scream proves to be kryptonite to the seaweed creature and so the Doctor records it and has people wielding giant earbuds send out Victoria's signature wail amplified appropriately to repel the invading marine algae.

Victoria does A LOT of screaming here and it got very annoying, especially as it's sustained to demonstrate its effect on the villain. It's too bad because she proves herself to be a bit of a rogue with some fine lock picking skills in another scene.

As I've learned from more than one Wilderness Years author, Victoria is ready to go. She is visibly upset in various scenes and tells her friends that it is no fun anymore. In the end, she stays with the Harrises. Considering that companion departures in the classic series are generally known for being rather stoic affairs - a simple handshake and a goodbye, Victoria and Jamie share a rather touching moment and seeing her wave to her now former companions was bittersweet. It was a lengthy farewell too instead of a simple goodbye and good luck before taking off hastily in the TARDIS kind of affair.

Fury From the Deep is a fine Doctor Who story. It was genuinely spooky. I was left to wonder if the evil seaweed would take over the crews of the refinery and rigs one by one or if there was going to be a frontal assault for quite some time. The music was otherworldly and very effective. The sonic screwdriver is not yet simply the sonic and cannot do basically everything so that writers don't have to.

The Doctor is very Doctory and things seem to be falling from his grip until the very end when he finally gets a handle on the situation. Jamie is a man of action, even if it isn't always needed and he stumbles for a laugh. And Victoria is very much the Screamager here. 

Random things:

In the animated version, the main controller guy at the refinery seems to be confined to a Davros-like mobility device but, from a few seconds of surviving footage, it appears he was able to walk in the original program. The animation team continues the use of the visual gag of having a wanted poster with a picture of the Delgado Master on it in the background as at least one other story did. I am thinking of The Faceless Ones.

The animation was widescreen and not 4:3 and it seems like they drew the sets a bit larger than they were in 1968. Rooms at the refinery were big - the control room, the impeller room, and the one with the section of pipe that was glass - they were all outsized and lent a cinematic quality to scenes that took place in them. 

A really fun story. It has a nice mix of horror, suspense, and action. Good, memorable visuals and a great, moody soundtrack.

Scream for me, Ireland!

At the end of The Dark Path, Jamie helpfully observed that the TARDIS was landing in the sea. Well, perhaps it was just a loch because we're not quite ready for the Fury.

Here in "Screamager", it is 14th century Ireland and he and the Doctor are off investigating some threat or other - Victoria guesses it has to do with robots - leaving their companion with a welcoming family comprised of Cormac, his wife and son, Sorcha and Tadhg, and his brother, Niall. (I presume "screamager" means someone who screams or has screams[?] just like a dowager has a dower.) One night she sees a horrific face outside of her window. It looks to be of an old woman and is deathly pale. Soon after, the household servant, Martha, is found dead and Tadhg has taken ill.

Each night Victoria sees that hideous face and screams. And a new member of the family comes down with a fever.

The Doctor and Jamie return from their venture and our Time Lord hero diagnoses the fever as The Black Death. The TARDIS crew stay awake that night and confront the creature that has caused Victoria to exercise her lungs so. It turns out to be a banshee, the spirit of Irish lore whose shrieks herald the death of a family member. It turns out business is good, too good, perhaps, with the Plague running wild and it has come to recruit Victoria and her pipes which have had a lot of practice at screaming.

The Doctor, of course, steps in and does some homebrew medicine to save Niall which deters the banshee.

All too often Victoria is an archetypal damsel in distress who can do little but scream. In her defense she says here, "Wherever we go, there’s always death. Always. And I can’t help screaming, really I can’t." And to Rayner's credit, she takes this habit and makes a story of it, gives her screams some importance beyond being a signal to draw the attention of more capable figures and a way to end an episode on a cliffhanger. They're integral to this story.

It is here that Victoria decides her fate. Her time with the Doctor and Jamie is near an end. "I don’t know if I want to do this any more," she says.

31 May, 2023

Koschei + Power + Betrayal = Master

The first David A. McIntee story I read was Mission: Impractical which I thought was just a boatload of fun. Next came White Darkness which, again, was pure fun to read and had a touch of Cthulhu Mythos thrown in for good measure which added to my enjoyment. McIntee's name became synonymous with well-crafted tales that were a joy to read. And so I was looking forward to tackling his Second Doctor Missing Adventure, The Dark Path.

The Earth Empire collapsed. From its ashes has arisen the Federation which sees the remnants of the Empire join with its former enemies and subjects as equals, including the Terileptils and the Veltrochni. (Very Star Treky.) The story opens with a squadron of Veltrochni ships that meets its end at the hands of an old Imperial battlecruiser somewhere off in the ass end of the galaxy.

Not too long after this, we are introduced to a Federation ship that is headed to an old Imperial colony in order to establish contact and attempt to inveigle the colony's leadership to join the party. This way out of the way Imperial remnant is something of an enigma as it's on a planet that no one knows quite how it still exists considering its proximity to a past supernova. At the same time, the TARDIS is being followed.

In response to a question from Victoria, the Doctor replies, "Yes, another TA–" which immediately brought to mine that scene from The Omen when Father Brennan says, "His mother was a ja-".

The Doctor and company land at the colony - in a biodome that houses vineyards, as it turns out. The time travelers are mistaken for an advance delegation from the Federation and are treated as official types. I spent some time wondering why the local gendarme, known as Adjudicators, didn't look for a hole in their dome and could only conclude that they never saw the TARDIS and assumed that they had transmatted down.

Concurrently, another TARDIS materializes aboard the Federation ship on its way there, the Piri Reis. That time ship is owned by one Koschei who is, as we see on the cover, the Roger Delgado incarnation of the Master. I was wondering what language "Koschei" was from and figured it surely meant Master in it. Turns out the name refers to a figure from Slavic folklore who is known as "the Immortal" or "the Deathless", according to Wikipedia. Pretty apt considering the Master's future attempts to stay alive after having used up his regenerations.

The colonists are, unsurprisingly, distrustful of the Federation representatives, and still have an Imperial mindset. They also have a secret, a secret which can change all of time and space! A giant energy teat!

Our heroes notice that there are no children in the colony and theorize that the inhabitants are the original ones from 350 years ago. It turns out they discovered this big device, called the Darkheart, which, as we find out, was built by the ancestors of the Chronovores to send energy anywhere and anywhen one of their young or injured needed a boost. The Darkheart is preventing the colonists from aging and explains why the planet survived a nearby supernova.

McIntee deftly handles the various groups of characters, all with various motivations and committing various sins of commission and omission. You've got the colonists and their secrets, the Federation ship hoping to welcome them into the fold, the Doctor and his companions, Koschei and his companion, Ailla, a squadron of Veltrochni ships come to find out what happened to their brethren's ships that we see destroyed at the story's opening, and, finally, a mysterious creature roaming the colony and killing various Adjudicators.

I really liked how McIntee kept identities hidden, secrets secret, and motivations obscured for so long. And little did I know that this was a Master origin story. I kept waiting for him to take pleasure in an act of pure evil once his characters was introduced but he kept being nice. Well, by and large. He does murder someone and dispose of their body in a less than ceremonial way but I think he justified the action as being for the greater good instead of callously claiming the person got in the way of his evil, self-serving machinations. Then Ailla dies only to come back to life after having regenerated and revealing that she was sent by the Time Lords to keep an eye on him. Koschei comes to understand the enormous power given to anyone who could wield the Darkheart and temptation is just too much.

As he tells the Doctor, "That name no longer has any meaning for me, Doctor. In time you too will call me Master."

McIntee captures our heroes well or, at least in a TV-like manner, with the Doctor being very Second Doctor-like. Plenty of those moments of feigned innocence - "Who me?" - and the occasional bit of recorder when locked up. Victoria screams and lapses into despair. You can tell she is becoming disillusioned with life aboard the TARDIS. Jamie is, well, Jamie.

The story ends with the Scotsman observing, "...we’re landing in the sea!" Clearly a reference to our next television story. But first, a quick side step awaits...

Another winner from McIntee.

Trachte Buildings - Cottage Grove

I talked to a neighbor of these buildings and he told me that they are all set to surrender to the wrecking ball.

Trachte Buildings - Fitchburg II

28 May, 2023

Return to Vortis

The Web Planet is almost universally mocked for its insectoid costumes which would be marvelous for any third grader's school play. And its 6 episodes were slow going, at times. Certainly not all killer, no filler. So I give Christopher Bulis a lot of credit for writing a story that is a sequel to this much maligned television tale.

The TARDIS lands once again on Vortis. But the crew finds that there are more than just Menoptera and Zarbi here. Two groups, the Imperial and the Republican, from the Rhumon system have laid claim to it with representatives from each stranded on the planet. Our time travelers are captured by Republicans but Victoria manages to escape with an assist from some grey creatures. The Doctor and Jamie escape Republican clutches too but only because they fall into Imperial ones.

Amongst the representatives of the Empire is one Father Modeenus, whose religious fervor gives Jonathan Edwards a run for his money. I seem to recall that various authors from the Wilderness Years had an anti-religious bent but I cannot remember if Bulis is one of them. I don't think that Vanderdeken's Children had anything character or story line that was critical of religion. There was "magic" in The Sorcerer's Apprentice but I don't recall there being anything sacrilegious about it. And it's been a long time since I've read Palace of the Red Sun - too long, perhaps.

There's a lot of running & hiding, being captured & recaptured here as our heroes get passed around by the various factions. The Doctor seems a bit generic, for the most part, and I felt that he got lost in shuffle for much of the book - at least until the end. Victoria and Jamie were fine with our Victorian young lady really stepping up. She even does her best Ethan Hunt imitation and goes undercover disguised as a Monoptera. (?!) Perhaps the biggest winners, however, are the Menoptera who lose the high cheese factor of their costumes and fly ships and kill baddies and rescue people and just generally come across heroically, if not as mild-mannered bad asses.

Twilight of the Gods has this vaguely Twilight Zone-like twist to it involving some naughty students and their less than pleased teacher.

Overall, I enjoyed this tale. There's enough action to keep the story's pace going at a nice clip and just enough menace directed at our heroes to keep things interesting. Despite not being overly Troughton-like, I appreciated that the Doctor was not perfect here, attempts to defeat the bad guys didn't always work immediately and there were setbacks. There's also a fun little scene here that reminded me of the introduction of midichlorians in that Star Wars movie I cannot recall the name of where the Doctor figures out and then explains how it is that the Menoptera can fly when their physiology would seem to render that impossible. I also enjoyed how Modeenus chewed the scenery.

But the see saw nature of the action got repetitive and the Imperial and Republicans factions generally came across as 2D mindless military drones. Perhaps this latter bit was meant as a commentary. Fair enough, I suppose.

Despite these things, this was an enjoyable story.

25 May, 2023

What do we want?! Nuclear power!

When do we want it?!


I went to see Oliver Stone's new polemic/documentary, Nuclear Now, earlier this week. It screened here one time on Monday night and doesn't appear to have any further showings lined-up here in Madison.

Stylistically, it took the newsreel aesthetic from The Untold History of the United States and merged it with his interview style from Comandante and others. Stone is narrator and interlocutor here. Like some of his other documentaries, Stone uses his casual intonation here and comes across less as an omniscient narrator and more like a guy you're chatting with at the bar.

Early on, Stone admits he used to be anti-nuclear power but changed his mind in light of the threat posed by climate change and by learning more about the subject. He proceeds to give a little history of the technology before chronicling how it fell out of favor, with many people developing an irrational phobia for it, thinking that another Three Mile Island or Chernobyl was just around the corner.

The crux of the argument here is that nuclear power does not generate greenhouse gases and that renewables such as solar, wind, and hydropower just cannot satisfy the ever-growing demand for electricity. While electricity demand in the United States is basically stagnant, it is skyrocketing in China and India as their societies modernize.

In one sequence, Stone laments how Germany is disbanding/has disbanded its nuclear power industry but the massive arrays of solar panels that have been erected in its stead have not been able to produce enough electricity to prevent a reliance on coal.

In another, he seeks to overthrow the myths surrounding Three Mile Island and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Stone waves these aside noting that the dangers were contained and no one was seriously harmed. Furthermore, problems at nuclear power plants arise from poor design. For example, the sea walls at Fukushima were too short and the backup generators that could have kicked in and prevented further destruction were placed too low and were flooded.

Cherobyl, he admits, was a real disaster that lead to many deaths. But poor design and hubris on the part of the scientists there lead to the meltdown and the Soviet response was lackluster, at best.

Stone urges the viewer to instead look to France which produces most of its electricity from nuclear power and does things right. I.e. - no disasters.

I went into the theater agreeing with Stone that nuclear power was a necessary tool in the fight to moderate the effects of climate change. Anyone not yet convinced was given a whirlwind argument for the affirmative with a lot of history and statistics thrown at you in fairly rapid succession. Stone often throws out a statistic which was usually illustrated by a colorful bar graph, and then quickly moved on to his next point. This movie is definitely aimed at the everyperson but it does move along at a clip and it's a real infodump in many spots.

The most interesting parts to me were the history, both of nuclear power in general as well as of what exactly happened with the most notorious reactor problems, and the looks at the state of the technology. China is apparently investing heavily in it and has various designs they're pursuing, including very small reactors. Stone also speaks with a duo here in the States looking to create smaller reactors that would serve somewhere on the order of 1,000 households.

I was flabbergasted at how much electricity we use and how much coal is burned to generate it. I don't recall the exact numbers but they're staggering. 

The was one scene where I found myself be slightly annoyed that Stone hadn't phrased something the way I would have. He was basically saying that individual decisions weren't enough. Switching all of your bulbs to LED wasn't going to solve global climate change. It was a sentiment I agreed with but I felt it let people off lightly, no pun intended. He phrased his narration in a way that gave the impression that nuclear power was a license to be as profligate as you can be with the Earth's resources. You can have a TV in literally every room in your house with no guilt; everyone in your household can have a car; you can keep your house at 85 in the winter and 65 in the summer. Buy more stuff! The power to make and run it all is carbon-free!

While I concede that adjusting your thermostat a couple of degrees isn't going to solve climate change and I don't want to sound all Marcusian, but I can't help but think that the world would be better off if people in developed nations used less. Of everything. 

I suppose I am deviating from the topic of global climate change here. But I recently watched a video by a German woman living in America. In it she noted that Germans find the car-centric culture of America weird. We drive short distances that Germans would be inclined to walk and we have drive-thrus for so many things. So your car may run on clean energy, but you're driving 3 blocks to the McDonald's drive thru and then 500' across the street to Dairy Queen's.

And your car may run on clean energy on that drive to Walmart where you buy those cheap widgets from China (and your diabetes medication), but those things are still going to end up in the landfill. Or in the ocean, I suppose.

Nuclear Now does a good job of laying out the case for nuclear power. The question is how do we throw off the shackles of coal and move to this cleaner energy. Stone leaves that answer to us.

R.I.P. Kenneth Anger

It came out today that experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger passed away earlier this month. He was 96.

I finally got around to watching Lucifer Rising a couple years back.

The Corona Diaries Vol. 85 - Postlude: Bobby Z

(Don't forget to read #85.)

A great outtake from the sessions for the great album, Time Out of Mind, a latter-day Bob Dylan classic.