Game of Thrones, Girls and Mad Men

So, I finally got around to reading Ginia Bellafante’s April 14th review of The Game of Thrones “A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms” but only after I read Amy Radcliffe’s response to it on Tor.com, which should tell you something right there. I’d been warned about Bellafante’s review by a friend. He ran down the lowlights of the review for me, including her description of the series as “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”  Now that I’ve read the review, I see that Bellafante thinks the illicit sex scenes were “tossed in as a little something for the ladies.” This tells me two things: she’s never read George R.R Martin’s books and she probably has never seen a Bond film. (Gee, here I always thought that the sexy women and bedroom scenes were thrown into those for the “boys.” Guess I was wrong.) I won’t defend women who read epic fantasy here; that’s been ably done by Radcliffe in her rebuttal. Thank you, Amy Radcliffe and thank you, Tor.com.

I find it interesting that Bellafante opens her review by contrasting “Game of Thrones” to “Mad Men” in an effort to show how horrible it is that HBO has spent so much money on this fantasy series that she—if I’m not reading it wrong—hates. Hmmm. “Mad Men.” Isn’t that the soap opera-like show that has large number of principle characters and serves up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond notions that the advertising business is ugly, families are insidious and power is hot? Oh, excuse me, I’ve almost directly quoted Bellafonte’s rant about “Game of Thrones” except for changing a few words (“advertising business” for “war” ) and leaving out a few. The few I left out were “sketchily fleshed-out” before “notions.” Considering that we’ve seen four seasons of “Mad Men” maybe that’s why it doesn’t seem sketchy?

To set my record straight, I think “Mad Men” is a great series. I loved the look of it from the first episode. I was eager to see how all the principle characters’ stories would be interwoven and set against the background of larger world events. The series has great costumes, attention to detail in the sets, excellent cinematography that helps to reveal mood and underlying tension. The same can be said of the first episode of “Game of Thrones.” I’ll have to see it “Thrones” lives up to that standard through this first season before I call it a great series. It does have one big advantage over “Mad Men” though—strong women characters who aren’t hobbled by the social shackles of the sixties. Yes, within the sixties ad biz world we’ve got Joan, played by Christina Hendricks, and Peggy, played by Elisabeth Moss, but watching women struggle to work within a male dominated business is not as satisfying as seeing a woman wield power from a throne or take charge of an army of  Dothraki warriors. One of the things this girl isn’t sold on is all that illicit sex. Will there be too many sex scenes thrown in, trading story time for ratings grabs? I’m hoping the balance will tip in favor of character, action and complex political intrigue.

But then, I’m one of those girls who don’t join book clubs because those I’ve run into tend to select novels about broken marriages, abusive relationships, troubled childhoods—and nothing else. When I read for leisure, I like to be taken away from the troubles that can drag us down in real life. I want suspense, romance, fantasy, science fiction. Would I want to discuss The Hobbit in a book club (an idea that seems to confound Bellafonte)? It wouldn’t be my first choice because there’s not that much meat to the story. It’s not The Lord of the Rings, which does have a lot to discuss but it’s a triology. And therein lies the nerd book club dilemma: most of the good stuff is very, very long, so not good book club fodder. It is, however, great stuff for re-reads and online discussions. (Thank you again Tor.com.)

To be fair, Bellafonte is probably just suffering from genre prejudice, which I’ll define as an imagination-limiting tendency to confine one’s reading to mainstream and “literary” novels, with an inclination to denigrate any other kind of writing. If “Game of Thrones” was a series set in Medieval England, would she have the same problems with the large cast of characters? If part of the story took place in Rome and the actors spoke in Italian, seeing that it is a language “for which we already have a dictionary” unlike the Dothraki language of Martin’s story, would that be okay with her? (Tip to Bellafonte: think of house “Lannister” as “Lancaster” and pretend it’s English history.) Her complaint about HBO looking “cheap” when it “ventures away from its instincts for real-world sociology” tells me that she can’t see truths about the “real world” in a story unless they are told in contemporary settings. In the real world we are dealing with problems caused by war, unsettling family dynamics, and problems caused by people thinking power is hot, aren’t we?

Whereas I see an added point of interest in weaving elements of fantasy into such a story, Bellafonte can’t seem to see the real world issues for the fantasy. From her review, it seems that she has trouble getting past the swords, strange languages, and strange cultures. Getting caught up in the surface details, she shows that she’s unfamiliar with the genre of epic fantasy. Then, she veers to the other extreme: digging in too deep to demystify the popularity of Martin’s story.  She latches on to the unusual climate of the fantasy world and concludes that “Game of Thrones” is “a vague global-warming horror story.” Huh. Wonder if she sees “The Wizard of Oz” that way, too? Could the Emerald City be the first example of a green economy? Goes to show how different two girls can be. I’m attracted to the series by surface details (swords, scenery, Sean Bean) but I see the deeper story as one of politics and survival in a war torn nation. The long winter and impending threat of terrifying inhabitants invading from the north beyond the wall? Hmmm…let’s see. Perhaps: the eternal battle between light and darkness. Or maybe this: a long winter and impending threat of terrifying inhabitants invading from the north beyond the wall—otherwise known as an important story driving plot point.

While Bellafonte hungers “for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary,” I hunger for more series where I expand my world by learning new languages and expand my perception of real world sociology by observing its machinations in an unfamiliar setting.  As a side note, because of her review, I am starting to have a craving to join her book club (if she belongs to one) just so I can “stand up in indignation” and refuse “to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone” agrees to read “The Warded Man” by Peter V. Brett, no doubt another novel Bellafonte would find too confusing.

For those of you who do like Game of Thrones, there’s tons of cool info on the official HBO site.

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Baby robot dinos, you make me smile.

This is an old video, but thought those of you who haven’t, might like to meet PleoTM at least in the virtual world.

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Automate 2011: Dr. Ron Diftler, Anybots and Pleo

I’ve been missing the robots.

Sitting here in front of my Compaq laptop (with only 584MB of RAM) is a far cry from the cool tech I saw back in March at Automate and Promat 2011. Automate, formerly the “International Robots, Vision & Motion Control Show,” started in 1977. Promat is a trade show and educational conference on “material handling and logistics industry.” These conventions, held every two years, present information and practical solutions in robotics, machine vision and motion control for use in aerospace to food & beverage industries and everything in between. This year (luckily for me of the little time-to-spare and limited budget) the duo-cons are taking place in my home town of Chicago. It’s a four day event (March 21-24), of which I was able to attend just one day so I chose Tuesday—the best day for robot enthusiasts.

Sunila Samuels, my friend and fellow fiction writer (check out her blog Robot Dance Mob) gave me the heads-up on the event back in fall 2010. We’ve been looking forward to it since then and the experience didn’t disappoint.

Tuesday morning 8:45am, March 22, 2011, there we were at McCormick Place North, room S102 for the day’s keynote on “The Development of Robonaut 2: A Story of Government-Industry Collaboration and Technology Transfer For The Next Generation of Robotic Solutions.” Long title made short: R2, first humanoid robot in space, an overview. The speakers were Dr. Ron Diftler, Robotnaut Project Manager for NASA Johnson Space Center, and Marty Linn, Principle Engineer of Robotics for General Motors­—both the coolest of dudes by my reckoning. (In case, they care: we were the two women in the 3rd row on their right sides, taking copious notes and no doubt sporting wide goofy grins through most of the talk.) We learned lots of details about the development and mechanics of Robonaut as well as the collaborative efforts between NASA and GM engineers for the ongoing project. I have to say that Dr. Diftler gets my vote for best lines from the talk. Asked about whether or not tactile information could be transferred from R2 to the human teleoperator, he said it would be possible once they found the right device, but that the systems tried out so far resulted in a painful experience for the teleoperator and seemed to have been “designed by the Marquis de Sade.” On the topic of the R2’s power usage on the International Space Station, Diftler explained that recharging can be done either through the robot’s own battery or on the tether network inside the station and said that way “we could recharge ourselves” however it’s most convenient.

Speaking of anthropomorphizing robots…there was just no way to avoid it in the exhibit halls for either Automate or Promat, especially in Automate’s “Emerging Robotics Pavilion.” Perhaps our favorite robot on display was the Anybot QB, a mobile telepresence robot, one of which sported a bow tie. Anybot has real-time 2-way video and audio, weighs 35 lbs, and self-balances on two-wheels. Using this robot as your proxy, you can talk to people, walk with them and see what’s happening without physically traveling to their location—in other words, be there now without actually being there. Not bad for the cost of $15,000 per unit.

Another very nerdy thrill for me was seeing PleoTM first hand. I discovered this cute little dinosaur/artificial life form a couple of years back while web surfing at PleoWorld.com. In the site’s introduction video, Derek Dodson, COO of Innvo Labs, describes PleoTM as a “robotic companion pet” and there’s no denying it fills that role admirably. The latest generation of this cute baby dino will run you $469 USD + more for accessories such as the Learning Stone value packs that teach it to sing, play, dance and even count. Is it worth that amount of shiny, cashy money? It is more affordable, not to mention cuddlier than an Anybot. Should I ever win the lottery, I’d certainly buy one, but for now I’ll stick to my biological pets. Although, if I review the expenses, I know my cat and dog definitely cost more in the long run.

In the non-cute or cuddly but very cool category of robots, I have to mention Motoman Robotics’ Dexter Bot. Motoman, a division of Yaskawa American, Inc., has programmed this dual-arm SDA robot to play Black Jack. The addition of a three-finger grip was demonstrated by a headless version in a smaller booth at the “Emerging Robotics Pavilion.” I have to say that the headless-robot seemed more human-friendly to me. The first inkling of unease came from Dexter Bot’s TV-serial-killer first name, but it was the thin line of Cylon-like red lights flashing within its face plate that kept me at dual-arm’s length.

The closer science reality gets to our science fiction visions, the more the manufacturers will have to aware of pop culture references and avoid the creepy ones in their products, especially if the goal is smooth human-robot interface in the workplace or home. There’s a long way to go before real robots have the capacity go the route of R2D2 and C3PO or Cylons and Terminators. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing the next generation of innovations at Automate 2013.

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Strange Dreams, Koontz and (briefly) King – Part 2

Back to the review for Koontz’s most recent and another trend that puts pressure on some authors to write faster and publish more often. The Publishers Weekly reviewer compares Koontz’s novel What the Night Knows to the movie “Fallen.” I’d prefer reviewers of print to compare apples to apples, but I understand the reason for the film reference. Readers have come to expect suspense, horror, fantasy and science fiction novels to be as fast paced as the blockbuster movies we go to see—one of the signs of our changing tastes in literature that no writer of popular fiction can ignore. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely tough to compete with films. Words on the printed page, no matter how visceral and dynamic the language, don’t have the slam bang factor of visual special effects, nor can they rely on musical scores to heighten the emotional reaction of the audience. A book is a different species of entertainment than a film. Each art form has its own strengths and limitations, so why expect one to follow the same rules as the other?

Where once there were two distinct markets, it’s not as easy to separate film goers from readers anymore. To entice more people to buy books, publishers must look for faster pacing and less description in the books they publish. In response, many writers adopt a style of shorter chapter length—sometimes as short as two or three pages, which doesn’t leave much room for in depth character exploration. Any hint of philosophic or moral dilemma must be shown in a few words, lines or details, akin to the close-ups and one-liners in a film. Quite a challenge for any writer—in novels or screenplays. Occasionally, restrictions on pacing and chapter length work for a writer, even define his or her style. Robert B. Parker, for example. As a fan of his Jesse Stone series, I’m in love with the way he marries the terse hero to the spare writing style. Result: easy books to make movies from and easy for the reader to feel like she’s seeing a film script as she reads. But that’s not a style that works for every writer or for every story. Good for fast-paced plots, bad for character driven stories or for novels where atmosphere, world building or large casts of characters are required.

On to Stephen King. Not one for short chapters or restricting anything where it comes to word count. Wikipedia credits him with 49 novels so far, but since they’re each usually long enough to count as two novels, let’s just say that for both he and Koontz, the word prolific is an understatement. (Maybe a new word: kingoontzic. Maybe not. Let’s just say both of them make me feel woefully lazy.) I’ve probably read less of King’s work than Koontz’s, but enough to know that what I said above goes for this writer, too, i.e. admiration, respect—enough to study his style and listen to what he says on the craft of writing. Oddly enough, I think I’ve seen more King than I’ve read. Maybe it’s just a habit I got into early on. Having heard how scary The Shining was from one of my friends in high school, I decided to see the movie before I read the book—using the film as a way to prepare for the longer scare. It’s also made me expect, perhaps more than with other authors, that there will be much more story to the book than the movies. I also have the benefit of the movie or mini-series visuals in my head to carry me through the many pages of a King mega-novel. (Visualizing Gary Sinise as Stu Redman went a long way to get me through the 1141 pages of the complete and uncut version of The Stand.)

Perhaps, in a way, I’ve been ahead of the curve in wanting a film experience from books. After all, the PBS series based on War and Peace is what helped me achieve my goal of reading Tolstoy’s Stephen-King length masterpiece. (At 1475 pages in the paperback version I read, it’s got only 334 on my copy of The Stand.) Should we start promoting novels as movies and mini-series in print? Crime novels with reoccurring protagonists could be advertised as print version episodes. That way people may have an easier time choosing books to read: “Gee, I don’t have time to read a Stephen King mini-series right now. I’ll read the Koontz TV movie instead.” Of course, that would only turn up the pressure on bestselling authors to churn out more novels faster.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to have the long run of King or Koontz and still have to face a critic or reader’s disappointment. (Although I’m sure massive sales make up for that in many ways.) Not to worry. I’ll never have a writing career or have deal with the problems of a Koontz or King. I simply don’t have enough time. No matter how hard I try, I can’t find enough hours in the evening after work or on the weekends to churn out the required word count. And, even if every submission I made from now on gets accepted, I got my first publishing credit much too late in life compared to those two. I should just enjoy my nightmare of the other night. Why complain if it means my muse is still spurring me on to write more, faster, and better?

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Strange Dreams, Koontz and (briefly) King – Part 1

Lately, I haven’t been sleeping well. It seems every time I get into REM sleep, I wake up halfway through the dream. Last night, people (I don’t know who they were) were hanging around me (in some unknown location) and pestering me to write more, faster and better. With some small success behind me and many years of studying the craft of writing and the markets, I can interpret my dream in one of two ways: wishful fantasy or nightmare.

I’d love to have multitudes of book-buying fans eager for more stories. What writer wouldn’t? On the flip side, may of those fans clamor for their favorite author’s next book right after reading the one that just got published.  Not many of them, unless they’re writers, too, understand how much time, work, and often, sleep deprivation goes into a novel or that the same amount of effort goes into a book whether it turns out to be a page-turner or a dud. We’re talking long, lonely hours of writing, research, rewriting, editing with sometimes not the hoped for results either in advancing one’s craft, readership or income.

Yep, it takes much less time to read a book than to write one. For those of you who don’t believe that, I say: Go ahead. Try it. Participate in NaNoWriMo­—National Write a Novel in a Month—this November. See if you can rack up 50,000 words, coherent or otherwise, in 30 days. Then add another 20,000 to 25,000 words to get it to 70,000 to 75,000—the word count most publishers consider the minimum for novel-length fiction. It’s definitely a good experience for anyone who has the notion “one day I’ll write a novel” but hasn’t typed a word (except texts, tweets and emails) since college.

Tirade over.  Tirade cause? Probably the fact that, basically, I’m tired…all the time and have been for many years. After working my day job, I come home and try to write at night. As one of my friends pointed out, I’ve been trying to hold down two full times jobs.  And the night shift, aside from not paying well (or anything most of the time) ain’t that productive.  It’s difficult to be creative when sleep-deprived. After having written two novels (unpublished) and three novellas (published under a pen name), I can tell you that my dream of last night tipped more toward the nightmare side.  My last novella was published in the summer of 2009. From a reader’s perspective, it looks like I’ve let the ball drop. Not true. I’ve been working steadily, albeit very slowly on two new books, but completed neither this year. (Guess what’s at the topped of list for my 2011 resolutions.)

Aside form exhaustion, there’s another factor that sometimes throws a spanner in the works. Writer’s block it’s not. (In fact, I don’t believe in writer’s block, but that’s a topic for another time.) What does sometimes slow me down is the unsettling realization that success, while highly desired, brings its own set of woes, even for those wunderkind who seem to hit the bestseller lists every time they go up to bat. I know, I know. I have a long way to get to that point if  I ever do, but—since over analyzing is my thing—it’s still cause for concern. Besides, looking to my writer heroes for inspiration, I can’t help but acknowledge their setbacks as well as their successes.

Take Dean Koontz, for example. His latest, released this past December, didn’t get very good reviews out of the gate. Publishers Weekly said it’s “less than suspenseful.” Not good for a suspense novel. Koontz is one of my favorite authors—which is not to say I love everything he’s written. So have I run out to buy Koontz’s latest book? No. Like many others, I’ll probably wait to get it from my library or buy a used copy on Amazon.com. Why? Truth to tell, I’ve been disappointed in the endings of many of Koontz’s recent novels, so I tend to shell out the big bucks for a shiny new hardcover version only if it’s from one of the series that I love. Had it been a new book in the Odd Thomas series, I’d have pre-ordered a copy as soon as I was able.

Here’s the crux with Koontz: he doesn’t hit one out of the park every time. This doesn’t upset me as a fan. Eventually, I do read everything he writes. No matter where Koontz’s efforts fall on the sales lists or my own list f favorites, I still admire and respect him as a writer. Every author has work that misses the mark, especially when he’s written as many books as Koontz has. How many? Over 70 novels. (I confess, when I got to 70 on the Wikipedia list, I stopped counting.)

I’ll continue to look forward to the books where he expands and explores the craft of writing. That kind of book hasn’t been coming out of his fingertips lately though. What’s happening? As with other popular authors, I see him churning out two or three books a year. No doubt, he loves to write, but he’s also one of those brand names now with readers and publishers clamoring for fresh product on the shelves. I have to wonder at our demands on top authors today. Take into account the much smaller bodies of work of successful fiction writers in the past. And I’d have to say we’re too greedy, authors and public alike. Conan Doyle, for instance, wrote 56 Sherlock Holmes stories—but note, that’s stories, not novels, no where near the word count of today’s best-sellers. Is our hunger for more books, creating a market of less satisfying books? I’d have to say yes.

(Oops. Running too long. King will have to wait for Part 2.)

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Tonight Serenity flies again

Tonight’s the night to tune into the Science Channel and watch Firefly from the beginning. What else is there to say but…Shiny!

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Firefly much?

Firefly – short-lived television series created by Joss Whedon, which premiered on September 20th, 2002 and was canceled by December of the same year; only 11 of the 14 filmed episodes were aired; DVD sales, a feature film (Serenity), graphic novels, books, and fan conventions have kept up interest in the show.

Browncoat – a diehard fan of the show Firefly.

Browncoat Facts About Me:

  • When I watched the first aired episode (“The Train Job”) I had no idea what was going on with Whedon’s new series, but I loved the idea of having the characters swear in Chinese and decided to keep watching.
  • By the end of the second aired episode, I’d fallen in love with the series but already figured it wouldn’t stay on long so I recorded the rest, convinced it would never make it to video or DVD.
  • I now own three DVD sets, two of which are currently on loan to friends who haven’t before seen the series.
  • I’m Kayleegirl on FireflyFans.net. I haven’t visited there in awhile, but I do have one story in the Blue Sun Room (“A Not-So-Shiny Christmas”) which I posted in three parts after giving it to a friend as part of her Christmas gift.
  • I saw Serenity seven times when it was first released in theaters, twice with a group of friends and the other five times on my own.
  • On my recent visit to Epcot one of my happiest moments was finding—and, of course, buying—a blue jacket in the China gift store that’s very similar to the one Kaylee wears when she first meets Shepherd Book.

I submit the list above so that when I say that my love of this Whedon ‘Verse pales in comparison to that of many Browncoats, I want you to understand my full meaning.

Now, if you’re already a fan of the show, you may recognize that for the last sentence above, I’ve tweaked one of Simon Tam’s lines from Firefly’s the pilot episode “Serenity” to make my point. If you’re a Browncoat, you’ll know the words I’ve changed and the exact context of the original quote. If you’ve never seen or even heard of the show, I’m not surprised. Not your fault. The network-that-shall-remain-nameless on which the series originally and very briefly appeared, seemed set on dooming it from the start. The pilot episode was actually the last episode that network aired. Thus, my initial confusion upon watching “The Train Job.” Who were these characters? Why the mix of Chinese culture with themes from westerns, Civil War films and science fiction? Why was the ship’s captain in the tight brown pants so silly, yet so filled with angst? Why was the big gun toting guy named Jayne? Luckily, I’m a person who gets intrigued by unanswered questions and not turned off. I watched the show, bought the DVDs so I could see the unaired episodes and continue to get psyched about any mention of the show, i.e. I am a Browncoat.

Nathan Fillion—another Browncoat.  He had the lead role in the series (Malcolm Reynolds, aforesaid ship’s captain in the tight brown pants) and he continues to take an interest. If you watch Castle and haven’t seen Firefly, then you’re missing a lot of great moments built into Castle’s episodes that only Firefly fans will fully appreciate. Want an example? Sorry. They’re way too difficult to explain unless you’ve seen Firefly, due to the very unique nature of that fictional world. Want to be in the know? Soon you’ll be able to see what all my fuss is about even without ordering up the series on Netflicks, buying the DVD set or borrowing one of mine.

The Science Channel will air all the episodes (in the right order) beginning this Sunday, March 6th. To get a quick rundown of each episode and some idea if what the series is all about check out the episode guide on the Science Channel’s site. To see how much interest Nathan Fillion still has in the show, check out his brief interview at Entertainment Weekly’s site. I hope all the Castle fans and sci fi fans who haven’t seen Firefly yet will watch and enjoy. And hopefully become fellow Browncoats. The more, the better. If our ranks continue to grow, perhaps there will be another movie or a spinoff series someday. (I have a friend—Dave Perry—who thinks I’m crazy for holding onto those hopes, but he’s much younger than I am. I lived through the long the years of seeing Star Trek go from canceled series to major TV, film and publishing franchise. Not to mention fun filled spoofs. Never give up, never surrender.)

For the time being, I can enjoy the small delights of the Monday/Tuesday network TV shows Chuck, The Cape, Castle, and V that give me a chance to see four Firefly alumni in action again: Adam Baldwin (Chuck) who played Jayne on Firefly, Summer Glau (The Cape) who played River Tam; Nathan Fillion (Castle) who played our beloved captain tightpants; and Morena Baccarin (V) who played Inara. It’s not the same as a new episode of Firefly, but it does keep me happy for now.

About FireflyFans.net…I had to take a look-see to get the link for my story and found out there’s a new updated site, FFF.NET Ver 2.0, which is said to be still under construction but looks pretty darn shiny to me. Check it out at: http://beta.fireflyfans.net/main.aspx Best bunch of Browncoats in the ‘Verse.  And, if you do get hooked on Firefly and want more, you’ll find lots of fan fiction there in the Blue Sun Room to keep you going.

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Two Kinds of Chick Flicks, Sci Fi and V

Are you watching V?

Okay, so it’s not BSG or Firefly (although the cast list does include two of the Firefly alumni: Alan Tudyk in a brief lizardy role for three episodes in season one and Morena Baccarin in a lead role as the evil and awesome lizard queen Ana). But it is cheesy good fun for a Tuesday night. Not anywhere near as cheesy as the original series with Marc Singer, but it’ll do.

Did we expect more from this series? Possibly. After the big conversion of Battlestar Galactica from mini-caped starship jockeys and mechanical dogs to angst-filled warriors and sexy, humanoid Cylons on a dark, twisted religious quest I’m still hopeful that someday we’ll get another such welcome surprise.

Honestly though, I’m glad V stayed light and fluffy. It’s time for some fun sci fi again, Saturday matinee, don’t-take-it-so-seriously stuff. And really, lizard-like aliens in big spaceships with an evil plan—can you make that into a believable doom and gloom tragedy? Someone probably has. (As Craig Ferguson’s fond of saying: I look forward to your letters.) But, don’t you miss the tongue in cheek humor of SG1 and Stargate Altantis? There’s a potential in that for V, if the powers that be allow the writers to throw in more moments like the one last week when Father Jack commented on Hobbes’ need for closet space to accommodate his many black t-shirts. The hunky mercenary in tight black tees is just one of the many clichés that could be poked at for the fun of it.  Speaking of Hobbes, or rather Charles Mesure, the actor who plays him…

Another reason I like this incarnation of V is the same reason I liked watching the original: the hot guy factor. In the eighties, we had Marc Singer saving the day in tight jeans or undercover in a red jumpsuit. This time around we’ve got Mesure along with Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, and for awhile Oded Fehr (who, might I say, is aging very, very well). For me, more handsome guys means more reasons to while away an hour on a weeknight.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a woman who loves to read science fiction, even the type that leans heavy on hard science to drive the plot. I also love high-tech suspense and detective stories with a cool, pared down style like Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. I’ve never understood why this surprises men. Good stories, good writing: what’s not to like? Once, when I was taking my lunch break in a mall food court and reading one of Asmiov’s books, a man actually stopped by my table just to tell me how amazing it was to see a female reading Asimov. Another time, I couldn’t convince my then boyfriend that I wanted to see The Hunt For Red October because I’d read the book and all rest of Tom Clancy’s novels. He kept thanking me for letting him pick the film for the night and assuring me that next time we’d go see something that I would like. Of course, aside from quality story telling, there was another factor that I enjoyed seeing Red October so much—not one to tell a date, though. A bonus in most sci fi, war films, cop shows and adventure films is the makeup of the cast: lots of hunky guys.

You see, there are two kinds of chick flicks. Let me clarify (especially for the powers that be in TV and films seeking to capture the female demographic): The first kind is the romantic, sentimental kind (Sleepless In Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and so on).  Then, there are the packed-with-action-and-hot guys kind (Backdraft, Terminator films, Star Trek 2009).  So, while I don’t know if the hot women actors in V are enough for male sci fi fans to keep tuning in, I can tell you there are lots of us chicks who tune in for the hot guys in the cast.

There is one chick factor the new V lacks: cute and/or nerdy guys. Granted Bret Harrison, from Reaper, has recently joined the cast as Dr. Sidney Miller, but we could use a few more cuties in the series. I used to watch Stargate Atlantis just as much for Paul McGillion and David Hewlett as for Joe Flanagan and Jason Momoa. And where are the innocent, nice-lizard guys? I long for a character like Willy, played by Robert Englund, in the original V mini-series.

Oh, yes. There is a big point in V’s favor that I haven’t mentioned: the strong female characters. But that’s a topic for another day.

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What’s in the Header? Part 1

Short answer: lots of stuff, but not even close to all the books and paraphernalia I’ve collected over the years.

I’ve pulled together just a few of my treasures to give hint of where my mind usually goes when I start thinking about science fiction and fantasy. Every once in awhile, I’ll point out one or two of the items and let you in on why I’m attached to them. Where to begin?

Let me direct your eye to the objects a bit to the right of the center: deceptively simple ring dangling on a chain, leaf pin and —what are those box-like objects at top behind the ring and chain?—ah, yes, the boxed sets of the special extended DVD editions of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King.

When The Two Towers came out, I went to the midnight show with a group of friends —nerds all, but not nerdy enough to dress as inhabitants of Middle Earth. (Do I regret that not-dressing-up part? Possibly.) The year before, when Fellowship hit the theaters, I had gone to see that film by myself. I hadn’t yet found my fellowship, but that’s not to say I was friendless. The truth is, I enjoy going alone to see a movie every once in awhile. If you’ve never done that, try it. It’s a totally different experience and it can be a great one, especially when the film is important to you. I’d seen (with friends) the cartoon version of LOTR. The Nazgûl were cool (can’t seem to miss with those guys in any format), but the rest­—not so good. But that night, from the first few seconds of Peter Jackson’s film, I watched magic unfold on the screen. Alone, I could disappear into the experience. I felt I was in Middle Earth. (At least up to the point after Gandalf brings his staff down to crack the Bridge at Kazahd Dûm and a woman in the audience said, loudly, “I guess he doesn’t want him to pass.”)

From The Two Towers on, I’ve been lucky to share the films and hours of discussion about the films and books with my happy fellowship of nerds. So the trilogy, in both mediums, means a lot to me. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve watched these DVDs alone or with friends. I love the films, the extra features, the oh-so-right packaging details. My favorite extra feature? I do like the “From Book to Script” extras because comparing the books to the films is a favorite pastime. But my absolute favorite would have to be the commentary track by Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan. Hmm, which movie is that one on? On no, I feel a LOTR marathon coming on.

By the way, the miniature sword. Could it be Aragorn’s? Boromir’s? Gandalf’s? Come on, nerds. You’re better than that.  It’s not even from LOTR. Any guesses?

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