All posts by Thomas J. Rock

So There Was An Eclipse…

So there was this once in a lifetime astronomical event last week.  You may have heard something about it.  People flocking to places in the middle of nowhere that they would have otherwise not known existed, gathering in open fields, congregated on rooftops, cursing the very clouds in the sky.

The media build up to August 21 was interesting to watch, from an observation standpoint.

Schools closed for the day.  Some businesses closed for the day.  For a couple of brief hours – in my area – at least, the fast moving world seemed to put on the brakes.  I live in the Charleston, SC area.  We were the ground zero for eclipse observers on the east coast that hoped to be a part of the event.  In the days leading up to Aug 21, the local news outlets bombarded us with eclipse updates, often repeating the same stuff from the previous hour:  Stay off the roads during the eclipse, Don’t look at the eclipse without your glasses, and so on and so forth.

For me, it got tiring.

But at the same time, there was a boost to the local tourist economy beyond the normal tourist traffic.  Hotels and AIRBNB weren’t the only ones to cash in.  Thousands of pairs of fake eclipse glasses were sold.  Scammers made a killing at $8 -$10 a shot (or more) at the expense of people’s eyesight.

Then the day finally came.  I had to work.  A lot of people at my job took a half day off to go to a more ideal spot to watch.  Before the actual eclipse, all eyes were on the weather in the Charleston area.  Clouds were a big concern.  If we were to look at company web traffic out of my office, that day, I’m sure Weather.com and NASA.gov were eating a heck of a lot of bandwidth.

Then…finally…the moon’s shadow had moved across the entire continental U.S..  It was Charleston’s turn…somehow the clouds knew it, it seemed.

When eclipse started, there were optimism was high.  Clouds were patchy with a good amount of blue sky to be had.  Shortly before totality, I snapped a couple pics such as the one below, with my eclipse glasses covering my phone camera lens.  They came out OK.  It was cool to watch the moon’s approach to totality.

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Then, life proved (once again) that it hates me.  About five minutes before totality, the sky got completely clouded.  At my job, we heard most of the surrounding area was getting rain.  I have to admit, I felt there was a little poetic justice at work when it came to those people that took the day off for the event, when I was stuck there.

But I digress.

Then it got dark.  The street lights came on.  Every camera present in the small group that stood outside with me in the parking lot was pointed skyward.  We could hear people cheering and shooting off fireworks.  Cameras were snapping pics, wildly, in the slim hope we’d get a break in the clouds within the next minute and forty-four secs.  It had the feeling of the stroke of midnight on New Years Day.

Then it happened

Clouds thinned enough for us to be able to see totality.  Not in its full glory, but enough to see the ring around the moon.  So I started taking pictures…or so I thought.  My phone didn’t register pics being taken.  I cursed out loud, drawing attention from those nearest to me.  Frustrated, I restarted the camera app and found I did get a couple of pics.  The best of them is below.

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All things considered, even as tired of hearing about as I got, it was a very cool experience.  Remember what I said about the world seeming like it slowed down a bit?  Beyond that, it also felt like – for a minute and forty-four seconds – our conflicts and frustrations took a back seat to something bigger.  I would bet, during that time of totality, no one was complaining about government, the economy, or any of the limitless things people put too much effort into worrying about.

I kinda wish it would happen more often.  Should we really have to wait until 2024 for everyone to get along again?

The People vs. Midichlorians

I recently watched the documentary film, THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS, that takes a look at the Star Wars universe that George Lucas has altered, tweaked, and even changed over the years from the fan perspective.  For the fans, myself included, there was some good, more bad than we’d like, and (with the prequel trilogy) a whole lot of ugly.

From week titles (‘Attack of the Clones???), to the casting of the pivtol character of Anakin Skywalker (“Yippee!”), to that other silly character that will remain nameless in the post because “heesa” was close to being the worst part of the entire trilogy, there’s on thing fans rail against that, in my opinion, gets a worse wrap that it deserves.

And – as the title of this posts suggests – that would be midichlorians.  Qui-Gon Jinn described them as microscopic organisms that exist in the cells of all living things and we communicate with The Force through them.  Without them, there would be “no knowledge of the living force.”

For the majority of fans, this was an outrage!  One forum post I’ve read says this changes Star Wars from “Science-Fantasy to Sci-Fiction”.  I think Space Fantasy would have been the correct genre to mention there, but lets not split hairs about that in this post.  The point is, the majority of fans felt like a biological explanation for force sensitivity takes the mysticism out of The Force in the Star Wars universe, and they would be correct…

…had it been added to the original trilogy (more on this later).

However, the universe in the prequel trilogy was very, very different from that depicted in episodes IV, V, and VI.  Back then, there were almost no force users left and there hadn’t been for nearly twenty years or so.  No one was left to educate anyone else about the force.  Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader weren’t going to do it.  Yoda was a bazillion miles away and Obi-Wan was a dusty old fart that probably spent more time practicing that big lie he was going to tell Luke to get him to do he and Yoda’s dirty work after they’re failure two decades prior.

Back then, the force was mystical and to add the midichlorian explanation in to that place in the time line would have probably broke the franchise.

No let’s set the way back machine some years or so Star Wars years.  There was no empire.  As far as anyone was concerned the Sith had disappeared a thousand years prior.  The Republic was the ruling body of the galaxy. and there were so many Jedi, they amounted to a dime a dozen.

The Jedi order was at its peak.  Did you see that Jedi temple on Coruscant?  It sure all seemed very scientific and very technological.  But they still followed the same “mystical” principles of the light side of the force with their actions and discipline.  But what we discovered was it was more than that.  The Jedi were meticulous records keepers almost to the point of believing that if something did not appear i their archives, it did not exist.  But when they discovered a force sensitive being and needed to decide if they should be brought into the order, they tested their midichlorian count.  Higher count, indicates greater sensitivity to the force and more potential power.  I promise you those numbers were documented in each Jedi’s file AND those they had found, but decided NOT to bring into the order because of the potential of turning to the dark side.  A biological explanation for the strength of the force in someone makes sense.

The force was less mystical during the prequel trilogy because everyone knew about it, in my opinion.  And given what we saw in the Jedi order, during those movies, embracing the scientific side of the force wasn’t that much of a stretch, in my opinion.

And here’s something else you midichlorian detractors need to consider.  George Lucas came up with midichlorians when he created the original trilogy.  Yeah…they’ve been there all along.  You ca read about it on Wookiepedia HERE.  Scroll down to the behind the scenes section.

I’m in the minority, but I like it.  As someone that reads hard science fiction, this concept is right up my alley.  It makes a hell of a lot more sense then trying to convince us of the absolutely ludicrous notion that Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO.  That ranks up with “Han shot first” with me.  Interesting side-note to that one.  I oddly don’t hear too many fans complaining about it.  THAT makes no sense.

Till next time…

 

The Disappointment of: The Red October

“The Disappointment of:”  is a series of blog posts that address plot elements in stories that the characters perceive to be something that should be feared or regard as completely badass that end up not living up to the hype the characters give it for the audience.  Remember, the disappoint is based on the failed expectation created by the CHARACTERS for the audience.

Today’s disappointment:  The Red October (Movie version, 1990).

I’ll preface this by first saying that I’ve never served in the Navy and what I know about Submarine warfare comes from reading about it, watching documentaries, and talking with people that have served on subs.  If there is a movie that best demonstrates the brutal, psychological nature of submarine life and warfare, in my opinion, it would be DAS BOOT, directed by Wolfgang Peterson.  It shows the absolute necessity of stealth for attack and survival.

‘Run Silent, Run Deep’, as they say.

Now, let’s take the psychological fear of an attack you can’t see coming until its too late, and throw in the psychological fears of a cold war nuclear weapons strike from right off the coast line of whatever you live in, with no warning and no time to prepare.

That is fear that Jack Ryan and the other characters dealt with when spies smuggled out pictures of the new Russian Typhoon-Class Ballistic Missile Submarine, The Red October.  The pictures indicated some features that they could not identify which fueled their fears even more.

When Jack showed the pictures to Skip Tyler, who was able to identify the mystery doors on the Red October, as possibly being part of a super-silent propulsion system, known as a caterpillar drive, that fear factor went through the roof.  OH MY GOD!  That sub could just putt-putt right passed the sonar warning nets, in the Atlantic, launch a couple of hundred nuclear warheads on the east coast and “no one would no anything about it until it was all over”.

Ah hell, with a threat like this, what would be the sensible thing for the government to do?

Have a briefing.

Oh, by the way, Jack,  you’re giving the briefing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all of the other crusty old men that show up.

So how could things get any worse?  There is new weapon that we know very little about, but are pretty sure no one, ANYWHERE, will be able to find it because its super-duper quiet.  And now dozens of other Russian ships are flooding out into the Atlantic and heading OUR way!!!  Oh the humanity!

But wait, there’s more…

One of the crusty old men says he’s heard, through the grapevine, that the Captain of the Red October sent a letter to an Admiral and within minutes, that Admiral is telling his boys to go sink that shiny new, multi-billion dollar piece of soviet state property.

“Sink her?”  Says National Security Adviser, Jeffrey Pelt, right before he excuses himself to clean up after soiling himself (I’ve speculating on that.  I expect that was edited out in post-production).

What does it mean?  Wait…a rogue missile submarine?  Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick!  He’s going to blow us all up!  And there is NO WAY to find locate this submarine!  What do we do?

“Definitely grab the boat, Sir,”  says Jack, eagerly.

“Oh ok,” Pelt says.  “Let me just put you on a plan, undercover (so to speak), and fly you out to a random carrier battle group so you can single-handedly find the submarine that, by all accounts, is UNDETECTABLE.  If only there was someone, somewhere…maybe a sonar operator…that had keen enough skills to bag that sucker on sonar and. by extension, completely negate the effectiveness of the so-called caterpillar drive forever and always because once you figure out what it sounds like…and get a recording of it to share with everyone…its no longer a stealth weapon.  Its just another missile submarine.

BAH!  That’s just crazy talk, right?  Surely russian engineers didn’t make it THAT easy to beat their design right?

Meanwhile, on the U.S.S. Dallas…

Captain Bart Mancuso:  “What you got, Jonsey?”

Seaman Jones”Captain, hey, you know that super quiet submarine everyone’s looking for?  In spite of all the noise of a hundred russian ships flooding the water with active sonar, I found it.  It’s right here…and its heading here.  Oh and check it out, I got it on tape to store in the computer.”

Captain Mancuso:  :  “Great.  We’ll use the $40 million dollar computer, that tells us these things, as our new anchor.”

I paraphrased (a lot), but basically in that moment, as soon as Jonsey figured out what the Red October sounded like, that sub was no longer special.  Just another big steel underwater trap.  From that point on, EVERYONE knew where it was and they had a big confab at the Laurentian Abyss during for the movie’s climax,

I know I’m talking about the movie (in the book, it wasn’t quite so cut and dry), to illustrate how unscary and utterly useless the Red October became, I think two books or so later (in the Jack Ryan Series) Tom Clancy wrote the scene where the stripped hulk of what was left of the Red October was scuttled in the ocean and no where (that I can remember) is the caterpillar drive mentioned again or its technology applied to any U.S. Warship (again, that I am aware of).

And that’s it.  The Red October is gone, never to be feared again.

Agree or disagree?  Is there a similar plot element that was similarly disappointing that you’d like me to review?

As always, comments are welcomed.

Till Next time…

What Has Been (and Will Be) Happening…

Greetings and welcome back.  It’s been kind of a whirlwind last few months and I just wanted to take a moment share what’s been happening and what’s on the near horizon.

First, as always, thanks to all of you who have either purchased or borrowed FOOL’S GOLD and THE JACK FOEHAMMER OMNIBUS.  I really, really appreciate your support.  Hopefully, you’ve been looking forward to CARSON LYLE’S WAR:  PART TWO.  If circumstances permit, it will come to you soon.

Work on Part Two (and other projects) has been sidetracked many times since October.  Early on, it was a story problem.  Things were not planned out as well as I had thought and I wrote myself into a corner.  It’s not an excuse, just a statement of fact.  There were somethings that HAD to be worked out, or this would have been a broken part two on release, and you deserve better than that.

Naturally, of course, other things inserted themselves to impede progress.  Some things welcomed (birth of a another grandchild), others were not (best if don’t elaborate on this).  But all of those things intruded on my writing time and just made extremely difficult next to impossible to get into a writing state of mind.  So on the rare occasion I had a chance to write…well…nothing happened.

Thankfully, though, things are settling down and I’m getting ramped up to get back to dedicated work on writing these stories, setting a release schedule for the remainder of the year…and sticking to it.

The schedule is still being worked out, but I expect CARSON LYLE’S WAR:  PART TWO to be released on Amazon by June 30, with subsequent parts coming every 30 days after that.  I expect there to be three more parts to this story in total.

If you’ve read FOOL’S GOLD, then you know Carson already has a price on his head on the planet Rygel above and beyond the charges the Authority already has against him.   My mailing list subscribers will be receiving the prequel short story about that incident tentatively titled:  CARSON LYLE AND THE KING OF RYGEL somewhere around the end of May.

And on top of all that, I have some story ideas in the hard science fiction and cyberpunk genres incubating in the idea tank right now, that could see the light of day between releases of Carson Lyle stories.  At this point, I would expect those to be released under the Jack Foehammer pen name.

That’s all for now.  I’ve got to get back to work.

Till next time…

Amy J. Murphy on Short Stories

Here’s a theory—Chihuahuas have the souls of larger dogs (most likely dire wolves) wedged into those tiny little bodies. It would explain why these tiny pups think they’re big enough to take on a cat twice their size or why they always seem to shake. (The shaking is actually their molecules vibrating with the effort…

via Short Stories: Chihuahuas vs. Dire Wolves — AJM

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Much like John “Hannibal” Smith, I do love it when a plan comes together.  It’s another way of saying I love it when, in a story, a number of seemingly unrelated plot lines come together, and the antagonist’s brilliant scheme is finally revealed.  Say what you will about the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but Emperor Palpatine is an absolute genius!  He so expertly manipulated the Senate to position himself to be elected Supreme Chancellor to rule the Republic, and later persuaded the republic to give him the army he used to crush the Jedi and take absolute control to form the Galactic Empire.  There’s more to it, of course, which makes it even more brilliant.

In a story, if a grand scheme – a plan – is implied as an overall story arc, there better be a satisfying payoff at the end, in my opinion.  I cite Revenge of the Sith, again.  The last 45 minutes or so, from when Anakin turns to the darkside on to the end.  That is the type of payoff I’m talking about.  I feel like the payoff is vitally important when you include something like:  “…and they have a plan” in the opening credits of every episode of your epic TV show.

Such is the case with the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica.  I hate reboots, but I loved that one.  It was one of the few shows I would go out of my way to watch when it aired.  I loved the characters.  I loved the hell those characters went through, although in the last season, Adama had his breakdown moments every other week and that got kind of repetitive.  It took a while for me to process and adjust to the re-imagination of things in the mini-series.  It took a while to adjust to Starbuck and Boomer being women.  However, the other things done with characters, such as the rift in the relationship between Apollo and Adama and the way the revealed Zack had died, Colonel Tigh’s alcoholism.  I liked that the world they created was relate-able  to the audience.

The first episode of the ongoing series titled, “33”, immediately gave you the sense that these people were going to be in for some serious hell.  How do people deal with an enemy that attacks EVERY thirty-three minutes?  They fight long enough to cover the fleet’s escape.  They hope…no…they pray the Cylon’s won’t find them again.  At the 33 minute mark, the Cylon’s appear and attack again.  Now imagine that going on 24×7.  Brutal.

Now take all of that plot and character greatness and imply the shows antagonists have a  huge plan for the last 50,000 human survivors…

…and not deliver on that promise!

I think the show was engaging enough for a lot of the audience to possibly not notice there wasn’t a “plan” because the Cylons were very calculating in the first couple of seasons so it may have seemed like they had a greater goal in mind.  Except there WASN’T a plan for wiping out the survivors.  Or was the goal of the plan to get the “Final Five” to reveal themselves?  No, it couldn’t have been that because the Cylons didn’t know the five were among the humans in the fleet until late in the series.

I’m aware of the prequel subtitled (ironically enough) “The Plan”.  I haven’t seen it, I’m sorry to say, but I’ve done enough reading on it to know that there was a plan leading up to the attack the wiped out the colonies.  But there’s where it stopped so far as I know.

Impromptu goals for the Cylons popped up along the way such as wanting the first human/Cylon hybrid child for experimentation.  But the pursuit of the fleet did not have an intended endgame.  If there had been, there likely wouldn’t have been a civil war of sorts between Cylons.  The path the story would have taken probably wouldn’t have had a Cylon faction joining the fleet.  The series would have built up to the grand revelation of the Cylon endgame and how most everything that had happened to that point, happened by design, and Adama and friends would have been at their lowest point realizing that they’d had exactly ZERO control over their fate up until the end.  It would have been the type of revelation that would have broken the internet.

And yet there was none.

Having Starbuck’s destiny come to fruition was done very well and the slow-burn of her story arc approaches what the revelation of the “plan” could have been, and the two probably could have been woven together to create something even more epic.  But the lack of said plan was probably the biggest disappointment of the entire series for me.

Is the revelation of “the plan” when one is implied important to you as a reader/viewer?

Comment below.

 

Till next time…

C.L.U. Was Clueless

The Tron Legacy score, by Daft Punk, is in regular rotation in my writing music playlist.  By far, it’s the best part of that movie.  I wanted to like that movie.  I really did…and I still do.  But the story suffers from huge plot holes, inconsistencies, and too many things that defy logic.

Which is ironic considering C.L.U. was meant to build the perfect system.

It’s C.L.U.’s ENTIRE plan and execution of that plan that just defies that logic.  Now, let me state, for the record, that it has been a long time since I watched the movie.  so it’s possible I might not recall some of the finer details correctly, but this high level review of C.L.U.’s idiocy ought to be accurate.  And that idiocy starts at the very beginning…

(Sigh)  The premise of his plan is brilliant:  He sends signal to Alan Bradley’s pager, trying to lure him into the system so the portal would be open and he could get out.  But we don’t get this until a little later.  The problem is, C.L.U. seems to forget he has a plan in motion!

He’s EXPECTING Alan Bradley – or someone – to come into the system.  I get the impression there is ONE way into the system: the replica of Flynn’s arcade.  Question:  Why is there NO ONE there waiting for whoever comes in?  C.L.U. would want that person caught and brought to him AS SOON AS THEY SET FOOT ON THE GRID because of the limited amount of time the portal stays open.

But there is no one there.

One might argue that Sam IS caught very soon after coming into the system, but that was part of a routine sweep for programs to be brought either to the Gaming Grid or to be put in C.L.U’s army.

So Sam gets taken to the Gaming Grid and forced into Disc Wars.  No knows a user is on the grid.  Not C.L.U, not anyone.  The Sirens know he’s different when they are prepping him for the games, but they don’t alert any one.

So Sam is in the games.  Sam somehow manages to beat an opponent, even though he’s never through an identity disc in his life and has only been on the Grid for perhaps an hour, may be two.  All of this is going and for a bit, no one knows a user is there.  But there’s something else no one notices.

No one, not one of the thousands of programs in the arena…or ANYWHERE ELSE, for that matter…notices the PORTAL is open!.  It’s right there, on the horizon, like a very bright, shimmering star.  AND (as we find out later) it was designed that way, to be a reminder that Kevin Flynn was around or something like that.  I think it was Quorra that said something like that to Sam.  The point is, no one noticed and I would think that would have been a pretty big deal to someone.

During the Disc Wars, Jarvis gives a C.L.U. an update that includes the status of his “private initiative”, which would be the plan to take an army through the portal.  But…Jarvis doesn’t actually know that’s what the plan is!(?).  As a matter of fact, I don’t think ANYONE knew what the plan was except for C.L.U.!  Maybe Tron knew, but he wasn’t exactly a chatterbox.  C.L.U. just had his people round out ordinary programs and ship them off to be reprogrammed to be in C.L.U.’s invasion army.

The army is being assembled and rallied at a base somewhere out in the direction of the portal.  The ship is being loaded and they are acting as though they are definitely going to go through the portal at a scheduled time.  But they don’t have Flynn’s disc.  They don’t have the key to get out and know one even notices the door is open.

So C.L.U. doesn’t have what he needs to make his plan work and when he finally knows Sam is on the grid, his first instinct is to try to kill him???  To show the programs that the “tyranny of the user” will never return???  How does that help him get Flynn’s identity disc?  Flynn doesn’t know his son is there either.  Quorra rescues him from the grid, but it isn’t until sometime later that he’s reunited with his father.

And what about ol’ Kevin Flynn during all of this?  We see him meditating, facing a window that looks out in the direction of the Grid.  In the distance, the portal hangs in the sky…and we don’t get the impression he’s noticed it either!!!

Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot

I would expect Kevin fricken Flynn, of ALL people on the grid would notice the portal! Even if he knows it’s probably a trap set by C.L.U., it’s still the first time in it’s been in the sky for 20 years.  Is he anxious?  Excited?  No.  He’s just kinda “meh”.

I could go on and on about the failures of the plot, but I think you’re getting the idea.  The movie had a plot and all of the characters ignored it.  Except for Sam.  He’s the only one that had the right idea. As soon as he heard about the portal, he had a one track mind about getting the hell out of the Grid.

As I said, I wanted to like this movie and if really force myself to engage my suspension of disbelief, I can still enjoy it.  To me, that final confrontation between Flynn and C.L.U. is a classic movie moment.  The elements of the story they were trying to tell came together in an intense, satisfying way, and the Daft Punk score gives it just the right emotional weight and the result makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  I feel like it’s that good.

For me, personally, the antagonist is usually what gets me invested in a story.  Unfortunately, C.L.U.’s constant mis-handling if his master plan just made him (and his plan) and great big joke to me.

Tron and Tron: Legacy have given me a story series idea that I really like and will try (again) to write this year.  But I know we aren’t likely to get a sequel in the foreseeable future, and I understand why.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  Comment below.