Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nashville Season 2: Fall Semester

I haven't reviewed much of Nashville this season - in fact, no reviews at all - but not because I haven't been watching and for the most part enjoying the series.  Herewith then a catch-up review of the Fall part of the second season.

First, the music is still outstanding, but not quite as good as in the first season. In particular, there's been no song as good as "The Wrong Song," which was just right, though Gunnar's songs are nearly as good as the ones he wrote and sang with Scarlett in the first season.  Rayna, because of the plot point about losing her voice, hasn't been singing as nearly enough as she should, and though the plot was good I'd rather hear her sing more.  Juliette's music is about the same - which is to say, excellent - and Will added a nice big cowboy energetic voice.

But speaking of Will, his gay story was a little lame - would he really be so tormented by his gay inclinations in this day and age, and would his career really suffer if he came out of the closet?   Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, I'd think, but not today.   And that made his apparent suicide at the end not only unfortunate - because we'll be deprived of his voice - but somewhat pointless.

On the other hand, it was good to see the prospect of the Mayor's wife eliminated from the series, as she was and continued to be one of the most unsympathetic characters in the series.  Next to go, I hope, should be Rayna's sister.

The business of the music business continues to be handled well, especially with Rayna vs. Jeff and Rayna's prospects with Edgehill.    Nashville is just beginning to take into account the revolution that the Internet has wrought on the music industry, and I hope there'll be more of this to come in 2014.

In the meantime, Nashville remains an excellent weekly soap opera, with welcome, original music in every episode.

See also Nashville: 'The Wrong Song' in the Right Series




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Friday, December 27, 2013

I Dreamt I Called Will Gardner Last Night

I don't usually remember my dreams, and I'm pretty sure I've never dreamed about a television show before, but I dreamt that I called Will Gardner last night - or, actually, early this morning.

I'm not sure exactly why I called him, but I think it's because I wanted his help in an intellectual property suit that I was pursuing.   In reality, I have no such suit in mind.

The conversation went like this -

Me:  Is this Will Gardner?

Will: Yes.

Me: (I explained the purpose of my call.)

Will: I'm not a real lawyer.

Me:  I know (and I further explained the purpose of my call).

Will: I'm not a real lawyer, but maybe I can help you, anyway.

And that was pretty much it.   I'm a little rusty on my Freudian psychology, so I have no idea what that means.   I did meet an attorney at a gathering yesterday evening - someone I had retained years ago, in an estate matter - by the name of Paul Gartner.  So maybe that was the stimulus?  And my wife and I had been talking in the past few days about a suit we initiated for one of our businesses and successfully concluded back in the 1990s.

Anyway, I do know I'm not currently thinking of suing anybody.   I'll also be looking forward to the return of The Good Wife in January, which is having one of its best seasons so far.

See also The Good Wife 5.1: Capital Punishment and Politicians' Daughters ... The Good Wife 5.5: The Villain in this Story ... The Good Wife 5.9: Reddit, Crowd Sourcing, and the First Amendment on Trial





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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Banshee Season 2 Premiere: Sneak Preview Review

I just saw Banshee 2.1 - the first episode of the new second season, to air on Cinemax on January 10, 2014 - courtesy of a screener from Starpulse.   Here's a brief review, with no specific spoilers:


  • All major characters return, in the same condition they were in at the end of the first season.
  • Hood sleeps with an unlikely beauty - her initiative.
  • Zeljko Ivanek's on board as a new character - a Fed interrogator.
A few more words about Ivanek - he's starred in either series-wide or more limited arc roles in more gritty television dramas in the past few years than I can keep track of, including 24, Heroes, Damages, Big Love, The Event, True Blood, The Mob Doctor, and most recently, just this Fall season of Revolution, in which he played a cunning, vicious interrogator dying of cancer.

He plays almost the same character in Banshee, without the science fiction of Revolution, but also driven by his cancer.  It's a credit to Ivanek, then, that although his character in Banshee is familiar - which makes him different from most of the other characters on Banshee who are sharply original and like not much else we've seen on television - he's a welcome addition to the story, if only because he can pull rank on the irritating FBI agent who was one of the few irritating characters in the first season.

But speaking of investigations, it still remains a mystery - at least in the first episode of the second season - how Hood can continue to avoid being unmasked by the FBI or anyone seriously looking into who he is.   I get that Job did a good job forging the digital data at the beginning of the series, but couldn't the FBI have someone in its West Coast offices do a little investigation into the real Hood - say, discover an offline print of a photograph of the real Hood - and therein find that our Hood in Banshee is not the person he claims to be?  

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that something's brewing in Banshee which might bring the real, deceased Hood to law enforcement's attention.

Meanwhile, the series is still bursting with tension and action and compelling people ranging from Kai and his niece to Sugar and Job and Ana and all the deputies in the Banshee sheriff's department.  I'll be back here after January 10 and before January 17 with a sneak preview of Banshee 2.2


Like crime stories that involve the Amish? Try The Silk Code

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Vanity Shelfie

I was delighted to read in the Guardian about the new trend in "shelfies" - that is, photographs not of yourself, but your bookshelf.  In my case, I have so many books that it would take me most of a day nonstop to photograph all of them.  So, in the interest of both modesty and immodesty, I confined myself to photographing just shelves with books written by me - novels and nonfiction - as well as books with my stories and essays.   A selfie + shelfie = a vanity shelfie.

Even that proved too much for the cool pic stitch app I downloaded, which provides a template for at most four horizontal photos.  I have five shelves with my books.  So what you'll see below is a my vanity shelfie of 4 out of 5.  I may at some point put in a shelfie for the mysterious 5th shelf, or wait until I get another shelf or two.

If you click on the shelfie, you'll be taken directly to my Amazon book shelf, where you can buy most of the books in the shelfie - not the foreign translations on the third shelf - and Kindle editions of most of my novels and some of my nonfiction books, as well.   And, in the holiday spirit, here's a page with freebies from my fiction and nonfiction, as well as my music.   Enjoy!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Consciousness Plague: nice long sample

The Consciousness Plague "more nearly reaches the heights of Isaac Asimov's classic sf mysteries than those of most other genre hands who attempt them manage to do these days." - Booklist

Here's the beginning of The Consciousness Plague -


Chapter 1


"Phil! Good to see you!"  Jack Dugan, one of the brass I usually worked with – recently promoted to the Commissioner's right-hand man down at One Police Plaza – extended his hand.  He pulled it back, to contain a wracking cough.

"You look terrible, Jack.  What are you taking for that?"

"Nothing." He coughed again, then extended his hand again.

I took it and made a mental note to wash my hands as soon as I left the meeting.

"I guess I should get some antibiotics for this," Jack continued.  "But I hate to use the stuff – they say so much of it is around that bacteria are building up resistance."

I sat down in the available chair across from his desk.  "Never knew you were so public-minded about that, Jack."

He gave me a pained smile.  "Antibiotics upset my digestion.  I'd rather have the cough."  He cleared his throat like a bulldozer moving dirt.

"Yeah, well, antibiotics are like dumb cops, aren't they," I said.  "They come on the scene and club everyone over the head – the good-guy germs in your system that help you digest your food, as well as the bad guys that make you sick."

Jack laughed, then coughed.  His eyes teared.  Finally he took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.  "Let me tell you why I asked you down here."

I nodded encouragement.

"You know, you and I have had some differences over the years about your penchant for bizarre cases–"

Yeah, tell me about it, I thought.  He'd removed me from cases at least half-a-dozen times.

"–and, even though I've been a skeptic, I was talking to the Commissioner the other day, and he of course thinks that our city has to be prepared for anything and everything these days.  There's no telling what the next threat to public safety might be.  So, he'd like you to head up a taskforce – you know, just to be there, with some possible plans in the waiting, if something really strange crops up.  That’s your specialty."  He cleared his throat, then went into a coughing spasm.  He pulled a bottle of water out of his desk and guzzled half of it down.  "So, what do you think?" he finally managed to say.

***
Jenna sipped a glass of plum wine and smiled at me that evening.  "I know, you hate committees," she said.

I leaned back on the sofa in our living room.  "I've always accomplished more as a lone wolf," I replied.  "I've seen loads of these taskforces come and go.  Usually all they do is
Waste time and eat up energy."

"But you told Dugan you'd think about it," Jenna said.

"Yeah.  I suppose it could be good to finally have some people working under me.  And some resources.  That would be an improvement on having to always go the Department
on bended knee."

"You think there's some threat we don't know about that makes them want to do this right now?" Jenna asked.

I scowled.  "They wouldn't recognize something bizarre if it smiled in their faces – they'd say it was a hoax, and do their best to bury the evidence."

Jenna coughed. "Well, this damned cold or pseudo-flu or whatever it is certainly seems to be getting out of hand.  My sister told me everyone in San Francisco has it."

"Let's hope she didn't give it to you over the phone."

I gently rubbed her hand.

***

I called Dugan two days later to accept the offer.

"He's home sick with that bug," his secretary, Sheila,  told me.  "Both he and the Commissioner," she added. "Got them both.  Looks like the Department will be run
by the secretaries for the next few days!"  She chuckled.

"No different than usual," I responded in kind.

Now she laughed out loud.  "Shhh, Dr. D'Amato.  Don't you give away our secret now!"

"It's safe with me, don't worry."

***

I was down in Chinatown a few days later on a boring case.  But it wasn't a total loss – I used the opportunity to replenish my supply of green tea and persimmons.

The woman at the fruit stand – hardly more than a girl, with a very sweet face – was coughing her head off.

That reminded me to put in another call to Dugan.

"Good timing," Sheila's voice crackled through my phone.  "He came back, fit as a fiddle, just this morning."

The sun was close to setting on this crisp March afternoon, and I was finished with my business in Chinatown, so I decided to hail a cab and go over to Dugan's office.  It could be useful for me to see the expression on his face when I accepted his offer – see if there was any true pleasure there.

The traffic was worse than usual.  I counted two water mains broken and gushing and a pothole that looked as if it might have been made by the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs.  Sheila was gone when I finally arrived. But Jack was still in his office.

"So I see you're feeling better," I said, and took Jack's extended hand.

"I feel like a million bucks now," Jack said.  "How you'd know ... oh, I guess Sheila told you I was sick?"

"Right–"

"I tell ya, this was a nasty one. I tried to fight it on my own as best I could – I hate taking antibiotics and those new flu meds – but it got to the point where I was up all night coughing.  The Commissioner was pretty sick too – he picked it up from me, I picked it up from him, who knows – but his doctor told him about some new antibiotic or something 95% guaranteed not to upset the stomach.  That stuff wreaks havoc on my digestion, you know–"

"Yeah–"

"So, anyway."  Dugan gestured to the available chair.  "Have a seat, Phil.  What brings you to this exalted office?"

"Well, I've decided to accept your offer," I replied.

"My offer?" Dugan looked puzzled.

"Yeah, you know, what you told me last week, about the taskforce."

Dugan looked at me as if I was putting him on, or confusing him with someone else.  "I haven't the vaguest idea what you're talking about."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Something for the Journey

Hey, I'm a recalcitrant cheapskate when it comes to my fiction writing - meaning, I almost never write for no pay.   It could be a flat fee upfront, a royalty on sales, or, better yet, both, but in just about all cases, I need to be paid.  Stewart Brand used to say that "information wants to be free," and my response has always been, yeah, but writers need to eat.  In the academic world, I've written many a scholarly article for no direct pay, but that's because such publications help my career in indirect ways - you know, tenure, promotion, that sort of thing.  But since fiction usually has no such clout, it's lucre in hand or I'll decline the assignment.

But there are exceptions to all rules.  And so when I was approached with an invitation to contribute a short story to Something for the Journey, an anthology whose sales would all go - every penny - to a children's charity in Bristol, England, I gave it some thought.  Bristol is one of my favorite places in England after London.   Its chocolates and its university are both top-notch.  It was also the day before the anniversary of JFK's assassination, and I had a story in the trunk, which needed some updating, a new ending ... and, before I knew it, I had finished "Transfer of Power" at a little over a thousand words and sent it in to the anthology.

Something for the Journey was published yesterday (as an ebook on Kindle, with paperback soon to follow).   "Transfer of Power" is one of twenty-four short stories in all genres - short enough to be read on a bus or a train ride, hence the title.   The authors are

Dario Solera, Neil Bursnoll, T.L. Champion, Kathy Molyneaux, RJ Kennett, Peter Cawdron, Jamie Campbell, Sarah Dalton, Vincent Trigili, Cora Buhlert, Paul B. Kohler, Stephen Drivick, Stacy Claflin, Al Stevens, Sheila Guthrie, Dan Fiorella, Pru Moran, Paul Levinson, Melanie Nilles, James Griffiths, Seun Odukoya, V. A. Jeffrey, Frank Zubek, and Stella Wilkinson. 

Stella Wilkinson is the editor and Frank Zubek is donating his publicity.   You can get the book here - and, by the way, you can download a free Kindle app for Mac or PC if you don't have a Kindle - and there's more about the book and some brief interviews with authors here.

And, to pique your interest in "Transfer of Power" a little more, here's a famous photo that plays a central role in the story -


Bill Clinton shakes JFK's hand, 1963


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to Survive the End of the World on Nat Geo: from Biosphere to Frozen Earth

Hey, in case you missed the second episode last night in National Geographic Channel's six-part series How to Survive the End of the World - "Hell on Earth" - it will be rebroadcast this Saturday night (December 21) along with the first episode, "Zombie Earth".

I got to say a few words on "Hell on Earth" about how biospheres - self-contained, fully-enclosed environments, with their own living systems producing recycling air, water, and food - could be a way of helping a small number of people survive the volcanic ash which would cover the Earth in the end-of-the-world Hell on Earth scenario.  And I actually did have some passing experience with the Biosphere 2 out in Arizona in the 1990s  - a real not hypothetical biosphere - having worked on other projects with one of the Biosphere 2's early bio-planners, Carl Hodges.  The system was indeed mainly funded not by the government but a billionaire - Ed Bass - as I suggested on the show last night (see clips below).   And it indeed partially failed, but mainly due to problems in keeping the oxygen at proper levels, and other ecological issues, and not because the inhabitants fell to fighting (though there were some intellectual disagreements among the inhabitants).

Dave Bartell did his customary good job of commenting.  It was good to see him in the bunker last night, but we've once again gone to separate locations deep in the bedrock of Brooklyn, and will be back, with any luck, when the next episode, "Frozen Earth," airs on January 2, but a new time, 9 instead of 10pm Eastern.   See you then!




See also How to Survive the End of the World on National Geographic and How to Survive the End of the World: The Story Continues

more videos ...

from Evacuate Earth (2012) and Zombie Earth (2013





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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Almost Human 1.6: The Blackmarket Heart and Double Dorian

The Blackmarket Heart ... that could have been the title for Almost Human 1.6.   It could also have been the title of a song on Nashville, and is reminiscent of an Edgar Allan Poe story, in any case.  But it would have worked well tonight on Almost Human, which offered another fine standalone episode of cops and robbers in the future, this time an operation selling heart organs designed to run out of time, unless their human receivers pay a continuing fee.

Almost Human as been good at configuring futuristic crime, just as it has been with the partner repartee between Kennex and Dorian.   Both are sharp, wisecracking, and one of the best cop partnerships on television since Starsky and Hutch.

Meanwhile, there's also an android story, or a new twist on the android set-up of this series, behind every corner.  Tonight we get to meet another Dorian model - not decommissioned, but serving as a janitor for his sins.   Up until now, we've see MXs in duplicate profusion.  And although we knew that there was more than one of Dorian, and why not another one walking around somewhere now, we were permitted the illusion that he was more or less unique as an android of his model in any kind of significant action in this world.

For Dorian's double to work, though, he needed to have a personality both distinct from Dorian's but different from it.   Michael Ealy did a good job of delivering just that.   And I give this episode creds for not doing what a more conventional television series might have done in these circumstances: have Dorian's double dying heroically because we can't have two Dorians at work in this series.

But Dorian's fellow model survived, which thereby opens up all kinds of possibilities for the future. Another reason to keep watching Almost Human when it returns another year closer to its time, in January 2014.

See also: Almost Human debuts: A Review ... Almost Human 1.2: Sexbots ... Almost Human 1.3: Change of Face ... Almost Human 1.4: Almost Breaking Bad ... Almost Human 1.5: Clones and Holograms





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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Homeland Season 3 Finale: Redemption and Betrayal

I'm not going to lie to you.  Although I'm a fan of Homeland, and although its season 3 finale was in some ways good television, there was little in the finale that I enjoyed.  Indeed, I found most of it infuriating.

I know that realism has its value, but there is also something that should go beyond realism in great story telling.  I don't mean fairytale happy endings.  I mean endings in which the triumph of the deserving at least has a fighting chance.

The one good thing about the ending of this season of Homeland was its redemption of Saul.  When he confirms that Akbari has indeed been assassination, he agrees to extract Carrie and Brody.  And he's willing to stand up to Javadi's logical arguments that it would be better for everyone - especially for Javadi's bid for power, which will help the U.S. and the world's interest in peace - if Brody were to be apprehended by Javadi, as soon as possible.  This and Brody's death would strengthen Javadi's hand.

And Saul's "I'll get back to you" to Javadi was the best moment of the finale.  After that, it was all downhill.  Saul being overruled by the President - in effect on Adal's information - makes good logical sense.  But, in my opinion, for disappointing television.

And Brody's hanging was just atrocious.  I was hoping that somehow Brody wasn't killed, and the hanging contraption had been outfitted to not kill but just make him lose consciousness, but that wasn't to be.  And so Brody, who with the exception of a few episodes was given annoyingly short shrift all season, is given even worse than that at the end.   I suppose, under the rule of television that if you don't see a person blown to bits he or she may still be alive, that Brody could come back next season or maybe even later, but that doesn't seem too likely.   And were that the plan, it would have been better unveiled with the revelation that Brody was still alive at the end of this finale.

The defiant act of Carrie, in putting up a symbol for Brody on the CIA at the end was thus too little, too late, and almost meaningless.  So was Saul's resisting a return to the CIA, which we just know he will change his mind about next season.  I get that the story of Carrie and Brody couldn't have gone on forever, but it deserved a far better ending than this.

Chalk this up as the worst of the three seasons of Homeland, but because the first two were so good, and parts of this season did soar - as when Brody comes around to wanting to have a life with Carrie when she tells him she's carrying his baby - I'll give this show at least another season of viewing.



And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional





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Saturday, December 14, 2013

How to Survive the End of the World - The Story Continues on NatGeo

If you didn't get a chance to see "Zombie Earth" last Tuesday night, the first installment in National Geographic's six-part series, it will be rebroadcast on December 21, 10pm Eastern, and likely throughout 2014 and beyond.

With all the chaos that ensued when the rabid zombies attacked the broadcast bunker, people have been emailing me, asking what happened after the episode ended.

Here's a report:  David Bartell (another expert commentator) and I were able to get out of the bunker - I don't know about the other experts.  But after exiting the bunker, we got separated.  I ran for my life, towards the Brooklyn Bridge.  I soon saw that I would never make it - there were zombies lurching around every corner, "oh the humanity!" - so I ducked into another cellar.

That's where I am now.  Let's just call it an undisclosed location.  What I can tell you is that there is a door on the far side of the room, marked "Hell on Earth".   I can hear the zombies scratching at the windows outside.  I'm tempted to open the door to Hell on Earth.  You'll be able to see what happened this Tuesday night (December 17), 10pm Eastern, when Nat Geo broadcasts "How to Survive the End of the World: Hell on Earth".

In the meantime, here are some clips from my Zombie Earth appearance...




See also How to Survive the End of the World on National Geographic




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Monday, December 9, 2013

Almost Human 1.5: Clones and Holograms

Almost Human continues to walk one of the two possible paths of all successful television shows:  in the case of Almost Human, telling a new standalone story every week, while ever so slightly moving the underlying story along.   The alternative - which we get in Hostages, for example, also on television tonight - is to just tell only the underlying story, with differences in episodes largely or entirely due to the story moving along.

In Almost Human 1.5, we get two staples of science fiction - clones and holography - not only well presented together, but actually opponents in new tech opposition to one another.  The story begins with a witness testifying by holographic projection, to keep her safe.  She's shortly killed by someone who finds her real location, and it turns out that the killer is part of a team of clones of the defendant in the trial.

Almost HumanThe other side of this story has a holographic image fooling the clones, and thereby enable the police in this future to prevail.  It's a nice allegory to the tune of crime and high-tech doesn't pay, if you can field another high-tech in the battle.

Meanwhile, we get some good Dorian/Kennex joking, with Kennex both relieved and a little taken aback to learn - and see - that Dorian's makers had the sense to make him anatomically complete (this after Kennex sees and doesn't want to see that Dorian's robotic successors are anatomy free).  But when Kennex asks Dorian what he uses his anatomy for, Dorian gets off the best line of the show, remarking that he does the same with his as Kennex does with his - nothing.

And Dorian's observation may be well taken, given what we've seen so far between Kennex and Valerie.  What's he waiting for?  Is he still in love with the woman who betrayed him?  Apparently not, but, then, what's taking him so long with Valerie? He saved her life tonight, and what better time to take it to at least the next level?  Almost Human needs to take care that it doesn't fall into a traditional television pitfall, in which couples make eyes at each all season, and little more.






Sunday, December 8, 2013

Homeland 3.11: The Loyalist

Well, Homeland continues its improvement from earlier in the season, to the point where tonight's episode 3.11 was the best episode not only of this season, but in the three years of the series thus far.

The great strength of Brody as a character and therefore Homeland throughout has been that we can never tell exactly where Brody's ultimate loyalties reside - certainly not after the first season, when Brody decides not to set off the bomb out of love for his daughter not really his native country.  But we couldn't be sure of Brody all second season - until the end.   And in this season, it looked like Brody, from what little we saw of him, was at first not loyal to anyone, but lately completely devoted to Carrie and the CIA.

The tipoff, looking back, was how Brody was betrayed by the imam in South America.  In retrospect, that betrayal doused whatever continuing loyalty to the late Nazir and his cohorts Brody may have harbored.  Nonetheless, he gave a pretty convincing performance in Teheran tonight - convincing, certainly, to the leader he was sent to assassinate, and, more distressingly, convincing to Saul and company back at the CIA.

Of course, this wasn't convincing to Carrie, and, I've got to say, it wasn't convincing to me.  But I've also got to give this episode enormous credit for playing things so close to the vest that I wasn't completely sure until Brody killed his target.   And it's interesting to think about when did he make that decision?   My guess is he made it after the conversation with Carrie in which she warned him about the Mossad attempt on his life - ordered by Saul - and he told her to get out of harm's way.  In fact, I think the decisive factor in Brody's killing the Iranian leader was Brody's desire to not just get the CIA off of killing him, but off of potentially killing Carrie.   Because, in Brody's by no means totally inaccurate sometimes paranoid view, if Saul could turn on him, he could almost as easily turn on Carrie - especially if Carrie got in the CIA and Saul's way.  We the audience already saw Quinn literally shoot Carrie - not on Saul's orders, but even so - and though I can't recall if Carrie told Brody about this, it's a good bet that she told him off camera in the time they spent together, or he otherwise figured it out.

And so, this next-to-last episode of the season ends with Saul once again the bad guy, as he was at the beginning of the season.   His giving in to kill Brody was understandable but unforgivable.

Let's see if see if he redeems himself in the season finale next week.



And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional





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