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Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

The thing I miss most about my days on Stargate is the writers’ room: the camaraderie, the laughs, the heated discussions and, every so often, the occasional creative accomplishments.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was hard, sometimes frustrating work but, when all was said and done, they were productive sessions that generated some great television.  And fun times.  We were lucky.  A successful writers’ room has as much to do with talent as it does personality.  Being good at what you do is important, but so is getting along with others.  And, in the case of Stargate, we were fortunate in that respect.  We didn’t always agree, but we got along and, in the end, I like to think it showed in the shows we produced – while I was there, some 340 hours of television.

BUT while the writers’ room can offer exhilarating highs, it can also mete out crushing lows.  In the case of the former, take last week’s creative output for example.  We ended up breaking an episode a day, a blistering pace that is not only impressive but almost unheard of in most rooms.  On the flip side, you need look no further than today’s disappointing gathering that wasn’t just unproductive but actually counter-productive in that the basic story we agreed had merit last night suddenly evaporated over the course of the morning, leaving us with NO story heading into the weekend.

Yep, it can be damn frustrating, but it DOES happen.  And the reasons why it happens are the following:

1. The story is deemed too similar to something that has come before.

This is a tough one because, if you look harder enough, anything can be deemed similar to something that has come before – especially when you’re talking about science fiction.  The Purge was an episode of the original Star Trek series, but that didn’t keep it from making $64 million.  Elysium was another movie with similarities to an old Star Trek episode.  It made $93 million.  Hell, South Park even did in an episode called “Simpsons Already Did It!” in which we are reminded that, just like science fiction, the world animation is fraught with the dangers of unintended imitation.

Closer to home, one of our very first episodes of Stargate: SG-1, “Window of Opportunity”, was unabashedly inspired by the movie Groundhog Day, but that didn’t stop us from producing what turned out to be one of the franchise’s most beloved episodes.  And, in the end, the admitted similarities to Groundhog Day, while enormously entertaining, were less important than how OUR characters responded to them.

So, yes, stories involving time loops and bleak alternate realities and emotional robots have been done before.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t be done again – so long as you can make them unique to the world and characters you have created.

2. Logic issues.

Even in the far-out world of science “fiction”, you must operate within established parameters.  A theoretical FTL drive wouldn’t work that way.  You can’t perform an EVA without a space suit.  Difficult to argue against these.

3. Suspect character motivations.

This one’s a little tricky because it often comes down to a matter of opinion.  “I don’t believe this character would do that.” can be neatly countered with: “Well, I do.”  Sure, there are instances where certain actions would be completely out of character – but in these instances, you’re presumably dealing with an idea from a writer who doesn’t know the show.  For the most part, character motivations come down to proper set up.  Would mercenary Character X risk his life for the robot?  At first blush, probably not.  But what if the robot just saved his life – AND holds the key to solving the shipboard mystery that could pay off handsomely?  Then, maybe he just might.

4. Bias

Yes, it happens.  Sometimes, someone just doesn’t like the story or is grouchy and in a combative mood – in which case they’ll attempt to argue #1-3.

Two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with were Brad Wright and Robert Cooper who had two very different approaches in the room.  Brad always excelled at pinpointing the heart of the story and finding a way to make it work.  To him, the bells and whistles were less important than the emotional crux of the narrative (ie. how it affected our characters on a personal level).  Once he could identify that, he would work tirelessly to build a great episode.  Robert, on the other hand, was a straight shooter who never shied away from telling you what he felt wasn’t working – BUT, invariably, ALWAYS offered alternative solutions.  No one could spin ideas like Rob.

All this to say I miss those guys and could have really used their expertise today.

No story brainstorming for me this weekend.  I’m taking a break to revise the pilot and put together overviews of our first six episodes covering synopses and production requirements (sets, locations, significant props, and visual effects) for each.  It’s all preliminary but it’s designed to ensure we’re all on the same page moving forward.  And, hopefully, steers them in the proper creative direction as we head into prep.  After all, we’ve got a spaceship to build!

 

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The-Man-Trap-star-trek-the-original-series-19286718-694-530

Hello and welcome to our Star Trek: The Original Series re-watch.  Cookie Monster and I will be your co-hosts.  We’ll open the casual discussion on the show’s first five episodes, then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

THE MAN TRAP

Me: A rocky start for the Enterprise and its crew in an episode that is at turns silly and confounding, yet enjoyable for the many classic elements established.  It’s an interesting premise with a nice emotional hook involving Dr. McCoy and his former love, but there are logic bumps throughout that make this one a little tough to watch.  For instance, the salt monster seems highly intelligent, yet can’t resist snacking on the unwary members of the away team, opening itself up to all sorts of trouble.  Presumably it wasn’t starving since the scientist shows Kirk his salt stores have yet to be depleted, yet it simply can’t help itself.

Cookie Monster: Me empathize.  If Enterprise crew bodies contain traces of cookie element, dey be VERY hard to resist.

Me: Still….

Cooke Monster:  Mebbe salt monster tink Kirk not bother to stick around since he have emergency pepper shipment to deliver to other planet!

Me:  Doubtful.  But you bring up a great point.  Throughout this episode Kirk demonstrates a wide variety of impressive abilities, from carefully hand picking peppers for delivery to some interesting evasive maneuvers -

But what I found most surprising about the episode was that a secondary character, McCoy, drives the heart of the story.

Cookie Monster: Who?

Me: Dr. McCoy.  Bones.

Cookie Monster: You mean Plum?

Me: Yes, Plum.

Cookie Monster: Plum on receiving end of best line in episode: “Stop tinking wit your glands!”

Me: Yeah, that horn dog!

Cookie Monster: And what about scientist on planet?  What kind of “arrangement” he have wit salt creature?  It be his planet wife?

M_113_Creature

Me: Possibly.  He did seem unusually attached and at one point all but says the creature requires salt…and love!  On the one hand, it’s a hideous alien creature that killed his wife.  On the other hand, it’s probably a great spooner.

Cookie Monster: Speaking of killing, it interesting to note dat original red shirt aktually wear blue shirt.

Me: Yes, the costume choices in the first few episodes are interesting.  It’s almost disconcerting to see Spock walking around in that beige turtleneck uniform instead of his science blues.

spock-3d-chess

Cookie Monster: And dat guy in beekeeper uniform.  What de deal wit dat? Enterprise have its own bee colony?  Me bet Kirk gather his own honey too!  Dere be nothing dis guy can’t do!

Me: Except use common sense to contact a fellow crew member.  Kirk and McCoy discover the second body, then walk around shouting for Green.  Is there any particular reason they couldn’t just use their communicators to contact him?

Cookie Monster: Could be Green not on Friends and Ship and Family plan.

Me: Can I just say that one of the high points of this episode is the introduction of Sulu.  George Takei is terrific and his character is an interesting and integral member of the crew from the get-go.

Cookie Monster: Gertrude, not so much.

Me: Gertrude being the alien plant.

Janice_Rand_and_BeauregardCookie Monster: Alien planet?  Sure.  But more likely just Chekov hiding under table wearing big pink glove.  He notorious practikal joker!  Anyway, it be very weird.

Me: Sure, but not as weird as Kirk on the bridge snacking on crudités before heading down to the planet’s surface.  I mean, really?  Couldn’t he have just swung by the mess hall?

Cookie Monster: Mebbe he be hypoglycemik!  Or he really need to carb up before big showdown wit salt creature!

Me: Actually, if anyone needed to carb up before the showdown, it would’ve been Spock.  Look at him deliver those two-fisted wallops!

“If she were Nancy, could she take THIS?!”  The ancient Vulcan alien-identification test?

Cookie Monster: And big twist come at de end when it revealed Nancy really…

image5 …De Abominable Snowman from de Land of Misfit Toys!!!

Me: Yeah, didn’t see that one coming.

Cookie Monster: Also, while we on de subjekt of toys…dose shots of de Enterprise in space!  Hooboy.

Me: Okay, yes, scifi television has certainly come a long way, but I nevertheless find those less-polished visual effects somehow endearing.  Which is how I feel about this episode in general.  A little rough around the edges -

Cookie Monster: And center!

Me: But nevertheless entertaining for its nostalgic elements.

So, what did you all think of The Man Trap?

We continue our Stargate TOS re-watch tomorrow when we’ll reconvene to discuss Charlie X!

Also, one week from today, we’ll begin discussion on the next five episodes on our viewing schedule: Mudd’s Women, What Are Little Girls Made Of?, Miri, Dagger of the Mind, and The Corbomite Maneuver.

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Ah, those were the days!

Ah, those were the days!

Full disclosure: I haven’t watched a full episode of Star Trek TOS since I was a kid. And, sure, we’ve come a long way since then and a lot of this old series will, no doubt, feel charmingly outdated by today’s standards but, damn, if I don’t feel a shiver of excitement every time I catch a scene of the original crew in their vibrant uniforms or a shot of the Enterprise in orbit or that stirring theme and jazzy dramatic underscore.  I am SO looking forward to this!

Yes, let’s make it official.  We are gonna have us an old-fashioned Star Trek: The Original Series re-watch!

Yes, we’ll be re-screening all 79 episodes of Gene Roddenberry’s SF classic from “The Man Trap” through to “Turnabout Intruder” in glorious technicolor.

Now I realize that everybody’s schedules are different and the prospect of watching an single a day may prove tricky for some, so I’m going to suggest the following viewing plan: we’ll watch the show in weekly 5-episode instalments.  So, over the course of those seven days, you can watch those five episodes at your convenience.  You can watch one a day or all five in one sitting.  Whatever works best for you.  And then, next Wednesday (June 25th), we’ll reconvene, here on this blog, and discuss.

The five episodes we’ll be watching this week will be:

The-Man-Trap-star-trek-the-original-series-19286718-694-530

1. The Man Trap (Stardate: 1513.1, Original Air Date: September 8, 1966)

Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy meets a former girlfriend when the Enterprise brings supplies to a remote archaeological survey group.  Still attractive to McCoy, the woman’s current appearance holds a dark and deadly secret.

charlie-evans-charlie-x-star-trek

2. Charlie X (Stardate: 1533.6, Original Air Date: September 15, 1966)

Raised as a child by non corporeal beings, 17 year old Charlie Evans is picked up and transferred to the Enterprise.  On board the ship, the teenager proves dangerously unable to wield his enormous psionic powers with maturity.

Gary-Mitchell

3. Where No Man Has Gone Before (Stardate: 1312.4, Original Air Date: September 22, 1966)

When the Enterprise encounters a force field at the edge of the galaxy, one of the crew member’s psionic abilities are accelerated to godlike proportions, causing him to become a powerful, murderous being.

naked_time

4. The Naked Time (Stardate: 1704.2, Original Air Date: September 29, 1966)

An alien virus strips the Enterprise crew of their inhibitions, causing chaos as each crew member is overcome by hidden emotions.  Meanwhile, the Enterprise is being pulled inexorably into a nearby planet’s gravity well.

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5. The Enemy Within (Stardate: 1672.1, Original Air Date: October 6, 1966)

Split by a transporter malfunction into two beings with very different personalities, the resulting twin Captain Kirk proves that neither a purely evil or purely good Captain can survive without the missing half.

So, what do you say?  Are you in?  Know any fans of the original series who would like to watch along?  Let ‘em know!  Spread the word!  And we’ll see you next Wednesday!!!

No.  Wait.  I’ve still go a blog to update.

See you tomorrow.

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Last night, I met up with my foodie friend – Nicole, Lan, and Missy – for a little culinary tour of Chinatown.  Nicole, our guide on this trek, had us hopping from one place to the next, covering four different places in which we sampled about a dozen different dishes…

Fellow foodies: Nicole, Lan, and Missy.

Fellow foodies: Nicole, Lan, and Missy.

We met at The Pie Shoppe, a tiny place that offers a variety of pies both sweet and savory.  On this night, only half an hour away from closing, they were out of savory options so we settled for (and by settled, I mean devoured) two of the sweet pies: apple-rhubarb and chocolate pecan.  I can’t fairly judge a fruit pie without ice cream so I won’t weigh in on the apple-rhubarb, but that chocolate-pecan pie was outstanding on its own. I was tempted to try the salted honey pie but Nicole had to remind me to pace myself.  This, after all, was a marathon.

A plethora of pies

A plethora of pies

From there, we headed one block over to a place called Oyster Express that offered about a dozen varieties of oysters on the shell in addition to a number of other menu items.  But, come on!  The place is called Oyster Express!  So we ordered two dozen assorted raw oysters.  They were all excellent.  Akemi, who had to beg off because she was feeling under the weather, would have loved it.

On the half shell at the Oyster

On the half shell at Oyster Express

One block over and two blocks down, we hit Besties, a restaurant specializing in sausages.

With by besties at Besties

With by besties at Besties

We ordered a number of items and shared.  Among them:

The sausage slider

The sausage slider

Currywurst

Currywurst

Asparagus with hollandaise.  Oh, and an egg!

Asparagus with hollandaise. Oh, and an egg!

For me, the highlight of this stop was the venison and blueberry sausage (that, for some reason, I failed to snap).  They were out of the intriguing sounding Butter Chicken sausage, so I’ll definitely have to make a return visit.

From there, it was one block over, three blocks up (through the downtown east side’s more colourful area), and around the corner to the Dunleavy Snack Bar.  At this point, Lan was tapped out and declared himself stuffed.  BUT that didn’t stop him from having some of the bimbimbap – and later, finishing it off when the waiter asked/threatened to take the plate away…

Pork belly and Korean chicken steamed buns

Pork belly and Korean chicken steamed buns.  I was hoping the chicken would be spicier, like they serve at that Korean restaurant in Shinjuku where the chicken is so spicy they serve it with a side order of surgical gloves so that you don’t burn your fingers while eating.

We didn’t order dessert, but only because we’d already had some at the start of our tour.

Thanks to Nicole for organizing and Lan and Missy batting clean-up on those fries and rice.

Next up, braise and bourbon at my place!

Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…The Shrine.

1Our viewing of this fan favorite episode kicked off with this out-of-left-field exchange:

Akemi: “Teyla is weird name.  Like fixing clothes.”

Me: “No.  That’s TAI-LOR.”

Akemi (clearly disappointed): “Oh.”

This episode reinforced David Hewlitt’s talents as an actor: “McKay is a good actor.”

And also reinforced how pretty Jewel Staite is: “Jewel is very cute, don’t you think so?”  Hmmm.  Is this a trick question?

Akemi was also delighted to see actor Jason Momoa get a few more lines than his average: “Happy to see handsome guy speak a little more than usual.”

She loved the night time establisher of Atlantis all lit up: “Beautiful!  Like Shanghai or Hong Kong.”

But found the lighting in the famed pier scene a little “too dramatic”.  As for the gorgeous night time setting: “Nice scene for young couple but instead two middle-aged guys.”

Again, high marks to Mark Savela and the VFX team: “I liked the insect coming out.  It looked really real!.”

But the surgery scene – moreover, the prospect of the scene – made her squeamish.

In the end though: “I found it sad from the get-go.  Very sad episode but happy ending – which I like!”

Today’s entry is dedicated to Denise McInerney.  Condolences on the passing of your beloved Jeter.

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Continuing our discussion of our April Book of the Month Club selection - Annihilation:

vanderworld.com writes: “I wouldn’t normally comment, but…the next two novels are about 100,000 words each, which complicates things, and are *completely separate novels* in their own right, that interlock with Annihilation…they do not pick up the story right after the events in Annihilation. Annihilation is itself a self-contained short novel. Among other considerations FSG weighed in their approach to publishing the trilogy that weren’t at all cynical.”

Answer: Well, you’re in a better position to know so I stand corrected.  Still, this first book is surprisingly short and the speedy release of subsequent volumes atypical of any series I’ve ever read.  It will be interesting to see how this experiment fares.

skua writes: “The Arkady and Boris Strugatsky´s Roadside Picnic (Tarkovski´s Stalker) sensation at the first stages let me in.”

Answer: Yes, it certainly was reminiscent of Stalker as well with its foray into an uncharted alien landscape where the rules of physics – and logic – no longer apply. Great movie.  Perhaps time for a re-watch.

JeffW writes: ” I found the pacing in Annihilation to be slow and ultimately unsatisfying.”

Answer: I didn’t mind the pacing.  I was so caught up in the story that the slow build really worked for me.  It was like one of those horror movies of old where the meat of the narrative is in the suspense rather than the visceral payoff.

Duptiang writes: “Was the protagonist her whole self or a replacement like what was often explored in the SG series a DNA replacement, replicator conversion?”

Answer: Interesting question.  She seemed to retain a certain part of herself as evidenced by the introspective passages in her journal.  And yet, there’s the hint that she is losing a part of herself as well.  When her husband mysteriously returns from his expedition, she points out that it’s as if a part of him is missing.  He’s not quite the same person…

Duptiang writes: “How did the files get into the Light house, and why was she succumbing to the brightness?”

Answer: My guesses would be – 1) the lighthouse keeper (human or otherwise) and 2) any human being will succumb to Area X following extended exposure to the environment.  Of course, these are just guesses.  Are the answers to come?

whoviantrish writes: “The protagonist is smart, decent, down-to-earth, flawed and brave. She’s easy to like.”

Answer: I found the narrative approach very interesting.  It allowed us to get to know our protagonist but, on the other hand, never allowed us to know or in any way connect with the other characters.

sparrow_hawk writes: ” The prose is lovely and evocative and conveys the sense of weird other-worldliness quite well.”

Answer: Agreed.  He’s a terrific writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed his previous books.

sparrow_hawk writes: “Why are teams still being sent in? What is done to them before they go in? What is happening to The Biologist and has it happened to others before her? Why the heck is everyone so depersonalized and isolated? “

Answer: In my mind, these first two questions are the ones that really need to be answered.  Don’t get me wrong.  I too would like an answer (or, failing that, some solid hints) regarding the fate  of the biologist and how Area X is influencing its visitors, but I’m willing to cut its enigmatic, alien-centered answers some slack.  In the case of the expeditions, I’m in a less forgiving mood since there are real people behind these seemingly illogical decision.  As someone else already pointed out, if so many teams have already gone missing, why are expeditions still being sent into Area X?  What, if anything, is being gained?

Jenny Horn writes: “The premise reminded me some of Michael Grant’s series and King’s Under the Dome as well as LOST, but had none of the payoff. “

Answer:  I’ll have to reserve judgement on payoffs until I’ve completed the trilogy, but you present some very interesting examples.  I didn’t make it through the entire Lost run but my friends who did were VERY disappointed with the finale.  As for Under the Dome – I read it and, while I thought the premise was great and the narrative fairly engaging, I found the ending hugely disappointing.  Sometimes, payoffs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

astrumprota writes: “I guess the antagonist is whoever sends in the missions with nothing but lies. If they want to be successful understanding Area X or stopping its encroachment, why not give them all the information possible, and dispense with having one person, who becomes insane, use hypnotic suggestion on the others? I don’t see an end to the failures.”

Answer: And that fairly encapsulates my biggest bump with the book.  Given all of the previous failed missions, why not better prepare future teams?  Why not arm them with better resources?  This is hinted at early on (ie. the limits to what they can bring, the fact that much of their equipment is outdated, etc.) but these are questions that need to be answered in time.

cat4444 writes: “Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t find that I was invested in what happened to the characters due to the detached manner in which the story was told.”

Answer: Yes, I had a problem with that too – and the fact that no one had a name  It was always “the psychologist”, “the anthropologist”, “the surveyor”.  I eventually accepted the conceit – until, at one point, a character is referred to as “the anthropologist” in dialogue.  Surely when speaking to each other, I thought, they would use their first names.  But then, upon further consideration, I realized that this entire narrative is an extended journal entry written by our protagonist, so she is essentially offering a tweaked account of her experience.  It’s a reminder that our narrator is human and, perhaps, not to be trusted.

cat4444 writes: “The psychologist obviously knew more about what was happening than the other members of the expedition and was surreptitiously in control through the hypnotic triggers implanted in the other members’ minds. But how much did she really know?”

Answer: Again, I really hope we get the answers to these types of questions, those related to the Southern Reach organization and the reasoning behind some of their seemingly illogical decisions.

cat4444 writes: “The biologist’s observations suggest that they’re being changed. Some become the mossy pillars, but the diary suggests that others are changed into the very wildlife that Area X is rife with and that they may retain some semblance of who and what they were before they were changed.”

Answer: Yep.  And remember her encounter with the dolphin possessed of an uncomfortably familiar gaze?

cat4444 writes: “Is this the 12th expedition to enter from a particular point, the others having entered from somewhere else?”

Answer: Another interesting point is the suggestion that they must pass through some sort of alien portal to cross the boundary from their reality to Area X.

cat4444 writes: “Who or what is the Crawler and what is the purpose of the words on the “Tower” wall? “

Answer: Are those messages a disordered attempt at communication by the Crawler who perhaps makes use of the jumbled memories of those Area X it has absorbed in order to reach out to new visitors?

Line Noise writes: “Clearly Area X affects the mental and physical state of those who enter it. It modifies a person’s perceptions inducing hallucinations and wild emotions. As a result we can’t even trust the biologist’s record of events.”

Answer: Yes, alluded to this earlier, the fact that we could well be dealing with an untrustworthy narrator, one infected by alien consciousness.

2cats writes: “The writer’s style was lovely in places, highly descriptive and inventive, which I do like. I believe this was my first Vandermeer novel and I would read others in the future, when in a mind-bending mood “

Answer: I highly recommend you do.  Maybe this one?  http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/january-26-2009-city-of-saints-and-madmen-by-jeff-vandermeer/

Quick!  Get cast your votes for June’s Book of the Month Club selection!  It’s a tight race and the polls close this weekend:

And continuing our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch with…1

Well, this one did NOT go over well.  In fact, it probably ranks as Akemi’s least favorite Stargate episode to date – partly because she found it so gosh darn confusing (“So complicated this episode!”), but mainly due to the “everything but the kitchen sink” plot (“A little too much thing going on for me.”).  The word “cliche” also came up quite a few times.

When the countdown clock counts up to 100% in the nick of time: “So cliche.”

On their way back to the jumper, they encounter one more hidden alien to complicate matters: “So cliche.”

When the Daedalus is being attacked by enemy ships and all hope seems lost: “Atlantis will save them.”  And then, when Atlantis does save them: “So cliche.”

For some reason, she really fixated on the team discovering their own dead bodies.  She HATED that shot.  When I asked her why, she explained that unlike the sequence in SGU’s Twin Destinies in which Rush encounters an alternate version of himself, she felt there was no point to their discovery here – outside of the VFX department showing off.  I pointed out that the reason this discovery raises the stakes since alternate versions of themselves were in this exact same predicament and failed.  She grudgingly accepted this explanation and then, seemingly unconvinced: “So not showing off the computer graphic skills?”

This episode’s single highlight: “I like him [Ronon].  Hansamu.”

A potential highlight, quickly quashed, came when the ship finds itself beside the red giant.  “Now they can recharge!”  Uh, sorry.  Wrong Stargate series.

And she continues to be impressed by David Hewlett’s ability to deliver seemingly endless dialogue: “Don’t you think handsome guy’s sentences are very short and McKay’s are very long?   Not fair.  I can’t believe he can remember every single sentence.”

All in all however, Akemi found this episode tiresome despite (because of?) the seemingly endless obstacles the team encounters: “Like after drinking scotch or smoking pot, I have huge ideas and put them all into one script.  I’m a crazy genius and this is chance to write every crazy idea I’ve ever had in this episode!  I need something to make sense to make everything like this happen.  I know – a ship!  Alien attack!  Now very close to sun!  Super hot!”  You get the idea.

Next up: Ghost in the Machine.  Nothing like a Carl Binder joint to get us all back on track!

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Cast your vote for our June Book of the Month Club pick!  We’ve got a nice, wide-ranging selection this month:

1COLDBROOK by Tim Lebbon

Coldbrook is a secret laboratory located deep in Appalachian Mountains. Its scientists had achieved the impossible: a gateway to a new world. Theirs was to be the greatest discovery in the history of mankind, but they had no idea what they were about to unleash.

With their breakthrough comes disease and now it is out and ravaging the human population. The only hope is a cure and the only cure is genetic resistance: an uninfected person amongst the billions dead.

In the chaos of destruction there is only one person that can save the human race.  But will they find her in time?

1THE DRAGON BUSINESS by Kevin J. Anderson

King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking a unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory…
Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.

Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.

1EVENING’S EMPIRES by Paul McAuley

In the far future, a young man stands on a barren asteroid. His ship has been stolen, his family kidnapped or worse, and all he has on his side is a semi-intelligent spacesuit. The only member of the crew to escape, Hari has barely been off his ship before. It was his birthplace, his home and his future.

He’s going to get it back.

1LAGOON by Nnedi Okrafor

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

1

SCHRODER by Amity Gaige (paperback release in the U.K.)

Attending a New England summer camp, young Eric Schroder-a first-generation East German immigrant-adopts the last name Kennedy to more easily fit in, a fateful white lie that will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course.

SCHRODER relates the story of Eric’s urgent escape years later to Lake Champlain, Vermont, with his six-year-old daughter, Meadow, in an attempt to outrun the authorities amid a heated custody battle with his wife, who will soon discover that her husband is not who he says he is. From a correctional facility, Eric surveys the course of his life to understand-and maybe even explain-his behavior: the painful separation from his mother in childhood; a harrowing escape to America with his taciturn father; a romance that withered under a shadow of lies; and his proudest moments and greatest regrets as a flawed but loving father.

Finish up Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation!  Our discussion begins tomorrow!

Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch…

1

Akemi is right back at it, into the franchise and enjoying the series.  Although SGU still ranks as her favorite, she has a greater appreciation for Stargate: Atlantis and its much-improved visual effects.  Also, I think she kind of missed McKay.

Of course, as always there was much praise for the job of VFX Supervisor Mark Savela and his team.  Whenever we an establisher of Atlantis, especially at night, it’s always: “Wow!” or “Beautiful!” or “Two moons!”.

She didn’t get caught up in the whole Beckett vs. Keller debate because, by this point in the series, they’re both present and acting members of the expedition.  She likes them both but offered the following comment on Keller: “Everybody would love to have such a beautiful doctor.” Maybe.  “Too bad she doesn’t have a doctor’s outfit.”  I guess.

Still not feeling the love for Sheppard 22 episodes in.  She finds his loose cannon attitude annoying (“Why Sheppard is always so arrogant?  He should listen to older people.”) and, I suspect, very unJapanese.  After Beckett informs Sheppard that the shoot could kill him: “This is second chance for him to die so that handsome guy can become leader.”   Alas, another missed opportunity.

On the other hand, when Ronon gets choked out by the tendrils and collapses, she was genuinely concerned: “Oh, I hope he’s alright?”

“What about Sheppard?”I asked.  “He got skewered by a tendril.  Do you hope he’s alright.”

Grudgingly: “Okay.”

Later, she bumped on his amazing healing abilities: “Why sometimes he recovering very magically quickly and sometimes very slow?  Because he is typical superhero?”

Another favorite character of Akemi’s is none other than Radek Zelenka.  She practically squealed with excitement when he came onscreen like he was an adorable puppy doing something unbelievably cute.  She finds him very convincing: “I can’t believe he is actor.  Looks like real authentic geek!”  Ah, the magic of television.

Overall, a solid episode in her estimation but: “I liked yesterday’s episode more.”

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1A reminder to all that our book club reconvenes this Monday (April 7th) for a discussion on our April BOTMC pick: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

You can always check this blog’s right sidebar for info on our upcoming Book of the Month club reads (including our May selection: The Rich and the Dead by Liv Spector).

1Last night marked the resumption of our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch or, in my girlfriend Akemi’s case, First Watch.  Her thoughts on the season premiere: Search and Rescue…

First and foremost, she was mightily impressed by the visual effects that, in her estimation, have come a long way since the show’s first season.  Plenty of oohs and aahs during the space battle, and also plenty of praise for the design and construction of the hive ship interior.

Speaking of the wraith, she missed them in this episode: “I’m kind of missing old-fashioned wraith, both good hair and bad hair wraith.”  I assured her that we’d be seeing them – and their memorable locks – real soon.

One of the reasons she so looked forward to the show’s fifth season was to check out Robert Picardo in action who she has gotten to know over the course of his occasional Vancouver visits.  When he appeared in the opening credits: “Nice to see Bob.”.  Then, halfway through the Woolsey-less episode: “Where’s Bob?”.  And then, after his late appearance in the episode’s closing scene: Yay Bob!”.

Even though she only got to know Carter over the course of this one episode, Akemi quite liked her and was sorry to see her go.

When the episode opened and we saw Sheppard and Ronon trapped in the rubble, she predicted Sheppard would die and that Ronon (“He’s is so handsome!”) would take over as team leader.  When that didn’t happen, she was genuinely disappointed.  Nevertheless, it looks like Sheppard may be growing on her.  Sort of: “I don’t hate Sheppard as much as I used to.  But hard to say after only one episode.”

She called bullshit on Sheppard’s ability to walk around so soon after his injury and then, when Sheppard disobeys Carter’s order in order to take part in the rescue op: “Don’t be so arrogant.  Follow boss’s orders!”.

As usual, McKay was a highlight, especially the birth scene with Teyla that actually had her laughing out loud at times.  “He is typical nervous father,”she said.

All in all, an episode with plenty of highlights and surprisingly no lowlights so far as Akemi was concerned: “I’m very excited to see Jewel.  Very excited to see Bob.  And handsome big guy.”

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MFB writes: “Since I like this kind of stuff I thought I’d share some boards that I’ve collected from writers’ rooms of other shows and one movie.

http://imgur.com/a/tD2bJ?#0

About the Breaking Bad boards: The stories were spun and broken to cards in the room. Then the cards were taken off of the board and photocopied and the photocopies were used as outlines to write the scripts from. (I found it odd that there wasn’t any deviation from the board to the outline.)

Joe, it would be much appreciated if you could post pictures of boards from any episode but in particular a board from “Wormhole X-treme!” would be great. It is one of my favorites and includes a cameo from one of my favorite writers(guess who?). It would also go nicely with my script of that episode.”

Great stuff, MFB.  And thanks for the link.  Unfortunately, I don’t have photographs of any of the stories we put up on the white board.  Right after we’d finish breaking, I would copy everything to my laptop and work off that word document, filling it in as I built my outlines.  I do know, however, that Martin Gero used to snap a photo of his white board breakdowns and work off those.  I don’t know if he kept any of the pics for posterity’s sake (or “prosperity’s sake” as one of my former girlfriends used to say), but you could ask him over at: https://twitter.com/martingero

As for the various photos (history of the Stargate writers’ room whiteboard – see yesterday’s blog entry), I offer you the following insights:

1. CARL DIGGING IN: The writers’ room was also the defacto screening room, impromptu meeting room, and lunch room.  Pictured here, our mischievous fellow Executive Producer/Writer about to dig into his bag of take-out.  Behind him, on the white board, initial work on the episode that would become Millers Crossing.

2. SNACKING: Over the course of my time on Stargate, I would occasionally receive gifts in the mail from fans.  Here, I sample a sweet treat compliments of longtime blog reader Carolina who, in addition to tasty dessert, also sent along some canned duck!  Behind me, the breakdown of Miller’s Crossing is complete.  And, as usual, we would always include a little note for the cleaning crew: DO NOT ERASE!

3. THE RED IMP: This little goblin compliments of artist (and former in-house digital and playback supervisor Krista McLean).  She put it up on a far corner of the white board and there it remained for over a season – until my writing partner, Paul, eventually got creeped out and erased it.

4. SURVIVOR STARGATE STYLE: Martin Gero pitched out an idea for the episode that would eventually become Trio.  In his basic premise, McKay and…someone ended up trapped for the entirety of the episode.  But who?  Should we trap him with Carter?  Or Keller?  Or maybe both Carter and Keller.  After much discussion, we decided to put it to a Survivor style vote.  Each writer scribbled their anonymous picks on a piece of paper.  Martin each one in turn and let the democratic process decide!

5. FOXY LOXY WITH FLOPPY SOCKSIES: Every time I would upload a photo from the writers’ room to this blog, I would be extra careful to ensure I never unintentionally revealed spoilers for the upcoming season.  In this case, I decided to go the opposite route and “unwittingly” intentionally post the breakdown of a fictitious episode in which every act ends with our heroes facing certain death…only to come back after commercial where we reveal it was all a simulation designed to train them for the REAL mission.  After a string of successive fakeouts, the team  is finally ready to head out on the mission…which will have to wait until Part II.  I was surprised that a couple of eagle-eyed fans were actually able to decipher my scrawl and offer a clear translation of the story.  Even more surprised that a couple of fans actually said: “This would make a great episode!”

6. THE BW SPECIAL: Placeholder titles are always a pain in the ass.  They ranged from all-encompassingly general to annoyingly specific.  In this case, we all knew what a BW (Brad Wright) Special promised: a strange scenario, cool SF elements, and great character moments.  The rest invariably wrote itself.

7. ATLANTIS 5: After production had ended on a season and the cast and crew had left, the writer-producers would assemble and start preparing for next year.  There was nothing more frightening than a blank white board, so one of us made the effort to get us started.

8. CARL’S GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST STORY: It seemed that half of the scripts Carl Binder wrote for the show were ghost-related.  Either our heroes were seeing ghosts or dealing with ghosts or becoming ghosts themselves or some variation thereof.  So we thought it only appropriate that we assign him the special Stargate Christmas episode.

9. PREPPING SEASON 5: Martin Gero goes through some ancient documents from the storage closet.  On the white board behind him are the seeds to some season 5 story ideas, some of which made the cut (Joe’s Ronon/Tyre story became Broken Ties) while others did not (my Wages of Fear story would have rocked…if I had actually been successful in coming up with five acts and a tease).

10. SHHHHHH: The secrecy of the writers’ room.  In response to the network’s request for a “Green episode”, Martin Gero comes up with Snow Globe – which would later be renamed  Brainstorm.

11. SQUIGGLE GUY: I honestly don’t remember.  I want to say it was our artist’s rendition of the unintentionally hilarious Pepto Bismal monster from Ephiphany, but the timeline doesn’t match up.

12. AU SEASON 6: Ah, what might have been.  I offered insight into these potential stories here: September 30, 2008: An AU Season 6!, including Alan McCullough’s infamous Hamster Ball pitch.

13. DOSTOYEVSKY IN THE ROOM: The breakdown for SGU’s Crime and Punishment which would later be renamed Justice.

14. 12 12 12: Heated debates on the logic of proposed SF, particularly time travel-related pitches would always involve diagrams.  This was, I believe, a rather straightforward explanation of the time travel logic grounding Twin Destinies.

15. CARL AND…?:  I honestly don’t recall.  What were we discussing here?  Ship to ship transmissions?  Gravity wells?  Oreos?

16. SPACE FLOWERS: Well, that’s definitely Destiny.  Not sure what the deal was with the space flowers.  Perhaps some drawings to inspire us for the episode Faith?

17. PURSUIT: Pretty obvious, huh?  Alien vessels/drones pursue Destiny, forcing it to fly through a nearby star to lose them.

18. IT WAS ALL A DREAM: A gag, sure, but we’ve done plenty of variations (Home, The Real World, Remnants) to name but a few.

19. INCURSION: The rough beats to the Incursion two-parter that was originally envisioned as a one-parter.

20. DESTINY VS. THE SPACE DOLPHINS: Ah, the space dolphins.  A riff on the whales we introduced back on Stargate: Atlantis. In a later episode, First Strike, it was suggested Atlantis abandon the planet, leaving it to be destroyed.  Robert Cooper objected to this solution on the grounds that we had gone through all the trouble of establishing and saving those whales, only to abandon them.  I suggested a compromise where, as Atlantis rises up off the planets surface, we see the whales sprout wings and fly off for safer skies.  Martin Gero dubbed them Whangels.  Alas, they didn’t make the cut. :(

21. ELVEN FOOT: I believe this is one of those cases where we misheard the actual title, but the mistaken title was simply too good to dismiss.

22. POST-LUNCH MALAISE: A typical post-lunch scene includes a sleepy Lawren Bancroft-Wilson, my hot sauces, and remnants of lunch.  Behind Lawren, the breakdown of an episode involving Amanda Perry.

23. YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE: Ship to ship communications?  Gravity wells?  Oreos?

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Alas, it was a herculean task and despite my best efforts, I came up short.  In the end, I sampled only 47 of the some 60 varieties of hot chocolate offered for this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival.  Still, 47 hot chocolates in 24 days aint bad, especially considering I took those four days off to visit mom in Montreal.  This year, I doubled last year’s score.  And, next year, I vow to do even better!

So, what were the standouts?  Well, what follows is my list of the Top 5 Hot Chocolates of this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival!

When all was said and done, six hot chocolates actually made by top 5 list.  After much consideration, I decided to offer a Top 5 +1 for good luck!

Honorable mention goes to…

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A Snowball’s Chance in Hell: Single origin Mexican chocolate with Mexican chili poured over house made chocolate ice cream. Accompanied by a flourless chocolate cookie.

Available at: Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

#5…

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Phaun’s Fancy: Made from 64% dark chocolate with parmesan and fresh nutmeg.  Served with a side of Umami No. 5 fudge

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver

www.cocoanymph.com

#4..

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Banana Split: Made from 36% Valrhona Caramelia chocolate and topped with walnut marshmallows.  Served with banana pound cake.

Available at: Bel Cafe, 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

#3…

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Trio of Chocolate: The base of this hot chocolate is 66% Mokaya chocolate by Michel Cluizel. Served with a disk of 45% Kayambe milk chocolate and white chocolate ice cream.

Available at: Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe 1059 Alberni Street

http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

#2…

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Hera’s Habit: Made from 50% deep milk chocolate with malted milk balls.  Served with vanilla bean cinnamon shortbread.

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver

www.cocoanymph.co

#1…

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Paula Dean White Trash Trainwreck: A 70% dark chocolate ganache with condensed milk, salted kettle chips, and vanilla whipped cream.  Served with a 72% dark chocolate wafer.

Available at: Mink Chocolates, 863 West Hastings St., Vancouver. On the park (cross street, Hornby.)

mink.chocolates

Congratulations to all the winners.  I’m hoping I’ll get to see you again soon.  REAL soon.

Continuing Stargate: Atlantis rewatch with…The Eye!

1Ah, now this is more like it!  Akemi was on the edge of her seat (or, actually, her side of the bed) throughout this episode.  She loved it.  Action!  Suspense!  Humor! And, best of all, those dazzling visual effects!  She was blown away by the the sequence of Atlantis shielding itself within seconds of the giant wave crashing down on the city (“Always very last minute your show!”) and also had high praise for the Teyla-Sora showdown (compliments of our former SGA stunt coordinator James Bam Bam Bamford).  She continues to enjoy McKay, greatly appreciated seeing her favorite Dr. Beckett, and is even warming up to Sheppard.  She had one big bump = McKay dressing his arm wound OVER his sleeve.

Overall: “I liked it a lot.  I’m getting used to this city.  At first I thought not as good as SGU’s ship but now pretty cool.”  And then: “I’m beginning to like SGA too!”

A couple of years ago, I offered some thoughts on this episode (and the next one) in one of my Trip Down Memory Lane entries:

June 13, 2012: Dark Matter at Comic Con! Save Lennox the dog! Days of Stargate Past, Atlantis! The Eye and The Defiant One! Vote on our favorite Stargate mid-season two-parter for a chance to win!

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Every so often, I check out my spam folder for erroneously misdirected reader comments.  Last night, amid the 535 quarantined messages, I came across the following:

“Brazil shemales”

“Star ladyboys”

“Big ass shemales”

“Trilby hat sales”

- I find this offensive, embarrassing and downright disturbing.  How dare they presume I’d wear a trilby hat!

Hey, the results are in for April’s Book of the Month Club.  And the winner is…

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 12.12.43 PM

Winner!

Winner!

We’ll be kicking off our discussion of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation on Monday, April 7th – which should give you all plenty of time to read it.

In the meantime, our March Book of the Month Club reconvenes on Monday, March 3rd with a discussion of Terms of Enlistment by Mark Kloos.

1Ladies and gentlemen, start your reading engines!

Our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch continues with…Underground!

1Hmmm.  It would appear Akemi is fast losing interest in this show.  I keep thinking that if we can just make it to the mid-season two-parter, The Storm/The Eye, we should be okay.  Those two episodes, in my estimation the high point of SGA’s first season, should revitalize her interest in the series and keep her focused through to the season one finale.  Apparently, Carson Beckett’s charming eyes will only get the series so far.

Alas, Underground didn’t rate that highly for her because she had a hard time following what was going on.  But once the episode moved past people the various people-sitting-at-tables-talking scenes (about two-thirds of the way through), her interested picked up.  Still…

On the story: “Chotto difficult to understand this episode.  A little bit complicated.  Seems very odd from the beginning.”

On Teyla: “Too much make-up this episode.”

On Teyla informing the Genii that team Atlantis had awakened the wraith: “She is stupid!”

On McKay: “I like arrogant guy!”

And overall: “Surprisingly not so much episodes of the actual Atlantis.  I’m looking for more inside of Atlantis.”  Crap!  She’s beginning to sound like YOU guys!

Meanwhile, I offered my thoughts on the episode back here: June 10, 2012: Misery! Comic Con! Days of Stargate Past – Atlantis! Poisoning the Well and Underground!

So, what’d you all think on second (or more) viewing?

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