The Last Jedi Teaser

The Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer left me cold.

It’s pretty.  It’s well-made.  It’s nice to see Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.  It’s nice to see Rey swinging a lightsaber.

But there’s no emotion to it.  Nothing hooked me.  No image made me go, “I have to see that!”

If you loved it, go on loving it.  If it made you cry, go on crying.  And I’ll be glad to know that the teaser did something for someone.

I only wish it did something for me.

Of Stumptown and Opening Day

It’s April.  Spring is officially here.  Baseball is back.

Opening Day is more like “Opening Days” — three games yesterday, a few more today, a few more tomorrow, and then the season and the daily grind begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Nothing says baseball more than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, what with Charlie Brown and his baseball team.  Heck, the day I was born, the day’s Peanuts strip was about baseball.

The official Peanuts Twitter account posted this:

When I shared the image on Facebook, I added a caption: “There’s always hope on Opening Day, even for Stumptown in the Green Grass League.”

The baseball legend of Joe Shlabotnik goes through Stumptown of the Green Grass League.  Shlabotnik was a fringe player at best; after batting an astonishing .004 in a season and being sent down to Hillcrest, he’s later traded to Stumptown, a team that sinks ever deeper in the standings of the Green Grass League.  When it’s clear his playing days are over, he accepts the managerial job for the Waffeltown Syrups and, when that doesn’t pan out, he travels the sports memorabilia circuit.

Where was the Green Grass League based?  Where wss Stumptown?  I have no idea.  Charles Schulz never said, as far as I can tell.

Last summer, when listening to A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor’s monologue, one that involved a baseball game played by the Lake Wobegon Whippets, Lake Wobegon’s minor league baseball team, I decided then and there that it made perfect sense for Stumptown and Lake Wobegon to be part of the same league.

There is, of course, no reason why the Lake Wobegon Whippets should play in the Green Grass League against Hillsdale and Stumptown.  It seems quite improbable, and the facts we have are few.  Hillsdale and Stumptown are clearly part of organized baseball, specifically the farm system of minor leagues that support the major league teams, since Joe Shlabotnik was “sent down.”  But Lake Wobegon?  They could be part of the affiliated system, or they could be a semi-pro town team made up of local players who play for the sport of it, for the love of the game, instead of the dream of reaching the big leagues and playing in the big cities in stadiums that seat tens of thousands under the lights.  It’s likelier than not that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon would never meet on the fields of green.

Yet, in my imagination they do, for no better reason that Charles Schulz was a Minnesotan and Garrison Keillor was a Minnesotan.  The absolute silliest reason in the world, absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but it made a kind of intuitive sense, that these two great storytellers who worked in two very different mediums could share a common mythology, one that arose from minor league baseball teams in the backwaters of America, played in small towns in front of tiny crowds, in places where baseball was pure and simple and innocent.  That sufficed for me, and I will forever think that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon have played an intense rivalry for at least fifty years in ancient wooden ballparks that were throwbacks to an earlier time even when they were built before the war.

No matter who you root for, whether it’s Stumptown or the Chicago Cubs, Opening Day brings with it the promise of hope and the belief that anything is possible.

Play ball!

The Fourth Doctor and the Curator: What’s the Connection?

Earlier this week, Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson’s Unhistory, a chronology of the apocryphal (and sometimes impossible) Doctor Who stories, was released as an ebook.  Like the previous Ahistory (a chronology of the “real” Doctor Who), Unhistory has essays on various topics that deserve greater exploration and insight.  Notably, Unhistory has an essay titled “Old Tom,” an exploration of the white-haired Doctor portrayed by Tom Baker in the video release of “Shada,” a series of New Zealand television commercials, and “The Day of the Doctor.”

Unhistory explores three possibilities — this Doctor is a future Doctor (a possibility that Unhistory dismisses for a variety of reasons), this Doctor is a ghost of the fourth Doctor created as a byproduct of the Watcher’s influence in “Logopolis,” or this Doctor was resurrected by the Time Lords during the Time War (much as they did with the Master) when the eighth Doctor wanted nothing to do with the conflict.

I was musing on these possibilities this morning while I was drinking my coffee, when my brain wasn’t quite in gear.  And I had an insight.  “Old Tom” may explain how the Doctor both has and doesn’t have pre-Hartnell incarnations.

“The Brain of Morbius” shows that the Doctor’s life didn’t begin with William Hartnell’s Doctor.  We see that the Doctor had eight lives before Hartnell, and Hartnell was the ninth Doctor, making Tom Baker the twelfth incarnation.  This then became a data point that Doctor Who then dismissed; Peter Davison is clearly several times the Doctor’s fifth incarnation.  At one point in time, William Hartnell, though he was the first actor we saw as the Doctor in Doctor Who, Hartnell wasn’t the first Doctor.  But, then Hartnell was both the first actor to play the Doctor and the first Doctor.  How did this happen?  How can both be true?

Here’s my hypothesis.

During the Time War, the Time Lords didn’t so much resurrect the fourth Doctor to act as their agent as they pulled him out of time and duplicated him.

Perhaps the Time Lords couldn’t resurrect the fourth Doctor because the Doctor was still alive, so they had to do something else, something desperate — they found a point in the Doctor’s life (perhaps when he was timescooped and trapped in time during “Shada”/”The Five Doctors” — a result not of a faulty Time Scoop but the War-era Time Lords intercepting the Time Scoop) and, to duplicate him, they took his biodata and overwrote it onto another Time Lord’s life, transforming this sacrificial Time Lord into the fourth Doctor and, as far as he’s aware from this point forward, mentally and biologically he always was and is the Doctor.

But, this process also truncated the duplicate Doctor’s life; perhaps it used a regeneration cycle (or three) of the sacrificial Time Lord in their efforts to transform him into the Doctor.  As a result, the Doctor, who had been in his twelfth incarnation when he was taken out of time and duplicated, is duplicated into a Time Lord who was only in his fourth.  And so, the duplicated Doctor only remembers his preceeding three lives with any certainty and things before that uncertainly or not at all.

Now, this is where it gets tricky or strange.

The “real” fourth Doctor would be the one who fights the Time War, introduces “Shada,” and eventually retires to become the Curator of the Undergallery.  If the Time Lords went to this end to pull the Doctor into the Time War, they would want to make sure they had the “real” deal.  This Doctor would remember his pre-Hartnell lives with great detail.

The “duplicated” Doctor, then, is the one who was freed from the Time Scoop, continued to travel with Romana, regenerated into Peter Davison, and so on.  When he meets his wife, Patience, after his regeneration, it’s no puzzle why he can’t entirely remember her; his memories of his pre-Hartnell lives don’t really exist for him anymore.  He may suspect at times that part of his life is gone, but eventually his mind forges false memories to cover over the gaps, and as far as he’s concerned his life always and ever only began with William Hartnell’s Doctor, and when Matt Smith rolls around he is legitimately the thirteenth and final incarnation of this Doctor’s cycle of regenerations.

None of this means that the Doctor we’ve followed on Doctor Who since “Shada” is a different Doctor than we saw before.  A difference that makes no difference is no difference, and as far as the Doctor is concerned, as far as biology is concerned, as far as the universe and history is concerned, there’s no difference to who he is, even though he’s been duplicated by desperate Time Lords far in his future.

As strange, weird, and downright niche this is, this hypothesis feels intuitively right to me.  Of course, there’s no way to test this hypothesis, but now I can imagine a multi-Doctor story set during the Time War with an older, white-haired fourth Doctor and the War Doctor, perhaps still in his relative youth after his regeneration.

Taken: Why Am I Even Watching This?

Why do I keep watching Taken, the NBC television series ostensibly inspired by the Taken film franchise?

I use the words “ostensibly inspired” because I have absolutely no idea what this series has to do with Taken.  Clive Standen can’t be playing a young Liam Neeson for the simple fact that the television series takes place now, not thirty years ago.

Really, it’s more like what a Rainbow 6 (or maybe Splinter Cell) television series would be like — a super-secret government hit squad operating out of Washington, DC.

Which brings up another problem with the series.  It’s clearly -not- filmed around DC.  (It’s filmed in Canada.) At least once a week there’s an establishing shot that shows a familiar DC landmark, but the close-ups don’t make any sense.  A few weeks ago, Bryan Mills was running near the Capitol building, because it could be seen over a park and trees… but I can’t think of where he could have been running.  It certainly wasn’t the Mall, nor the park between the Capitol and Penn Station.  And then, last night, there was a conversation that happened on a bench outside the Lincoln Memorial… but where is this bench?  For that matter, what was that columned building at ground level behind the bench?

And!  We’re now five episodes in, and I have no idea what most of the characters are named!  Christina… is the head of the team?  I think her name is Christina.  And there’s Riley; I know her name because last week sort of focused on her.  After that… I don’t even know the name of Bryan’s sort-of girlfriend.  The characters on Bryan’s team of government super assassins are supposed to the best-of-the-best, but they’re generally unimaginative idiots.  (Bryan is the only person who shows any initiative or creativity on anything.) Standen’s portrayal of Bryan seems fine, but there’s not a lot of range to the character, which goes from glowering to intense with a stop at angry.

I know the team behind this is largely the team behind Lie to Me, the FOX series starring Tim Roth from about ten years ago, and I know they’re capable of doing really good things.  I know Standen is a good actor (as Rollo, he was a favorite of mine on Vikings), and the supporting cast seems generally solid.  There’s a lot of talent being thrown at Taken, but the result is dull, dull, dull.

So why do I keep watching this?  The vague hope it might improve?  The wish that I’ll finally learn the characters’ names?  The occasional DC establishing shots?  Why, oh why?

Writing My Congressman: The American Health Care Act

The Honorable Scott Perry
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. Office
1207 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Perry:

Yesterday afternoon the Congressional Budget Office issued its report on the American Health Care Act.  Their conclusions on the consequences of the AHCA are shocking — 24 million Americans will lose health insurance within ten years, and older Americans will see their health insurance premiums spike by over 700 percent.  This is the very opposite of President Donald Trump’s pledge of “better health care for more people at a lesser cost.”  The American Health Care Act put forward by Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican leadership will recklessly endanger the lives of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of your own constituents here in Pennsylvania but making the health care system financially inaccessible to them and violates President Trump’s promise of “insurance for everyone.”

Therefore, I must ask you to withhold your support from the American Health Care Act.  Instead, I suggest that you support, even cosponsor, HR 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act which would dramatically improve the quality of life for every American by making health care truly affordable and universal.  As a matter of policy, the American Health Care Act is both irresponsible and inhumane.  The Medicare for All Act is the better policy choice.

Sincerely,

Allyn Gibson

Fifteen Influential Authors

I saw this on Facebook a few days ago, meant to answer it, and got sidetracked into other things.  That happens.

The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it.  List 15 authors (poets and comic writers included) who have influenced you and who will always stick with you.  List the first 15 you can identify in no more than 15 minutes.

All right, fifteen influential authors.  Let’s do this!

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. Berkeley Breathed
  3. Orson Scott Card
  4. Philip K. Dick
  5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. Will Durant
  7. Ernest Hemingway
  8. Fritz Leiber
  9. Larry Niven
  10. Edgar Allan Poe
  11. Carl Sagan
  12. Charles Schulz
  13. JRR Tolkien
  14. Matt Wagner
  15. Howard Zinn

Some random notes.

Berkeley Breathed is, of course, the writer/artist of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus.  I had the opportunity to interview Breathed last year.

While I would not willingly buy an Orson Scott Card novel today, I cannot deny that several of his novels, among them Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Seventh Son, made an impact, and the ending of Lost Boys left me utterly gutted.

Everyone knows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his Sherlock Holmes stories, which I adore and Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite novel, but I like his Brigadier Girard stories (about a buffoonish French grenadier during the Napoleonic Wars) a whole lot.

Will Durant, with his wife Ariel, wrote The Story of Civilization, an eleven-volume history of the world, from pre-history to the Napoleonic era.  I have a set of the books — they’re on a bookshelf in my dining room — and though the books are somewhat dated (and error-prone at times), they’re also books I can pick up, flip through, and read fifty pages solely for Durant’s prose and gift of storytelling.

Fritz Leiber wrote my favorite short story of all time, “Lean Times in Lankhmar.”

While I never got into Matt Wagner‘s Mage — a curious lapse for this amateur Arthurian geek — Grendel is something I’ve loved for years.

The near misses:

  • Karen Armstrong
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Alan Grant
  • Mark Helprin
  • Nick Hornby
  • Sir Thomas Malory
  • William Shakespeare
  • H.G. Wells

Instead of writing my list of 15 influential authors on a piece of paper, I wrote them down on index cards.  Write the name down, throw the card on the pile.  “Easier to sort!” I thought.  Before I knew it, I had a stack of about twenty-five cards.  More than the fifteen, and so I had to pare them down.  I couldn’t take the first fifteen as I’d already started to sort the cards so the order in which I’d written down the names no longer held.

Karen Armstrong wrote A History of God.  I read it upon its release, and though I was pretty well certain that I was an atheist at the time (without really understanding the word), I definitely was when I’d finished the book.

As much as I wanted to fit F. Scott Fitzgerald into the 15, I couldn’t.  In the “Fitzgerald vs. Hemingway” debate, I’m always going to side with Hemingway.  Always.  And there’s no one in that 15 that I’d bump for Scott Fitzgerald.  There simply wasn’t room for him.

Alan Grant wrote Batman comics for DC Comics in the late-80s and early-90s, often writing for artist Norm Breyfogle.  British readers would probably know him better for his work on Judge Dredd and Psi-Judge Anderson.  He also wrote a graphic novel about the War of 1812 from the Canadian perspective.

I have some issues with Mark Helprin — he’s in favor of perpetual copyright, while I believe the current copyright terms are far too long and should be reduced drastically (50 years total seems like a good length of time) — but his novels, among them A Soldier of the Great War and Winter’s Tale, have stayed with me.

Like Scott Fitzgerald, I just couldn’t fit Nick Hornby into the top 15, largely because of the mixed feelings I have on his work.  I love his prose, I love reading his work, but sometimes I find his books really unsatisfying when all is said and done.  Hornby struggles with his endings.

Musings on a Water Tower

Last Saturday at Farpoint I went to dinner with some friends and their pre-school aged daughter.

As we drove up York Road, the preschooler pointed to the west.  “Look!  A water tower!  It’s so small!”

I’ve worked in the area for the past ten years.  Yet this was the first time I’d really noticed the water tower in the Timonium-Cockeysville area.  It took a preschooler to point it out, and now that I’ve seen it I can’t unsee it.

I drive to work, and I see it from the Shawan Road exit on 83.  I step out of the office’s main entrance, and I see it.  I walk to Wawa for a sandwich at lunchtime, and I see it.

It was always there, yet it never registered.  It wasn’t important.  It didn’t merit notice.

The lesson here is that as we grow up, we teach our minds to filter out the unimportant things.  Or rather, what we think are unimportant.  “This doesn’t affect me directly, so I don’t need to see this.”  It’s not just water towers.  It’s the homeless person suffering from hunger in the cold.  It’s the child from the abusive household.  It’s the elderly person who lives alone and struggles to buy groceries and maintain her home.  It’s the refugee from a war-torn land.  These things are around us every day, they’re right in front of our eyes for us to see, and yet we miss them, even me.

A preschooler sees everything automatically; to her, everything is important, and everything merits notice.  It’s all there for us to see, we just have to have the wisdom and awareness to see it, to see the world with a preschooler’s eyes.

All it took was a water tower.

Frank Delaney and Scott Simon: Their Epic Radio Friendship

After writing some words on the death of author Frank Delaney this morning, I was curious — I remembered his voice appearing on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday from time to time, so how many times did he appear?

I turned to Google.  The answer is six times.

Just six times, and not in five years.  I can remember hearing three of these stories on their original broadcast — his first appearance in 2005, the segment on “Re: Joyce” and Ulysses, and the segment with his wife.  Delaney’s easy rapport with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday from his very first appearance gave the impression that he appeared many more times than he had.  Even though he didn’t, the two men had an epic radio friendship that was clear, strong, and true.  From the very first, they talked as though they had known each other forever, and their conversations were a doorway into a heightened world of words and ideas where they invited you to keep up with them because you just might learn something.

I downloaded all six Weekend Edition Saturday segments and listened to them.  I had the thought — I must have worked the morning of his first appearance at EB Games, I must have heard the segment either on my way to the store or driving up Walnut Street to get change from the Wachovia at Cary Town Center.  That segment, which I may not have heard in full, made an impression that has stayed with me over the years.

I think I may pull Ireland off the shelf tonight.  It seems only appropriate.

Frank Delaney, A Reminiscence

The author Frank Delaney has died.  He suffered a stroke at his home in Connecticut on Tuesday, and he died on Wednesday.  He was 74.

Delaney was an occasional guest on Scott Simon’s Weekend Edition Saturday, and that was where I first encountered him.  Fifteen-ish years ago — ah, I’ve looked, it was merely twelve — he was on Weekend Edition talking about his latest novel, Ireland.  Intrigued by the segment and enchanted by Delaney’s way with words, his eloquence and his elocution, I bought the book at the Barnes & Noble in Cary, almost certainly one night after closing at EB.

Five years later, Delaney started a podcast on James Joyce’s Ulysses — “Re: Joyce.”  Once a week, for five minutes, Delaney would talk about a sentence or two of Joyce’s novel, unpacking the references, explaining the context and the background.  Delaney didn’t lecture at his listener.  He was a warm-hearted friend, inviting you into his world and, with the enthusiasm of someone less than half his age, excitedly telling you about everything you never knew about Ulysses, English literature, early 20th-century Dublin, and so on and so forth.  No reference was too obscure for Delaney, no off-color pun went unremarked.  As the years wore on, the five minute podcast grew to ten, and the ten minute podcast grew to twenty.  Delaney’s enthusiasm never flagged.  Sometimes he would mention that, after finishing Ulysses, he would turn his attention to Finnegans Wake.  Fifty years he thought that would take him.  He said it with such confidence and verve that I believed he would do it.

I would be lying if I said I discovered the podcast then, as I did not.  It wasn’t until close to the first anniversary that I was aware of it.  A few weeks later, Scott Simon brought Delaney on Weekend Edition to talk about Re: Joyce.  Delaney had been at it a year, and he had only just finished the first chapter, set at the Martello Tower on Sandymount, where Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus have just woken and had breakfast.

Delaney published, about that time, a Kindle Single titled Undead, about Bram Stoker and the writing of Dracula.  (Note: Undead is non-fiction, a long-ish essay, really.) It was one of the first ebooks I bought from Amazon, and as I read it, I could “hear” Delaney’s Irish lilted voice in my head, thanks, no doubt, to listening to Re: Joyce, and it felt as though he were reading the book aloud to me personally.  (If you’re a Dracula fan, I quite recommend Undead as it goes into Stoker’s personal history and the influences on the book.)

Delaney emailed me about two years ago.  Maintaining a website and a podcast (one that now has almost 400 episodes, if I have my maths correct) costs money, and Delaney would mention, from time to time, that he was taking donations via PayPal.  I would think, “Yes, I should do that, I should make a pledge of support,” and then the thought would pass, and one particular day, my inner voice said, “If you’re going to do it, then do it,” and so I went to Delaney’s website and made a small financial contribution.  About two months later, I received an email from Delaney himself.  He wanted to thank me personally for making a contribution, he appreciated that I recommended the podcast to people on Twitter from time to time, and he remembered that I had written a blog post about Re: Joyce back when I started listening and he wanted to thank me for that, too.  In short, he wanted to thank me for spreading the word about his project and for being a fan.

I learned of Delaney’s death this morning via Twitter, thanks to a tweet from Scott Simon.  It was incoherent, uncharacteristic of Scott, but the prominence of the word “devastated” was enough.  I wonder if Scott Simon will do a segment on his friend, Frank Delaney, this Saturday morning.

I never met Delaney, I’ve only read two of his works (Ireland and Undead), yet I’ve had his voice in my ears for so long and for so many hours that this morning felt as though I, too, had lost a dear and cherished friend.

Raise a glass to one of Ireland’s finest writers.

Loving the World

I had to watch this video a few times before I really got it.

It’s a short film, created The Climate Coaltion, a UK organization that fights climate change, that features Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, and David Gyasi dramatically reciting a poem by Anthony Anaxagorou about the wonders of nature and the threat posed, not just to people but to the world itself, by a changing climate and a civilization that grows too fast and moves too far for nature to cope.

I was alerted to the film’s existence by an email from Elbow, as beneath the poem and the imagery is an underscore derived from the band’s new song, “Magnificent (She Says).”  (I wrote about the song here.)

I had to tune out the imagery — and, to some extent, the music — and focus on the words.  And I could see, especially once I’d read the poem itself, I could see what it was trying to say and how it was saying it.

Each voice is a different mood.  Charles Dance, with a voice whose timber sounds doom, speaks to what has been lost to climate change — habitats destroyed, species barely holding on or past the edge of extinction.  Miranda Richardson voices what will be if we continue on our current path, the wonders of the world that will be lost.  Jason Isaacs is the voice of hope; our path isn’t fixed, and we still have a chance to change our course.  And finally, David Gyasi is the voice of wonder — there is still magic and beauty in the world when we stop to recognize it, and we must save it so our children and grandchildren can share in it.

But there’s still time to rescue the tranquility
the fragile space between parks, pitches and sea —
the cosmos in all its wonderment and us,
a blink in its starry eye.

Once I put it all together, I found the film quite moving.

I was going to find it moving anyway — “Magnificent (She Says)” hits my emotional buttons, and the images of nature in all its wonder were quite beautiful — yet it’s better knowing what it all means.

This is the only world we have.  We owe it to ourselves and the future to leave it better than we found it.