Friday, June 29, 2018

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison unintentionally made me who I am today. 

Science fiction has always been important to me, partly due to Ray Bradbury and HG Wells, but it was Harlan Ellison that taught me how to write. Of course he created a lot of brilliant 'speculative fiction', but it was his commentary on the world around us that caught my eye and tickled my brain. 

I could never match his intellect, but when I write, I can sometimes hear his voice nudging me towards what to say and how to say it. Because of his amazing influence, I always wanted him to know how much I appreciated his talent, but he's obviously not someone I could easily meet. Then a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find his website had his address posted, and he seemed open to anyone that wanted to send him actual mail. So, I was determined to write him a (way too) lengthy thank you letter, but as is always the case, life got in my way, and I kept putting it off. 

As of yesterday (June 28, 2018), it seems I put it off too long, because the legendary Harlan Ellison has passed away in his sleep. 
If you're unfamiliar with his name, you might know him from his extraordinary career. 

Harlan was best known for writing The City on the Edge of Forever, which is considered by many to be the best episode of the original Star Trek series. The irony of that is, he hated the episode. He wrote an entire book, reprinting his original script, and complaining about Gene Roddenberry. I read it, and I highly recommend it.

You also might recognize his name from the closing credits of the original Terminator from 1984. 

From IMDB:

"Science fiction author Harlan Ellison sued James Cameron, claiming that the film was plagiarized from the two The Outer Limits (1963) episodes that Ellison wrote, namely The Outer Limits: Soldier (1964) and The Outer Limits: Demon with a Glass Hand (1964). The concept of "Skynet" could also have been borrowed from an Ellison short story called "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." The suit was settled out of court and newer prints of the film acknowledge Ellison. Cameron has claimed that this settlement was forced upon him by the producers. He felt that Ellison was an opportunist making invalid claims, and wanted the case to go on trial. However, the studio told him that he would be personally responsible for financial damages in the event he lost the trial. So he had no choice but to accept the settlement, a fact that he has always resented."

Harlan Ellison never took any money for this movie. He only asked for a credit acknowledging his work. And that's what he got. 

For decades, he's been described as a curmudgeon, ornery, intimidating, and just brutally honest. But others have said he has a heart of gold and would go out of his way to help friends, or even a stranger, in any way he could. He's won dozens of awards and has more wisdom and experience than any of us could ever hope to accumulate. 

He had a commentary for Sci-Fi Channel (before becoming SyFy), and fortunately for us, they're all posted online. PLEASE watch a few of these here to understand a bit more about him. Each one is about three minutes long, and definitely worth your time. You can also see some of his more recent rants on his own YouTube page here

So now I have to ask myself, what is to become of the overly inflated fan letter I started writing? 

I guess I'll just post it here as an open letter, in the hopes that somehow, his spirit might be able to sense my gratitude in the √¶ther


Dear Mr. Ellison,

Hi, my name is Mike, and I've loved you for many years. To clarify, my feelings are strictly platonic, mostly due to my heterosexuality, although I do acknowledge that you are a good looking guy. I am in fact, deeply in love with your work, your wisdom, and your vast intellect.

Sadly, I think my "infatuation" is destined to be unrequited.  I say this, because I wrote you many years ago, after reading, Dream Corridor, and you never replied.  I know you're a busy guy, so I wasn't too upset.  But, I always had high hopes that the legendary Harlan Ellison would acknowledge my existence in some way.

I also wondered, maybe I didn't do enough to get your attention?  Maybe I was just one more annoying voice in the sea of endless banality you most likely get every day.  And in truth, I know I was quite the idiot when I wrote you years ago, (and most likely still am today).

I sort of imagined you adding my name to a vast compendium of other names, with stars next to each one, correlating the level of stupidity, like your own little black book of morons.  I sincerely hope my previous letter didn't garner a star (or two?) by my name.

But in the off chance that you were genuinely just too busy to reply, or my letter never even got to you, I decided to try writing again.  So here I am, many years later, pouring my heart out to you as concisely as my tiny brain will allow, in hopes to impart my undying gratitude and appreciation to your influence in my life.

I do apologize for the unnecessarily long introduction, but I felt the need to tell you that you have genuinely inspired me.

In middle school, I started reading Ray Bradbury, and HG Wells, and of course comic books, (mostly Hulk and Spider-man, but there were many others).  I was lucky, because my parents loved science fiction, so they would tell me about interesting things that they enjoyed when they were younger, which would generally scare the crap out of me (like some episodes of Lost in Space and Star Trek... hey, I was just a kid!).

I hated school, because I was a bit nerdy, and the masses seemed to enjoy picking on me, since I liked imaginative things *gasp!*.   And naturally, science fiction was a great escape for me from the real world.

So, in my efforts for escapism, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club.  And from reading the vague descriptions of each book, I was curious about and eventually bought your book, Stalking the Nightmare.  

Thank you!!

I still remember how I loved Djinn, No Chaser!  It made me laugh, with brilliant insults I could never be quick enough to remember if I should need them.

Of course there were many other fantastic stories as well, but that one always stood out. And since I was a slow reader, I really appreciated your short story format. I could get into the story, it would make me think, and get out, all within the same day. Rinse, repeat.

But eventually I read all the stories in Stalking the Nightmare, and the only thing left was Scenes From the Real World.  Ugh.... I  confess, as a kid, I had NO interest in reading about your personal life. I thought, "I'm living my own life, why should I listen to him rant about his problems??"  But I was desperate and a curious sort, so I decided to check them out anyway.

And suddenly something amazing happened:  I was entertained!

To my surprise, it seemed there was still plenty of flavor left in this book after I completely sucked the juice out of the fiction part. I still remember annoying my friend as I read The 3 Most Important Things in Life over the phone to him.  I wonder how much he really paid attention?  I seriously doubt I read it with the proper inflections.

Soon after finishing the entire book, I bought Shatterday, and then Deathbird Stories. Each time, I continued to be impressed with your style and imagination.

For myself, I did spend time trying to write, and created a few of my own short stories, but I never had the patience to write a full novel. And like any aspiring writer in high school that had noticed girls, I occasionally wrote poetry and nonsensical prose.

A few years later, when I began college, I started to write my own journal.  I had a useless job as a security guard, and spent lot of time staring into the empty void. I always hoped no evil doers would appear and make me do anything... because I was completely unprepared to deal with the criminal element. So I began to write.

Originally I was inspired to jot my thoughts down after watching Twin Peaks.  I loved hearing Agent Dale Cooper dictate his findings to Diane on a pocket tape recorder. I guess in some way, I was eager for my own life to sound a bit unnatural, like his.

But looking back, I can honestly say it was your original Scenes From the Real World, (and later Harlan Ellison is Watching on Sci-Fi channel) that I was channeling!

Unfortunately, it seems I've lost my spark of creativity and originality. But I do still cling to my (informed?) opinions, whether on movies, television, or occasionally music.  Sometimes those opinions are not so popular, even with my friends, which has given me a crisis of faith in my writing.  I find myself thinking... why should I bother writing, especially when friends disagree with me. I've always preferred aliens over alienation, so I never want to annoy anyone.

Today, I don't write as often as I should, because putting words in just the right order takes lot of effort for a simple guy like me. And I'm realistic enough to know, in this sea of idiots with a keyboard on the internet, I couldn't make a career out of this.

But I wanted to reiterate again how important you were in my life. I for one, will always promote your genius and outspoken views on the world. And I truly appreciate the originality I was lucky enough to experience from your works throughout my life.

I hope in some small way, I could get your attention this time.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Oh Star Wars, I think I've finally figured you out. You have a drinking problem. If you drink sensibly, and in moderation, you can be the life of the party! But sometimes, you get drunk on your own power and just do dumb things, like pretending you can fly through space, or visiting some casino planet for no reason. There was that one time you were telling people you got your powers from midichlorians (whatever that is), and told everyone to call you Jar Jar. When you get like this, we're eager to call you a cab and send you home. Sometimes, we don't even know who you are.

Well, looks like your at it again, Star Wars. You should still be recovering from your Last Jedi hangover. Did you hear what your friends and neighbors were saying about you? Do you really want to hit the bottle again so soon? Fine, let's talk about what you did this time *le sigh*

Many fans have given up on the series, feeling that Disney has destroyed the franchise. Personally, I've felt more "Luke Warm" than Luke Skywalker, but I continue to endure, occasionally seeing things I do like, (e.g., Rogue One). 

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a movie we never asked for, and never expected. Most of the fans wanted an Obi-Wan story, or Darth Maul story, or *gasp* a Knights of the Old Republic story. But here we are... the origin of Han Solo. 

While we don't get to see his birth, or childhood escapades, we do get to see him meet Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, the Millennium Falcon, and of course, watch him maneuver through the Kessel Run.

Despite the discouraging behind the scenes reports, director Ron Howard managed to put together a mostly enjoyable experience. If George Lucas were allowed to give his honest opinion without fans losing their minds, I think he would give it a big thumbs up. There is a fantastic speeder chase scene in the beginning which really feels like an homage to their mutual connection, 1973's American Graffiti.

Howard also gave us some beautiful shots of the Falcon, which will make any die-hard fan all giddy with excitement. I really enjoyed the instant connection Han had with, what would eventually be his ship. The scenes with him piloting around, quickly flipping switches, felt very natural, like he was truly connected.

The father and son writing team of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, put together a decent story, giving us a bit more depth into the life of Han Solo. He doesn't start out as the scruffy looking nerf-herder we know and love. They made it clear in the beginning that he's nearly polar opposite, with lines like, "I've got a good feeling about this...", and wearing a white vest with a black shirt. They give us genuine character development, letting him grow into who he'll eventually become, through the experiences in this movie.

My biggest concern was Alden Ehrenreich. I didn't know if I would be able to accept him as Han Solo, but I was pleasantly surprised by his performance. In fact, the entire cast had good chemistry, which really helped me accept this as a Star Wars Story. The standout for me was Donald Glover. He exuded every bit of charm and charisma you would expect from Lando. I wanted to see a lot more of him. Although I'm not sure how I feel about the Will I Am haircut...

And there were a few other uncomfortable moments.

Some of the dialogue felt a bit cheap. Lines like, "Are they morons?", "No, we're not morons.". *cringe*

As well as,"Your name is Chewbacca?? I'm not going to say that every time, I'll have to shorten it!". Really?? Is Chewbacca that difficult to say?

I noticed some of the scenes also looked a bit monochromatic. As much as I appreciate Ron Howard for allowing us to see the action without quick shaky edits, there were places that felt like an overall color filter washed everything out. A few scenes had life to it, but many times, it seemed to favor a one-color look. Even blaster fire was all amber. Maybe they just wanted to match the movie poster?

Seriously, are they aware of the vast array of colors available when you make a movie poster???


So did this movie need to be made? Not at all! Could we have waited another year before it's release? Absolutely! But if you ever appreciated Star Wars, you might really enjoy Solo. From the new Disney era of the franchise, Rogue One is still my favorite, but this one gets a comfortable second place spot. 

And one last thing...

I can't believe we have to say this, but if you hated this movie, or any of the characters in it, (or any movie for that matter), do NOT abuse the actor!! They didn't write the character, and most likely, didn't write the movie.

This is Kelly Marie Tran. She was Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

This sweet girl was excited about having a big break in a Star Wars movie. Sadly, she has taken a lot of abuse from "fans" who hated her character. If you harass someone for being in a movie you don't like, you're not a fan. You're a bully, and a disgusting human being.


May the Force be with the rest of you civilized people,