Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Babyon 5: Soul Hunter

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series along with my teenage daughter. I have not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run, and Calista was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out.

In Valen's Name: The aliens on board Babylon 5 go into a frenzy when an alien known as a Soul Hunter arrives on the station. Soul Hunters have a religious belief that the souls of important figures should be captured and preserved at the time of death. Dr. Stephen Franklin makes his first appearance on the series, and scoffs at the notion "souls" can be captured--listing a number of cyberpunkish alternatives whilst being dismissive of the supernatural. Minbari Ambassador Delenn is particularly troubled, because some years earlier this particular Soul Hunter attempted to collect the soul of a great Minbari leader, but was rebuffed in what is alluded to be a very bloody confrontation. He recognizes Delenn of the ruling Grey Council, and wonders why she's acting as a mere Ambassador. The Soul Hunter claims everything went wrong after he was stopped on Minbar--he's failed repeatedly to collect souls of the important departed from then on. He decides he was drawn to Babylon 5 to collect Delenn's soul and promptly abducts here with the intent of killing her in order to collect her soul. About that time, another Soul Hunter arrives, warning Sinclair that the first Soul Hunter has gone insane because of his failure on Minbar and now is, essentially, a serial killer. Sinclair finds the crazy Soul Hunter in time, turns the soul-collecting machine against him and rescues Delenn. From then on, Sinclair bans Soul Hunters from the station and Delenn releases all the captured souls from his collection.

What Calista Says: In this episode, I thought the Soul-Collectors were very misunderstood, but at the same time they were pretty creepy. They reminded me of those crazy religious groups that everyone has a hard time accepting because what they believe in and what they do are so outrageous. I also think that the Babylon 5 captain was right to ban that race from coming on the station.

What Jayme Says: This isn't a great episode. It's not awful, but it's too cut-and-dried to really resonate. Part of the problem is that this episode is very much metaphysical, which is at odds with B5's otherwise hard-core science fictional universe. I'll admit giving the Soul Hunters a third eye is a nice touch for the metaphysical aspect (just as Game of Thrones has a three-eyed crow), but still. I understand why the concept of metaphysical souls needed to be introduced as part of the larger narrative, and the fact that this initially seems like such a throwaway episode is a sly way to do so... but still, these ideas are developed in future episodes less ham-fistedly, making "Soul Hunter" superfluous. And the alien race plays no significant role in the rest of the series narrative, save for the stand-along movie of the same name (which we'll get to eventually). Delenn being reduced to a damsel in distress is another problem here, but B5 is less guilty of this than other series/movies on the whole. And we do get our first look at Stephen Franklin, played by the late, likeable, Richard Biggs, so the episode has that going for it. Overall, though, it's mildly interesting at best.

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Friday, April 04, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Back in the day, I really liked Del Amitri (not to be confused with Don Ameche). "Always the Last to Know" in particular has remained a favorite of mine. It's not a typical love song, and it's got a good guitar hook. It's one of those uptempo songs that are really about distress. I go for songs that develop a narrative, and this one does, but it's a subtle one that doesn't become obvious until that final gut-check right at the end. Those few lines fill in a whole lot of blanks and change the context of the entire song. Nice. There doesn't seem to be an actual video for it out there, but here's a clip from Letterman that will serve nicely.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Rick Ocasek.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sherwood Forest Faire

A day late and a dollar short as always. I'd intended this post to go up earlier, but life, you know? Took the family to the final day of Sherwood Forest Faire on Sunday, and had a good--if rushed--time. When we lived in Temple, we'd make annual trips to Scarborough Faire (which opens this weekend) but the four-hour drive from New Braunfels is simply too long a haul to do with any regularity (we've only been back once in the past decade). Having a viable ren fest less than two hours away (and 15 minutes from my mother-in-law's) is very nice. Plus, we're kinda sorta familiar with Sherwood's lineage. We attended the first couple of Cavalier Days way back when that defunct fair was held outside of Smithville with no permanent structures. Once Cavalier went belly-up, I participated (in costume) in the poorly-organized, one-day-only Underhill Village Fair in Austin, put on by some Cavalier refugees. That was an experience, and largely responsible for my not participating in any more ren fairs. Excalibur Fair followed shortly thereafter, back in Smithville, and despite some good word of mouth, I never attended. Despite a promising start, Excalibur crashed and burned when they tried to relocate it outside of Lockhart.

Which brings us to Sherwood, established 2010. We've never been before, but Monkey Girl and I have made it to their Celtic Music Festival and were impressed by the amount of permanent buildings and investment they've made in the place, outside of McDade. Sherwood has flush toilets which Scarborough didn't have until the late 90s. We also noticed some old standbys from the Texas Renaissance Festival--the water wheel, carousel, etc.--have relocated to Sherwood. They're building a full-fledged castle on one end of the grounds, and overall the property is well-developed for being such a young event.

I took my 500mm reflex lens along, hoping to play around with it and get some good candid character shots on the day. Alas, the crowds and scattered forest confounded me more than I'd expected. On top of that, despite recent rains in the area, the sandy ground was bone-dry and dust quickly coated everything, so I didn't keep the camera out for long. Still, I got a few interesting shots, and learned that my manual focusing skills are crap when it comes to moving targets. Hopefully, next year I'll get to try again, and maybe take in more of the acts for a change. I'll confess I love that first image. That sticker's placement is perfect, and makes me smile.

(ARGH! I just discovered Google is "enhancing" images uploaded to Google, which accounts for the skewed colors. I'll try to upload corrected images tonight.)

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens, Superman, knight, joust

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens

Sherwood Forest Faire, Lisa On Location photography, Canon 500mm reflex mirror lens

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

New Delaney? AND Straczynski!?

I don't review nearly as many books these days as I did, say, 10 years ago, but every so often publishers send me advance review copies of this novel or the other. Most of the time they simply fail to grab my attention. Most of the time. Look what arrived in my mailbox today:

Samuel R. Delaney and J. Michael Straczynski Babelon 17 Babylon 17

HOLY MOLEY! How did I not know this was happening? From the cover sheet:

The eagerly-awaited, far-future sequel to the groundbreaking series teams Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Samuel R. Delaney with visionary talent J. Michael Straczynski for an unprecedented, mind-bending adventure. Set 700 years after the Shadow War, telepathy has grown ubiquitous throughout the Interstellar Alliance. But when a mental plague infects the very language of telepathy that unites the disparate worlds and alien species, it is up to a small band of uninfected Narn to uncover the truth before the galaxy is consumed!"
Knowing Delaney's track record, I'll wager this is more than just a simple space opera. Wow!

Now Playing: The Beatles Abbey Road
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Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Rick Ocasek's solo career didn't exactly set the world on fire when the Cars broke up, but you can't fault the man for trying. This late 80s single, "Rockaway", is a high-energy rocker that is vaguely reminiscent of the Cars' more uptempo, less-synthy work, but I'm moderately surprised it wasn't a hit for him. But that's beside the point. I'm gobsmackingly surprised by the gonzo bugnuts video, which looks for all the world like some unholy synthesis of the Go-Gos and the Brothers Quay. The 80s produced some bizarre music videos, but few approach this level of nutso.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Eddie Murphy.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Miss Jessie (1885-1952)

La Grange Yellow Pages phone book, 1958
On this date in 1952, Faye Stewart, otherwise known as Jessie Williams or simply "Miss Jessie," passed away at the age of 67 in San Antonio, just a couple of months after selling the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange to Edna Milton. Her sister-in-law, Eddie Ledda Moody, traveled from McLennan County to oversee Miss Jessie’s burial in Sunset Memorial Park.

Faye Stewart’s parents came from Georgia, moving to Waco well before she was born. The family lived for years on Franklin Street, but struggled after Stewart’s father died unexpectedly in 1886. While it is entirely possible that Stewart learned the ropes of prostitution in Waco's infamous Two Street vice district, there’s scant evidence she was successful enough to own her own brothel there. By 1910, however, she’d moved to Austin and assumed the alias of Jessie Williams, as was customary for women in the sex trade intent on protecting their families’ reputations.

Curiously enough, despite the fact Miss Jessie spent nearly three decades in La Grange and was as well-known a civic benefactor as anyone in Fayette County, I have found no photographs of her. Zero. Nada. Which is strange, since I know photos of her exist somewhere. So in lieu of Miss Jessie's photo, we'll have to settle from the 1958 edition of the La Grange phone book. Think that cover art is coincidental? Or was someone with the Yellow Pages making a not-so-subtle joke? In any event, here's to Miss Jessie, the woman who turned a number of shoddy prostitution operations into the brothel known today as the Chicken Ranch.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Happy Trails, Trigger

Trigger is gone.

I cannot express how much this sucks. As near as I can tell, William Rogers was rehabbing from back, and complications set in. He passed away March 16 at the age of 47.

March has been a very difficult month for me, with too much death and dismay. It's been hard to process. Hard to function, really. Trigger's death was the coup de grace, so to speak, which is why it's taken me so long to write this remembrance. He's one of the few college friends I've stayed in touch with. We last spoke in October, trading insults as always. He was from La Grange, I was from Columbus, two small Texas towns just 20 miles apart, so we had a built-in rivalry we never failed to capitalize on. He was a few years older than me, so we never actually competed against each other in high school, but really, that was just a technicality.

I took my family to his wedding at the Texas Renaissance Festival. My daughters played peek-a-book with fairies in the chapel. That was a fun wedding. And to tell the truth, The Wife and I were jealous--we'd briefly considered getting married at a renfaire, but gave up on the idea because we knew our respective parents (not to mention our priest) would throw a fit (we were somewhat less assertive back then).

Facebook, in it's infinite wisdom, decided I didn't need to see his update feed sometime in November, so I was completely unaware of his growing medical issues. Word of his death blindsided me. Thanks a lot, Zuckerberg.

I remember the day he found out I was writing a book on the Chicken Ranch. He called me up and bellowed into the phone, "What makes you think a Columbus PUNK has any right to write about the La Grange Chicken Ranch?"

"You La Grange slugs had 40 years to get it done, and didn't," I answered. "I figured it was time the professionals took over."

He paused a moment, then answered, "Good point."

Few people supported my book projects as enthusiastically as he did. He shared stories, pointed me toward potential local sources and loaned me some of his family's photos of the place. It breaks my heart that he joins the growing list of people who never got to see the book in print.

Lest I get too maudlin, I shall now share the True Story of How Trigger Got His Name.

It happened this way: In 1989, William Rogers arrived at a Cepheid Variable meeting at Texas A&M eager to meet like-minded genre-oriented folks and make friends within the tribe. All members of the tribe sported Delta Names, which are generally nicknames of a vaguely demeaning, silly or embarrassing nature. When it came to Will's turn for Delta Name discussion, one of the committee officers suggested "Buck," for as all good science fiction fans know, the biggest pulp hero of the 25th century is Captain William "Buck" Rogers. Which would've been fine and dandy, if someone in the crowd hadn't half-remembered that there was once a cowboy singer who had the last name of Rogers, nevermind that his first name was Roy. "Trigger!" someone shouted. I wish I could say that I was the shouter, but alas, I wasn't so clever. "Trigger!" others picked up the cry (I was amongst these folks--never look a gift bandwagon in the mouth, that's my motto). And thus, by the end of the meeting, Trigger was firmly ensconced as his Delta Name.

We harassed each other consistently from that point on. Trigger ran dealers room for the Aggiecon I ran in 1991, and did a mighty fine job of it. He co-directed Aggiecons in 1992 and 1993, simultaneously running the dealers rooms for those cons as well (the dealers rooms were great, but the overall conventions weren't as good as mine--he did pretty good for a La Grange guy, tho).

What bothers me most is the blatant unfairness of his untimely death. I know life isn't fair, but damn. Trigger was probably the most earnest person I've ever known. He was goofy as hell and could go out of his way to be annoying as all get-out, but he was earnest. He was profoundly rude to go see Billy Joel in Houston on the Stormfront tour without me. He was a big fan of Jim Henson's Dinosaurs and could readily be counted on to provide a quote from that show at a moment's notice--"Not the momma!" more often than not. He was an organ donor, so even in death, he's still helping people. He was a fun guy, and we are all diminished by his passing.

His extended hospitalization left his wife and son facing a mountain of medical debt. If anyone is so inclined to help out, donations to the family may be made at www.gofundme.com/for-will-rogers.

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