Monday, November 30, 2015

Babylon 5: And the Sky Full of Stars

Egads! I just realized it's been more than a year since my last B5 post. Not coincidentally, my previous review appeared just prior to our big move. I've watched more episodes since then, just not written them up. I'll try to rectify that.

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Two paranoid, xenophobic conspiracy theorists from Earth, going by the monikers "Knight One" and Knight Two," arrive on Babylon 5 and promptly abduct Commander Sinclair and connect him to a kind of neural virtual reality simulator. Through it, Knight Two is able to confront Sinclair in a deserted simulation of Babylon 5 and force the Commander to relive the Battle of the Line. The Knights are convinced Sinclair's "missing time" during the battle contains proof that Sinclair is actually a Minbari agent working to destroy Earth Alliance from the inside. Through various plot twists, Sinclair's resistance to the machine breaks down and he finds himself leading his squadron on a disastrous attack against the Minbari fleet. His Star Fury damaged, he tries to ram the nearest cruiser but is captured and taken aboard where he is tortured and taken before the Grey Council. There's he demands "What do you want?" and pulls the hood off one of the council members... and seed Delenn. The shock of seeing her allows him to break free of the neural device and overcomes his captors. Hallucinating, he see station personnel as Minbari and tries to fight them, but Delenn intervenes and talks him down. Sinclair pretends to remember nothing, but privately vows to discover what the Minbari were doing with him and Delenn's mysterious role.

What Jayme Says: Not the greatest episode, but it does stand out in the series and hints at much, much bigger story lines to come. It address some questions first raised during "The Gathering" which hadn't received much attention and casual viewers may have forgotten about. In some series, such big questions are posed and never touched on again (*cough* X-Files *cough* Lost *cough*). Namely, the initial mystery surrounding Sinclair, "There's a hole in your mind." Lost time, alien abduction, etc. Sinclair certainly didn't have an easy go of it, not as a Minbari prisoner, and not as a captive of the Knights. And Delenn is finally, unambiguously connected with such shenanigans, although we've suspected this for some time. The point's driven home once again just how badly Earth's defenses were defeated by the Minbari, and no hint of why that alien race abruptly surrendered is given. Answers aren't given, but the questions are given clearer context and viewers are promised they won't be left hanging indefinitely. Also, the dysfunctional, unpleasant nature of Earth politics are reenforced--something that is repeated and amplified in future episodes.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Christmas gets all the attention when it comes to music. There just aren't that many Thanksgiving songs. The great Ray Davies rectifies that some with "Thanksgiving Day." Have a good one, and travel safely.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My World Fantasy Award trophy!

The World Fantasy Award has issued a "Call For Submissions" so let me be the first to make my submission. They're paying me nothing for my artistic efforts, but even so, I think WFC is getting their money's worth, because this is inarguably the end-all, be-all of fantasy award trophies:

According to the guidelines posted online, "The ideal design will represent both fantasy and horror, without bearing any physical resemblance to any person, living or dead." Well, this fantabulous design does that in spades. Let me walk you through it, okay? First off, it resembles no person, living or dead. Check! In fact, I didn't include any people at all, so I avoided that issue entirely. And I ran it through some Photoshop filters so viewers could better see what it'd look like in 3D. So let's start with the base. It's make of purple amethyst crystals. This is clever on my part, because we all know crystals have magic properties, and amethyst, being kind of purple, is the magicalist of them all. Plus (and here's the real clever part) Amethyst was Princess of Gemworld, so comics fans will get the reference, but as comics are unworthy of literary awards, it's like "BOOM! In your face, comics fans!"

Then we have a big, green dragon rising up from the amethyst crystals, because that seems like a very dragonish thing to do, as well as breathing red fire, because red is like the complementary color for green. And it's breathing fire at a pink pegasus, because pink pegasuses will draw in the teenage girl demographic. But everyone knows a pink pegasus can't survive a fight with a green dragon, so I gave it a magic fairy wand to even the odds. Fairy wands being one of the oldestmost symbols of fantasy (I thought about making the pink pegasus a unicorn pegasus, but that would've been tacky, and I'm all about good taste).

And speaking of symbols of fantasy, how could I not include a wizard hat? I snuck in a pentagram there to appeal to real-life wizards and/or metal heads. Because you can never be too inclusive. Finally, to address the "horror" mandate (which I confess I totally forgot in my preliminary design efforts) we've got the devil. You'll see he's got horns and a pitchfork and barbed tail, and is a totally different color of red so that people don't confuse him with dragon fire. Although he's emerging from the dragon fire, so that's a clever design element. I started to put in wings, but that struck me as too Childhood's End, and those SF writers have their own awards. But none of those awards are half as AWESOME! as this one here.

You're welcome.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I heard this song the other day, probably for the first time in 20 years, and was struck by how much it sounds like something Debbie Gibson would've put out in that era. Not that anyone is likely to confuse Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Debbie Gibson, but "Lost in Emotion" is one song that could go either way. The video, though... It's something that could only have come out of the 80s.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chicken Ranch report no. 55: Houston and back again

Some of you may be wondering what I've been up to since I announced my publishing deal back on October 21. That's a good question. The short answer is that I've been keeping busy. Very busy. Take a look at that photo to the right. See that? That's what I put myself through for you. History Press wants more photos for the book than I'd originally planned, so for the past month I've been making research trips to various libraries and archives hither and yon to track down various relevant photos that I might include in my book. Today I made what I hope is my final official research trip. I've needed to go to Houston, to visit the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, which has an incredible archive of photos from the long-gone Houston Press as well as the Houston Post. I'd planned to make the trip twice before, but both time I had to cancel for various reasons. Tuesday was the only possible day this week I could make the trip. Next week was no good because of Thanksgiving goings-on, and I really, really wanted all of my photos in place before December. So today it was.

Unfortunately, the weather chose to not cooperate. Around 6 a.m., powerful thunderstorms rolled over New Braunfels. It was raining steadily at 8 a.m. when I dropped my kids off at school and started my trip. Once I reached I-10, I caught up with the storms and they paced me all the way to Houston. The posted speed limit is 75 mph all the way, but at times I slowed to 45, so heavy was the rain and strong was the wind. Slow trip. And dangerous, too. Right at the Gonzales/Fayette County line, I came upon a white sedan that'd apparently just run off the road and crashed into the median fence. Visibility was so bad I was past it before it registered what I'd see. I called 911 on my cell, and the dispatcher, after taking my report, said, "Oh, is that the white pickup?" I answered no, because right at that moment I passed the wrecked pickup, jackknifed on the side of the road with a flatbed trailer. The dispatcher sent out a second response team.

But I made it to Houston in one piece, and other than having a devil of a time finding parking in the pouring rain, things went very well. Tim Ronk was very helpful, and even took me behind the scenes to go through the curated boxes of Houston Press photos searching for two infamous images by Marvin Zindler--one where he splashed ketchup on a stabbing victim because Zindler didn't think he looked hurt enough, and another where he broke into a house to photograph millionaire Shepherd King III and Egyptian bellydancer Samia Gamal asleep together. Sadly, we found neither of these, but I did come away with some good stuff and met some interesting people.

So from here on out, I'll be doing what I've been doing for the past few weeks, that is, reformatting my book to comply with History Press' guidelines, compiling photographs and assigning them to individual chapters, and other stuff, like finishing the bibliography, tackling an index, etc. I'll be quite busy for the next month for sure, but I should meet all my deadlines with time to spare.

Whilst I was driving to and from Houston, however, I had lots of free time to think, which is always dangerous. And an incredible thought hit me, that I will leave you with now:

A Bollywood version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

You're welcome.

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Monday, November 09, 2015

What happens when you mix axis with whitetail?

Okay, I have a little bit of familiarity with cervidae--deer species--from my family's exotic deer farm. I've seen native whitetail deer all my life, and right now my neighborhood is one of those that has more deer in it than squirrels. There are 4-5 whitetail doe lounging around in the front yard as I type this. But with the deer farm work, I got to become very familiar with axis deer from India, as well as fallow, red deer, sika, elk and lots of different types of antelope. For my money, axis are probably the most beautiful deer species and do very well in Texas. They're raised on game ranches and many have escaped to form feral populations in the Hill Country. While I've read literature that axis bucks have chased after whitetail does during rut, nothing I've ever seen has indicated they could interbreed. Until now.

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

I saw this guy chasing after some whitetail does about an hour ago as I went to pick up today's mail. I saw him from behind, illuminated by my headlights, and from the angle I thought he was an axis. His body was bulkier and more stocky--if you've watched axis much, you'll know they are physically more robust than whitetails. But the antlers are what really sealed the deal. Axis antlers grow vertically with one main beam on each side with several large secondary tines, generally growing vertically as well. Whitetail antlers grow in a horizontal crescent, with secondary tines growing vertically from the beam and (occasionally) drop tine that grow down. Whitetail antlers are generally lighter in color, whereas axis antlers are somewhat darker at the base, becoming light at the tips and are generally smoother overall. This fellow was kind enough to pose for me head-on, looking away and in profile. If those aren't axis antlers (albeit slightly atypical) growing on a beefed-up whitetail buck, I don't know what is. Hybrid? That'd be my guess. It crossed my mind that it might be a melanistic axis buck, but all the images I found online of those are a much deeper chocolate color all over. Also, the brow on this buck isn't as prominent as on most axis bucks. But it does strike me as more pronounced than on most whitetail. And this guy's got a serious weight advantage over the other bucks in the neighborhood. Look at that neck! Very, very curious. If anyone at Texas Parks & Wildlife or Texas A&M's exotic livestock research group has a definitive answer for me, I'd love to hear it!

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

The great flood of '15

Okay, so flooding sucks. Let's just get that out of the way. Before we bought the new house, we made a careful check to ensure it wasn't in any flood plains, which was prudent on our part. But we soon learned that our property is at the confluence of two drainages from higher ground. We're at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, with limestone outcroppings and shallow soil, so even a little rain can produce considerable runoff. A couple months after we moved in, we learned this as a heavy rain turned out front yard into a whitewater river. Unnerving at first, but we soon figured how things were. Our house is high, the yard broad and flat. It floods quickly but doesn't stand around long. The water drains quickly and everything returns to normal.

Except this past Friday. The forecast was for rain, at times heavy, but no severe weather. So The Wife leaves at 7:15 or so to take Bug to school, which is maybe half a mile away. Around 7:20 the skies just open up. Realize, I'm getting ready for work and am not aware of this, until The Wife starts screaming at 7:30 "JAYME COME HERE!"

I double-time it to the garage door, baffled as to what's going on, and am dumbfounded to see several inches of water in the garage, stuff floating hither and yon.

Here's a video of our front yard.

The big rush of water flowed across the end of the driveway and front yard, turning it into a whitewater river, as usual. But there was so much of it, so fast, that the secondary drainage that comes down from behind the house backed up and had nowhere to go, so it overtopped the limestones lining the driveway and took the path of least resistance--right into the open garage. Had the garage door been closed, it would've deflected down the driveway, no problem. But the door was open. Remember that we've only been in the house for a year, right? I spent the last 12 months or so building The Wife's photography studio (good news--the fixes I made prevented all but a tiny water leak from penetrating the studio, and I know how to fix that as well) rather than my office/library. The upshot of this is that I still had many boxes of books stored in the garage, along with some old toys, various minor keepsakes, drywall, insulation, power tools and various things used in the construction of the studio and office/library. Water is not a good mix with this stuff.

Fortunately, only four boxes at the bottom of the stacks got soaked. And some of the books at the top of the wet boxes escaped unscathed. But I did lose some books. I went through the "Well, maybe I can dry them out..." thought process, but no, they were too soaked and already swelling. Some were sticking together. I didn't lose anything irreplaceable--like my autographed Jack Williamson novels, for example. I lost two autographed Neil Gaiman books, none of the Sandman collections, thank goodness, but as odds are low I'll ever get close enough for him to sign anything again, I took a razor blade and sliced out the autographed pages. I also lost several James Bond books, a Greg Egan, The Essential Ellison, both volumes of Maus and a number of old-school anthologies. I've had a lot of these for decades. The biggest hit I took was my Steven Gould collection--Jumper, Helm, Wildside, Blind Waves... pretty much everything apart from Jumper: Griffin's Story, which almost didn't count. Fortunately, I can replace all of those, and I see Unka Stevie often enough that replacing the signatures shouldn't be too onerous.

Several people have remarked at how I've been able to keep this in perspective. Do I hate losing books? Of course I do. I valued some of these highly, and some of the non-genre books lost are not easily acquired, if not outright rare. I'm annoyed. I'm disappointed. But I saw all the books in boxes that didn't get ruined and realize how lucky I am. I spent all day Friday and part of Saturday running the Texas State University media relations office from home, because 1) I was flooded in, and even if I wasn't 2) San Marcos was pretty much flooded out. Areas of the university took some flood damage. Classes were cancelled for two days. Areas of San Marcos that suffered severe flooding back in June were hit again. Swaths of New Braunfels near the rivers--and even away from the rivers--got hit with some seriously high water. People lost homes and cars and RVs and a few people died. San Marcos got more than 15 inches of rain in the span of a few hours. As near as I can figure, we got close to 9 inches at the house in about 90 minutes. Not even the National Weather Service saw this coming, until maybe 30 minutes before it hit.

I had some good fortune come my way in recent weeks, with the potential for more on the horizon. So I'm not fixating on the loss here like I might have at some other time. I'm counting my self lucky, and budgeting for replacements over the coming year. That's more than many others can do.

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