Sunday, July 20, 2014

Star Trek: Return to Tomorrow

Episode: "Return to Tomorrow"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 20
Original Air Date: February 9, 1968
via Utterly Star Trek Review
There's definitely something special about a Trek episode in which we get to see Spock smile.

The Enterprise crew discovers highly advanced beings on what was presumed to be an uninhabited planet.  Or rather, they find the long-preserved consciousness of those entities.  Kirk, Spock and special guest Dr. Ann Mulhall all willingly submit to telepathic possession so their new friends can build robots to house their minds for the next thousand years.  But even superior beings are morally corruptible and Henoch, the one possessing Spock, hatches a murderous plan to stay in his organic Vulcan vessel forever.

*****
via The Flaming Nose
Diana Muldaur (Dr. Mulhall) is well-known to Trek fans.   This was her first of two appearances on the original series, then 20 years later she played Dr. Katherine Pulaski for the second season of The Next Generation.  Muldaur was born August 9, 1938 in New York City.  She graduated from Sweet Briar College in Virginia, then studied acting with Stella Adler.

Muldaur spent more than a quarter-century in television but her biggest role didn't come until after Trek.  She played the ruthless Rosalind Shays on L.A. Law from 1989-91.  She received two Emmy nominations for the part.  Muldaur was also the first woman president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
via Memory Alpha

Friday, July 18, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Jerusalem

Title: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Author and Artist: Guy Delisle
via Wikipedia
I've been reading quite a lot of Guy Delisle's work over the past year or so.  Previous reviews can be found here, here and here.  Delisle is a Quebecois comic artist, best known for his travel narratives.  He and his family spent a year in Jerusalem when his partner, an administrator with Doctors without Borders - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) en Français, was assigned to help coordinate the organization's mission in Gaza.  Just as with their assignment to Burma, Guy is left to look after the kids and otherwise keep himself occupied.

I was surprised by Delisle's relative ignorance of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict going into his adventure but he learned a lot quickly.  He travels well - unafraid to explore new places and strike up conversations with strangers.  In addition to his sightseeing expeditions, he shares the more mundane chronicles that make up daily life: buying a car, exploring grocery stores (a favorite topic in all his books) finding a decent playground for the children and, of course, waiting in traffic to get through checkpoints.  Not surprisingly, the history and tension of the region provide ample material, enough that one year doesn't feel like enough by the end.

I don't know if it's possible to write about Jerusalem without betraying bias.  Delisle's sympathy definitely lies with the Palestinians.  During their stay, there were attacks between Israel and Gaza quite a lot like what's happening in the region right now.  Given the conflict, his partner's work and the fact they lived in a Palestinian neighborhood, most of the people he talks to also side with the Palestinians.  Interestingly, he reveals that Israeli journalists are a lot more critical of the government and the settlements than the Western press ever are.

Overall, Jerusalem is an excellent book.  I think I preferred Burma Chronicles simply for my own ignorance of the country.  I learned more.  But that book's strengths hold for Jerusalem as well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Locke & Key

Title: Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft
Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Garbriel Rodriguez
via Wikipedia
Even if you've never heard of Joe Hill, it's highly likely you've heard of his father.  Joe Hill is the pen name of Joseph Hillstrom King, son of Stephen and Tabitha King.  For perfectly understandable reasons, Hill uses a pseudonym so he might have a writing career independent of his literary titan father.  It's an attitude I totally respect, yet there's no denying that writing page-turners runs in the family.  Call it nature or nurture, Hill definitely knows how to spin a yarn.

Rather than the traditional monthly delivery for comic books, Locke & Key is published in limited series.  Welcome to Lovecraft ran from February to July 2008.  The next story, Head Games, picked up in January 2009.  After witnessing the gruesome murder of his father, Tyler Locke and his family move across country to Lovecraft, their father's childhood home and current residence of Tyler's uncle.  The house is filled with doors of mysterious nature.  Bode, Tyler's younger brother, discovers the Ghost Door.  He steps through it, his physical body dies while he becomes a ghost until he re-enters the door from the opposite direction.

Bode also discovers the well and the entity who lives within it.  Said entity is also in touch with Sam, Dad's murderer, in jail back in California.  Sam escapes, then makes his way to Lovecraft in order to set the entity free, no qualms about killing again to accomplish this.

Tension mounts gradually to a thrilling ending.  Even as this initial story wraps up, new questions emerge to be answered - plenty of avenues for the tales to come.  Locke & Key contains ample gruesome violence but it all serves the narrative.  The storytelling is masterful and Rodriguez's artwork plenty creepy to match.  Locke & Key definitely works for me.

On the Coffee Table: Fables

Title: Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Lan Medina
via Amazon
Fables is another popular comic book series which I tried a while back and it didn't take.  It is one of Mock's favorites and my college friend Zander Cannon has contributed artwork to the series so it was with a touch of regret that I didn't pursue the franchise further.  Goodreads recommended it, though, and I have to say that Goodreads has done pretty well by me recently so I decided to try again from the beginning.  Just as with Chew, I'm glad that I did.

For those unfamiliar with the story, fairy tale characters, led by Bigby (The Big Bad) Wolf and Snow White, inhabit a New York City subculture known as Fabletown.  They were driven out of their Homelands by The Adversary and are now doing their best to make a go of it in the mundane world.  Legends in Exile (issues #1-5) is a murder mystery.  Jack of beanstalk fame runs into Bigby's police detective office to report that his girlfriend, Red Rose, has gone missing, her apartment drenched in blood.

At first, I was resistant once again.  The setup felt a lot like Watchmen - a member of the team is killed, apparently by one of their own.  One sees this plot structure over and over again in comic books, everyone imitating the Alan Moore masterpiece.  But the story plays out differently, more along the lines of a classic mystery tale.  I guess I prefer my cliches on the older side.

I can't deny that I'm a sucker for the trappings.  Just as with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I'm inspired to go back to the source material in order to better appreciate the characters.  Just as the narrative keeps me interested, I'm ever eager to see who from folklore will pop up next.  The comic book series is coming to an end soon.  #150 will be the final issue, set to publish in 2015.

Star Trek: A Private Little War

Episode: "A Private Little War"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 19
Original Air Date: February 2, 1968
via Star Trek Fact Check
"A Private Little War" is one of Star Trek's more blatantly allegorical episodes. The Enterprise visits a planet where Captain Kirk had a formative experience as a younger officer.  He is surprised to find that the peaceful, primitive society he left has developed fire arms, suggesting external influence.  Sure enough, the Klingons have been sharing technology with one faction in order to further their own political interests.  This puts the Federation in the position of having to similarly fortify the other side - at least, that's Kirk's position.  Dr. McCoy does his best to convince him otherwise but to no avail.

All of this is an obvious metaphor for United States involvement in Vietnam, the front-burner issue in 1968.  No time for subtlety, either - Kirk and Bones reference 1960s Earth directly in their discussion of the matter.  Kirk takes the American government's position, Bones takes that of the war opposition.  Interestingly, Spock isn't able to weigh in on the matter as he's recovering from a gunshot wound back on the ship.  No place for logic when discussing matters of war?

*****

Nancy Kovack plays the part of Nona, the beautiful, ambitious and manipulative wife of Tyree, tribal leader and old friend of Kirk's.  The early Star Trek writers were certainly drawn to the Lady MacBeth types.
via The Land of Cerpts and Honey
Kovack was born March 11, 1935 in Flint, Michigan.  She graduated from the University of Michigan at the age of 19.  Her acting career started in television as one of Jackie Gleason's Glea Girls.  She had guest appearances on numerous shows, including five on Bewitched.  Her highest-profile big screen role was Medea in Jason and the Argonauts.

Kovack has been married to the great Zubin Mehta since 1969.  The two met while he was conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On the Coffee Table: International Flavor

Title: Chew, Volume Two: International Flavor
Writer: John Layman
Artist: Rob Guillory
via Goodreads
The revolting yet exceedingly clever comic book series Chew continues in this second volume, collecting issues #6-10.  If you're new to the series, you can read my thoughts on Volume One here.  In International Flavor, the US government's ban on chicken meat leads our hero, Tony Chu, to the fictional South Pacific nation of Yamapalu where a mysterious fruit is being cultivated.  When the fruit is cooked, it tastes exactly like - you guessed it - chicken.

There are two story elements which I think will hold my long-term interest for a while.  The first is the budding romance between Tony and food critic Amelia Mintz.   The second is the various food powers belonging to some of the characters.  Tony Chu is a cibopath, meaning he instantly accesses the back story for anything he eats.  A couple of new powers are introduced in Volume Two:
  • A cibolocutor communicates exclusively through cooking.  Entire Shakespeare plays or Verdi operas are translated into food.
  • Another skill goes unnamed, at least so far: one character can, by eating a person, gain all of his or her specialized knowledge.  Yup, gross, I know.  That's Chew for you.
Chew definitely pushes my ickiness limits and, trust me, I'm a wimp.  But this series works and the story keeps me constantly curious about what's going to happen next.  I'm up for more.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Guest Post at WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME

Greetings, my dear friends!

I have a guest post today over on Janie Junebug's blog, WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME as part of her BULLY FOR YOU series.  It's a follow up to my recent review of Wonder by R. J. Palacio, focusing on the issue of bullying.  I hope you'll pay her a visit and offer your thoughts on my post.

Many thanks.