Thursday, June 24, 2021

On the Coffee Table: A Small Town in Germany

Title: A Small Town in Germany
Author: John le Carré

via Wikipedia

A Small Town in Germany was published in 1968.  It was le Carré's first spy novel to feature neither George Smiley nor "The Circus," the author's fictionalized version of MI6.  The small town in question is Bonn and the story focuses on the simultaneously exposed and insular nature of diplomatic life in the Cold War capital of West Germany.  Leo Harting, a long-time German employee of the British Embassy, has gone missing.  It is feared he has defected and sold sensitive material to the Soviets.  The truth, of course, turns out to be a lot more interesting.

It's a good book, though I can't say I enjoyed it as much as the Smiley books I've read.  Alan Turner is the protagonist this time.  He's an official in from London to investigate the Harting case.  He's good at digging in the dirt but not good at all with the social niceties required in this embassy world.  He's quite violent with women which makes him impossible to like, even for the reader.

That said, I made some important personal connections with this volume.  First, I've actually been to Bonn.  During my family's big Europe trip in 1984, we stayed with some family friends, indeed an American diplomatic family.  So, I can attest to the strangeness le Carré describes.  Bonn was the least German place we visited in Germany, the area where they lived virtually undistinguishable from any American suburb of the era.

Worth noting Bonn's most important connection to world history, unmentioned in the book: it was the birthplace of Europe's greatest musician, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Also, my father was in the American foreign service himself in the late '60s, though in Asia rather than Europe.  As such, I was keenly aware that the social scene he described in Bonn probably wasn't that different from what my parents were experiencing on the opposite side of the world.

If anyone is keen to read everything le Carré ever wrote, the book is fine.  Otherwise, it could be skipped in between The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Squid Mixes: Grape Crush

A grape crush combines vodka, Chambord and lemon-lime soda (I used Sprite) in a shot glass.  You slam the glass on the counter, then drink it down before it fizzes over.  I got my recipe from The Architecture of the Shot by Paul Knorr.  Despite having no grapey ingredients, it is supposed to look and taste like grape soda.  We both agreed that it did.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Shadows of the Empire #2-4 , Splinter of the Mind's Eye #4, X-Wing Rogue Squadron #9-10, The Golden Age of the Sith #0

My Recent Reads

Shadows of the Empire #2
Originally Published June 1, 1996
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Kilian Plunkett
In-Story Timeline: 3.5 ABY

via Amazon

  • Prince Xizor is the new baddie in Shadows of the Empire.  He's an underworld kingpin and the Emperor has enlisted his help in crushing the Rebellion.
  • Vader, however, sees Xizor as a rival.
  • Luke, Leia and Chewie head to Tatooine to save Han from Jabba the Hutt.

Shadows of the Empire #3
July 1, 1996

  • Jabba's goons attack and capture Luke but they leave him alive.  He's not sure why.

Shadows of the Empire #4
August 7, 1996

  • Apparently there are two separate bounties out on Luke: one from Vader requiring he be taken alive and one for slightly less that he be dead.  As yet, the patron for the second bounty is unknown.
  • Meanwhile, rival bounty hunters attack Slave I, hoping to bring Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt themselves.  Boba Fett successfully fends them off.

Splinter of the Mind's Eye #4
June 25, 1996
Terry Austin/Chris Sprouse
Based on the novel of the same name by Alan Dean Foster

  • Luke wins his fight with the Coway warrior, thus earning his respect and a banquet invitation for the whole gang.
  • Vader spoils the party, attacking the Coway village.
  • Luke wins his duel with Vader by default when the latter trips over his own severed arm and falls into a dark pit.
  • Obviously, Vader must get out somehow in time for the events of The Empire Strikes Back.
  • The Kaiburr crystal is obtained and Halla gives it to Luke.
  • Fun series - quite faithful to the book.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #9: Battleground: Tatooine, Part 1
June 25, 1996
Michael A. Stackpole and Jan Strnad/John Nadeau

via Amazon

  • Rogue Squadron is off to Tatooine.  With Jabba the Hutt's death, all of his stolen Imperial hardware and weapons is seemingly up for grabs.  The Rogues must claim it for the Rebels before anyone else can get it and use it against them.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #10: Battleground: Tatooine, Part 2
July 2, 1996
Stackpole and Strnad/Nadeau

via Amazon

  • The devoted know the name Biggs Darklighter, Luke's buddy growing up on Tatooine.  He joined the Rebellion before Luke and was killed during the Battle of Yavin.  In this issue, we meet his father, a criminal warlord in his own right.
  • Darklighter has an important data disc.  Winter and Tycho go undercover to try to steal it but in the midst of the heist, it's stolen out from under them by a band of Rodians.

Tales of the Jedi - The Golden Age of the Sith 0: Conquest and Unification
July 31, 1996
Kevin J. Anderson/Chris Gossett
5,000 BBY
  • A new Jedi-archive story begins, set yet another 1,000 years before the Ulic/Exar Kun saga.
  • The new heroes are Gav and Jori Daragon, the young adult children of two supply runners who have just been killed.
  • As much as I admire the purpose of Tales of the Jedi in expanding the history of the galaxy far, far away, I don't think I'm up for investing in a whole new story.  
  • My exploration of Star Wars comics is taking sharper focus.  I prefer stories with the original characters in more or less the original timeline.  Also, the Rogue Squadron series offers something a little different, breaking away from the broader Jedi/Sith narrative, bringing in the grunt soldier perspective - something I often enjoy in any idiom.  At least so far, any series beyond those have trouble drawing me in.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Star Trek: Night Terrors

Episode: "Night Terrors"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 17
Original Air Date: March 18, 1991

The Enterprise has drifted into an area of space where the crew are all suffering from sleep depravation because they are unable to achieve REM and therefore dream.  Well, actually, Deanna can dream but she's only having nightmares.  And, of course, Data is unaffected - always a key when these sorts of stories come up.

"Night Terrors" is a notoriously bad episode.  The premise is fine but the pace is glacial.  In fact, before editing it was even slower and they had to trim just to fit into the time constraints.  The result is just plain boring: the unforgivable sin of science fiction.  We do get the benefit of one genuinely scary scene when Dr. Crusher hallucinates all of the bodies in the morgue sitting up at once.  Otherwise, this one's mostly forgettable.

Acting Notes

John Vickery played the role of Andrus Hagan, a Betazoid advisor aboard the USS Brattain and that ship's lone survivor when it was discovered by the Enterprise at the beginning of the story.  Vickery was born November 4, 1950 in Alameda, California.  He graduated from UC-Davis as a math major before going to the UK to study acting at Drama Studio London.

He did well with the big TV space opera franchises of the era.  This was his first of five appearances on various Star Trek series and he also made several appearances on Babylon 5.  He has strong stage credentials, including originating the role of Scar in The Lion King on Broadway.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Squid Mixes: Purple Haze

A purple haze combines Chambord, citrus-flavored vodka (I used lemon) and lemon-lime soda (I used Sprite).  I got my recipe from The Architecture of the Shot by Paul Knorr.  Obviously, I couldn't make it or drink it without thinking of the song.

This is meant to be a layered drink and as you can see from the photo, that didn't work out so well this time.  It's definitely going to take some practice.  According to the recipe, one should drink it through the straw in one go.  We didn't do that.  After the photo, I mixed it with the straw.

The result is quite sweet.  Chambord, a French black raspberry liqueur, is a new product for us - essentially liquid candy.  As my wife says, it's the sort of drink that fools you into thinking you're not drinking alcohol.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Tales from Mos Eisley, X-Wing Rogue Squadron, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, Heir to the Empire, Shadows of the Empire

My Recent Reads

Tales from Mos Eisley
Originally Published March 26, 1996
Writer: Bruce Jones
Artist: Bret Blevins
In-Story Timeline: 3 ABY

  • A one-shot collection of Grimm-like tales starring the frequent visitors to everyone's favorite hive of scum and villainy.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #7: The Phantom Affair, Part 3
April 1, 1996
Michael A. Stackpole and Darko Macan/Edvin Biukovic and John Nadeau
  • The Rogues are trying to buy a cloaking device from the Mrlssi and the Imperials are doing their best to get in the way.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #8: The Phantom Affair, Part 4
May 1, 1996
Stackpole and Macan/Biukovic and Nadeau
  • The story arc comes to a close as tensions mount between the Rogues and the Imps as well as between the academics and the more progressive students on Mrlsst.

Splinter of the Mind's Eye #3
April 23, 1996
Terry Austin/Chris Sprouse
Based on the novel of the same name by Alan Dean Foster

  • Luke and Leia defeat the wandrella that was ready to eat them in the last issue but now they're trapped in an underground network of caves.
  • Darth Vader arrives on the planet and takes over the search for Luke and Leia, and also the Kaiburr crystal.
  • When Luke and Leia finally catch up with the rest of their party, they find their friends have been captured by the Coway, an underground tribe.
  • Luke must defeat the Coway's best warrior and as the issue comes to a close, the fight isn't going his way.

Heir to the Empire #6
April 30, 1996
Mike Baron/Olivier Vatine and Fred Blanchard
Based on the novel of the same name by Timothy Zahn

  • Thrawn attacks Sluis Van but our heroes fend him off, with an assist from Rogue Squadron, a nice tie-in with a concurrently running series.
  • Heir to the Empire comes to a close.  Dark Force Rising is up next.

Shadows of the Empire #1
May 7, 1996
3 ABY - 3.5 ABY

  • Shadows of the Empire was a multimedia campaign including a novel, comic books, a video game, trading cards, a music soundtrack and a toy line.
  • The story is set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, making it an interquel, a new word for me.
  • We join the tale immediately after the conclusion of Empire.  Luke is still reeling from the shock of Vader's revelation and getting used to his new prosthetic hand.
  • The Emperor is recruiting underworld help to support a final crushing blow to the Rebellion.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Star Trek: Galaxy's Child

Episode: "Galaxy's Child"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 16
Original Air Date: March 11, 1991

Dr. Leah Brahms is actually coming aboard the Enterprise!  In "Booby Trap," La Forge created a holographic simulation of the warp drive engineer and promptly fell in love with her.  Now, he meets her in the flesh and she doesn't exactly live up to his expectations.  Meanwhile, the Enterprise has encountered a new space travelling species.  In fact, a newborn imprints itself on the ship after our heroes accidentally killed its mother.

The new life encounter story is good.  The Geordi/Leah story is profoundly awkward.  Geordi handles his disappointment very poorly and then digs even deeper into the hole when Leah discovers the holodeck program with herself in the starring role.  We are meant to feel sorry for Geordi and forgive him for his missteps rather than holding him accountable for his inappropriate and unprofessional presumptions.  The truth is, Leah is right to be offended and our old buddy Geordi should have to suffer the consequences.  She's entitled to kick his ass and should have been given more rein to do so.

How might the same story have been told more effectively?  The basic idea of reality failing to live up to fantasy is a good one - true to life.  But the story could have been about Geordi growing to appreciate Leah for who she truly is rather than endlessly whining about who she isn't.  Intellectually, she's every bit as impressive as he thought.  Why not have the story be about that?  He can't "have" her but maybe he could respect her anyway.

It was an opportunity bumbled and it's too bad.  Geordi stories don't come around so often.

Acting Notes

Lanei Chapman played the role of Ensign Sariel Rager.  This was her first of four appearances.  Chapman was born January 23, 1973 in Los Angeles.  She made her screen debut in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial at age 13.  She graduated from Dartmouth as a Spanish major.  She taught kindergarten before she decided to pursue acting full-time.

Her biggest role was the lead in the short-lived series Space: Above and Beyond.  Apart from Trek, she had guest appearances on Seinfeld, The Wonder Years and China Beach.  Her highest-profile film credit was for White Men Can't Jump.