Tuesday, June 29, 2010

B is for Bradbury

I was in the sixth grade, Carver Middle School in Century, FL, and I had just recently discovered the science fiction section of the library. I recall checking out Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and trying to wrap my head around the concept that the initial section was fiction, as it was presented as fact. (I finally got that.) I soon read The First Men in the Moon and Foundation from that section as well. (I had already at this point — having started seriously reading novels in fifth grade — read a couple of Tarzan novels, War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine.)

And then I found Ray Bradbury. In particular, I found this book. Hardcover, copyright 1966. Artwork like a psychedelic spacesuit/chrysalis spinning in space.

And a lifelong love followed.

Something in this collection made 12-year-old me see the world with new eyes. Lightning in the heart. Oxygen directly to the brain. It made me read prose and recognize the poetry in it. It made me think about the future and the past, all at once in the now.

Some of the stories remain with me now, as vibrantly as if I had just read them:

Chrysalis, in which three scientists await the emergence of their fellow researcher from a green shell.

Pillar of Fire, in which a dead man returns to haunt a society that has banished the fear of the grave, along with its cemeteries and its frightening fiction.

The Man, in which astronauts chase the retreating tale of a saviour who seems always one planet ahead of them.

The Pedestrian, in which a man goes for a walk around his city early one evening in a time where only the mentally ill would leave their homes and televisions. (This story has come true in recent years, as people made the mistake of taking a walk around their gated communities after dark and were stopped for questioning.)

Come Into My Cellar, a story fit for the Twilight Zone, in which alien mushrooms are growing in the dark.

The Million-Year Picnic, and Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed — a pair of tales from The Martian Chronicles, which was the second book I read after this one (the first being "R is for Rocket.") In the former, a family escapes war-ravaged Earth for a new life on Mars, and in the second brilliant follow-up, soldiers arrive to "rescue" the colonists, who have been changed by their environment into something ancient and beautiful.

I'm writing about this now because I found this book in a yard sale on Saturday and it all came rushing back to me. Hardback, copyright 1966. With a middle school's library stamp on the title page, but otherwise in excellent condition. I paid 75 cents for it, and would have paid much much much more. It is a treasure, a miracle of rare device, a time machine, a memory come back from dead. I owe so much of my love of the word to this book, to this author, to these stories.

If you never read anything else that I suggest on this blog, please seek out and read this book. If you can't find this one, then pick up just about anything else with Bradbury's name on it. You really must read The Martian Chronicles, and October Country, and Fahrenheit 451. You really must read Dandelion Wine and The Halloween Tree. And if you are a writer, you owe it to yourself to read the man's Zen in the Art of Writing.

I leave you with this amazing true story from Bradbury's own website, in which he writes about the strange carnival experience of his 12th year, and how Mr. Electrico told him to "Live Forever!" and why he became a writer.

"... I have long since lost track of Mr. Electrico, but I wish that he existed somewhere in the world so that I could run to him, embrace him, and thank him for changing my life and helping me become a writer."

Mr. Bradbury, you were my Mr. Electrico. Thank you for changing my life and helping me become a writer


Monday, June 28, 2010

Time Travel, Batwoman, and Unsullied Beaches

Today, some quick links to things I've been doing elsewhere:

Check out "Strangers When We Meet," a short time-traveler's tale by me that was posted on my friend Brad Milner's blog late last week.

Read my review of the new "Batwoman: Elegy" graphic novel from DC Comics.

And take a dip in the Undercurrents: Considering the future on Grayton Beach before the oil arrived. (My column for Sunday, June 27.)


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quite the Haul, and a Sad Goodbye

For my Father's Day, we hit Coram's for burgers and then drove out to the Good Will on Backbeach Road, which only carries books and electronics, and is set up like a great used book store (i.e., in order and by genre).

And I hit the graphic novel jackpot: Ghost World first edition hardback (1997), which, if you Google will show up as valued at relatively large dollars; Star Man: Sons of the Father, final volume of the 1990s classic series;  Meridian: Taking the Skies, volume 3 of a series I never picked up before but which looks really cool; Concrete: Strange Armor, volume 6 of another modern classic that I only ever read sporadically; and Superman: Our Worlds at War (Book 1), collecting a crossover event from a few years back. Needless to say, these only cost a few bucks each, so WIN.

And on my first day back at work Monday, I got a great review item: Batwoman: Elegy, collecting the Detective Comics stories by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III. I'll be reviewing it in this week's Entertainer and will link to the story on Thursday.

Meanwhile, I have to admit to feeling like I've lost something precious, and I blame it on the series finale of Saving Grace, which we saw tonight on DVR. The show was highly rated and critically adored, and Holly Hunter was fearless as the broken police detective with a guardian angel. And the ending was heartbreaking, sudden, and ultimately unsatisfying because we both felt like we'd been robbed or violated somehow. Yes, it's only TV. It's only a story. But when characters can touch you like that, it's only art. Would I dare call a TV show, transcendent? No, but this one rose above its parts and reached for something more. We'll miss it. If you want to know more about how the show ended, then click here.

Say G'night, Grace.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mars is a World of Wonders

When I was in high school, Carl Sagan's "COSMOS" Tv series hit PBS. We didn't have cable yet, so it was hit-or-miss if the UHF signal would be clear on a given Sunday night. I missed many episodes when they originally ran. But the man became a guiding light for me. I still get chills listening to Vangelis' suites from "Heaven and Hell," which were used for the major recurring themes.

In recent years, the advent of the autotune has allowed a very creative individual to take Sagan's words, which were beautiful and poetic to begin with, and set them to music. Here's the latest, which pays tribute to my favorite planet, and calls for the return to manned space exploration. Watch it till the end. It's wonderful.


'Wednesday' collection evokes old Sunday serial comics

Here's a review of DC's new Wednesday Comics collection that appeared in today's Entertainer supplement of The News Herald:

There was a time when one of the highlights of any kid’s weekend was reading the Sunday morning comics sec-tion from the local paper. Eight or 10 pages would contain classics like “Dick Tracy,” “Prince Valiant,” “Li’l Abner,” “Steve Canyon,” “Flash Gordon,” “The Phantom,” and many more.

Generally, these Sunday stories were the payoff for serials that built throughout the week in the daily paper with a major event taking place in the full-color pages on Sunday. There was something magical about the rhythm of reading serialized stories — the repetition of words, images and ideas; the way a serial could bring sharp focus and slow development to a fleeting moment in time.

Those adventure strips are gone now, for the most part. Newspaper comics sections have dwindled. The popular strips indicate that most people want quick chuckles from their comics, apparently, rather than serialized action and suspense.

All of this factored into the surprise of learning about DC Comics’ experiment last year of printing serial comics in a broadsheet format hearkening back to those glory days of the Sunday comics. Each week, in its 16-page “Wednesday Comics” package, DC presented one-page installments starring a wide variety of its heroes and heroines, written and illustrated by many of the best talents working in the field. Each week, the stories would advance a page at a time.

That experiment has now been gathered into one giant hardcover tome, “Wednesday Comics” ($49.99, 200 pages). It’s of a size (11-by-17 inches) that encourages opening it on the floor or the kitchen table and leaning over it to take in the details; this isn’t light bathroom reading.

(The project’s title refers to the day new comics arrive in comic shops across the U.S., making Wednesday the new Sunday.)

The DC regulars are featured — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — and their tales are serviceable. But the real standout stories are the Prince Valiant-style post-apocalyptic world of “Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth” by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook; Paul Pope’s “Strange Adventures” that looks like Flash Gordon on LSD; and the Flash time travel conundrum by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher.

Although written for adults, this collection exudes the wide-eyed innocence and adventure missing from today’s “graphic novels” that gives the retro project an instant appeal. This is especially evident in the “Metamorpho” tale by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred; the “Supergirl” misadventure by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner; and writer/artist Kyle Baker’s “Hawkman,” which employs computer-aided textures to give depth to a tale of a hijacked jet that crashes on Dinosaur Island.

If you like your full-color heroes in oversize adventures — or if you fondly recall the bygone days of Sunday comics — then this is the book for you.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Shaming of the True?

(Yeah, it's a bad joke, but I like it.)

So anyway, I'm hoping to attend the Shakespeare by the Bay production of "The Taming of the Shrew" this weekend, despite the heat. (We missed our chance to view the indoor air conditioned performance last weekend when we traveled to Century/Flomaton for our niece's high school graduation.)

I visited the crew and cast for a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, and wrote this bit for The News Herald's Entertainer section.

And here's a short video I put together:

Note: My son is in the cast (that's him in the yellow T-shirt).

I've been a Shakes-by-the-Bay fan since the beginning, and even played a minor role (I helped more behind the scenes than on stage) when the company put on "Othello" in 2006. The heat and exertion of building sets in the park in 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity contributed to my first heart attack (which I mistook for being over-heated). So yeah, Shakespeare changed my life. 

Here's a video I shot of warm-ups for Othello (hope you enjoy it):


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Jessica Commences

It’s that part of the year when the promise of spring ripens into the fulfillment of summer.

It’s the time of the turning of the tassels.

Across the county, the state, the nation — all around the world — robes are donned, speeches made, alma maters sung, diplomas distributed. In crowds and in private, there are cheers and tears.

It’s a time of transition, and like all such moments there are rites of passage to be observed, traditions to be maintained. The older generations in the fall and winters of their lives must help the children of springtime into their summer years. On football fields and in auditoriums, we celebrate the changing seasons and the first fulfillment of their limitless promise.

They have achieved much already, but we anticipate much more from them. Soon, our world will be in their hands — and what a world we’re handing them. I begin to think they may prefer for us to keep our help to ourselves. Certainly, they can’t do a worse job of stewardship than we have managed. (But that is another column.)

For my part, the main event is tomorrow as this column sees print, when my younger child will cross the field at Tommy Oliver Stadium and graduate from Bay High School.

The commencement has been preceded by awards ceremonies and banquets, musical slideshows, concerts and commemorative photos. These preliminary events are preparatory to what seems like the grand finale but is only a sort of hiatus. Tying up loose ends and testing the water before the big cannonball leap, these smaller proceedings ease us as a group toward the next plateau.

On Thursday night, as I filed out of the BHS cafeteria with the other parents after the choir banquet, I looked up at the ceiling and glanced at the walls decorated with scowling red tornadoes. And I said to my wife that this was probably the last time we would stand in this building.

“At last until the grandkids are about to graduate,” she said, and that future seemed too far away and impossible yet to think about.

Behind us, the choir kids were cleaning up, stacking chairs, clearing tables, laughing and hugging, saying good-bye, vowing to visit one another.

Their future is now. The tassels are poised for turning.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

There's writing, and then there's writing...

Wrote a column for last Sunday about helping my daughter shop for cars. She approached it like she does everything else. Check it out.

Wrote a story about rehearsals for Taming of the Shrew. It prints tomorrow and I'll edit this to add the link then. Till then, you can check out my blog with a photo and video right here. (EDIT: Here's the story link.)

Rewrote my Jonah Hex review for Studio 101. It's the same as before, only different. If you're interested...

I'm also writing this week's column and a review of Wednesday Comics, the new hardcover collection from DC. So I'm doing some writing, fo sho. Problem is, I'm not doing any writing. You read? You hear me? You feel what I'm sayin'?

... And there's something lurking back there, in the back of my head, and it wants to get out ...