Palladia_HDRemember when MTV and VH1 showed videos? Every time Weird Al came out with a new album, we’d be treated to AlTV, with the MTV jingle played on an accordion. Flip on the TV, you could see Head Bangers Ball, Alternative Nation, or Yo! MTV Raps. And of course, those classic Spring Break runs in the late eighties and nineties. MTV really meant “Music Television.” VH1 was its mellower little brother. The only glamor shows were House of Style, and while MTV treated us to Liquid Television and Aeon Flux for cartoons, Beavis & Butthead still poked fun at videos. It was a music show in disguise.

And then the music disappeared. MTV and VH1 became reality television. After all, if you wanted videos, you had YouTube. Right?

Well, sorta. If you wanted new music or music you didn’t normally listen to, there was no outlet on television. Radio had become pathetic with its corporate behemoth owners and limited playlists. Half the time I watched saw the Grammy lists, I had no clue who anyone was. New music had become American Idol. And American Idol had become embarrassing to admit watching.

Then I stumbled onto Palladia. It was one of the cable company’s Hi-Def offerings. What were they showing? Rock festivals. Hip hop festivals. Later With Jools Holland. Live from Daryl’s House. I saw new music. Live. I saw bands I never heard of. I started making it my weekend ritual to DVR as much Palladia as possible.

It’s hard to see new music live when you live in a town like Cincinnati that supports only wedding bands. There’s iTunes, but you have to hunt for new bands and hope you stumble onto something. Pandora helps, but again, you’re somewhat limited by the format.

I’m enjoying Palladia as long as the format remains the same. Hopefully, MTV Networks won’t decide to squeeze it dry by changing it to yet another reality show channel, the way MTV and VH1 have become, or like Disney has done to History and A&E. If they do, the last video Palladia should play is Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels and Nothing On.” Until then, I eagerly await new shows live from Daryl’s house.

Thursday Reviews: 80 Million Eyes by Ed McBain

80 Million Eyes

Ed McBain

Stan Gifford is a popular comedian. Popular, that is, to the 80 million pairs of eyes that tune into his show every Wednesday night. He is not popular with the staff of his show, not his head writer, not his wardrobe matron, not his long-suffering producer. So when Stan drops dead in front those 80 million eyes, his doctor rushes to the studio and tells Detective Meyer Meyer of the 87th Precinct that an autopsy may be in order. Turns out Gifford was poisoned. For Meyer and Carella, it’s a few days of frustration as everyone trips over themselves to make sure they aren’t suspects.

Meanwhile, Bert Kling investigates an assault on a familiar face. Cynthia Forrest, whose father was killed by the same sniper that killed Kling’s fiancee, is not thrilled to see who the 87th sent to track down her stalker. Nonetheless, the stalker has beat up a fellow officer. Kling decides to draw him out as he seems to think he’s Cynthia’s new boyfriend. The stalker manages to attack Cynthia, putting her in the hospital.

Around the time Kling draws him out, Meyer and Carella figure out how a fast acting poison no one saw Gifford take killed him in front of a nationwide audience.

It’s an interesting 87th. Kling is not so dark in this one. Indeed, in the previous 87th Precinct novel, he was nearly kicked off the force. Meyer and Carella are involved in one of McBain’s favorite gambits, a classic whodunnit.


Kennedy announcing moon projectJohn F. Kennedy not only should have been alive during my lifetime, but he should have had the opportunity to be the first sitting president in my lifetime. Instead, the gunshots from his assassination were still echoing throughout the world on the day of my birth in 1966.

Kennedy had a lot in common with two other twentieth century presidents, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. The Roosevelts came from a wealthy northeastern family and saw public service as an obligation, as did Kennedy. Like the Roosevelts, Kennedy also went against the dogma of his class, including his father, Joseph P. Kennedy.

But if you had to compare Kennedy to either of the Roosevelts, it would have to be Franklin. Theodore worked most of his life, even though he did not really need to. He was a rancher, legislator, civil servant, and soldier before becoming vice president. Franklin was more the idle rich youth shepherded early on by his mother before coming into his own during his thirties. Likewise, Jack Kennedy was an aimless student at Harvard, having to endure comparisons to his brother, Joseph Kennedy, Jr., whom Joe Kennedy originally wanted to become president. In this respect, Jack (and brother Joe) had a lot in common with another Ivy League son of a man with dynastic ambitions, George H. W. Bush, whose father Prescott also had dynastic ambitions.

When Joe went off to war, Jack emerged from his shadow and majored in government at Harvard, turning a thesis into a best-selling book, Why England Slept. It would be the beginning of a life-long obsession with foreign policy. He followed his brother Joe into the service, joining the Navy at the start of America’s involvement in World War II. It was here Kennedy’s sexual compulsions would get him into trouble. While working for Naval Intelligence, he began an affair with a reporter named Inga Arvad. Unfortunately, the FBI suspected Arvad of being a Nazi spy. Kennedy transferred to another post, then to the Great Lakes, and finally became a PT boat commander in the South Pacific. During his time in the South Pacific, Kennedy endured a harrowing two days at sea after his boat, the PT 109, was destroyed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy was decorated for his bravery, though the loss of two of his crew would forever haunt him.

Kennedy moved to Boston after the war, where he ran for Congress in 1946. Interestingly enough, this was also the year Richard Nixon won his first election to the House. Kennedy’s congressional election was largely a project for Joe Kennedy, Sr. It was also the point where Jack Kennedy decided he wanted to win the White House. Jack took to the plan with gusto. He had more reasons than just personal ambition and his father’s plans that drove him, however. During his Navy years, he suffered from severe back problems and poor health. Shortly after he began his career in Washington, he was also diagnosed with Addison’s disease, a progressive degeneration of the adrenal glands. Kennedy knew he would die young. So he invested his energy into his career. He often needed crutches to get around, but he gave the impression of being a vital, active young man.

Kennedy was not a spectacular senator or congressman, serving as he did in Republican-dominated congresses. Where he rose to national prominence came in 1956, when he campaigned actively to be Adlai Stevenson’s running mate. He lost to Estes Kefauver, but it was the beginning of the 1960 presidential campaign. And Kennedy knew he would face Vice President Richard Nixon.

Oddly enough, Nixon and Kennedy had a good working relationship when they served together in Congress. They had done a public debate on a major bill in the early 1950’s, spending the train ride back to Washington hammering out some committee business to be handled on their return. Once, when Kennedy was hospitalized for back surgery, the junior senator from Massachusetts found a fruit basket waiting for him when he returned to the office. The card read, “Welcome back! Dick Nixon.”

The 1960 campaign would permanently split the two men. Nixon was already noted for being a sore loser with a self-destructive streak. Kennedy would lose his temper just as badly, but was a skilled enough politician to keep it private, always showing the charm and the energy when he appeared in public.

Kennedy started his administration at a disadvantage. Winning the White House on a plurality, he had no real mandate from voters. He also faced a Republican Congress. From Eisenhower, he inherited a communist Cuba, as well as a jobless recovery. He didn’t help matters by authorizing the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Misinterpreting a briefing by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he and Bobby, his Attorney General, decided the plan to seize Cuba and oust Castro would work. When it did not, Kennedy was devastated and shook up his group of foreign policy advisers. Unfortunately, he also emboldened Nikita Krushchev, leader of the Soviet Union. Krushchev used the debacle to press East Germany for a peace treaty that would effectively oust the Allies from West Berlin. He also decided that, since the US had missiles in Turkey aimed directly across the Black Sea at the USSR (“directly at my dacha!” the Soviet leader frequently shouted to guests), why not stick a few in Cuba? JFK wasn’t having it and blockaded Cuba. This became the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1961. Kennedy gave Krushchev one thing he wanted – quietly removing the missiles in Turkey – but only if the Soviets publicly removed the missiles from Cuba and allowed West Berlin to remain part of allied West Germany. Krushchev “blinked,” said Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it.

This emboldened Kennedy. He pushed for anti-poverty measures, many of which his successor, Lyndon Johnson, would get, leaned on Congress to pass civil rights legislation, and set a goal to put a man on the moon by 1970. One issue that would not go away was Vietnam. In an effort to stave off the threat of communist expansion, the US supported South Vietnam’s brutal and repressive regime, composed largely of French-educated Catholics. When the regime violently attacked Buddhists, Kennedy decided to withdraw support from the regime and promised support to a new regime after a military coup. He was not happy about it, and by then, Kennedy had an inkling that the US needed to write off Vietnam. Unlike Laos, where US involvement ended with a compromise between Kennedy and Krushchev, he saw only a repeat of the French debacle of the 1950’s.

So how did Kennedy turn his administration around despite an intransigent Congress and persistent high unemployment? (6.8%, which would be considered wonderful today.) Kennedy took his case directly to the people. Eisenhower held televised press conferences, but Kennedy took the unprecedented step of doing them live. He carefully managed how they were presented, but these days, we take it for granted that a president is going to speak live to the nation. He crafted his own image, making sure people saw the youthful playboy, not the Addison’s-riddled man with a deteriorating back. He also recruited rivals. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was a Republican business executive while dark horse candidate for the Democratic nomination Adlai Stevenson served as UN ambassador during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Once, after a particularly brutal battle with Congress, Kennedy reached out to Barry Goldwater, the most likely GOP opponent in 1964 and then a leader in the Senate. Over lunch, Kennedy said, “So, you think you really want this f***ing job?” FDR had had similar conversations with Wendell Wilkie after the 1940 election, telling his new adviser, “Someday, you may have to sit in this office” when explaining why and how he made decisions.

What would Kennedy have achieved if he had not been cut down that November day in Dallas? Kennedy had started to gain traction with the American people when he decided to run again, and he had finally made in-roads with Congressional Republican leaders. Although many of his civil rights initiatives passed largely from support stemming from his death, it’s very likely these acts would have passed, though with more modest support. It’s also likely America’s involvement in Vietnam would have ended much sooner, and without the smaller country enduring war with China as happened in the 1970’s. Kennedy, while anti-communist, was willing to talk with communists, something that drove Krushchev to madness. But the Kennedy we elected in 1960 would not have been the Kennedy welcoming his successor to office in 1969. His back was deteriorating so rapidly that, by the midterm of his second administration, he would have been wheelchair-bound. Also, eventually, the effects of his Addison’s disease and the use of drugs to counteract his poor health would have taken their toll.

We will never know for sure, however. When those shots rang out in Dallas in 1963, it began one of the greatest periods of unrest in recent history.

Bad Religion: Book 1: The Beginninninning

After rewriting Holland Bay completely from scratch, and after you people told me you’d rather see another Kepler than a short story collection, I dug out Bad Religion, dusted it off, and started revising. I was expecting this to suck up all my time until July. Instead, I was done in less than ten days. Why?

When I was more active with novels, I would write a novel, bury it for three months, reread it and revise, hand it off to First Reader (formerly the ex, will need to find a new one for Holland Bay and the SF novel the alter ego is writing), revise again, then find two or more beta readers for the final edit. Bad Religion was the last book-length work I’d written to reach the beta stage. I’d only read two of the three edits I got back on it. I took it out last fall and went through the third only six years after that person looked at it.

There’s an advantage to abandoning a novel for years at  a time. It’s one of the few times an author can be objective about what they’ve written since enough time has passed that it looks like someone else wrote it. During that last pass, I started to think that the way I handled some of the consequences of Second Hand Goods was too in-your-face. I finished adding the suggestions I accepted from the last edit and put it aside once more. I had Holland Bay to rewrite.

So out Bad Religion came from mothballs once more. I went though it correcting typos here, cutting a few lines there. Near the beginning, there was a scene that makes it plainly obvious what happened between Nick and Elaine after the end of Second Hand Goods. That scene would not only have to be rewritten, but it would also have a domino effect. Several other scenes would have to be cut or rewritten. I continued to make dialog changes and cuts to other scenes. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end. Chopping that one scene did not have the structural impact on the story that I thought it would. Cut two lines here. Change the end of a scene there. Rewrite the dialog of a later scene to make it the scene where Nick and Elaine’s chickens come home to roost. When I came back to that scene I thought would make this almost a complete rewrite?

Turns out the story works better without it.

So now I’m working on getting a cover designed. Bad Religion will appear sometime this summer.

To Boldy Go Where A Few Dozen Writers Have Gone Before…

Next month, I start work on my first ever science fiction novel. I’ve spent some time sketching out the universe where this takes place, and I have to give a lot of thought to not falling back on an established franchise. In other words, don’t rewrite Star Trek. A few franchises have done that successfully. Andromeda was the Trek that never was, cobbled together from notes by Gene Roddenberry after his death. Farscape sort of upended the whole Trek concept. Galaxy Quest was a love letter/parody in a This Is Spinal Tap sort of way. John Scalzi even dumps a few Trek trappings into his Old Man’s War universe (winking at the readers every time), though Heinlein is his touchstone more than Star Trek. That said, Scalzi managed to call out the Trek writers for every fan-rage-inducing shortcut in his hilarious homage, Red Shirts.

But if you’re going to build a franchise yourself, you have to avoid certain things that scream “He watched too much Star Trek as a kid.”

So I put together a list of things I thought should be avoided and bounced it off some fellow writers and a few former Trek co-conspirators. Here’s what I came up with…

      If anything can be said to belong entirely to Star Trek, it’s the transporter, invented mainly because they didn’t have a budget to send Jeffrey Hunter to the surface in the original pilot. That’s right. At least 50 episodes and half the movies used this as a plot point because NBC wouldn’t spring for extra plywood and overtime for the stage hands.
    • Minimize using names of US and British warships to name spacecraft. No one in 300 years is going to care. This was actually more a Roddenberry thing. Works great in Star Trek, but aside from a handful of names that just translate well into space, one should really find a naming scheme that’s original.
    • Gov’t should not look like the US gov’t or any European gov’t. It’s space. The rules are going to change. It’ll probably be democratic. But put some thought into it. Don’t make the leader a stand-in for the President of the United States or any premier you might be fond of.
    • Technology should look like magic, but magic with mechanical flaws. Clark was right. We primitives in the 21st century won’t get the technology of the day. Imagine Mark Twain suddenly having to deal with a cell phone. Yes, he was a geek, but he’d probably need his pal Nikolai Tesla to guess how it works for him. Yet think of the most advanced gadget in your possession. Aren’t there times you just want to throw it across the room, smash the keyboard, or yell at some poor schlep in India working third shift? What makes you think that’s going to change?
    • Earth may not be the center of the human universe anymore, never mind anyone else’s. There’s a reason most Americans, Canadians, and Latinos’ ancestors left Europe. There’s a reason those people’s ancestors left everywhere else. It goes all the way back to Adam telling Eve, “We just got kicked out, and I don’t want to live next to those lazy Homo habilus people.” Earth, and quite likely even Mars, will be old school in an interstellar civilization.
    • If all the aliens look like humans, there had better be a compelling reason. And it can’t be because you want to save a makeup artist some work or spare a producer from spending half the budget on CGI. If anything, there can be reasons that play into the fabric of your new universe.
    • Some distant colonies will look like the East Coast of China or America in its heyday or postwar Europe after the Marshal plan. Most will look like a cross between a primitive astronaut camp and a western mining town
    • It is likely English will be lingua franca, given how widely it’s used in diplomacy and business. However, most human worlds will have developed their own languages that don’t even exist yet.
    • FTL flight should have, at the very least, side effects. It should also only be minimally explained, but at least follow some rules. Wormholes make you nauseous. Warp drive leaves people dizzy. That jump drive thing like on rebooted Battlestar Galactica should do something like make someone feel like they’ve got a nasty case of static cling or something.
    • There is no crime in your ships not having some sort of force field protection or using projectile weapons. At least try to come up with some variations on the theme.
    • Avoid time travel storylines completely. Not only has Star Trek done this, they’ve done too many of them, and most of them aren’t very good.
    • Security people should wear some kind of protective gear. Seriously. Kevlar, chain mail, ceramic body armor… You don’t think they’d come up with something new?
    • Spacecraft: Someone has to fly them. Helm should look something like an airplane or a truck so the pilot/helm knows what they’re doing
    • FTL communications: Should be balky, have lag, or even not be possible or have to be rigged.
    • A friend of mine suggested that there should be more artificial intelligence or robots. Maybe. The abundance or lack of them could also make another nice piece to your universe.

He also suggested that privacy might not mean what it means to use luddites. Facebook has already had an impact on how we interact, and in space, cramped quarters might mean you pretty much do everything from the nasty to showering to voiding waste in front of your crewmates.

Any other ideas? The comments are open to anything but Viagra ads. (Yes, spammers. I’m watching you.)

Thursday Reviews: Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

Gerald’s Game

Stephen King

I read this one once about twenty years ago, before King wrote his On Writing. Jessie Burlingame is dreading a weekend getaway where husband Gerald (he of the titular game) wants to indulge in some good ol’ fashioned bondage. He cuffs Jessie to the bed only to have her change her mind. When Gerald doesn’t quite get that no means no, she kicks him in the balls. Which triggers a heart attack.

The keys are on a table that Jessie can’t reach, and so she spends a miserable twenty-four hours trying to figure out how to escape now that her husband is dead. During that time, a starving stray dog wanders in and decides that hunks of Gerald will do nicely as a substitute for whatever he’s been getting in local trashcans. During the night, a freakish looking man with a bag of bones (not really a reference to the later King novel of the same name) comes in and basically scares the bejesus out of Jessie by simply staring at her and showing her the bones. In the meantime, the voices in Jessie’s head, really all aspects of her personality, start arguing with her over what to do about her predicament. To kill time, they also force her to relive a childhood trauma she tried to pretend never happened. All this serves to make Jessie reach a radical solution to her problem.

This book has a vaguely supernatural tie to Delores Claiborne, the follow-up to this novel, but it comes off as a fragment of a dream. The book has more in common with Misery, though this is not a rehash. This book has a rather cathartic feel to it, as though Jessie’s ordeal is a long-overdue intervention of sorts. It’s a suspense novel, not really a horror novel, in spite of the freakish nature of Jessie’s late night visitor.