Babylon 5’s Final Season

"Babylon 5" - my favorite television show of all time.

“Babylon 5″ – my favorite television show of all time.

My wife and I recently finished watching the final season of Babylon 5. This is a minor miracle in our house for two reasons. First, although we watch quite a bit of television-on-DVD (or, more often these days, on streaming services such as Amazon Prime or NetFlix) it’s actually fairly rare for us to finish an entire show together. Eventually one or the other of us will become generally bored (her much more frequently) or decide that the show has jumped the shark and is no longer worth watching (probably a tie between us). Second, we started watching this show nearly a decade ago.

Now, to maintain my SF cred I must point out that I had watched the entire show end-to-end before – nearly twice. In fact, I began watching the show only two or three episodes in to the first seasons (thankfully, I got to watch those few episodes I missed very early on in reruns thanks to the show’s unconventional airing schedule). From that point on I never missed an episode – until season five when Babylon 5 jumped to TNT. We didn’t get cable at the time, so I had to wait to catch season 5. And wait. And wait.

For my college graduation, my aunt made me a collection of VHS tapes of the entire series that she’d recorded off the air. I had nearly a month between finishing classes and starting my job, so I sat down and binge watched the whole series again, finally getting to see season 5 (as I said, I had previously watched the series nearly twice). This, of course, was in the days before binge watching was really a thing.

Fast forward a few years and my wife and I began watching the show (which at that point she had not seen) together. We watched through season four… and then she had a burst of ADD and got interested in something else. A month or so ago I finally convinced her to pull out season five again and finish off the series.

Watching season five in isolation was an interesting experience. I should preface the discussion with the note that Babylon 5 is my favorite television series of all time. It was also unprecedented. Today, it is common for television shows to have a season long story arc. Each episode is watchable individually, but when you watch an entire season together a larger storyline unfolds. And most shows have this planned out about a season or so at a time. Back in the mid 90s when B5 aired, nobody did that. Most major television basically returned everything to status quo at the end of every episode.

But Babylon 5 did something even bigger than what we do today: the entire five year story arc was planned out in advance, from beginning to end. My wife knew this going in. Still, when watching the final few episodes this weekend, she commented on how striking it was to see a television show that actually resolved its story and actually ended – as opposed to just being canceled.

Also, every time I rewatch the series I’m stricken again by how good the show actually is. The best parts of the series, by a good margin, are seasons two and three and the first half of season four. But when Morgon and I first started the series together all those years ago, I was hit by how good the show even started. Straight out of the gate with season one it was a solid show – and only got better after the usual first few episodes of “finding their footing.” And although I recall season five as being the “weak” season (which I still believe), it, too, was really good.

The pre-planning of the storyline really shows through, and it really ups the quality level – even when you have to watch it fifteen years later with some seriously dated CGI and some clear signs of low-budget production and a couple of mediocre actors. The writing on the show is phenomenal, and together with some really standout actors who step above the pack it really carries the day.

You can’t say “they don’t make shows like that anymore” because they never really did make shows like Babylon 5. But it’s a shame, and they really should.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

“Make Death Proud to Take Us” available for pre-order!

Make Death Proud to Take Us

Make Death Proud to Take Us

Make Death Proud to Take Us – the first anthology from Silver Empire is now available for pre-order on Kindle! Featuring stories from Morgon Newquist, Russell Newquist, K Bethany Sawyer and Jennifer L Weir. Order your Kindle copy today!

Courage comes in all shapes and sizes.

When his parents fail, little Johnny must protect his younger sister from the creatures that come in the night. Aided by unexpected allies, a village makes its final stand against the onslaught of winter. Major Hunter must fight for his very survival after his ship is shot down by hostile aliens on a savage world. The Holt family struggles for survival after a pirate attack leaves their craft stranded in orbit two billion miles from home. An unlikely duo bands together to face the mighty dragon that attacked their campus library.

A collection of science fiction and fantasy stories celebrating the courage of men, including the stories:

“Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” – a Tale of Peter Bishop.
“The Blacksmith and the Ice Elves” – a story of Thrúdheim
“Major Hunter” – from The Wayfarer Chronicles
“Grey”
“The Fourth Fleet”
“Down the Dragon Hole”
“Cookie Crumbs”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

“Legends of Tomorrow”

In contrast to the new CBS show Supergirl, about which I expressed my reservations earlier, I am ALL IN on the CW’s new Legends of Tomorrow show. First, the preview:

What’s not to love?

First, there’s Arthur Darvill (aka Rory Williams, aka the man who punched The Doctor in the face and was thanked for it, aka the man who entered a haunted hotel with a room containing everyone’s greatest fear and it showed him the way out, aka the biggest badass in all of Dr. Whodom). Yeah, that’s a pretty good start right there.

On top of that, they’re bringing in several characters I’ve been quite fond of from the Arrowverse: Brandon Routh’s Atom (this season’s best addition to Arrow, and whom I’m very glad to see continuing to get good work instead of seeing his career tank after turning in a really terrific performance as the man of steel in a really terrible movie that many people unfairly blamed him for) and Caity Lotz’s Black White Canary (who was quite fun when she wasn’t constantly pouting. I’m in for that.

They’re fully embracing the weirder side of the DC Universe: time travel, shrinking machines, Hawkgirl… and the show promises to be jumping throughout history every week. And perhaps most of all, the trailer promises us a show with a great sense of fun.

Legends of Tomorrow: I’m all in.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Supergirl Coming to CBS

After knocking it out of the park twice in a row with Arrow and The Flash, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg are at it again with a third superhero show from the DC universe. This time they’re bringing Supergirl to life. A pretty substantial introduction/trailer has been released, and I’ve embedded it below so you can watch for yourself to get a preview.

Of course, the question remains: will the show actually be any good? The trailer, of course, doesn’t definitively answer the question. They never do.

The good: Berlanti and Kreisberg seem to have the DC universe down in a way that Zach Snyder simply doesn’t. Arrow and The Flash are two of the best shows currently on television in any genre, and pretty much the only TV that I try to watch the same day as it airs (I still DVR it, so I can watch without commercials).

I also like that they seem to be going with the “adorkable” approach with Kara/Supergirl. It works well for the character and certainly beats the uber-bitchy model that so often seems to be the only way that Hollywood knows how to write a “strong” female character.

The best: Over three seasons of Arrow, Berlanti and Kreisberg have been saying in interviews that DC has told them that the “big three” (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) are a no-no. Yet even in just the trailer for Supergirl, those were some pretty strong references to Superman. Clearly DC has come to their senses – at least somewhat – and realized that these are the guys to let have this. Could there be more TV references to the big three coming? Dare we hope that we might even someday get a Batman show that actually, you know, has Batman in it? Yes, Gotham, I’m talking to you.

The not so good: It’s only a trailer, so we’ll see how the actual show goes… but this trailer has a lot more CW-style teenage girl soap-operatic drama going on than either Arrow or The Flash have ever shown. Ironic, given that those shows are actually on the CW and this one is coming to CBS. Not good if that’s the way the show plays out. Hopefully that’s not the direction they’re going with Supergirl.

Update: The esteemed John C. Wright has a more optimistic take than I do. He makes some great points, but I still worry a bit about it coming off as a CW-style teen soap opera.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Let There Be Incandescent Light

I have tried nearly every kind of light bulb out there. I was a very early adopter of compact fluorescent bulbs. Pay a bit more now for a bulb that lasts longer and uses less energy, thus saving a lot of money in the long run? What’s not to like?

Nearly everything, as it turns out. First, the bulbs were a lot more expensive than the plain old incandescent light bulbs. I spent a pretty decent amount of money to change everything out in my house. Second, after literally changing every single bulb in my house… the energy savings was far too small for me to pick it out of the noise in my month-to-month energy bills. I probably really was saving energy, but it was such a small amount that I couldn’t even prove it to myself. Hardly worth the time and effort. Third, there’s a bit of an annoyance factor with them because they take a bit to “warm up” and really come up to full light. Fourth, there’s a new environmental factor: disposing of them without leaving mercury traces everywhere.

But worst of all – by far – is that the light quality absolutely sucks. Now, most people don’t notice this – but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t bothered by it. Light quality has a huge subconscious effect on us. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real phenomenon, and the primary driver of it is light. A decent portion of that is physical – a lack of true sunlight causes vitamin D deficiencies. But some of it is purely mental. The visual quality of the light has a direct effect on our subconscious minds. This effect is also present in other forms of depression, not just SAD.

As it happens, depression runs in my family and in my wife’s family. SAD also runs in my family (and, although undiagnosed, probably in my wife’s family as well). So after dealing with shitty light for a few months, I made another sweep through my house later and threw out all of the compact fluorescent bulbs. I replaced them all with good old fashioned incandescent light bulbs again. Only this time, not the cheap ones. I paid a bit more for the good ones that were a bit fuller spectrum.And it made a difference. Not a huge one, but it was noticeable – more noticeable than the energy savings I was theoretically getting from more expensive light bulbs.

On occasion since then I’ve run similar experiments with newer technologies – although I’ve never since changed out the whole house without running smaller scale experiments first. I learned my lesson there. And I have yet to find a bulb that lives up to good old incandescent light.Until recently, it was hands down the price winner as well (ignoring energy costs). So I paid a bit more in energy, but saved on the bulbs. Even the more expensive full-spectrum incandescent bulbs were cheaper than the “high efficiency” bulbs. This became an even bigger deal when we moved into our current house. Something isn’t right in the house. It burns through light bulbs like no tomorrow. At the moment, there are at least nine light bulbs burned out in our house. And this is only in the last few weeks – we replace them frequently.Or, at least, we try to.

The problem is that some assholes in Washington (aka Congress) decided that for some reason this was in issue that just absolutely needed their input. And now the manufacture or import of incandescent bulbs is heavily regulated. The result is that the full spectrum bulbs we used to get now cost four times what they used to. At the rates that bulbs go out in our house, the price is killing us. We’re having to drop back to cheaper incandescents (which still cost twice what we used to pay for the more expensive ones).

I’m all for saving energy. I’m all for helping the environment. But I refuse to do so at the expense of my family’s mental health. Congress should never have placed this burden on us – and on you. Because whether you know it or not, this is effecting you at a subconscious level as well (the degree to which this effects people varies, but the effect is very real and well documented).

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

This is What SHIELD Is Supposed to Be

First, the important question: how does Age of Ultron compare to The Avengers? The answer is that they’re completely different movies, and your reaction will vary greatly depending upon how you feel about that. The first film was a rollicking good time with a plot that completely fell apart as soon as you spent more than thirty seconds actually thinking about it. But the thing is, it was just so much freaking fun that most of us really didn’t care that the plot was so flimsy.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I had just about the opposite reaction to Age of Ultron. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun film and I enjoyed it plenty in the theater. But it’s nowhere near as much fun as its predecessor. However, unlike the first film, I find this one growing on me more and more the the more I think about it.

This is still a superhero film, meaning that it’s a blockbuster popcorn flick at heart. Yet this movie is far deeper and more thoughtful than its big brother. To nobody’s surprise, it picks up the story basically where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off. But the story isn’t the only part it picks up. It also grabs the themes of that movie and runs with them, albeit in a very different way. The Winter Soldier shows us a world where our leaders and heroes are corrupt and abusing their power. Age of Ultron dares to follow that up by asking, “what should the people of power in our world do with that power?”

Is this film the deepest possible attempt to answer that question? Absolutely not. And yet it is a terrible indictment of the world we live in that the most serious literary approach of our age to that question is coming from popcorn flicks.

Although I read a lot of comics as a kid I never read many comics with Avengers characters in them. That’s especially true of Captain America. As a youngster he bored me. But I’ve found him to be among the best characters of this new wave of superhero films – not just of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but of all of the superhero films of the twenty-first century. The Winter Soldier was a powerful film and cemented the character strongly with me. Age of Ultron only strengthens the case.

There are some wonderful moments involving his character. In a hilarious scene where each of the Avengers tries to lift Thor’s hammer, his attempt stands out. In a movie with Samuel L Jackson’ts Nick Fury and Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, he still manages to nab a couple of the best one liners of the film. And when the film pokes a stick right in the eye of Man of Steel‘s wanton destruction and devil-may-care attitude toward civilian casualties, Steve Rogers is right at the center of it.

And yet he’s not the emotional center of this film. That belongs to Hawkeye and his surprising back story. Or perhaps to the intriguing relationship between Banner and Romanov. And the Maximov twins brought a surprising amount of heart to the story as well. I was fully expecting their transition from villains to full-out Avengers to be painful, and yet it works pretty well in the plot.

But the driver of it all comes down to a difference in world view between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, and by the end of this movie I found myself absolutely ready for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. There is no way that these two characters continue in the same universe without conflict arising. Their personalities simply won’t allow it.

The more I think upon this movie the more satisfying I find it. To paraphrase a line from the film, which I lifted for the title of this post, this is what superhero films are supposed to be. Highly recommended, and I can’t wait to see it again with my son.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Saudi King Lays Groundwork for Civil War

My very strong opinion is that whatever his actual intentions, King Salman has just laid the groundwork for a Saudi civil war.

In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.

Muqrin himself was only appointed “Deputy Crown Prince” just over a year ago, and became Crown Prince when King Abdullah died a few months ago. His appointment jumped him up the line, bypassing several senior princes. The circumstances of the appointment leave cause for doubt that everyone was happy with the situation:

The royal decree stated that King Abdullah had made his decision in cooperation with Salman, but it appears that the council was not called into session to participate in Muqrin’s selection. Instead, its members were polled individually, according to an April 1 tweet by Khalid bin Talal, son of Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz who is regarded as an independent-minded maverick within the royal family. Asked about this tweeted information, the Saudi academic wrote in an email, “It seems that what Khaled bin Talal tweeted is more realistic and is accurate in stating that members were consulted individually.”

[text bolded by me].

By accounts, 25% of the council opposed the vote. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the educated guess that it was, most likely, the princes skipped over by this appointment who were unhappy with it. Additionally, Muqrin held the post for about 13 months. Long enough to gain a bit of a power base, but not long enough to cement it. He is, however, a prince of the royal family, which means that he’d almost have to have a power base of his own before that.

bin Nayef, on the other hand, is recently appointed to the position and hence will also not have had much time to consolidate his power. Again, however, he is of the Saudi royal family, so there will be some built in power base there. But he’s also unlikely to have the time to consolidate a power base. King Salman is 79. How many years before he, too passes? His predecessor, King Abdullah, lived to 90. So perhaps another decade? Maybe a few years after that?

So two factions now exist for sure, each of which has an unconsolidated power base. Let’s not pretend for a minute that the princes who were passed over by these two aren’t interested in making a play themselves. And then recall that Saudi Arabia has only been a country since 1932 – a mere eighty three years since it was united by conquest. Don’t forget that there’s also an ongoing power struggle between those who would support the jihadis against the west and those who want to continue comfortably making money selling oil to the western world.

There’s no way to predict a timeline, but ultimately this only ends one way.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Tale of Two Trailers

So, within 48 hours of each other we have two very different trailers released for two movies that look to be quite different – but both of which, theoretically should be very interesting to SFF fans.

First up is the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The first teaser trailer for it left me decidedly underwhelmed. And that was a little frightening: I literally camped out for all three of the prequel films (yes, even after the disappointment of The Phantom Menace) – and had a blast doing it. If you put out a trailer that didn’t sell me… that’s dangerous. On the other hand, the trailers for The Phantom Menace were freaking awesome, and the movie itself… well, we all know how that turned out.

As underwhelming as the first trailer was, however, this new one more than makes up for it. I am, finally, officially stoked about the new film.

Coming barely more than a day later is the new trailer for Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice. And I have to say… unlike the first Force Awakens trailer that left me underwhelmed… this one leaves me actually worried. Zack Snyder is capable of bringing a fantastic sense of fun to his films. 300 had it in spades. Sucker Punch had it… although it admittedly didn’t have much more than that. But Watchmen was already losing it and apparently while he was filming Man of Steel he’d just left it in his other pants pocket or something because it just wasn’t there.

Now we get this trailer, ever so promising that it might actually bring some fun back to Superman. For those who can’t tell through my brick-like subtlety, that was sarcasm. This trailer is gloomy and broody and moody… Look, this is Batman and Superman in a big budget film for the first time. This movie should be dripping and oozing with fun. Fun that is, apparently, nowhere to be found. I am a gigantic Batman fan, and a pretty good Superman fan as well. And this trailer almost has me wanting to skip the film. We’ll see how things turn out, but I’m not feeling it here.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail