I loved the computer-generated special effects when I first saw Terminator 2. For a long time, I thought computer effects looked spectacular and impressive. But something changed over the years. Maybe the digital material became too surreal and cartoonish. Or maybe I got older and lost my sense of wonder. Whatever the reason, I’ve reached the point where I cringe every time I see digital effects. It looks as if someone sprinkled pieces of a PlayStation 2 game into the movie.
The artists who create these effects are obviously talented, brilliant people. I respect them. I admire their skill. I’m not trying to insult their work. But I’m tired of “video game movies.” Can we please go back to practical special effects now? I want to see something that looks real and solid again.
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I’m excited that a woman will be playing the Doctor. Jodie Whittaker looks like a perfect fit. Her eyes are intelligent, mysterious, and otherworldly. She’s so Doctorish. I’m glad the show is moving in a new direction.
I’m also happy Chris Chibnall is taking over as showrunner. The program has grown a little bit stale over the last few years. Steven Moffat isn’t a bad writer, but his episodes feel like reheated leftovers to me. And most of his season finales left me more confused than satisfied.
(But I did love the 2015 season, especially the finale. Heaven Sent and Hell Bent were solid gold masterpieces. My heart rate surged when the Doctor finally returned to Gallifrey. He stood the desert, squinting his eyes. He bent down and told the little boy, “Go to the city. Find somebody important. Tell them I’m back. Tell them I know what they did. And I’m on my way. And if they ask who I am, tell them I came the long way round.”)
I don’t have a problem with a woman playing the Doctor, but I do have a problem with the BBC announcing the new actor ahead of time. Don’t tell me what’s going to happen. Don’t tell me who the next Doctor will be. Surprise me. That’s what good TV shows are supposed to do.
I was nine years old when I first saw the Doctor regenerate. I had no idea who the next Doctor would be. I didn’t even know he was going to regenerate. In fact, I had never even heard of regeneration. I was sitting in my dark living room floor on a Saturday night, staring up at the TV screen. I watched the Doctor run through a bleak wasteland carrying Peri in his arms. He staggered into the Tardis and dropped her. He slumped over the console and hit a few buttons, wheezing and panting. Then he collapsed on the smooth, white floor. He closed his eyes. Then his face began to glow. Psychedelic colors and lights flashed and swirled around him. Visions of his old companions appeared in the air and circled around him.
When the Doctor sat up again, he had a new face. And curly hair. It wasn’t Peter Davison anymore. It was Colin Baker.
I ran into the kitchen and told my mother that the Doctor had just turned into someone else. She laughed. The next day, a friend of mine explained what had happened.
It would be nice if the Doctor’s regeneration still came out of the blue with no warning at all. It would be nice if the BBC didn’t ruin the surprise for me.
You can click here to check out my latest book on Amazon. Drake Novak is a malevolent alien who draws his energy from the pain and suffering of other life forms. He comes to Earth in a stolen ship, takes over a factory, and keeps all the workers in abject misery. He soaks up their sadness the way a plant absorbs sunlight. Then the Galactic Precinct sends a young rookie cop to arrest Drake Novak. But when Malpheus Mallock arrives on Earth, his tracking device stops working. He lands on the front lawn of an elderly couple named Carl and Christine. They feed him fried chicken and mashed potatoes. They show him baseball games on TV. The whole time, Malpheus struggles to find Drake Novak.
I spent my early childhood in Tampa, Florida. The local TV station, WTOG, aired a show on Saturday afternoons called Creature Feature. Dr. Paul Bearer was the host. He played “horrible old movies,” as he called them. He introduced the movies and made jokes during the commercial breaks. Dr. Paul Bearer’s real name was Dick Bennick. He passed away in 1995, but I still like to watch him on YouTube.
I took a break from writing last week and drew some pictures. This is Julie Hammit Tanner. We went to school together. This is a recent picture of her playing flag football.
I drew a picture of Hayden Martin the other day. She’s Brittany’s daughter.
I’ve been working on a new book lately, but I took a break from writing last week and drew a few pictures. This is Brittany Singleton. We went to school together.
I recently tried to do business with a record-of-the-month club called Vinyl Me Please. It was their idea, not mine. They sent me an email telling me about their featured record of the month. It was Tidal by Fiona Apple. She was all over the radio and MTV when I was a teenager. She’s a slender goddess with sullen blue eyes and large, sensuous lips. I loved her. I still do. “Shadow Boxer” is my favorite Fiona Apple song. It’s a slow, dark, dreary piano ballad. I listened to it on an airplane in the summer of 1998 while I was soaring over the Atlantic Ocean in the dead of night on my way to Germany.
Sweet, sweet memories.
I grew up listening to tapes and CDs, not records. My first CD was Higher Ground by UB40. I got it for Christmas when I was 12 years old. I listened to it in my bedroom while eating miniature Reese’s Cups. I still have most of those tapes and CDs from my childhood. They’re precious. They’re like dear old friends.
A few years ago, Jack White released Lazaretto on vinyl. The surface of the record features an angel hologram. The angel twirls in circles as the record turns. It’s beautiful and bizarre. Like so many other people, I fell in love with vinyl after seeing YouTube videos of the angel hologram. Records amaze me. There are no microchips or laser beams involved. Just grooves and a needle. It’s like magic. Not only do records actually work, they sound deeper and sharper than CDs. It’s like watching a movie in IMAX. Since I grew up listening to my favorite music on cassettes and CDs, it’s amazing to buy those same albums on vinyl and listen to them again.
When Vinyl Me Please sent me the email telling me about the Fiona Apple record, I eagerly rushed to their website to sign up.
But I couldn’t sign up. After inviting me to join, Vinyl Me Please rejected my credit card number. Over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with my credit card, mind you. I want to make that clear. I order items all the time from eBay, Amazon, and Third Man Records. They don’t have any problem taking my credit card. But Vinyl Me Please persistently rejected it.
Do you know what it’s like when you’re thirsty and you slide a dollar bill into a vending machine … and the vending machine spits the dollar bill back out at you? No matter how many times you rub the wrinkles out of the dollar bill, the stubborn machine refuses to accept it. It’s a nerve-wracking feeling. Makes your blood pressure surge. Makes you hate the world.
That’s exactly how I felt when Vinyl Me Please rejected my credit card number.
Finally, I sent an email to customer service. I explained the situation.
A couple of days later, they replied. They said my credit card number had gotten caught up in their “fraud system.” But the problem was all sorted out, they said. My payment had finally managed to get through.
Actually, two of my payment attempts had gone through. Unfortunately, both of those payments went through after the monthly deadline.
So now Vinyl Me Please is sending me two records in the mail.
But neither one of them is Fiona Apple.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the kitchen now and hurl plates at the wall.
Gary lived in a nest of shredded magazine pages. Every morning and every night, he sat in his nest and stared at a miniature television set with a black and white screen, one he had found in a junk pile. Most of Gary’s knowledge about the world above him came from the television.
His nest was located on a windowsill in the basement of an old, old spaceship. All the ship’s garbage fell into the basement through trap doors in the ceiling. Gary spent his days flying over the garbage piles, searching for scraps of food and interesting pieces of junk. He was always careful to avoid the vulture beetles that ate everything (including metal) in order to make room for more garbage.
Gary didn’t live alone on the windowsill. An octopus human hybrid lived in a cardboard box right beside him. The octopus looked just like any other octopus except he had a human face (with baggy, bloodshot eyes) and breathed oxygen and complained about all of Gary’s soap operas.
One morning, Gary sat in his nest, watching a commercial for a steakhouse located on the top floor of the ship. He wondered what it would be like to eat in a steakhouse, to eat firsthand food rather than dirty old scraps someone else had tossed out.
The octopus slouched in his cardboard box and looked out the window at the stars.
“Hey, Gary, do you see that thing out there?” the octopus asked.
“You mean that giant asteroid?” said Gary. “Yes, I see that. What about it?”
“It’s coming straight toward us,” said the octopus.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not a problem.”
“Maybe you should go upstairs and mention it to somebody,” the octopus told him, shifting his bloodshot eyes back and forth.
Gary shrugged. “I’m sure they already know.”
“Maybe not. They might not be paying any attention. Everybody’s in a big frenzy. They’re all excited about the debate or something, aren’t they?”
“They’ll see it soon enough,” said Gary, shaking his head and wishing he could enjoy his soap opera in peace. “How could anyone overlook something that size?”
“I don’t know,” the octopus went on. “When you watch the evening news, you get the impression that most of those folks upstairs aren’t too bright. You know what I mean? You may want to just run up there real quick and, you know, mention it to somebody.”
“Not now,” said Gary.
“I think you should.”
Gary cleared his throat. “I may do it later.”
“It might be too late,” said the octopus, peeking out the window.
“Why can’t I sit here in my nest and watch my program?” Gary shouted, flapping his wings and grinding his teeth. “Can you at least let me have that one luxury? Please? Every day of my life is a bland, worthless echo of the one before it. I crawl out of my nest, I fly around this dark room, I find scraps of food for us to eat, I avoid the vicious vulture beetles, and then I return to the windowsill. Television is the only oasis I have. My only other form of recreation is gazing out the window at the black, infinite void and thinking about my futile existence.”
The octopus rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to miss anything, Gary, That show is a re-run, remember? All these people die at the end.”
Gary flapped his wings and screamed, “I’ve never seen this episode before! Why do you have to ruin it for me? Why?”
“Well, now you don’t have to watch it. You know how the thing’s going to end. Now run upstairs and tell somebody about that big space rock.”
“No!” Gary yelled. “Stop harassing me!”
“It’s getting closer. And it has little red patches. Looks like lava on that thing. What about that? A big ball covered in lava is coming at us. And you want to watch soap operas.”
Gary turned away from the miniature television and looked out the window again. He realized the octopus was right. The asteroid was getting closer. And there were red patches on it.
“But how would I get upstairs?” Gary asked, trembling. “The garbage associates hardly ever come down here. The doors are locked most of the time. I couldn’t go upstairs if I wanted to.”
You’ve been reading an excerpt from The Quality of Life in Outer Space, available on Amazon. Gary is an eagle with a human head. He takes off on a journey to the top floor of the spaceship and struggles to warn the crew about the oncoming asteroid. He learns some shocking secrets along the way. The book is aimed at younger readers, but adults would get a laugh out of it too. The paperback is $5 plus shipping and handling. The Kindle edition is $1.99. You can click here to order.