Thursday, April 30, 2020

Review of "The Long Patrol," episode 5 of the Battlestar Galactica original series


Review of

The Long Patrol, episode 5 of the Battlestar Galactica original series


Three out of five stars

Weak tries at unnecessary humor

 The story opens with the newly reopened Rising Star, a space equivalent of a luxury dining car, hosting Starbuck on a dinner date. He volunteered to go on a solo deep patrol and as a consequence was put near first on the list of patrons. Since Athena was scheduled to work, he made a dinner date with Cassiopeia. However, when Athena is able to cut short her control room duty, both women are there at the same time. In some sense, he is saved by an urgent call to return to the Galactica. This is the first try at humor.

 He is flying a modified Viper that is faster than anything else but has no laser generators. His mission is to examine a cluster of planetoids, looking for life and evidence of Cylon penetration. The Viper has a new computer system called C.O.R.A. that is capable of interacting with Starbuck and flying the ship. It has a seductive human female voice, and this begins a human-machine flirtation sequence that is the second attempt at humor.

 Starbuck discovers a penal colony where the prisoners make the adult beverage ambrosia and have for generations. Children of criminals are automatically incarcerated with their parents. Children of the enforcers (jailers) also become enforcers. Starbuck upsets this pattern amidst an attack by a Cylon patrol. The patrol is defeated but there is a catastrophic loss of high quality ambrosia.

 The two attempts at humor are weak attempts and were largely unnecessary. It is logical that there would be isolated, small human settlements that the Galactica convoy would encounter. They would be at risk of a Cylon attack and could provide the Galactica convoy with desperately needed resources. With so much room within that area, there is no need to introduce a dining three-way or a seductive computer.

Review of "Who’s In Charge Here, Beetle Bailey," by Mort Walker


Review of

Who’s In Charge Here, Beetle Bailey, by Mort Walker ISBN 0448169320


Four out of five stars

 Beetle Bailey was a comic strip that appeared in the local paper when I was a child and I never missed it. The characters from Beetle Bailey through Sergeant Snorkel and the buxom Miss Buxley to the idiot Zero were all exaggerated to make the point. The strip also included the black Lieutenant Flap, he made his first appearance in 1971 and is presented as just another officer.

 This is demonstrated on the fifth page. The camp chaplain asks Beetle, “Do the men feel differently about Lt. Flap because he’s black?” Beetle responds, “Heck no, chaplain. We think he’s just as big a pain as any other officer.” In other words, rank overpowers skin color. A powerful message for the early seventies.

 This book is a joyous look back at one of the best parodies of army life. Fans of the television show M*A*S*H will recognize many of the basic points of humor.

Review of "Boltwood of Yale," by Gilbert Patten


Review of

Boltwood of Yale, by Gilbert Patten


Four out of five stars

 Copyrighted in 1914, this book is a look back at the style of books written for young men at that time. Roger Boltwood is the son of a very wealthy man and he is about to turn 21. Up to this point his father has supported him and bailed him out of his misadventures that included getting in automobile accidents. His father has reached the point where he has had enough and tells him that as of his twenty-first birthday, he will no longer be supporting him financially.

 Roger is planning on going back to Yale in the fall, even though he had an extremely poor academic performance the past year and did not formally move to the next academic level. Instead of pouting, Roger decides that he is going to make it on his own and plans accordingly. He is fortunate to win an auto race that gives him enough money to register for fall classes.

 Once back on campus in the cheaper dorms with a roommate, Roger applies himself and is convinced to try out for the football team. At first, he is a lower level scrub, but through injuries to those ahead of him and diligent work, he reaches the point where he gets into the lineup on occasion. He has to deal with his former friends, some enemies and a dishonest roommate, but at the end he gets into the big game against Harvard.

 While the story itself is not that exciting, it is interesting due to the style of the writing. Some of the words are outdated in usage, for example a man is referred to as a “gay fellow.” I enjoyed it as a look back in time, something that all people should do as long as they are willing to accept words and phrases that some now find objectionable.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Review of "The Lost Warrior," season 1 episode 4 of Battlestar Galactica


Review of

The Lost Warrior, season 1 episode 4 of Battlestar Galactica


Four out of five stars

Old genre slightly recast

 This episode uses one of the most used scenarios in American entertainment. The western drama was once a staple of television, with the most popular being Gunsmoke that ran for 20 years. Most were based on the hero willing to stand in the street and engage in a gun duel with the evil entity. Battlestar Galactica was science fiction with ships in space and robotic aliens, but this episode is essentially a remake of many previous events in the western genre.

Captain Apollo is on a solo patrol when he encounters a group of Cylons. He leads them away from the fleet until he runs out of fuel and crash lands on the planet Equellus. It is populated by humans that farm, raise livestock and dress like people in the old west. Most men also carry firearms that fire projectiles and the dueling code is still active. In other words, two men can engage in a fast draw.

 The local village has been taken over by a man called La Certa, his strength comes from a Cylon called Red Eye that accepts his commands. Since Red Eye is impervious to kinetic weapons, they must comply when La Certa demands tribute in livestock and crops. Once Apollo understands that Red Eye is isolated and not part of a Cylon contingent, he is free to challenge him in a classic western duel.

 Apollo is very much the stranger that comes into town and becomes the hero, rescuing the village from the tyrant before departing. Seen many times before without the robot and laser pistols, it is an old story that works fairly well.

Review of "Faberge Treasures Jigsaw Puzzle Book"


Review of

Faberge Treasures Jigsaw Puzzle Book, ISBN 0810911868


Five out of five stars

Exquisite artwork in jigsaw puzzles

 Decades ago, I had the privilege of touring the Hermitage Museum in what is now St. Petersburg. While there I am certain that I saw replicas or work created in the Faberge style and may have even seen one or two originals. Suffice to say that they were some of the most impressive works of art that you will ever see.

 This book contains images of eight of the works in the form of four small two-sided jigsaw puzzles. The puzzles themselves have only 12 pieces, so there is no real challenge to putting them together. Two pages are reserved for brief descriptions of the depicted works. An art book expressed as a puzzle book; this is an excellent gift for people that enjoy both.

Review of "Captain America: Civil War," DVD


Review of

Captain America: Civil War, DVD


Five out of five stars

Super friends battle over principle

 When superheroes battle their evil counterparts, there is almost always major collateral damage. It is a rare occasion when they meet in a remote area such as the Sahara Desert. These battles also often include the deaths or serious injury of innocent bystanders. Concerned about this, governments around the world have banded together under the United Nations banner to write a series of regulations governing the superhero group the Avengers.

 Captain America (Steve Rogers) is opposed to signing the new law while Iron Man (Tony Stark) is strongly in favor. This creates a major rift in the Avengers with the others being forced to take sides. At first the conflict is verbal only, but there is an incident where it breaks out into open conflict. Hence the term “Civil War.” It is superhero against superhero in a battel that shatters unity and leads to hostility and serious injury. Tony Stark is torn when he visits the penal facility where some of the Avengers are being held under special and very restrictive controls.

 The action is intense with a great deal of hand-to-hand fighting. It would seem unlikely that Captain American would stand a chance against the armored Iron Man, but he holds his own. Punches and other items are thrown, bodies fly and there is some literal blood drawn. The dialog is also very good, while there are a few instances where a clichĂ© is dropped, they are very rare.

 Two high points of the dialog were very amusing. When Tony Stark is trying to convince Peter Parker (Spider-Man) to leave town and aid him in his task of rounding up the renegade Avengers his response is, “I can’t, I have homework.” The second is the cameo by legend Stan Lee. He plays a deliveryman with a package for “Tony Stank.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review of "The Ambergris Element," episode 13 of Star Trek the animated series


Review of

The Ambergris Element, episode 13 of Star Trek the animated series


Three out of five stars

Transformation from air-breathing to aquatic is questionable

 Kirk and Spock are in a submersible shuttle craft investigating a planet that is almost all water. It is subject to severe “earthquakes” that have in the past caused massive amounts of landmass to be lowered into the sea.

 While skimming the surface and gathering data, the shuttle craft is attacked by a giant sur-snake. They are able to repel the first attack, but when it attacks again, it destroys the shuttle craft. Kirk and Spock are thrown from the craft and when they recover, they are now aquatic, unable to survive on land. To have any hope of being human again, they must go back under water and seek out the intelligent humanoids that live there.

 After a debate among the leaders of the aquatic creatures, they agree to let Kirk and Spock go to their submerged hall of records to search for information regarding how to transform back. The aquatic creatures are weary of air breathers, for there was apparently hostile feelings between the two groups in the past.

 The problem with this episode is the ease with which the transformation takes place. There are no side effects or consequential traumas to what would have to be a massive alteration of body structure. The acquisition of the antidote is also a bit overplayed.

Review of "The Slaver Weapon," episode 14 of Star Trek, the animated series


Review of

The Slaver Weapon, episode 14 of Star Trek, the animated series


Four out of five stars

Powerful ancient technology up for grabs

 Spock, Sulu and Uhura are on a shuttle craft containing a precious cargo. It is a box from the long-dead race known as the slavers. Several other boxes have been discovered and they have contained many things, from being empty to incredible technology that the Federation has adapted. In the opening, it is mentioned that one of the boxes contained a device that was modified to provide the artificial gravity tools used in spaceships.

 When the box starts glowing, it is a signal that there is another slaver box nearby. Unable to pass up a chance to acquire another slaver box, Spock orders the shuttle craft landed near the source of the signal. Once there, they are captured by the Kzinti, a catlike species that is a sworn enemy of the Federation. They also have a slaver box, but it is empty, so they used it as a lure to attract any ship that would be carrying a slaver box.

 The Kzinti open the box and there are some artifacts, including some kind of device with several settings that changes shape when the setting is changed. One setting is a basic laser, but another fires a beam that creates a nuclear explosion. At that point, the three Enterprise officers understand that they cannot allow the Kzinti to keep the weapon, for they could use the knowledge to defeat the Federation.

 The battle is one of wits as well as the exploitation of the prejudices of the Kzinti. It is a challenge, for the Kzinti are physically superior to humans and Vulcans. At one point, Spock says that the odds of him winning a one-on-one battle between the Kzinti captain and himself are 16 to 1 against. It is a fight cleverly carried out and one where the outcome is the complete defeat of the Kzinti. It is interesting to note that the voices of all the Kzinti were done by James Doohan.

Review of "Post-Deng China: Some Encouraging and Not So Encouraging Signs," by Winberg Chai


Review of

Post-Deng China: Some Encouraging and Not So Encouraging Signs, by Winberg Chai


Five out of five stars

 This short position paper was written and presented on March 18, 1997, approximately one month after the death of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. There is no question that Deng was the architect of the incredible transformation of China from an economically weak country into arguably the highest performing economy in the world. In this paper, the author briefly discusses the recent history of China, the position of Taiwan relative to China and the world and what the predictions are for the immediate future.

 The positions put forward are in essence accurate, yet significantly understated regarding the results. At the time of Deng’s death, no one could have predicted the meteoric rise of China to economic pre-eminence. Yet, one can see within the prose predictions of such an event. The author is correct about the results, just a bit short on the magnitude. The paper closes with the memorial speech made by Jiang Zemin for Deng Xiaoping. Deng’s policies have been adapted to conform to modern technologies, but not fundamentally altered.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Review of "Images of America: Cedar Rapids, Iowa," by George Henry


Review of

Images of America: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by George Henry and The History Center ISBN 0738519243


Five out of five stars

The history of a city through snapshots

 As a lifelong resident of the Cedar Rapids area, many of the references are familiar to me and some of those with a later date I can recall. The earliest photographs were taken in the last few decades of the nineteenth century, when the modern era was in its infancy. An image of the Salvation Army Hall taken in 1890 clearly shows a utility pole and a streetlight.

  To me, the most interesting photo was of the first graduating class of Washington High School. There were only six graduates, but four were female and two were male. Given the common history of the time, where females were generally not educated, this was surprising. Most of the images involving people are posed, it is entertaining to see what passes for attire in those times. Professional men wore suits and ties and nearly all of the women had full buttoned collars and all wore hats when they were outdoors.

 History is largely the recounting of events, yet some of the most interesting is based on how things looked at specific times. Not only the buildings, but also the people.

Review of "The ‘50s Volume 1:1954-54, Life in Dubuque as pictured in The Telegraph Herald"


Review of

The ‘50s Volume 1:1954-54, Life in Dubuque as pictured in The Telegraph Herald ISBN 9780981980683


Five out of five stars

 This book contains minor history of the city of Dubuque, Iowa, that is what it is designed to do, so it must be given five stars. The photographs are generally posed and they are the type of images that are common to local papers that are covering local events. There are pictures of school events, Boys and Girls clubs events and outings, children sledding and playing in parks and women meeting in order to do volunteer and community work.

 The photographer that writes the introduction admits that given there were only two frames in the camera, they had the shot posed if at all possible. Dubuque was a fairly typical medium sized midwestern town in the 1950’s and these images reinforce the public images of the stereotypes. On the surface, all was well and good at that time, there are no hints of any of the darker undercurrents of racism, sexism and the political unrest of the Red Scare.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Review of "Then & Now: Cedar Rapids Downtown and Beyond," by George T. Henry and Mark W. Hunter


Review of

Then & Now: Cedar Rapids Downtown and Beyond, by George T. Henry and Mark W. Hunter 

ISBN 0738539651

Five out of five stars

The development of a city shown via comparison snapshots

 As a lifelong resident of the Cedar Rapids area, I can create a mental picture of nearly all the locations illustrated in these before and after snapshots. Some of the structures are in my personal memory banks and I have even been inside some of the buildings that no longer exist or have been repurposed. Cities are dynamic entities with parts being built, often modified and then torn down in order to be replaced by something different. Not always better, just new and different.

 If you are interested in how the city of Cedar Rapids has changed over the last hundred years or so, this is a book that you should scan. It also makes an excellent coffee table book that you can pick and enjoy during odd moments of relaxation.

Review of "The Big Book of Baseball Brain Teasers," by Dom Forker et. al.


Review of

The Big Book of Baseball Brain Teasers, by Dom Forker et. al. ISBN 1402713371


Five out of five stars

An exploration of some of the arcane baseball rules

 What makes this book interesting is that many of the situations actually happened and even those that may not have taken place plausibly could. A scenario is put forward and the reader is given the opportunity to express their opinion until the rule is stated and explained. The circumstances are as unusual as a ball getting stuck in the umpire’s equipment to the specific definitions of what constitutes interference. Some of them are once in a decade events.

 For example, the rules state very clearly that the outcome is quite different if the batted ball has passed a fielder or not. Another example covers when a player is tossed from the game while there is a play involving him still active. A third deals with a dropped third strike and whether a player that has walked toward the dugout can still run to first base.

 This book is a jewel for the baseball trivia buff. My favorite rule was, “If no other rule can be applied, it is the judgement of the head umpire that will prevail.”

Review of "Modesty Blaise: Children of Lucifer," by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Badia Romero


Review of

Modesty Blaise: Children of Lucifer, by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Badia Romero


Five out of five stars

Modesty goes beyond for Willie

This set of three stories featuring Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin demonstrate once again how committed they are to each other without there being a sexual component. Modesty even accepts being sexually used so that she can buy time for Willie and his allies to prepare for an escape.

 In the first one, called “The Hanging Judge,” a ruthless criminal that had his sentence extended is out for revenge against the official that did that. He is out of prison now and has captured the daughter of that official and is torturing her and capturing it on video. The official and his wife are neighbors of Modesty and they turn to her and Willie for help. The daughter is very clever and manages to send a signal to them that gives her location. Using their usual methods, they are able to rescue her, and she is smitten by Willie.

 The second one is “Children of Lucifer” and it involves a satanic cult that is a front for a major drug dealing business. The cult provides the drugs for several major organized crime syndicates and it is a double front. The leader of the cult is having their leaders gather for a meeting at which he plans to assassinate them.

 To protect their secrets the muscle operatives of the cult knock a woman unconscious on a ski slope and leave her for dead. Modesty, her man of the moment and Willie find her and rescue her. The man is a doctor, so he is able to quickly revive her so that she can tell them what is happening. Modesty calls another one of her men that is an FBI agent and he sends a team. All Willie and Modesty need to do is avoid the enforcers long enough for them to get there.

 The last one, called “Death Symbol” is by far the best of the three. In it we learn that Willie was once a member of the French Foreign Legion and when his unit was ambushed, Willie was wounded in the leg, and his friend saved his life. The daughter of that friend has been abducted and is being held as a sex slave in a redoubt in Tibet. That valley has been taken over by a unit of deserters from the Chinese army, so the natives there are also slaves.

 In order to get access and acquire intelligence, Modesty allows herself to be captured and used by the leader. Willie and some of the other locals then manage to destroy their munitions dump and free the girls. At the end, when they are on the plane, Willie expresses his appreciation for what Modesty did. Her response is, “Shut up and let me sleep.”

 These stories demonstrate once again how Modesty Blaise was a comic hero that was well before her time. So much has been made of other female comic heroes such as Wonder Woman, yet Modesty had no powers and was the best of them all.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Review of "We Were Soldiers," DVD version


Review of

We Were Soldiers, DVD version


Five out of five stars

The start of Americanization of the Vietnam War

 This is a powerful movie in many aspects. The first is the dramatic war action where the combat deaths of thousands of men are depicted. It is brutal, savage and unforgiving, just as close quarter combat is. The second is the undercurrent of how the U. S. military made some colossal mistakes in its prosecution of the war. The battle being depicted is one where the new style of American cavalry, flying into combat on helicopters, is being developed. The third aspect is the home front, where the wives of the men in the unit are being notified of their deaths in combat by telegram delivered by a cabdriver.

 Mel Gibson plays U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, the leader of a battalion being trained for air cavalry operations. He is also an academic and has studied the massacre of a French unit by the Viet Minh in 1954. He is determined to avoid the mistakes of the French, where they did not know the terrain and had no intelligence regarding the strength of the opposing forces.

 When Moore’s 400 man unit is dropped into an area where an American base has been attacked, the American commanders have no idea regarding the number of enemy forces in the area. When a soldier of the North Vietnamese Army is captured, he reveals that the immediate area is the base for a unit of over 4,000 men. Immediately understanding their predicament, Moore prepares his men for a major battle. The action is fierce, yet the Americans hold on, largely due to the American aerial firepower. Orders come down that make no sense to Moore and he ignores them.

 This movie is based on the battle of Ia Trang Valley, the first major engagement between U. S. forces and those of North Vietnam. In terms of casualties, it was an American victory, as nearly 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed. Yet, it was a learning experience for the North Vietnamese commanders, from that point they realized that they must proceed with caution in engaging in a major battle with U. S. forces. The ability of American commanders to call in devastating air strikes meant that anything approaching a siege was suicide.

 This movie also depicts what was one of the primary U. S. tactics. Occupy a region, engage in a firefight, hold it for awhile and then pull out. It was not a war where both sides moved forces along a front in order to expand the territory that they controlled. The ending is powerful as it shows Moore walking up to the section of the Vietnam Memorial wall where the names of the fallen of his unit are etched in stone.

Review of "A Comic History of the United States," by Livingston Hopkins


Review of

A Comic History of the United States, by Livingston Hopkins


Three out of five stars

 While there are many cartoons in this book, a more apt title would be “A Comedic History of the United States.” It contains a series of jokes that often only somewhat follow history. Most are not that funny and seem designed to be more nonsensical than require an understanding of the historical allusions. For example, it is not necessary to understand the fundamentals of the Monroe Doctrine in order to follow the section about President James Monroe.

 This book was first published in 1880, so by reading it, you are looking back at how humor was written in that era. It certainly was different from modern satire and farce and has not traveled well.

Review of "One Size Doesn’t Fit All," by John Madden with Dave Anderson


Review of

One Size Doesn’t Fit All, by John Madden with Dave Anderson ISBN 0394563131


Five out of five stars

 Madden at his stream of consciousness best

 In my opinion, there will never be a football broadcast pair that will be able to equal Pat Summerall and John Madden. Both of them were football experts, but in many ways, they had the persona of regular guys. In this book, John Madden goes from topic to topic, sometimes with no real thread between two in sequence.

 He talks about his life, on and off the road, as well as his approach to things. He is not one to adopt the appearance of a dandy and he often talks about his simple tastes in food. When he reached the point where his claustrophobia was too great to allow him to fly, he began taking trains. However, since the trains do not provide complete coverage of all locations where football is played, a bus was modified to be his traveling motel room.

 Part of Madden’s broadcast persona was to be humorous when you were not sure if he actually meant it to be. He was folksy, yet you never doubted that he was an expert on football. Many people that watched games that he called did not know that his winning percentage as a coach was 0.759, the highest in the modern era. Even better than that of the storied Bill Belicheck. He drafted and molded many hall of fame players, some of which were rejected by other teams.

 This book is not full of deep thoughts, just those of a guy that loved what he did, on the field, in the broadcast booth and everywhere else.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Review of "Dirt," episode 25, season 3 of Gunsmoke


Review of

Dirt, episode 25, season 3 of Gunsmoke


Five out of five stars

Sometimes it takes a bullet to wake a man up

 Beulah is a woman considered by nearly everyone as the human equivalent of dirt. However, there is one man in Dodge that does not. Unfortunately, from her perspective, that man is going to marry another woman. The family of the prospective bride does not consider the wedding to be appropriate, the brother of the bride is steeped in southern tradition and openly expresses his opposition to the wedding.

 The wedding takes place right on schedule, but when the bride and groom are traveling in the buggy after the wedding, the groom is shot. Fortunately, while the wound is serious, it is not fatal. Beulah is found next to the man, so once the bride’s brother is eliminated as a suspect, Beulah is suspected. Certain items of the groom’s are found in Beulah’s residence and she confesses to having shot him.

 The episode then takes a dramatic turn, which is clearly the best path for all concerned. At the end, it is an odd romance, one worthy of a western themed show. In an amusing twist, Chester in the one catching the bouquet and Matt asks him about having a wedding. It is a nice scene involving the bromance between Matt and Chester.

Review of "Buchanan’s Range War," by Jonas Ward


Review of

Buchanan’s Range War, by Jonas Ward


Five out of five stars

 Don Porado is a man that possesses documents of old Spanish land grants to vast regions of territory. Some of that land is owned by Billy Button and Porado is determined to acquire it. Billy, his wife Nora and their young son are the closest thing that Buchanan has to family. To put pressure on Billy, Porado has his giant goon beat him nearly to death. This brings Buchanan and his friend Coco Bean back to Billy’s place and makes them frontline soldiers in a vicious range war.

 This story is a bit different from the other Buchanan stories in that he drops his extreme reluctance to kill, openly stating that the opponents deserve to be killed. Vastly outnumbered, Buchanan is able to engage them in a series of small skirmishes where small numbers of the opposition are killed. There is a climactic final battle and an epilogue. Once again, Buchanan is the target of some temptation to settle down by a widow woman that fights alongside him.

 This is another of the Buchanan stories where you know that he will prevail in the end, yet still find it exciting and entertaining.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Review of "The Survivor," episode 6 of the Star Trek animated series


Review of

The Survivor, episode 6 of the Star Trek animated series


Five out of five stars


The (re?)kindling of an interspecies romance

 This episode has some aspects of “The Man Trap,” the first episode of the original series to be broadcast. In that episode a being is capable of altering its appearance in order to accomplish nefarious acts.

While patrolling the Romulan Neutral Zone, the Enterprise encounters a man that has been lost for years and beam him aboard the Enterprise. He appears to be Carter Winston, a well-known philanthropist that once used his fortune to buy food for a colony that was on the brink of starvation. His former fiancé, security officer Lieutenant Anne Nored, is onboard the Enterprise, but Winston jilts her, telling her that it is over between them.

 Winston is in fact a Vendorian, a creature capable of assuming any shape of equal size. He is a Romulan spy, sent to the Enterprise to impersonate Captain Kirk and order the ship into the neutral zone. Once there, it can be intercepted by the Romulans and taken as a prize. However, the Vendorian’s long association with the real Carter Winston has impressed many of his traits on it, including his love for Nored.

 When the Romulans attempt to capture the Enterprise, the Vendorian assumes the form of a missing deflector shield, saving the Enterprise from being captured. The Vendorian then willingly is arrested as a spy and accepts its fate. At the end, Nored agrees to be his jailor and there is the potential (re?)kindling of an interspecies romance.

 As humans move out of the solar system, they will no doubt encounter other beings, most of which will be quite strange and bizarre. Of course, humans will be strange and bizarre to them as well. In this episode, the prime alien is capable of absorbing human traits along with assuming the form. Of all the speculated forms that aliens could take, an intelligent shape-shifter is one of the most plausible. On Earth we have chameleons that can change color and other creatures that can dramatically alter their appearance.

Review of "The Lorelei Signal," episode 4 of the Star Trek animated series


Review of

The Lorelei Signal, episode 4 of the Star Trek animated series


Five out of five stars

Uhura takes charge

 This episode is memorable for in it Lieutenant Uhura takes command of the Enterprise in a very forceful way. This was the first time that a female had a command position on the Enterprise. A certain area of space is known for somehow absorbing starships on a periodic basis and the Enterprise is sent to investigate.

 There is a colony of females on a planet and they are able to send out a signal similar to that of the Sirens of Greek mythology. Males find the sounds irresistible, while females simply find them annoying. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and another crewman beam down and have bands placed on their heads that drain their life energy and age them rapidly. The women on the planet can remain immortal if they drain male life energy on a regular basis.

 Once it is clear that the males on the Enterprise are being rendered useless, Uhura takes command and then leads a rescue team down to the planet. When confronted, her “Phasers on stun, fire!” command is worthy of anything Kirk could muster. Once the opposing women are subdued, they manage to find the missing members of the Enterprise crew and restore them to health.

 This is my favorite episode of the animated series, aired for the first time in 1973, it featured one of several cinematic firsts, a black woman in command, that are the proud property of the Star Trek legacy.

Review of "Modesty Blaise: The Jericho Caper, The Killing Ground, Bad Suki," by Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway


Review of

Modesty Blaise: The Jericho Caper, The Killing Ground, Bad Suki, by Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway


Five out of five stars

Modesty and Willie battle evil once again

 There are three distinct stories in this collection, all are excellent and demonstrate Modesty and Willie at their do-gooding and ferocious best. The first is called “The Jericho Caper” and it has Modesty in a Central American village enjoying a peaceful respite. When armed men come and rob the store and take three young women back with them, Modesty is prompted to action. She summons Willie and together they travel to the camp of the men and free the women and replace the leader of the men. They use subterfuge as well as plenty of deadly force. They are truly a two-person army.

 The second story is “The Killing Ground,” and it opens with Modesty and Willing being tied up on a boat. An old adversary is going to release them on an island and then have his team of hired killers track them down and kill them. The deck is even further stacked against them, the supplies and equipment they were given are all sabotaged. However, this is of course Modesty and Willie, so one-by-one they defeat their opponents and win the day.

 The third story, “Bad Suki,” is the best of the three. It opens with Willie saving the life of a young woman that is high on drugs. With nowhere else to go, he takes her to Modesty’s place, and she cleans her up and puts her to bed. The woman is angry and resentful and stomps away. This is the opening where Modesty and Willie take on a ruthless drug gang. Unlike many of their other actions, there is no quarter given by Modesty and Willie, although they must escape from a Houdini-like deathtrap. It shows Modesty and Willie at their idealistic best, risking their lives to defeat a gang that they detest, making the fight against drugs personal.

 There is no better fighting team than Modesty and Willie, and in many ways the strip was ahead of its time. For Modesty is not only a great fighter, she is also the undisputed leader of the team, commanding great respect from all that know her.

Review of "Buchanan Says No," by Jonas Ward


Review of

Buchanan Says No, by Jonas Ward


Five out of five stars

Tough man to right a rough town

 This story opens with Buchanan a trail hand on a cattle drive with very questionable origins. The men on the drive are all gun hands and the cattle are of dubious origin. He has what can be considered a friend in Mike Sandoe and they have arrived at their destination. They expected a paymaster to arrive at their location, but the man is late. Annoyed and with his ever-present desire to move on, Buchanan decides to leave the camp and head into Bella, the town where the paymaster is located. Sandoe goes with him.

 It is a town mostly owned by a man named Frank Power, at least the good parts. There is a local sheriff, but he is largely owned by Power. Not one to take kindly to being told what to do and being denied their rightful pay, Buchanan and Sandoe quickly run afoul of the powers of the city and end up in jail after getting beat up on.

 The story is fairly typical of the Buchanan series, all he wants is what he is due, but circumstances force him to intervene in what he does not believe to be his fight. There is plenty of action and a lengthy buildup to what is the climactic showdown that Buchanan would rather not have. Through it all, he has his choice of women, but in true Buchanan style, he declines with politeness. It is a great, light western story that you will enjoy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Review of "Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do," by Kevin Smith and Terry Dodson


Review of

Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do, by Kevin Smith and Terry Dodson ISBN 078511095x


Five out of five stars

Hero-villain bonding over sexual assault

 Former Peter Parker and Spider-Man flame Felicia Hardy (Black Cat) returns to New York when one of her old friends disappears. There is a powerful criminal gang peddling drugs and she puts her Black Cat costume back on in order to investigate. At the same time Spider-Man is watching the same gang as an honor student with no known history of drug usage has died of an unusual overdose. There were no marks on his body to mark the point of entry.

 Even though Peter Parker is married to MJ, there is an immediate spark between him and the Black Cat. There are repeated instances of sexual innuendo, including a self-reference to Black Cat’s ample cleavage. She is one of the hottest of the comic super heroines, a fact that she is well aware of.

 There is also a very serious side to this story. One of the main villains is a mutant capable of teleporting objects and he confesses to Felicia the sexual abuse that he experienced at the hands of his brother. Felicia then bonds with him by describing the time when she was raped. Even though the villain is a killer, there is immediate empathy for him.

 This is one of the best graphic novels ever published, it has action, great dialog and a powerful social message to both male and female victims of sexual abuse.

Review of "Dark Star," episode 31 of season 1 of Bonanza


Review of

Dark Star, episode 31 of season 1 of Bonanza


Four out of five stars

Gypsy wagons enter the Ponderosa

 This episode is based on the basic biases that people had against the gypsy people. They were considered a superstitious lot as well as shifty and will steal anything they want. When Hoss and Little Joe find an injured woman on the Ponderosa, they take her back to their house and have her examined by a doctor. She is beautiful and Little Joe is immediately attracted to her, even though she bites his hand.

 A small gypsy caravan arrives on the Ponderosa and that woman is from that band. She is considered to be possessed by evil; hence she is called Dark Star. She has been rejected by the band and she considers herself an exile from all of humanity as a consequence of what she believes is her possession.

 Ben tries to convince the leader of the gypsy band to take her back and is amused when the leader invites his family to a pig roast that they are having as long as Ben brings the pig. There is thievery, hints of evil magic, Little Joe falling for Dark Star and one of the gypsy men going into a murderous rage over it. All things that fit into the stereotypes of gypsy people and acceptable in television of the late fifties.

 The story ends on a down note, yet it was a predictable outcome. There are some amusing scenes where the gypsy leader openly admits to his malfeasance to Ben and succeeds in talking his way out of it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Review of "Johnny Unitas," by Joel H. Cohen


Review of

Johnny Unitas, by Joel H. Cohen


Four out of five stars

 Although his career stats have long been eclipsed by subsequent quarterbacks, Johnny Unitas can still get votes as the greatest of all time or GOAT. He played in an era when quarterbacks and receivers could both get hit more frequently and with greater force. It was much harder for a receiver to run a predictable route when the defenders could hit them at any time before the ball was in the air.  

 This is the story of the man considered the best quarterback of the decade of the sixties, a few years after he engineered a victory in what many consider the greatest game of all time, the 1958 NFL championship game. It was also the game that is credited with turning the NFL into a national sport. Unitas was the quarterback for the winning Baltimore Colts.

 Unitas was known for being an unpredictable play caller and an unchallenged leader on the field. He also knew that it was a team game and that without solid support from his teammates, he and the team would not succeed. Written at the level of the middle school reader, this is a good rendition of the life of a man that will always remain a legend of the game.

Review of "Blood On the Land," episode 22 of season 1 of Bonanza


Review of

Blood On the Land, episode 22 of season 1 of Bonanza


Three out of five stars

 Implausible premise that is well played

  Jeb Drummond has a flock of sheep, a crew to move them across the land and an attitude that nothing will stand in his way. When they reach the boundary of the Ponderosa, one of his men refuses to ride against Ben Cartwright. Unwilling and unable to tolerate any dissent, Drummond deals harshly with his former hand.

 This sets up a major clash of wills between Drummond and Ben Cartwright, Drummond is first determined to take his sheep across the Ponderosa on his way to California and then to actually take the land from the Cartwrights. To do this, he takes Adam hostage and will kill him unless Ben signs over some of his land.

 This is an episode that shows Ben Cartwright in a somewhat negative light. When Adam counsels him to seek the help of the sheriff, Ben refuses, demonstrating a stubbornness nearly equal to that of Drummond. This is where the premise is implausible, no person could possibly think that such a scheme to rob a man of his land would ever work. In the end, Drummond is exposed for what he is, and the Cartwrights gain a friend.

 Throughout the series, Ben Cartwright is portrayed as a man of integrity that follows the law. In this episode, he expresses a willingness to go to guns and risk their lives before he goes to the law and speaks very harshly to Adam about the issue.  Although at the end, he acknowledges the error of his ways.

Review of "Revolt on Alpha C," by Robert Silverberg


Review of

Revolt on Alpha C, by Robert Silverberg


Three out of five stars

When there is a revolution, you must pick a side

 Larry Stark is a young cadet in the Space Patrol, the government organization that is the space military. Humans have established colonies and bases all the way out to Pluto in the solar system as well as in the planetary system around Alpha Centauri. Propulsion systems have improved dramatically to the extent that ships can travel between the sun and Alpha Centauri in a matter of weeks.

 Larry is a member of the crew of a ship traveling from the Earth system to Alpha C, the main planet of the Alpha Centauri system that has been colonized. While on that ship, he interacts with some of the crew members that work in maintenance. He discovers that their perspective is different from his, while they are careful, they express some revolutionary feelings. For the people of Alpha C are primed for a revolt against being controlled from Earth. The revolution becomes explicit while Larry in on Alpha C and he must decide whether he is to remain loyal to Earth and fight for the Space Patrol or to join the revolution.

 This is a good but not great book of adolescent science fiction; it presents a choice that many people have unfortunately had to make. For when there is a revolt against the primary government authority, it is necessary for nearly all people that can fight to pick a side.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Review of "Spider-Man: The Venom Saga," DVD version


Review of

Spider-Man: The Venom Saga, DVD version


Four out of five stars

The animation is quite good for the mid 1990’s and the story is as well. Venom is one of the best villains that Spider-Man faces, for he is more than a match for the web crawler. Venom is in fact an alien parasite that blends in with the host, turning them into an evil entity. In this temporal sequence of stories, the parasite first blends with Spider-Man, he just manages to overcome the influence before it transfers to a more suitable host, at least from the perspective of the parasite. The other host is Eddie Brock, failed news photographer that has a deep hatred of Spider-Man and Peter Parker.

 There are many battles and Spider-Man is bounced around a great deal. At one point, he is aided by both War Machine and Iron Man in his battle with his foes.  Over the course of these adventures, staple villains such as the Kingpin, the Shocker, the Rhino and Dormammu also appear. In the end, there is a touching example of self-sacrifice that serves to put the normal universe back on an even keel.

 The story also features the astronaut son of J. Jonah Jameson, giving the writers the opportunity to present J.J.J. in a more human light. He expresses love for his son and lightens up a bit towards the rest of the world. Venom is a villain like some of the other classic foes of Spidey, if it appears that it is gone forever, you hope that the people at Marvel are able to concoct a plausible explanation for its return.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Review of "Q-In-Law," by Peter David


Review of

Q-In-Law, by Peter David ISBN 0671733893


Five out of five stars

Lwaxana Troi faces down Q

 This novel features two of the most entertaining characters in the next generation universe, Q and Lwaxana Troi, the mother of Deanna Troi. Two longtime warring families, the Nistral and the Graziunas have agreed to stop fighting and celebrate the unifying marriage of the son of the Nistral leader and the daughter of the Graziunas leader. The marriage is to be aboard the Enterprise and many diplomatic dignitaries are in attendance, including Lwaxana.

 When she arrives, Lwaxana states that she is in mourning over her daughter’s inability to find a mate. She also still has some thoughts of pursuing Picard, a prospect he tries to avoid. Q appears and while he annoys the crewmembers of the Enterprise, by the customs of the Nistral and Graziunas, he must be treated as another honored guest.

 The amusing aspect of this story is that Q and Lwaxana become romantically involved and it turns out that Lwaxana is more than a match for Q. She gives new meaning to the old phrase about the wrath of a woman scorned. Even Worf is amused at the consequences of Q’s actions and Lwaxana’s response. War is averted and Q is put in his place, not a bad outcome for a good story.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Review of "Germ Warfare, episode 11 of season 1 of M*A*S*H"


Review of

Germ Warfare, episode 11 of season 1 of M*A*S*H


Four out of five stars

The demise of Spearchucker

 The main characters of the show are now being fully defined with the minor characters being set aside. This episode is the last appearance of Spearchucker Jones, a black physician. Supposedly, the character was dropped because there were no black physicians in the Korean War. That of course was false, the American armed forces were integrated at that time. The reality is that there was no room for the character in the series. With Henry Blake, Hawkeye, Trapper, Frank Burns, Radar and now Hot Lips, a seventh main character was unneeded.

 In this episode, a North Korean man is occupying a hospital bed and Frank Burns wants him gone. At first Henry Blake agrees, but he softens to allow the man to stay in camp for 24 hours as long as he does not take up a hospital bed. When the man needs blood, it is discovered that Frank Burns is the only person in camp with that type.

 Hawkeye and Trapper tap Frank for a pint when he is sleeping and they transfuse the blood into the North Korean, afterwards the patient reacts as if he has hepatitis. Since it could have come from Frank, Hawkeye and Trapper must keep Frank from operating or having any interaction with others until he tests clear. Since he and Hot Lips are desperate for a tryst, they must do all they can to keep Frank isolated until they can confirm that he is free of hepatitis.

 Spearchucker has only a few lines, there is an emphasis on the relationship between Hot Lips and Frank. It is clear at this point that the character is superfluous to the continuing evolution of the main characters. Linville has polished his repertoire of facial expressions, mannerisms and tones of voice that will make him one of the most attractive villains in comedy. He has always been an underappreciated actor in the series. When it comes to physical comedy, he was hands down the best in the show.

Review of "Between Heaven and Earth: A History of Chinese Writing," by Shi Bo


Review of

Between Heaven and Earth: A History of Chinese Writing, by Shi Bo ISBN 1590300505


Five out of five stars

 The structure of Chinese writing is fascinating, albeit very difficult for western eyes. Constructed from pictograms, the characters are based on reduced representations of the objects they depict. They have changed significantly over time, becoming more simple in structure. This book follows the modifications of some of the characters over time. It is also a brief history lesson about the various dynasties that ruled China throughout its long history. The first entry in the chronology is twenty-first to sixteenth century B.C.E.

 One of the most interesting statements is that Mao Zedong is considered one of the best calligraphers of his time. Many other significant people in the history of Chinese calligraphy are also mentioned and given appropriate credit.

 Given the length of time the Chinese have been writing, it is natural that their language would have evolved a great deal. With the rise of extensive literacy, it is very helpful to simplify the language so that the masses can understand. As can be seen from this book, that evolution is logical and sometimes led to violent events.

Review of "Plunked," by Michael Northrop


Review of

Plunked, by Michael Northrop ISBN 9780545297158


Five out of five stars

 The fear that is part of the game

 Jack Mogens is a Little League baseball player, an outfielder and a good hitter. He goes through the spring tryouts and is named the starting left fielder. Since everyone plays in Little League, this means that he will get the majority of the playing time. He has several close friends on the team, and he has a special eye for Katie, the team’s talented shortstop.

 There is an incident where Jack experiences the innate fear of baseball players, getting hit in the head by a pitch. While there is no serious injury, he becomes a little fearful of inside pitches. Unfortunately, before he can recover psychologically from the hit, another pitch hits him in the ribs. Painful and scary, but with no serious injury.

 The remainder of the story describes how Jack battles his personal demons in trying to get himself to stand in at the plate and not flinch from the inside pitches. Even though he lies about things, he never really fools his friends, family or coaches. They stand by him as he works through and overcomes his fear.

 This is a good adolescent sports book, for it is not about the game so much as it is about dealing with the adversity of a bad incident. All batters get hit at some point, some in the head. To get back up and stand in tight is something many people have to do. Jack does it eventually and produces a valuable lesson.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Review of "Henry, Please Come Home," episode 9 of season 1 of M*A*S*H television series


Review of

Henry, Please Come Home, episode 9 of season 1 of M*A*S*H television series

Four out of five stars

 Henry Blake can be decisive when motivated

 Like all new television shows, it took a few rounds of episodes until M*A*S*H managed to hit its stride. This episode is not quite halfway through the first season and seasoned viewers of the show will note that there are still some rough edges.

 Due to the high level of success of the 4077, Henry Blake is given a commendation and promoted to a position in Tokyo, leaving Frank Burns in charge. Always one to throw his weight around when he can, Frank tries to make the atmosphere more military and advances his command and control. He of course alienates the people under his command.

 Desperate to get out from under Frank Burns, Hawkeye and Trapper concoct a scheme to convince Henry to come back and retake command. They succeed and things quickly get back to “normal” at the 4077.

 One interesting feature of these early episodes was the character of Spearchucker Jones, a black doctor. The character disappeared shortly after this episode in an attempt to maintain what was thought to be the historical fact that there were no black doctors in the Korean War. That was in fact not the case, so the character was removed without justification.

Review of "The Reader," DVD version


Review of

The Reader, DVD version


Five out of five stars

Love and revulsion are simultaneous emotions

 This movie begins as if it is solely a romantic tale of somewhat forbidden love, but it is much more than that. Kate Winslet stars as Hanna Schmitz, a conductor on the city tram lines. David Kross is the teenaged Michael Berg and the original location in Berlin, Germany in 1958. Michael becomes sick while walking the streets and vomits at the entrance to an apartment building. Hanna takes pity on him, cleans him up and helps him go home.

 Michael is diagnosed with scarlet fever, a very dangerous illness at the time and it takes months for him to recover. Once he is well, he revisits Hanna’s apartment with flowers in hand. One thing leads to another and they become lovers, older woman and teenage boy. The affair continues and quickly includes Michael reading to Hanna on a regular basis. He learns that Hanna is illiterate, unable to read or write even the simplest words. There are then flash forwards to an adult Michael where he recollects events in his past and tries to cope with his present. These flash forwards continue for some time.

 Young Michael enters law school and in an advanced seminar they attend the trial of some female Nazi prison camp guards. Hanna is one of the defendants, which strains Michael psychologically. Hanna is found guilty and given a life sentence. Michael is torn, because he knows that Hanna is illiterate and could not have done some of what she was accused of.

 When Hanna is in prison, Michael sends her a tape recorder and cassettes containing books he has put on tapes. Hanna treasures the material and it motivates her to learn to read and write. There is a dramatic conclusion to their relationship and an anticlimax. It is clear from the way it is played that Hanna is the love of Michael’s life, yet he cannot get past her sordid past. He struggles with his complex feelings for her, from love to revulsion at what she once was.

 This is a movie about love between a teen boy and adult woman that lasts, but in a very complex form. It is a reminder that in dark times, people do dark things, sometimes because they are forced to and other times because they consider it their duty. Michael struggles to make sense of his feelings, what Hanna did and at the end he does the right thing, but not to the results he envisioned.