Friday, December 14, 2007

MORE COLLECTIBLES OF THE WEEK: Star Trek Oddities

All right, so I'm re-arranging my home office this morning. This old parlor (built in 1912) is filled with toys, models, and memorabilia, and my desk is a vast mess of sci-fi and horror clutter. I'm currently working on a book, fine tuning some articles, completing a short story, and editing The House Between. Surrounding me at the moment is Electroman (Ideal; 1977), whom I will get around to blogging about at some point, my cats Lila and Ezri, and a calendar, plus stacks of DVD screeners I haven't gotten to yet (Viva Laughlin, anybody?) and more.

So today, while I re-arrange and make some "sanity" space for myself, I'm going to gaze at some of the weirder Star Trek items in my office before I either re-display them or box 'em up and take them out of rotation. And you, lucky reader, get to learn all about them!!!

First, we've got Star Trek: First Contact "flavored lip balm" with a cap that is shaped in the form of the Enterprise E. "Protect and moisturize your lips with our Star Trek lip balm," reads the back of the box. For particularly dangerous away team missions, no doubt. "Its special formulation helps to smooth and protect lips from sun, wind and cold weather. Everyone will enjoy playing and collecting toppers from Star Trek: First Contact." I wonder...is this what the Borg Queen wears? Dr. Crusher?

Next, I'm looking at a Star Trek thirtieth anniversary "commemorative anniversary pen." The box here reads: "In conjunction with Paramount Pictures, to commemorate 30 years of Star Trek, Fisher Space Pen presents the 30th Anniversary Space Pen. This pen's unique cartridge allows you to write in zero-gravity." Ironically, this is how I sign all my Lulu Show LLC checks (in zero gravity), but hopefully not with zero-balance.

Next are - yuck - some collectibles I should have gotten rid of a long time ago, because they are getting increasingly disgusting by the day. I have procrastinated too long, and now Kathryn is giving me strange looks. These are Hollywood Star Trek First Contact chocolate bars. They are a "limited edition," with six different wrappers featuring images of the Next Generation crew. These are also from 1996, which means the candy bars are eleven years old now. I took one off the shelf today and it turned to toxic dust in my fingers. Now I'm breathing it in. I collected all six of these candy bars at the time of the film's release, and just couldn't get rid of them. As per Kathryn, they are going in the trash today. Some collectibles...well...you just have to let go.

Let's see, what's next in my array of oddities? Oh yes, The Star Trek The Next Generation "Phaser Universal Remote Control" from TeleMania. With authentic lights and sounds. It features "Star Trek sound effects on - Volume Up, Volume Down, Channel Up, Channel Down, Power on and Power off." This came out in 1999. I have a weird story to tell about this particular remote control, and I hope you'll forgive me for telling it. Okay, so I'm a spiritual person right, but not a religious one. I am an atheist who believes in quarks and quantum theory, but not conventional "God" imagery. I want to believe in God and the afterlife...but I can't. (Remind me to tell you my Jesus vs. Dracula dream some time....)

So anyway, this remote was a favorite toy of my beloved first cat, Lulu. I don't know why, but that cat used to love this thing. She would always activate it when it was sitting on the night stand or sofa. I always just thought she liked Star Trek. She died on April 17, 2003 of chronic renal failure, and - bear with me - I was heartbroken. But that very night, the first night Lulu was gone (I had buried her late on a very gray afternoon in my parents' backyard, near the house she loved), during the middle of the night while we slept - and far out of my reach - the phaser remote control began randomly firing (set on stun, I think). Not activating the TV, but making the Star Trek sounds. This was unusual in and of itself, since it was set on TV, not for sounds. But why would it activate by itself? As the wanna-be believer, I convinced myself this was my cat's message from beyond the grave. Live long and prosper...

Next up: It's a Star Trek: The Next Generation Dinnerware Set (From Zak Design). It has a cup, bowl and plate. I still have this one mint in box. One day, I'm going to open it and refuse to eat off of anything else. The next day, Kathryn will disown me.

Then, from 1992, I've got Enesco's Star Trek: The Next Generation Playing Cards in Tin Box. If you can't watch Star Trek, the next best thing is playing with a deck of cards, apparently, emblazoned with United Federations of Planets imagery.

Yes, my collection runs deep - and strange.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

COLLECTIBLE OF THE WEEK: Star Trek Talking Alarm Clock (1994, Top Banana)


Now here's a beauty, as Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott might say!

It's a Star Trek talking alarm clock from the early 1990s (and released by a company called Top Banana.) It features "voice alarm sound of communicator" followed by "landing party to Enterprise. Beam us up Scotty."

Then the "transporter beam sound is heard while a shaft of light beams down on the planet's surface."

There's also a "snooze feature," and a four event digital clock. I have two of these now, one in a box, and one loose.

Many years ago, on one of the first nights Kathryn and I had moved into our own home here in Monroe, this alarm clock scared the heck out of us by going haywire in the middle of the night. From the upstairs, it sounded like someone was talking (very loudly...) in our first floor foyer. But no...just the transporter chief.

Energize.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Four Reasons to Love Aurora


DVD REVIEW: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007)

One the most highly-anticipated new dramas of last season, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, from The West Wing (1999-2006) mastermind Aaron Sorkin, was considered, to coin a phrase – a “slam dunk” - to achieve critical acclaim and audience interest. Ultimately, that didn’t prove the case and the self-important series was quickly eclipsed in popularity and hosannas by other newcomers, including NBC’s own Heroes and Friday Night Lights. Now the "Complete Series" is available for your viewing pleasure (or derision...) on DVD.

Gazing back at the series, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip fared poorly for a couple of reasons. The first is that the drama is so relentlessly and dogmatically “liberal” that even the most dedicated progressives (including this author) would still find it maudlin, preachy and condescending. It comes off as hectoring and certainly preaches to the converted. One-sided drama, whether from the right or from the left, is rarely very engaging (unless produced by my hero - and a national treasure - documentarian Michael Moore).

Perhaps more problematic than even its political sermonizing, however, is the fact that the subject matter of the series itself - TV producers creating a Saturday Night Live-style “sketch” program – is treated as though it is literally life and death stuff. The characters are handled not just with incredible seriousness, but nearly religious reverence; their every decision scrutinized as heroic and meaningful and important, as though there could be no higher calling in this day and age than to educate dumb Red State Americans, to bring the glories of liberal sketch comedy to the unwashed masses of the middle United States.

That the sketches themselves when briefly presented on the series are staggeringly unfunny doesn’t exactly help matters either. This is one of those cases where the Emperor wears no clothes, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is more often than not self-important tripe. It’s elitist, and on occasions, insulting.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip follows neurotic TV producer and writer, Matt Albie, played by Matthew Perry, who feels gun-shy and diffident after he was called unpatriotic following the attacks of 9/11 (paging Bill Maher: someone stole your biography...). However, Matt now has the opportunity at network NBS to get his brand of liberal politics back on the air for this new sketch comedy series. On his side, but feeling pressure herself, is Amanda Peet’s newly appointed network programming chief, Jordan McDeere. She wants to do important work, create "meaningful" television (like a pet project about life behind-the-scenes at the United Nations), but her colorful past (including a drunk driving incident; which gets her unwanted attention on Access Hollywood) prevent her from being taken seriously in the industry. She is also stifled by her Machiavellian network boss, Jack Rudolph, played with diabolical glee by Steven Weber.

Meanwhile, Perry’s character, Matt, is paired with producer Whitley Bradford’s Danny, who has grappled with cocaine addiction, but is now older and wiser and serves as the guru of the bunch.

Among the other characters are a black comedian named Simon played by D.L. Hughley, who wonders why there aren’t more black writers on the comedy show; and a Christian “Red State” comedian played by Sarah Paulson, Perry’s on-again/off-again girlfriend, Harriet. She finds some of the liberal humor, like the skit “Science Schmience,” offensive to her religious beliefs, but her character is basically the "straw man" stand-in for conservative beliefs, easily buffeted and knocked down by The Wisdom of Liberals.

In one episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, intern Tom Jeter’s (Nathan Corddry) family arrives from Ohio and is treated by the drama as uninformed rubes. It’s as though they are from another planet and so the audience can feel smug and superior that they, in their liberal wisdom, are smarter than these backward folks. The episode actually attempts to create moral equivalency between one son, who is serving in the military in Iraq, and the other son who is a comedian working on TV. Frankly, this attempted comparison reveals that President Bush isn’t the only one living in an ideological bubble. I believe writers are incredibly important in a free society (and I wholeheartedly support the goals of the writers' currently on strike...), but writers are not putting their life on the line every day to defend a free country. Their mission in Iraq may be flawed, but the soldiers there have sacrificed a lot to serve this nation. The writers of sketch comedy? Not so much...

The same episode finds Simon complaining that there is not one black writer on the show, and so he and Perry’s character trek to a comedy club to meet a hot young comic who is a walking/talking stereotype of black humor (his stand-up material is all “bitches” and “hos”). They then decry how bad this humor is, and in self-important, grandiose language, discuss the issue of why so often African-American humor is based on bad and demeaning language. A more obviously "white friendly" African-American (one who bombs in the night club), is selected instead, apparently because he will stick to the agenda of bleeding heart liberal humor.

And that my friends, is your sermon for the week.

Another episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip finds Christine Lahti guest-starring as a hard-hitting journalist who is covering the show, and who reminds viewers that – nudge, nudge - “popular culture is important.” Sting guest stars in this episode as the show’s musical guest and performs a number that plays as background for Harriet and Perry to reconnect. Here's the thing: I totally agree with Lahti's comment. Pop culture is important. I've devoted my adult life and career (and this blog, and my books...) to popular culture. It tells us where we've been, where we are, and where we might be headed. Film and TV at their best are indeed artistic ventures, worthy of examination and analysis and functioning as valuable, nay indispensable, parts of our society. But Studio 60 is so self-satisfied, so smug in its "correctness" and "value" that even a guy like me - the biggest defender of horror movies you could find blogging today - winces at the self-righteousness of the enterprise.

Aaron Sorkin is known for his whip-smart dialogue, and while it is true that everyone on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip speaks with poise (and a great vocabulary...) at virtually warp speed, none of the character say anything worth listening to; especially for audiences outside of Los Angeles. Instead, every character sounds identical, like an attack of the Sorkin Clones, and everyone mouths inconsequential jargon about “focus groups,” “audience retention” and other behind-the-scenes industry lingo. It may be smart, it may be knowledgeable but it is monumentally uninteresting and ultimately irrelevant; lacking any immediacy or connection to the human experience.

It would be very tempting for me to write a book about the heroic, self-sacrificing efforts of a noble North Carolina writer as he brings his meaningful and artful movie and TV reviews to uninformed readers across middle America. But it would also be self-indulgent and that’s the problem here. Sorkin has succumbed to that very temptation. Again, I feel it important to re-establish that I am - check my reviews, please - a pretty progressive, dare I say "liberal" guy. But this show rubs even me the wrong way and strikes me as very, very misguided. Here's the deal in a nutshell: Borat (2006) makes all the same points about the evils of the Bush Administration ("I support your War on Terror!") but it does so with wit, with humor and without climbing on a soapbox. Studio 60 lectures and points fingers instead. I was once called a liberal of the "brain dead" variety by a crazy fan who didn't like my critique of a science fiction series. If I truly were, I guess I would like Studio 60 more...

Wow, that was hard to write. Let me do a gut check real quick: Yeah, I still despise President Bush and want him impeached. I still think the War on Iraq was wrong. I still believe the War on Terror a stupid frame for a legitimate attack on Afghanistan. I still support gay marriage. I am for the legalization of marijuana. And yes, I still support amending the Constitution to include universal health care as a guaranteed right for all citizens (after all, you can't pursue life, liberty and happiness if you're sick and can't afford the doctor bills).

Yep. Still liberal. But Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is so dogmatic and patronizing it almost converted even me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969)

Journey To The Far Side of the Sun (British title: Doppelganger) was a perennial on WABC Channel 7''s 4:30 pm movie in the mid-to-late 1970s, and as such, an early fascination both for me and my sister. To this day, you can ask my sister about that strange science fiction movie from her youth in which a man removes his eyeball in a red-lit darkroom, or pile-drives his wheelchair into a mirror, and get a visceral response out of her.

This film arises from the stable of British producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who from 1968 to 1975 - a period which encompasses this film, the TV series UFO and the first season of Space:1999 - developed their own signature brand of creepy, speculative tech-horror. What does that brand entail, precisely? It's a simple equation, really: high-tech gadgetry galore (created with an eye towards scientific accuracy, and with elaborate, state-of-the-art costumes, props and miniatures...), a focus on the near future "space age" (which apparently was to occur soon after the 1960s...), and then a macabre, deeply disturbing "twist" that exposes the nature of the universe as being something much less than benevolent. Personally, it's one of my favorite types of drama, and Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is a potent mix of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the James Bond films of the Connery era, and even a little bit of Planet of the Apes (1968). In other words, the film has one foot in the future, one foot in the espionage film craze of the 1960s...and a third foot (!) on the surface of a distant planet where things are off-kilter.

Journey To The Far Side of the Sun dramatizes the story of EuroSec, a European space agency run by the hard-driving Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark), a man who is determined to launch a second Sun Probe to examine a new planet discovered in the solar system, one that we can't observe from Earth because it is constantly on the opposite side of the sun. The first Sun Probe snapped images of the alien world using its "cine camera" and brought back to Earth the "first photographic evidence" of the heretofore undetected planet. This discovery is vetted in a sequence that forecasts today's video-conferencing capability, with Webb making an address and visual presentation to EuroSec members across the globe.

It's here in the story that Gerry and Sylvia Anderson offer one of their trademark themes and motifs, which is one not often featured in science fiction movies, probably because it isn't fun. They present here the notion and plot point that space travel is damn expensive and that it requires a huge amount of funding. This also plays out in Space:1999 episodes such as "Dragon's Domain" and in several UFO episodes, which feature Commander Straker going before the unimpressed faces of bureaucracy to request more funds for SHADO. Again, I see this as a bow to reality and accuracy, and in Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, Webb is able to afford to build the Phoenix - the rocket bound for the alien world - only with the support of NASA;s representative (Ed Bishop!) and the American government. However, there are stipulations. EuroSec will get the money, but an American - Colonel Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) - will have to command the mission. Poor Glenn Ross has Earthbound problems to contend with too; he's not able to conceive a child with his go-go booted, sexy wife, and she believes it is due to space radiation. "You went up there a man, but you came back less than a man," she tells him. Nice.

Ross is the "world's most experienced astronaut," and his partner on the six week trip to the new world is the Earth's "leading scientist," John Kane (Ian Hendry). Together, these men train for the mission, and the film follows every detail of the process. From there, we are treated to sweepings shots of rockets on launch pads (courtesy of special effects wizard Derek Medding), pans across vast mission control centers and intense close-ups of space-suited astronauts ready to commence the mission. Through it all, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun offers the aura of can-do, Apollo-Age optimism and futurism. This was a world where man had just landed on the moon and where space travel - despite bureaucratic kerfuffles and expense - was just around the corner...as are shattering discoveries about the nature of the universe itself.

Three weeks into the interplanetary mission (three weeks early...), and following a trippy "sleep" sequence of spinning colors (orange, blue and yellow) and electronic peaks and valleys seemingly inspiring by 2001's Stargate sequence, the film's plot takes a major turn. The astronauts arrive at the alien planet (via the crash of a landing vehicle...) only to discover that they have actually returned to Earth. In a splendid sequence that begins with miniature effects, pyrotechnics and impressive stunt work, the audience is tricked into believing that the astronauts are being captured by monstrous aliens. There's sound, light and strange helmeted figures. But it's just a rescue team from China; the rescuers adorned in state-of-the-art "sea and air" rescue suits.

But something doesn't sit right with Glenn Ross as he convalesces on what he believes to be his planet. For one thing, he has no memory of having turned back to Earth, and the three week flight period seems all wrong. Worse, he feels disoriented. His house's layout is completely reversed, clocks are running backwards, and words read from right to left, not left to right. Cars even appear to be driving on the wrong side of the street. Before long, Ross is aware of a physiological aberration too: medical tests reveal that he and Kane have hearts on the wrong sides of their chests!

What Glen Ross soon proposes to Jason Webb is staggering (and bizarre): "a complete duplication of matter...except that it's in reverse." In other words, the planet on the far side of the sun is Earth's exact reflection, with all the same people, all the same countries, all the same problems. There is a physical connection between the worlds in that "one is the mirror image of the other," but otherwise they are separated by thousands of miles. Now before anyone complains how scientifically inaccurate this concept sounds, I should pause to note that I read an article last May in which scientists posited that somewhere in this vast universe, it is indeed likely that each and every one of us has an identical twin. Weird, huh? Well, that's the idea of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. Without being overbearing about the idea, the film is creepy because it subtly asks questions regarding this unusual premise. What if there were two of you? Of me? What if everyone here on Earth had an exact duplicate? Would that fact take away from our own sense of identity? From the uniqueness of the individual? Could we claim Earth is the center of the universe (and center of God's universe), if across the solar system was a second Earth, exact in every way save that the polarity of electricity isn't reversed? If you are on a different planet and see your wife, isn't true that you've never actually "met" her? Because this is your wife's reflection, not the being you know (even if you share the same memories). It's mind-boggling if you think about it.

The climax of the film involves Ross's desperate attempt to return to his "Earth" and it ends in ultimate disaster for everyone at EuroSec, paving the way for an epilogue in which an elderly Jason Webb - wheelchair bound and debilitated by heart disease - ponders the very questions I ask above. He spies his reflection, his double in a wall-sized mirror and reaches out for it. It is just out of reach, and he begins racing for it...an attempt to touch the unknown, to understand the self, to bring together two opposites. To say the end of the film is "shattering" is putting it mildly, and a bad pun. Sorry.

Certainly, there will be those among us who gaze at Journey at the Far Side of the Sun and decry the deliberate, methodical pace (a trait it shares in common with Kubrick's Space Odyssey). In our day and age, we've become accustomed to shock cutting, myriad close-ups, and the whiz-bang pace of films like The Matrix or Star Wars. By contrast, this film is perhaps a relic of an earlier, less adrenaline-addicted age. This movie literally wallows in the details and minutiae (but also the beauty...) of space travel. It attempts to methodically and prcisely capture the details of the endeavor, from its accurate depiction of weightlessness to the impact of G-forces on the fragile human body. I'm afraid this is the kind of thing that movies today just don't have the time for. CGI monstrosities and vistas have made us forget about the wonders of our age: rocket launches, weightlessness, the view of Earth from space. Just show me drooling monsters, please...

In fact, I'll go further. I believe that Journey to the Far Side of the Sun attempted, along with 2001: A Space Odyssey to craft a new cinematic lexicon, to depict - literally - the poetry of the space age; a future where machines were not only functional...but actually beautiful....masterpieces of the human imagination and spirit. The opening of Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain (1971) accomplished the same thing a few years later, but there is a gorgeous montage at the opening of this film, an Information Age credits sequence which plays high-tech gadgetry and electronics to Barry Gray's lush, orchestral store. In swooning close-up we get a collage of spinning tape wheels, beeping indicator lights, rolling print-outs and computer punch-out cards. Outdated? Perhaps, but strangely lyrical, and this sequence reveals the pre-Microsoft mainstream meme on computers: that they are our creations and that they will make human life easier. Or as Jason Webb states late in the film: "never distrust a computer." Obviously, he's never seen the blue screen of death, which may be even more frightening than confronting one's doppelganger in the mirror.

Another beautiful image in the film: as the Phoenix arrives at the duplicate Earth, there's a gorgeous shot of the space capsule cruising from the darkness of interplanetary space into the golden illumination of sunlight in planetary orbit. It's convincing in a way that we are not accustomed to today, in the era of CGI. There's a sense of real bodies and machines in motion; not merely digital cartoons "animated" on the screen. There's an artistry here that is different from computer programming.

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun proved a dry run of sorts for UFO, which re-used props, vehicles and costumes from the film, and another reason to love it (if you are so inclined) is the manner in which ithe production fetishizes both space program and secret agent gadgetry. The film opens with a spy getting into the EuroSec vault. His glass eyeball is actually a miniature camera (!), and in a great, amusing sequence, we see the agent remove his eye, develop the photographs, and display them on a wall. In glorious, obsessive detail, the audience is treated to several views of the machine doing its work until we are left to conclude that the implausible has been made absolutely plausible. That's a trademark of the Andersons too, I would say.

Directed by Robert Parrish from a screenplay by the Andersons and Donald James, and lensed with an eye towards detail by John Read, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is surely a tech's wet dream. We see that Webb wears a watch that monitors his heart and triggers an alarm if he has a cardiac irregularity. Dick Cheney could probably use one of those. Later, the film gives us great shots of rockets on launch pads, capsules in space, and most impressively of all, a botched docking maneuver that is absolutely convincing down to the most minute detail. Not fast-paced, mind you, just very...right. This is part and parcel of the Anderson mystique and magic, if you ask me (and present in spades in UFO and Space:1999). Though some viewers are easily (and understandably) bored with the focus on technology and what it does, this obsession with the details brings a reality and versimilitude to the world absent from a lot of televised and filmed sci-fi.

Believability; optimism, tech-poetry, and a shattering discovery about the universe: these are the hallmarks of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, and one of the reasons I have admired the film since I was a youth. You may insert your own "wooden" joke here about the performances, since critics find it irresistible, apparently, to comment on the Andersons' history with puppets and supermarionation. Yet in my eyes, the performances here (as on Space:1999) are perfect. These are scientists and astronauts and engineers doing a job, facing crises with poise and skill and intelligence. Must they also showcase emotional histrionics and soap opera antics? Another part of the Anderson mystique - and the part most often criticized by critics, I should add - is this depiction of man as a balanced, intelligent and curious creature facing the mysteries of outer space with all his intellectual gifts intact and at the forefront. In its very British way, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is both scary and subtle; both intelligent and poetic. It isn't a perfect film, and it isn't a classic, but it is a very good science fiction phantasm, and one with distinctive, unforgettable images and a great twist.

Monday, December 10, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 72: Choose Your Own Adventure/Find Your Fate/Plot-Your-Own Adventure Books of the 1980s




Early in the 1980s, Bantam Books published a series of childrens' action/fantasy/science fiction novels under the franchise title Choose Your Own Adventure. But these clever little books had a twist: they featured multiple endings, and multiple "paths" for the reader, and in essence told a variety of stories. "You're the star of the story!," crowed the book covers. "Choose from 40 possible endings!"

Choose Your Own Adventure books were perhaps as much a game as a legitimate literary experience, but titles like The Abominable Snowman (28 possible endings!) offered intrepid readers the chance to select at every story juncture a new quantum reality, so-to-speak, by deciding which "action" to take given a scenario. For instance, if you "chose" to go into a dark cave without a flashlight, you would turn to page 68...and promptly fall off the edge of a precipice. Or if you decided to "go back to camp" for your flashlight, you would end on an entirely different path. I remember reading these books during my middle school years and really enjoying them. To my adolescent mind, they were suspenseful in the sense that every action had an impact...sometimes deadly. Because I had a keenly developed sense of the macabre even at that tender age, I would often pick the wrong solution, just so I could experience a terrifying demise.

Not surprisingly, the popular movie/tv genre franchises of the day emulated the Choose Your Own Adventure format. Star Trek and Raiders of the Lost Ark jump to mind. To me, this was true nirvana: the chance to send Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock or Indiana Jones into adventures where I could determine the outcome. Why, that's almost as fun as...video games are today. (Remember, this was twenty-five years ago, okay?)

Simon & Schuster published Star Trek "Plot-Your-Own-Adventure" stories in 1982 under their Wanderer imprint (for $2.95 a pop). "You are in command of your favorite Star Trek II characters," the cover of Distress Call (by William Rotsler) informed us. The plot: "The U.S.S. Enterprise has just received a frantic call for help from the vicinity of the unknown planet of Varda III."

"This is an adventure with as many twist and turns as your imagination allows," suggested the book's rear cover, which was nicely illustrated with images from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Ballantine's "young adult line" offered several "Find Your Fate Adventures" for the character of Indiana Jones (at $1.95 a book) Among the titles were Indiana Jones and the Lost Treasure of Sheba (by Rose Estes), Indiana Jones and the Giants of Silver Tower (by R.L. Stine), Indiana Jones and the Legion of Death (by Richard Wenk), and Indiana Jones and the Cup of the Vampire (by Andrew Helfer). As these books put it: "Right from the start, you are in charge. Depending on the decisions you make, you could wander endlessly through catacombs, meet real-life werewolves, or fight to the death with bloodthirsty bandits. Every thrilling and dangerous step of the way the choices are up to you as...

...you find your fate."

Isn't that just irresistible? I imagine elitists probably scoff at the choose your own adventure-style books, but they left an indelible impact on me, in part because of the sheer ingenuity of their authors. As a wanna-be writer from the second grade on, I found it fascinating (in sixth grade, anyway...), that one story could spawn over a dozen plausible but different outcomes. To me, these books offered a glimpse behind-the-curtain, and I started to understand some of the mechanics of plot development. American literacy rates are in the toilet these days, but Kathryn and I read our one-year-old Joel several books every day (even if it's Jasper the Cat, or Guess How I Much I Love You), and I'm thrilled to see that even at his age, he goes to the book shelf without prompting and picks up books he wants to look at (and then staggers around from room to room, pointing at pictures...). I figure that the Choose Your Own Adventure Books will be perfect for him when he's a little older.

Anyone remember reading these?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Model Kit of the Day: Masters of the Universe Talon Fighter Flying Vehicle (Monogram; 1983)


From the legend on the box: "This sleek, bird-like craft transports MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE forces through the skies in their ceaseless quest for victory. The excitement of fantasy is captured in model kit form in this unique air-attack vehicle..."

The kit has a wingspan of 32.7 centiments, and is intricately detailed "from the thrusting eagle's head to the claw-like landing gear. It includes top-mounted gun turret, side-mounted laser cannons and a canopy that opens for easy access to the contoured cockpit."