Friday, July 05, 2013

W.B.'s Book Report: Unicorn Western

It began as a laugh among friends. It has evolved into a nine-novella epic with the promise of two more epics to come. The story of how Unicorn Western came to be is almost as much fun as the actual story.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant are two-thirds of a podcasting team that meets weekly to talk about writing and self-publishing. One day the other third, David W. Wright, took exception to Platt’s stated desire to write a western someday. Too much trouble, too much research needed to make it authentic – for example, do you know what color was the smoke from those old six-shooters? Hilarity ensued.

The solution to Wright’s objection: Put a unicorn in the story. That way when people question what appears to be an unrealistic detail, you can respond that this isn’t the real Earth: “If we’ve filled the world with unicorns, I’d say we can do anything we want!”

 A few short months later, the joke is a series of novellas available as ebooks separately or in ebook and print as Unicorn Western: Full Saga – a sprawling tale of magic and prairie justice that spans decades and pays homage to at least nine films along the way. (Because I need an occasional break from electronic screens, I opted for the 690-page book.) There are plenty of in-jokes and winks that will bring a knowing smile or a laugh-out-loud to people familiar with the films and The Self-Publishing Podcast – my favorites are the prophetic owls – but the story creates a mythology all its own and stands up as a rousing yarn despite its goofy origins.

This is not Atlas Shrugged or even Lord of the Rings – the main thing it has in common with those works of literature is its length – but the payoff is definitely worth the long ride; the authors entertain and make you care along the way. Unicorn Western is the reader’s equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, well worth the time invested and leaving you with anticipation of the sequel(s).

Friday, June 28, 2013

Progress Report

I have three creative projects currently in process. The first is this blog; I aim to communicate with the outside world from this mysterious location between my ears, with a goal of sending a message daily at least weekdays.

Then there's the continuing adventures of Myke Phoenix, stalwart protector of Astor City. Conceived nearly a quarter-century ago, Myke finally was revealed to the world in 2008. I began churning out new adventures early this year for Kindle, two new stories within three weeks. The next batch will probably come out in a flurry, too.

Finally, there's Uncle Warren's Attic, the podcast. Been 80 of 'em. I don't want to produce an 81st without plans for more beyond that. Working on that. No, really.

On the side there's the day job, and the animals, and the yard work. I can't use them as an excuse for any lack of visible progress because last summer, when we moved twice and built a house, I managed to write a novel (also available for Kindle, by the by).

A friend of mine left a simple motivating comment not too long ago during a dry spell: "Writers write." I call myself a writer. So I'm writing. By the way, if you call yourself a writer, you should be writing, too. Today and every day. It's easy to call yourself a writer. But what have you written?

Monday, June 17, 2013

U.W. at the Movies: Oz The Great and Powerful

If you’re going to do a movie called Oz The Great and Powerful, you’re inviting comparisons to “the” movie about Oz, which has stood up for 74 years. This movie compares well in many ways, but in the end I’d say it takes itself a tad too seriously.

It’s new on DVD, and having missed it on the big screen, I find James Franco is a better wizard than I’d been led to believe in the various reviews I’ve encountered. He doesn’t have the flamboyance of Frank Morgan or the over-the-top showmanship of W.C. Fields, for whom the original movie character was written. What he does present is a scoundrel who somewhat regrets he’s a scoundrel and wishes to do better, and at that Franco does a nice job.

Oz The Great and Powerful borrows some of the familiar tropes from “the” film, including starting out in black and white and converting to color when the story flows from Kansas into Oz – with the added treat of filling out the widescreen frame. That was nicely done, and done better than the film manages other links to the original.

As in “the” film, characters from Kansas find themselves in Oz but in different form. Here’s the girl he couldn’t help, here’s the good friend he doesn’t appreciate, and here’s the good woman in his life. But at the end of “the” movie, we’re presented a logical explanation of the similarities. Here those similarities are apparently little more than a remarkable coincidence.

Don’t get me wrong, as a fan of “the” movie – it’s on my short list of all-time favorites – I really enjoyed Oz The Great and Powerful, much more than Disney’s previous attempt to reboot the franchise, Return to Oz back in 1985. But I’m also one of the precious few who kind of liked Return to Oz (which actually did a better job of integrating the “real” L. Frank Baum story into the film, or at least the immortal W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill imagery, than even “the” Oz movie).

It’s all effective fantasy and a smashing good story. It just doesn’t have the whimsy of “the” film. They just don’t seem to be having as much fun as the group seemed to be having back in 1939. Here, when Oz meets the munchkins, there’s much ado and the little people begin to dance and cheer and sing. The reluctant wizard makes them stop and chill. It’s a cute scene, but it exemplifies the difference: This Land of Oz needs a little more warmth, a little more whimsy, a little more joy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

U.W. at the Movies: The 25 seconds that I enjoyed in 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

I'd rather not dwell on one of the longest 170-minute stretches of my life and the likelihood that I will not hurry to watch the second and third segments of "The Hobbit" motion picture experience. I guess I just wasn't prepared to see what I remember as a charming and enchanting novel converted into an action film packed with computer-generated images of slashing, slicing and dicing, one after another after another.

But in one of the quiet scenes I found one 25-second statement that was worth hearing and repeating. When Gandalf the wizard is asked why hobbit Bilbo Baggins is along for the ride, he replies, at first, "I don't know," but adds:

Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I've found. I've found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay – simple acts of kindness and love.
 Amen!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

W.B. at the movies: Star Trek Into Darkness

The first Star Trek movie in the new series established that the early death of James T. Kirk’s father (who in Shatner-Trek lived to see his son become a Starfleet officer) sent the proverbial time-space continuum off in a different direction – essentially restarting the story with Kirk in need of a father figure and Spock’s eternal struggle between Vulcan logic and human emotion complicated by his rage over a madman destroying his home planet and killing his mother along the way.

The second Star Trek movie further explores the possibilities of this alternate universe, replaying familiar scenes with roles reversed (or not) from the first go-round. For someone fortunate enough to have been sitting in front of a television set the night of Sept. 8, 1966, when “Man Trap” launched this 47-year mission to seek out strange new life, there are plenty of fun little nods to what went before as the new crew makes its own way.

Infuriatingly (although I am NOT a Trek geek) I found myself struggling to accept the very first sequence of events, which finds the starship Enterprise parked in a place where starships were just not designed to park. It says right here on Page 171 of my treasured first printing of The Making of Star Trek that I bought for 95 cents in 1968: “The Enterprise is not designed to enter the atmosphere of a planet and never lands on a planet surface.” When you learn how much care went into the design of these mythical space vessels, it’s kind of dumb to violate the principles behind that design. (I am NOT a Trek geek!) But once that opening sequence was over (with a hint we may revisit this planet someday), we were in for a satisfying ride.

Having encountered the “spoiler” behind the actual identity of the mysterious villain named John Harrison (I put “spoiler” in quotes because rumors this villain would appear in the second movie began flying shortly after the end of the closing credits of Pine-Trek I), I was able to watch for and enjoy the various similarities and divergences from the original Trek canon.

The torch has been passed to a new generation: The actors have done a wonderful job of inhabiting iconic characters while making their own identifiable contribution to the legend. The filmmakers have accomplished something the old crew was not able to do – created two consecutive very good Star Trek movies.

I did not walk out of Star Trek (2009) or Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) with the same OMG-that-was-great feeling that I had when I walked out of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but I do find myself hoping it won’t be another four years before we revisit this story. And now that we’ve really established the new cast and laid down how the new Trek is different from the old, I hope next time they really do go where no one has gone before.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

My multiple personalities

I have at least three personas that I present to the world. Which one is the real me? Well, all of them, of course.

There is the mild-mannered newspaper editor, just trying to inform the community, touch its heart, and/or occasionally influence a thought or two.

There is the one author, a philosopher and pundit who believes in the power of the individual to change the world. The power of the collective? Not so much. Think Refuse to be Afraid, A Scream of Consciousness.

And there is the other author, a lover and student of pop culture who writes stories about superheroes and spaceships and other fantastic stuff. Think The Imaginary Bomb, Firespiders.

Sometimes there is a little overlap, such as in my book The Imaginary Revolution, which posits a real revolt that overturns a tyrannical government and then refrains from the imaginary-revolutionary tradition of replacing it with another government, which seemingly inevitably begins to repeat the sins of the old one. “Tyrannical government” – I repeat myself.

Weaving through all of these personalities is the lover of my life’s partner, known as Red on these pages, and Willow The Best Dog There Is and the cats, and the sometimes guitar strummer and writer of songs.

Each of us, I suspect, has multiple personalities at odds with each other, competing for dominance and working ever onward toward integration.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Sweeping out the Attic

It's time for one of my interminable efforts to find focus, as the 81st edition of Uncle Warren's Attic hangs tantalizingly in the future of the half-dozen people who may still care.

Slowly this site has evolved into a place where you may find my musings about pop culture, and an occasional podcast, while WarrenBluhm.com has become a repository for everything else.

So what will you hear in Uncle Warren's Attic #81? When will you hear it? Intriguing questions.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday, February 04, 2013

The return of 'Dylan Hears a Who'

One of the great parody albums in recent memory has resurfaced, five years after it made a splash and then was squashed by lawyers. Check out Dylan Hears A Who online while you can.

Here's a link to a brief history (without the part where the lawyers invaded), the video of the immortal "Green Eggs and Ham" by "Bob Dylan," and links to other tunes.

Do not delay! Who know how long it'll be out there this time?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Top 10 of 2012

My friend Wally Conger used to have a “Top 10 of the Year” list. It wasn’t the Top 10 songs or the Top 10 movies, it was just the 10 top things he encountered each year. Seems like a good idea, so, in no particular order:

Folks, this ain’t normal. Joel Salatin believes the world is turned upside down. People have lost touch with where their food comes from. Government food safety agents are the biggest barrier to safe, locally produced and healthy food. In the quest for a clean and even sterile environment, we’ve made ourselves sick. This remarkable book changed the way I think, and it’ll do the same for you if you dare.

John Carter. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of books 100 years ago that has influenced many many people, a number of whom went on to become scientists and science fiction creators. A century later, this film is one of the best science fiction movies ever made, and the second-best science fiction movie made in the 21st century. Watching it re-ignited my sense of wonder.

Marvel’s The Avengers. Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the best science fiction film made in the 21st century (Serenity), this year wrote and directed the best comic-book movie ever made. Full of character, good humor and of course loud bangs and crashes, this was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in recent memory. (Caveat: I didn't see John Carter in the theater.)

A new home. Red and I have been a team for a decade and a half, and this year our partnership led to construction of a beautiful little house not far from the shores of Green Bay. The project occupied most of the year and is not quite finished, but by August it was finished enough. Love built this home, and I love it.

The Self-Publishing Podcast. This quirky weekly visit with authors Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt and David W. Wright is irreverant, informative and a heck of a lot of fun. I’ve begun to look forward to their weekly romp through what sometimes seems to be a stream of consciousness but always leaves me knowing a little bit more about writing, innovation, design and moving forward.

Scrivener. The SPP boys kept saying this software is the best tool out there for writers, and they offer a 30-day free trial so I figured, what the heck. By the 15th day I gave in and just bought the thing. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s every bit the great tool they said it is.

The Imaginary Revolution. I lost two of my surrogate mentors this year bookending the creation of my new science-fiction novel. Ray Bradbury showed me how to write and inspired me with his enthusiasm, and when he died I realized I’d been beating around the bush too long. A few days after I completed the novel, Zig Ziglar died, the guy who taught me not to get cooked in the squat. Between the house and the novel, this has been one of the most fulfilling years of creativity I’ve ever experienced. I hope Ray and Zig would be proud.

Men in Black 3. I found the first two MIB films with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones immensely entertaining, but you know, I only ever watched either of them once. They entertained me but didn’t make me care enough to come back. This installment made me want to go back to the beginning and pay closer attention, and I definitely want to see this one again and again.

Nancy. The comic strip that Ernie Bushmiller made famous has always been one of my guilty pleasures. It always was sweet and charming and a little goofy, but Guy Gilchrist has injected something more, by making Aunt Fritzi a music-loving child of the Sixties like, well, me. With the recent re-introduction of her old flame Phil Fumble, it looks like Gilchrist is poised to take the strip to a whole new level.

That’s Why God Made the Radio. The Beach Boys album of new songs marking their 50th anniversary of recording is better than it has any right to be. The harmonies are as crisp and supple as ever, the tunes linger the way their best stuff always has, and the project is a fitting finish if it does, in fact, turn out to be the core group’s last effort together. An endless summer, indeed.

Bubbling under the Top 10:

Christmas with the Annie Moses Band. You have to hear this band.

How to Be Legendary by Johnny B. Truant. Common sense advice about being as great as you can.

Thick As A Brick 2 by Ian Anderson. My first reaction upon hearing about this release was “Oh no!” But on actually hearing it, the reaction was “Oh yes!”

The Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. I asked for it for Christmas based on a brief mention in Folks, this ain’t normal, and after 20 pages I can’t wait to start gardening.

I know I’ll think of a half-dozen other cool things I encountered during 2012, but these are the ones that rose in my consciousness this evening. If the year ahead has half as many treasures as this year offered, it’ll be lovely indeed.

Cross-posted to WarrenBluhm.com.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Imaginary Revolution is here.

On Dec. 15, 1791, the folks who were in the process of establishing a new government ratified a list of prohibitions intended to prevent that government from violating the innate rights of free individuals. It was a bold experiment.

Today, Dec. 15, 2012, in honor of that bold experiment, I formally introduce The Imaginary Revolution, a novel about individuals and governments and violence and nonviolence.

I’m not so vain as to think this little novel about an Earth colony that throws off its shackles is as important a contribution as that list of 10 statements. No, this is just my contribution to the idea that power flows from the individual to the state, not the reverse.

It is my contention that a loving individual committed to nonviolence wields more power to change a world for the good than any state, any use of force, any expression of hatred or revenge.

All 10 tenets of the Bill of Rights are under attack in 2012. All 10 are routinely ignored by the state, and in fact most efforts by the state to restrain the individual are met with cheers and applause. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to be secure in one’s person, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures – read the list and you will be able to think of circumstances where the state violates these prohibitions every day.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Uncle Warren's Attic #80

Welcome to another tour of my mind and my stuff, starting with a modest plug for The Imaginary Revolution and a nod to the late, great Ray Bradbury. We'll hear "Well Met Pretty Maid" by Theodore Bikel and Cynthia Gooding and reflections on Middle English and Geoffrey Chaucer, and then there's the classic "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra, vocal by Milton Douglas.

From there:
"Tea for Two," Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians
"Cocktails for Two," Spike Jones
"Frenesi," Glenn Miller and his Orchestra
"Anything Goes," Kate Capshaw
A taste of Sky King sponsored by Peter Pan
"Frankie and Johnny," Helen Morgan and the Nat Shilkret Orchestra

Click on the pod icon or here to download UWAttic 80. Have fun!