Well, as everyone knows, we’re living in some crazy times, full of lots of challenge and and pain and sadness. For me, nothing has gone really bad, it’s just highly inconvenient. But like many of us suffering in the more removed version of these trials, I’m actually pretty comfortable and certainly not suffering in any meaningful way.
So things like television viewing has remained pretty consistent, or even increased a bit.
For example, this week I found time to sneak in a couple of episodes of a few shows I was watching but fell off a long time ago, both on Netflix, One was Another Life, a violent sci-fi horror-action thing that feels extremely beholden to many years of similarly-themed movies. Seriously, one episode featured someone gaining a strange infection on a planetside mission, being mysteriously cured, having dinner with her crew members and then suddenly convulsing violently as something hideous tore from her body. I really think you shouldn’t be allowed to be that obvious with your storytelling without giving some sort of acknowledgement. Anyway, I watched something like the fifth episode of the first (only?) season, which had the main character, Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica in some sort of living dream-coma. Refreshingly, she knew she was in a dream coma, so that was good. I actually can’t remember anything else that happened in the story, so I guess that goes to show how much I thought of it.
The other show I re-visited after a long absence was Salvation, an absurd but gripping high-concept piece about the political and social upheaval that the world goes into when an asteroid threatens to destroy it.
I’m in the middle of the second season where there is a fight going on between the president and her former vice-president for control of the government. I have to say that watching The West Wing sometime ago has seemingly permanently ruined me for all other fictional depictions of the White House. I know The West Wing wasn’t completely authentic in its politics, but at least it never made it look like the US government was just a couple of people standing around a room delivering exposition and shallow characterization.
I’m watching this show still mainly to see if my pet theory that main character Darius Tanz (a sort of Elon Musk-avatar) is secretly a villain of some sort is going to be proved true or not.
In the meantime, I’ve also watched the next episode of Season 7 of Endeavour with my wife. This one is called Raga, and in general continues with the show’s high standards, though it’s a bit sad to see what seems to be the disintegration of the potential friendship between young Morse and his boss, Fred Thursday. The episode also ended with Morse carrying on an affair with a woman he now knows to be married, so that of course makes him officially into a sort of an idiot.
In the ever-present world of Doctor Who, my kids (the younger two) and I are making my way through the 12th Doctor’s era, and have watched this week his third and fourth episodes–Robot of Sherwood and Listen. Robot is a silly exercise that doesn’t completely hold up, but is still funny. Listen is one of the stranger episodes of the series you’re ever likely to see, which has enough cool moments and strong character work to make up for its sort-of-go-nowhere plot.
I also finally watched one of my Christmas presents, my DVD of the animated re-creation of The Macra Terror.
Patrick Troughton is one of my favorite Doctors, and one of the most important to the development of the series, and The Macra Terror is quite an interesting dystopian future story, all made on a cheap budget and featuring giant crabs (which walk forward, my daughter pointed out). The animated version features some scenes of these things being coldly visible in long shot to the audience, which made me wonder how that would have been done on Doctor Who-in-the-1960’s TV budget. A few surviving clips shows that it was done totally differently, with much more shadowy and oblique glimpses which were, on the whole, a lot scarier, even if the Macra themselves look obviously artificial.
It’s a shame that the Macra’s reappearance in the modern series, in Gridlock, recast them as generic monsters, because the concepts in The Macra Terror are quite dark and thought-provoking.
I also watched the 9th (the penultimate) episode of Star Trek Picard, in which the story prepares for it’s finale later this week, and also takes a bit of a swerve toward the stupid. But there was more Brent Spiner and Jeri Ryan, so that was nice. Picard himself seems to be becoming somewhat less relevant in his own show, which is sad. And he was betrayed by two of his companions in this episode…hopefully they won’t both be revealed as “faking it” in the finale.
Comics connected to China!
Over in the world of comics, I finished reading another Christmas present, which is Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew.
Yang is one of my favorite writers working in comics today, and his work is always entertaining and thought-provoking. Shadow Hero is a modern version of the superhero, the Green Turtle–a golden-age character created by Chu F. Hing. The intention, apparently, was that the Green Turtle was supposed to be an overtly Chinese character, but the publishers apparently didn’t want this, so his backstory was never revealed and was always drawn in all of his original appearances with his mask on and often with his face obscured.
Shadow Hero takes all that potential backstory and makes it explicit, crafting an exciting tale along the way. Hank Chu is a Chinese-American youth in the late 1930’s, with an interesting power set (he’s a trained fighter and cannot be hit by bullets, but can be killed by other means) who is accompanied by a shadowy Chinese spirit-avatar that only he can see, dealing with both a prejudiced society and legitimate villains. It’s a really fun adventure that has got something interesting to say, but is also totally readable as a straight superhero story. I’d happily read more if there was more available…
…which I just found out there was! Apparently, in 2017, Yang and Liew produced a one-issue follow-up as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage month! It’s short, only 15 pages of story, but hey it’s free and I didn’t know it existed until a minute ago. You can read about it here and follow the links to the book itself.
Speaking of Chinese culture, I also read this week Yun: The Illustrated Story of the Heavenly Man, an adaptation of The Heavenly Man, about and by Brother Yun, which is an amazing story about a Christian in China who suffered intense persecution, was incarcerated, and eventually forced to leave the country.
I’ve never read the actual book, but it’s a pretty gripping account of the man’s story, and it’s well-illustrated. It has a sort of “run-on sentence” feel and could have benefited from being divided into chapters of some sort, but still it’s quite an inspiring look at a man’s faith in Christ and his willingness to suffer for the same. The book is co-written by Paul Hattaway, and the adaptation is by Rico Rival, Nate Butler, Ed Morris and others.
Oh yeah, I also finished reading to my children, The Well of Lost Plots, which is the third Thursday Next story by Jaspar Fforde. They are loving it. It may not be long before we move on to the next installment, Something Rotten. Or alternatively, we could go to The Big Over Easy, which is a spin-off book which is set-up in The Well of Lost Plots, though it was actually written first (but not published until later). If you are into clever, intellectual wit with a literary bent, then these come highly recommended.
My Own Stuff
I have also been pushing forward on some of my own projects, including the final edit of Doug 2: Electric Bus Boogaloo, and the last episode of the audio drama The Hanna Jo Stories, which I recorded ages ago but am still trying to get finished.
Stay safe and keep your chin up everyone! Til next time.