Launch into “A Christmas Carol”

scrooge-marley-art-nypl
“Marley’s ghost appearing to Scrooge” by S. J. Woolf, from the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection.

This holiday season I am geeking out to film adaptations of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Actually quite a cosmic tale, and I do recommend reading the original. I invite you to stop over to my other blog and read the stanzas I’m composing for each version I watch.

Dan Brown’s “Origin” Takes a Seat

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhere deep in Dan Brown’s latest made-to-order bestseller, Origin, I suddenly felt like I was rereading Ayn Rand’s mammoth novel Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s novel is a long-winded and extremely haughty work. I primarily read it so I could say I had. In contrast, Brown’s novels are sleek, fast-paced thrillers. I consume them for the main course of spectacle with a side order of thought-provocation. Yet, more than once, usually in the lecture-driven chapters, I felt like Brown was serving up something pretentious in the style of Rand.

The premise of Origin involves a super-rich futurist who declares he has discovered the answers to humanity’s most fundamental questions:

Where do we come from? And, where are we going?

From Brown’s pen, these questions result in scandal, murder, and intrigue at the highest levels of Spanish society. Why Spain? Why not? Spain has religious landmarks galore, along with royalty, upper-echelon clergy, and elite security forces. Origin also features a museum director who becomes the novel’s gorgeous sidekick. On the upside, she proves essential to the plot and comes off as daring and compelling as any other character. Let us also acknowledge the novel’s thoroughly likable protagonist: Harvard professor Robert Langdon.

Regarding the two great questions above, readers are consigned to spend most of the novel wildly speculating. The answers may involve anything from disproving God to proving extraterrestrial involvement. The only thing the novel makes clear early on is the religious leaders who get a sneak peek at the answer are left utterly spooked. And here is what makes Origin so irresistible a yarn. The novel’s prophetic thought-leader opens the story by declaring he has the answers to life’s greatest mysteries. By implication, does that mean author Dan Brown has them?

Take a breath. It’s a novel. But, as I hoped, maybe Brown will at least offer some dramatic rendering of these questions that leaves us spellbound. Great novels can do that.

For all its revelatory promise, Origin primarily sermonizes. Readers, you will be preached to. You will be TED Talked at. Your brain will be YouTubed hard and fast. Origin is the transcript of a multimedia presentation wrapped inside a dust jacket. Moreover, Origin necessarily spends oodles of time showcasing internet communication. This becomes a narrative challenge for Brown, who must alternate between action-packed chases and characters plopping down in chairs to stream video.

What I say next will probably sound snobbish. I spend a good share of time following both science and religion. As such, Origin failed to reward me with any dramatically new ideas or theories about the origin or fate of life on Earth. If you read Origin, and it arrives in your mind as astounding new revelation, please don’t mistake the novel for being groundbreaking. It just means you’re not particularly well-read, at least in scientific thought.

With Robert Langdon as the lead, Brown has really penned only one novel: Angels and Demons (still his best in my opinion). The four subsequent Langdon novels simply retrofit new characters, settings and conspiracies to the same basic formula. Why does a disenchanted reader like me keep buying Brown’s books? No secret there. I’m addicted to them.

Odd that I am essentially rejecting Origin, even though I feel Dan Brown and I are likeminded on its underlying issues and themes. We’re both incredulous in the face of creationism. We’re both enthusiastic about science. And we both feel humankind, notwithstanding its rich history and wonderous potential, must wrestle with the prospect of a dark future—a future in which our species must fundamentally change or die.

So, if you’re in the market for a sci-fi homily, then plop down on the couch with Robert Langdon et al. and enjoy Origin. But if like me you came to the book for the mystery and the spectacle, perhaps it’s time to reread Angels and Demons.

View all my reviews

First Impressions of The Last Jedi Trailer

This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of waiting for the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer, and will soon see (hopefully) the end of Supreme Leader Snoke inadvertently using internal rhyme:

“I saw raw [pause for eerie underscore] untamed power!”

Never thought of Chewbacca as a fuzzy-dice-on-the-rear-view-mirror kinda driver. So why is he suddenly tolerating fuzzy dice that yell? In any case, let the debate begin over repeating Ewok marketing history.

What’s with the enjambment-like interruption of otherwise complete sentences of dialogue by underscore and sound effects? See Snoke’s quote above for the first example. For a second example, here is Kylo Ren speaking:

“Kill it… [pause for orchestral vamp beneath TIE Fighter engine scream] …if you have to.”

Seriously folks, play the trailer with your eyes closed and just listen. It’s like the non-verbal elements of the soundtrack are mansplaining how we should feel about the dialogue, which spurts out in staggered fragments.

As with all previous Star Wars trailers, I will operate under the assumption that the clips in this one which seem the most spoiler-ish are the clips that will prove the most misleading when we see the finished movie.

Not a very fun trailer. Impressive. Most impressive. But certainly not delightful or enchanting like some of The Force Awakens teaser material. This trailer gives the impression of the characters having a very stressful Thursday.

Is Finn’s new sidekick, Rose Tico, anywhere in this trailer? I feel like all I know right now is she’s cute as a button. I’d like to know more than that.

What if the power which determines the fate of all Star Wars characters is not the Force, but the writers/directors opting for whichever plot twist the audience is least likely to anticipate?

No, Star Wars fan theorists. Nuh-no. This trailer does not reveal to whom Rey is related. But go ahead and claim that it does, and that you alone figured it out, thus scoring your blog lots of page views and maybe getting picked up by the Huffington Post. Besides, Rey is totally related to Snoke. Seriously, compare their eyes. [pause for slasher film violin screech] I’m kidding. I have no clue who Rey’s parents are.

If they ever make The Last Jedi into a Broadway musical, the Act 1 Finale will be a stirring ballad called “Something Truly Special” sung by Supreme Leader Snoke.

Cassini’s Final Breath in Poetry

Waiting for the Last Wave

“Cassini Significant Events Email – Friday, Sept. 15 (DOY 258)
…As Saturn set in the western California sky, the DSN stations in Australia locked onto the spacecraft’s signal as Saturn rose above their eastern horizon…”

We wait on echoes
from the near past
the spearing death cry
from the just silenced mouth
the quintessential sitting
watching and waiting
generations mourn in synced frequencies
higher and lower together
we are all precious
fleeting folk

“…as Cassini continued to faithfully follow the commands it had received months before…”

Is the echo part of the life
still alive
last cry like a geyser spraying
up and out

“…Data continued to flow, and every bit of telemetry was captured at the Australian DSN stations…”

In silence, we watch each other
eyesight embraces eyesight
hands pass a jar of peanuts
fingers kiss fingers
ears watch for the living wave
ready to capture

“…As it tumbled out of control, within minutes Cassini had come apart, melted, and vaporized into its host planet.”

The last echo dying gives us permission
to cry.

Poet’s Note:

For NASA’s complete email text, see the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s weekly Significant Events email, 9/13/17 ­ 9/19/17.

For more Cassini-inspired poetry, try Poetry for the Grand Finale.

Saturn on the rocks

“She climbs slowly, precisely, / With unwasted grace.”

–Kenneth Rexroth, “On What Planet”

saturn-cassini-rhea-mimas
Saturn, Rhea and Mimas by Elisabetta Bonora, Savona, Italy, Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/E. Bonora

On the Poetry Foundation’s website can be found wonderful poems like the myriad moons of Saturn. And in at least a couple of those poems, the planet Saturn becomes a principal character. Such is Kenneth Rexroth’s beautiful poem, “On What Planet.” The poem is not about Saturn, but about adventure-seeking rock climbers. Short and sweet, and with a delightful audio performance by the poet, this one is a gem. Check it out.

On What Planet

Note the “Amateur Images” logo on the above picture. This image also deserves a couple of minutes of your time. Let the video and web analyst herself explain the journey this vista took from Cassini’s camera, to her computer, to ours.

Saturn, Rhea and Mimas by Elisabetta Bonora

The Cassini spacecraft ends its two-decade mission on the morning of September 15th. It will have been one of the great flagship missions of space exploration. For more information, visit NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit.

To stay in the poetry vein, try Papery Cassini Farewell.

Mother, Son, and Saturn

“He loves the buoyant, frictionless / plate / his father has in focus.”

–Stefanie Marlis, “Saturn”

cassini-saturn-camera-test
Cassini’s first color composite of Saturn, the moon Titan visible at upper-left, imaged from 177 million miles away in October of 2002, Credit: NASA/JPL/Southwest Research Institute

As we get ready to say goodbye to the Cassini spacecraft, I hope you’ll take this chance to read an example of Saturn embedded in our culture, as well as our individual psyches. Stefanie Marlis’s poem, quoted above, is a wonderful and pointed glimpse into the matriarchal mind, in relation to an imperfect but precious and promising child. Saturn makes a crucial appearance at the end. Short poem. Quite accessible. Give it a try:

Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft ends its two-decade mission on the morning of September 15th. It will have been one of the great flagship missions of space exploration. For more information, visit NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit.

To stay in the poetry vein, try Papery Cassini Farewell.

Raw Cassini from Star Wars Day

W00107385
Saturn image taken by Cassini on 5/3/17, received by Earth on 5/4/17

Rise Force fans, Sith friends,
Snatch photons with lens
Praise clean lines, though dim
Soar spacecraft or swim


N00280971
Saturn image taken by Cassini on 5/4/17, received by Earth on 5/5/17

There’s beauty in the rawness;
When processed, it is stolen.

With stars speckling glossed rings,
like marts selling us Darth treats,

Sun’s children shopped May the 4th;
Cassini grasped rays of worth.

Poet’s Notes:

For both images above, credit goes to NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

For more information on the first Cassini image, go here.
For more information on the second Cassini image, go here.
To explore raw Cassini images, and even search them by date, visit the galleries!

For more information on Star Wars Day, aka May the Fourth (be with you), visit Wookieepedia!

Lastly, for Mom and anyone else who is still reading, you are invited to read a thoroughly polished/baked piece of Cassini poetry here.