Dennis W. Green

I write things. And talk about stuff.

Sometimes I swim.

What I've Been Reading - The Agony, The Ecstasy, and The Buddha

I first met Rachel Eliason right after I "came out" myself.

As a science fiction author, that is.

Since then, we've been together on several author panels and readings, and I was honored when Rachel and A.R. Miller invited me to contribute Traveler to a 3-in-1 ebook they wanted to publish.

Rachel's grace and honesty make her a delight to be around, but I have to admit to being a little trepidatious in taking on this memoir of her sexual reassignment surgery in Thailand in 2010.

I was afraid that like hot dogs and laws, perhaps I didn't want to too much information on how my transgender friend was made.

But in the opening pages of "The Agony, The Ecstasy, and The Buddha" Rachel cheerfully confesses that TMI should be her middle name, and invites the reader to join her on this most private journey that by its very nature must be carried out in public.

This memoir pulls no punches in discussing both the emotional and medical aspects of her journey, but she tells the story with such good humor, that soon you're right with her in a humid Bangkok hotel room, and glad to be a part of the trip.

The picture of Rachel Eliason that emerges from this book is one of honesty and strength, along with hope that by telling her story, she might help other transgendered folks feel less alone, and give cis people like myself a small window into her life.

It's a quick read, but its brevity in no way reduces its impact, or the emotional connection you'll make with her as you experience her story. I'm proud to call her a friend.

Oh, and you should also check out her sci-fi and fantasy books, too, at www.racheleliason.net.

 

 

What I've Been Reading - Made Safe

The streets of Des Moines are just as mean as Spenser's Boston in this impressive debut.

In the first casebook of private detective Moses Winter, Francis Sparks exposes the underbelly of immigrant culture in a gripping, noir novel.

Made Safe, while listed on the cover as the first adventure of Des Moines-based detective Winter, is just as much the story of Raif Rakíc, the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) investigator who crosses paths with Winter, as the two strike up an uneasy alliance.

Winter takes what should be an easy case of getting proof of a cheating husband, but before he knows it, he and Rakíc are neck deep in a fight against a Bosnian crime ring leaving a trail of bodies on the streets of Iowa's capital city.

Sparks advances the various threads of a complicated mystery with facility, utilizing multiple points of view as a tool, not a cheat, as is often the case. Both of the story's heroes are damaged men, whose histories and personalities lead them to make mistakes and trust the wrong people.

The story takes many delightful twists and turns, but again, Sparks always plays fair with his reader, expertly hiding the clues that only become obvious after the plot is revealed.

An impressive debut from a talented writer. Sign me up for the next adventure of Moses Winterl

What I've Been Reading - Sins of Intent

Randy Roeder takes us back to Cedar Rapids of the Sixties in Sins of Intent, the first of a series featuring haberdasher-turned-amateur-detective Cletus Efferding.

I've lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa since the Eighties, and while that is much later than the period Sins is set in, many of the sights and places Roeder references were still around when I moved here. And Cletus's movements around Cedar-Rapids-that-was ring true and accurately.

Cletus works in the Men's Department at Killian's, a retail anchor of Downtown Cedar Rapids for decades, but is also a dance instructor. It's this second job that leads him to investigate the death of a fellow instructor and good friend.

Cletus is a fellow with heavy emotional and legal baggage, which keeps him in the sights of the local cops, even as he tries to get justice for his friend. Along the way, we learn of the tragedy that destroyed his former life, and we also watch him make several rookie (and in one case, racist) mistakes in his investigation. It's a credit to Roeder's character development that we still are rooting for Cletus as he bumbles along.

Cedar Rapids is just as much of a character in Sins as any of the people. And as the manager of Iowa's only jazz radio station, I appreciate his inclusion of jazz players and jazz clubs in the novel, particularly the colorful Joe Abodeely, who makes a cameo toward the end, and whose shady business dealings were the inspiration for much of the novel's action.

Sins of Intent is a worthy debut, and I will definitely be climbing back into Roeder's Linn County Time Machine for Cletus's next adventure.

What I've Been Reading - Fool

“This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank.” 
― Christopher Moore, Fool

Shakespeare parodies are a dime a dozen, but few twist familiar tropes like Christopher Moore. He's previously tackled vampires, Death, and the life of Jesus (as told by the Savior's best buddy, Biff), and his take on The Bard doesn't disappoint.

Fool retells King Lear from the point of view of Pocket, the King's jester, whose sarcasm and sharp wit keeps him on the edge of getting his neck stretched most of the time. Moore doesn't feel the need to constrain himself to one play, however, as the witches from Macbeth make a cameo, and when Pocket journeys to Scotland, he traverses Birnam Wood, which also figures in The Scottish Play.

Moore's Olde England may be muddy and rainy, but its definitely merry, particularly where sex is concerned. Pocket beds two of Lear's three daughters, not to mention a variety of the kitchen staff. I guess all those Londonites crowding the tube had to come from somewhere. Pocket's somewhat-requited love for Cordelia, the third daughter, gets derailed in the opening scenes of the novel when she is married off to Jeff, the King of France, but proves later in the book she is no damsel in distress who needs to be rescued by her dashing suitor. Pocket is a lot of things, but dashing isn't one of them.

I picked the book as plane reading on a vacation to the U.K., figuring a novel set in medieval England would be the perfect prep prior to touring the Tower of London (I had recently seen a production of Richard III, so was already all set imprisoning boy princes-wise), was not disappointed.

A knowledge of Shakespeare is definitely not required to enjoy Fool. There is just enough Shakespearian phrasing to give the novel the right flavor, but not so much as to make reading an exercise in deciphering Sixteenth Century slang.

Pocket returns in The Serpent of Venice, where we will discover, I'm sure, that he is the true hero of Othello. I'm in.

 

It Was Forty Years Ago Today, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

"I saw the most amazing movie last night," Jim Thorn said.

It was May 28, 1977 (give or take a day), the summer between my junior and senior years in high school.

The movie, of course, was Star Wars. Jim and I were what today would be celebrated as geeks knowledgeable in a variety of arcane Sci-Fi and Fantasy lore.

In the Seventies, they just called us weird.

As far as the movie was concerned, I was ambivalent.

"Yeah, I think I read that book. It was so-so."

(My apologies to Alan Dean Foster. In his defense, he had no idea the book he was ghost-writing for George Lucas would spawn a literal galaxy of stories. He was just trying to stitch something together from what I am sure was a pretty bare early version of the script. And if you ever pick up a copy of that original novelization, you'll be amused by some of the remarks about the history of the Empire and Old Republic that are-- well, let's just say no longer canon.)

"I'm going back to see it again tonight," Jim continued. "You need to come. We'll need to get there early. There was a big line last night."

And so we did. We arrived ninety minutes or so prior to show time at Omaha's Cinema Center, kind of a dingy multiplex that today has been turned into an indoor gun range. 

We staked out our spot in line outside the single room in which the movie was showing, and waited. Jim was so excited to share the unique look of the movie that one point, he insisted on cracking open the door a little so I could get a preview. I only saw a few minutes of what I would later learn was the Death Star running blaster battle, but it was enough to realize that something special was going on.

Finally, the show was over, and we waited impatiently for the prior crowd, dazed by what they had just seen, to exit. We took our seats, and a few minutes later, the Twentieth Century-Fox fanfare sounded, followed by the first notes of John Williams', which would become just as legendary.

I don't have to go in to my reaction to the movie. If you're reading this, you probably have memories just as fond of the first time you saw it.

The drive home, between concrete barriers that narrowed Interstate 80 due to construction, made it seem like it was us who were barreling through a trench on the Death Star toward a small thermal exhaust port.

Thus began what I will always think of as The Summer of Star Wars. We saw the movie just about every weekend, dragging whichever of our friends (including long-suffering girlfriends) we could induce to go.

I stopped counting at seventeen viewings, not very impressive in today's Netflix-bingeing era, but quite a commitment in the days you had to schlep out to a theatre across town and buy a ticket in order to satisfy your Star Wars craving.

May 28th is also the birthday of son Jack. I wasn't thinking about Star Wars the night he was born, but I do remember that the day I introduced him and his brother to the movies a few years later was the closest I ever got to the feeling I had when I watched it the first time.

Thanks, George.

 

SF & Drugs & Rock & Roll – Is All My Brain and Body Needs

Music in Science Fiction & Fantasy

By Dennis W. Green

 (This article was originally published in PerihelionSF under the title "More Than Zarathustra.)

Artists have always been inspired by the art of others. Musicians and writers have traded inspiration for centuries. Science Fiction is no different. But SF is unique in how it has touched, and been touched by music that spans not only genres, but generations. Even more so, if you include the rich (and mostly drug-induced) legacy of connections between Rock ’n Roll and Fantasy. Since Perihelion is not Fantasy publication, we’ll keep the discussion to mainstream Sci-Fi as much as possible, only touching on Fantasy in a couple of spots for completeness.

 

Sci-Fi At The Movies – A Classical Gas

When I started researching for this article, I thought I would spend most of my time discussing the various classical pieces that have found their way into science fiction and fantasy movies, beginning with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Turns out, it’s pretty much Zarathustra and… well, not a lot else. Most of the music we know and love from our favorite movies are original compositions, which we’ll cover in the next section.

Now, cartoons are another matter. If not for Bugs Bunny, I would know nothing about classical music, and I can’t ever hear “The Barber of Seville” without seeing that rascally rabbit wielding a shaving brush and razor. But that’s another article.

If there is another classical piece that has been so totally intertwined with any movie, let alone a sci-Fi movie, as much as Strauss’s meditation on Friedrich Nietzsche, I don’t know what it would be. No other “pre-composed” movie theme even comes close.

But Stanley Kubrick is not the only director to mine the archives of classical music for inspiration.

A good example from a fairly recent film is Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 13, used to excellent effect in The Avengers. 

Prometheus mined Chopin, and Elysium did the same with Bach in recent films as well.

The composition I was most expecting to see represented is largely absent from sci-fi on film.

“O Fortuna” is from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The piece has been called “the most overused piece of music in film history,” and shows up in dozens of movies, movie trailers, commercials, and TV.

While it has been used to powerful effect in films like The Doors, Speed, and Last of the Mohicans (not to mention Jackass), it’s only been appeared a couple of times in Sci-Fi or Fantasy. King Arthur and his knights charge into battle with the choral epic in the background in Excalibur. It also pops up in 2007’s Beowulf: Prince of the Geats.

 

Putting The Original into Original Soundtrack

Where original movies scores are concerned, let’s start at the top of the mountain, John Williams and Star Wars.

The Star Wars Soundtrack was the first non-rock and roll record I ever bought, and I listened to it over and over again after seeing the movie. Remember, this was in the days when if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to a theater. So in between viewings, listening to the soundtrack was a great way to re-live the movie. If you’ve never sat down and listened to the full 5:51 of the Main Title, do it now.

Leitmotif is a musical term that means a phrase or melody that is associated with a particular character, place, or emotion. Common in symphonic music and opera, It was not used much in film until Williams revived it for Star Wars.

It’s really a very simple device, but it is now impossible to imagine the Star Wars movies without the unique musical signatures associated with particular characters and scenes.

The re-stated melody of the Main Title which plays under Luke’s first appearance, answering Uncle Owen’s bellow, will come to represent him throughout the films. The same for Princess Leia, the Jawas, even The Force, whose theme first appears in the Binary Sunset scene, and returns in each of the films.

In his recent Star Wars re-watch reviews on IO9, Germain Lussier goes even further:

The other MVP of the movie—especially once you get to the Death Star action scenes but during the whole thing, really—is John Williams. The importance of his music in setting the tone for Star Wars cannot be overstated. Including just how perfectly integrated into each and every scene it is. Years have passed since this movie was released, and I dare you not to get goosebumps when Luke and Leia swing across the retracted bridge on the Death Star.

The Star Wars soundtrack remains the highest grossing non-pop recording of all time. But it was just the beginning for John Williams. He, of course, composed the five-note figure the aliens implant in Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not to mention the music to Superman, the Indiana Jones films, and the entire Star Wars saga, including (thankfully) The Force Awakens.

As far as other original music composed for sci-fi movies goes, the music from Lord of the Rings comes very close to achieving Lussier’s “MVP” status. Howard Shore used over ninety leitmotifs, the most identifiable of which would probably be “History of The Ring,” which plays during the title sequence of all three films, and the song Pippin sings to Denethor that accompanies Faramir's suicidal charge into battle in “Return of the King.”

The lyrics to “Pippin's Song” are not from Tolkien at all, but were composed by Billy Boyd, the actor who played Pippin, written on just twenty-four hours notice, the day before the scene was filmed.

Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme introduced us to the “new” ST theme. Although it was certainly helped by a decade of ST:TNG to burn it into our minds.

Honorable mention to Queen, because there are very few themes that captured the essence of their films (that is to say, ridiculous camp) better than Flash.

( More about Queen later)

 

The Jazz of Star Trek

At first listen, the original Star Trek Theme seems to be a pretty conventional orchestral piece, using classical forms, as most TV and movies themes of the era are. But Alexander Courage’s composition has its roots in jazz.

In a 2000 interview, Courage explained that his inspiration for the main part of the theme is from “Beyond The Blue Horizon,” a pop tune from the 1930s. Courage said it gave him the idea for a song which was a "long thing that...keeps going out into space...over a fast moving accompaniment."

This swing version of the song, by Jack Hylton and his Orchestra, illustrates that.

But the most interesting musical parallel is apparently coincidental. The Star Trek theme shares a harmonic progression with the jazz standard, “Out of Nowhere.” That is to say, the two songs share the same several notes, played in the same order, to form each tune’s main melody (“the hook” in music parlance).

“Out of Nowhere” was introduced by Bing Crosby in his 1930 film Dude Ranch, and was Bing’s first Number One hit. You can definitely hear the melodic similarity in Bing’s version, but when Charlie Parker and Miles Davis slowed it down and made a ballad out of the tune in 1947, the resemblance is downright eerie:

It’s difficult to believe that Courage wasn’t familiar with “Out of Nowhere,” but he never mentioned it as an influence, and absent an “unconscious plagiarism” ruling of the sort that led George Harrison to pay a bunch of money to the composer of “He’s So Fine,” we are left with the resemblance as a coincidence. But a coincidence that the show has had some fun with.

In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry suggested doing a detective story based on the holodeck, and writer Tracy Tormé got the job of writing “The Big Goodbye.” In the process, Tormé created the character of 1940s literary detective Dixon Hill, one of the most memorable additions to the Star Trek canon.

As Captain Picard enters Dixon Hill’s office for the first time near the beginning of the episode, a radio is playing “Out of Nowhere.”

It was producer Robert Justman who suggested the Easter Egg. A jazzer would say he was “hip” to the connection.

(It’s interesting to note that Tracy Tormé is the son of legendary jazz singer Mel Tormé. The younger Tormé would go on to co-create “Sliders,” and cast his famous father in the show.)

A musician friend of mine also insists there is a scene in Voyager that takes place on Earth at a Star Fleet reception where a combo is playing “Out of Nowhere,” but I haven’t been able to locate it.

Jonathon Frakes happened to play the trombone, which led the ST:TNG writers to send Commander Ryker to a holodeck jazz club to unwind. Ryker’s musical bane was “Nightbird,” which he could never master.

In fact, once jazz broke into the Star Trek franchise, it would play a small but significant role in every series.

  • The Deep Space Nine crew also liked to hang out in holodeck bars. Their favorite hologram was lounge singer Vic Fontaine, played by former teen heartthrob James Darren. Eventually, he would come to serve as a father confessor of sorts to various members of the crew.
  • Lieutenant (and clarinetist) Harry Kim led a jazz quartet on Voyager called the Kimtones. Unlike Frakes, Garrett Wang did not play the instrument, but memorized the correct fingerings, no small task.
  • And on Star Trek: Enterprise, we learn that free jazz has an interesting effect on the Vulcan psyche, when T’Pol hits a San Francisco club in the episode “Fusion.” "It was unusual, chaotic, but I was drawn to it," she says. "I felt...invigorated." This idea popped up in Voyager as well. In the episode “Riddles,” Tuvok loses his intellect for a time and quits repressing his emotions. During this time, he develops a fondness for jazz.

A word of advice: Don’t hint to a jazz musician that it’s best to be stupid and emotional to enjoy the form.

 

SF & Drugs & Rock 'n Roll Is All My Brain & Body Need

Up to now, we’ve mainly discussed music as it relates to Science Fiction in the movies and TV. In general, a songwriter can reference a literary character in any way he or she likes. But the reverse isn’t true. A writer must pay for rights to quote song lyrics in a book or story, so it’s not always easy to discern what music may have influenced a writer.

But since Bill Haley and the Comets ushered in the Rock ’n Roll era, we can be sure that hundreds of writers have written to the beat of Rock tunes. Urban Fantasy writers in particular like to draw connections to Rock in their writing. An informal survey (Okay… me looking at my own bookshelves), reveals many Urban Fantasy books and stories with titles that directly or indirectly reference Rock ’n Roll.

But the connections are there for straight-ahead Science Fiction as well. In fact, IO9.com found 100 Sci-Fi songs inspired by Rock ’n Roll. You can visit that site to see the entire list, but here are a few, plus some they missed, that I think represent the best of the lot.

 

The Brains of Rock ’n Roll

“39”

Queen

The original members of Queen are the most highly-degreed in all of pop music.  Singer Freddie Mercury had a Masters in Art (and designed the group’s logo, the Queen Crest). Bassist John Deacon possesses a Masters in Electronic Engineering, and guitarist Brian May has a PhD in Astrophysics. Drummer Roger Taylor is the slacker of the group. He “merely” has a BS in Biology.

In fact, in July of 2015, May was invited to NASA, where he joined the New Horizons team in examining the first photos of the Pluto flyby.

So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that one of May’s songs deals with a love story disrupted by the physics of relativity.

“39,” from the group’s breakout album “A Night at the Opera,” tells the story of a group of space explorers dispatched to find a replacement for a dying earth. After a year, they return to discover a hundred years have passed, and everyone they know and love has died. Hidden in what at first listen appears to be a cheerful folk tune with a skiffle beat are some of the most plaintive and haunting closing lyrics I’ve ever heard:

 

For my life,
Still ahead,
Pity me.

The time dilation effects of Einstein’s special theory of relativity are familiar to those of us who read the literature, but it’s unusual territory for pop music. On an album known for the optimistic “You’re My Best Friend,” and the bombastic anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “39” is just a musical footnote. But with its emotional punch and empirical accuracy, it may be Rock’s only true science fiction story.

Queen would also mine Science Fiction art, choosing a well-known Astounding cover by Frank Kelly Freas as the cover of News of the World. The album would go on to generate two more Rock anthems for the quartet (or one, depending on how you look at it), “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.”

 

Heroes and Villains

“Iron Man”

Black Sabbath

 

“Magneto and Titanium Man”

Wings

 

The ultimate meta-moment of Marvel’s Iron Man is when Tony Stark wages battle to the soundtrack of Black Sabbath’s song of the same name. Taken by itself, the tune is the kind of turgid, guitar heavy arena rock tunes best listened to under the influence of the chemical of your choice. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the Marvel Comics character.

But that scene was awfully cool.

Paul McCartney went Ozzy and his crew one better, invoking not one but three Marvel characters in his “Magneto and Titanium Man.” Featuring not only Iron Man’s Soviet antagonists Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo, but also the mutant master of metal, the song appeared on the B side of “Venus & Mars Rock Show,” and was a Wings concert staple, accompanied by original Marvel art.

An avowed comics fan, Paul McCartney gave Jack Kirkby and his daughter front-row seats during the “Venus & Mars” tour. Kirby returned the favor with a hand-drawn comic.

 

The Ones On Every List

“Space Oddity”

David Bowie

 

“Rocket Man”

Elton John

 You can’t do a list of Sci Fi songs without including these two. 

 Even though Mark Watley must engineer his own survival to a disco beat in Andy Weir’s The Martian, what the movie is actually about is proving the 1972 John-Taupin Theorem of Mars climate:

 

 

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,

In fact, it’s cold as hell. 

 

“Space Oddity” is another tune which makes just about every “Sci-Fi rock tunes” list. Bowie would come back to the Science Fiction theme again, as Ziggy Stardust, bisexual alien rock star, and play an alien in his movie debut, “The Man Who Fell To Earth.” He would also eventually tell us the fate of Major Tom, labeling him a “junkie” in the 1980 tune “Ashes to Ashes.”

Bowie also wins the award for providing titles to genre TV shows. “Ashes to Ashes” and “Life on Mars” (both the excellent BBC original and the not-quite-so-good American remake) would have been poorer without their titles. And thankfully, fully licensed to use Bowies’ music within the shows.

Speaking of licensing, in a triumph of common sense, Bowie’s music publisher agreed to extend astronaut Chris Hadfield’s license to “Space Oddity,” so the first music video ever produced in space could continue to be seen.

Included here, because that means I can.

 

Paul is Dead. Or Maybe Just On Another Planet

“Calling Occupants of Interstellar Craft”

Klaatu

This is probably the most obscure tune on my list. The closest it came to being a hit was when the Carpenters recorded a predictably-sappy version of it in 1977, which only cracked the Top Forty for a few weeks. But the original comes with an interesting story.

The song was written and recorded by the Canadian band Klaatu. So right off the top we have a cool The Day The Earth Stood Still reference. But when the album was first released in 1976, it was without pictures of the band or even their names anywhere on it. Everything was “Written by Klaatu,” “Produced by Klaatu,” etc.

Somehow, a rumor got started that Klaatu was actually a reunited Beatles, recording anonymously. The band’s record company denied it from the get-go, as did the founders, John Woloschuk and Dee Long, when they finally revealed themselves. But it took quite a while for the rumors to die down.

 

News Flash: Sixties music was kind of trippy.

“In The Year 2525”

Zager & Evans

Zager and Evans’, “In The Year 2525,” not only makes most Sci-Fi music lists, it has also topped many One-Hit Wonder countdowns over the years. The group has the dubious distinction of being the only act to top both the U.S. and U.K. charts and then never have another hit.  

The 1969 song stops at 1,010-year intervals, making disturbing predictions about human society at each. Writer Rick Evans is the anti-Roddenberry, predicting that we will never learn from our mistakes.

 

 

Life is Cheap and Death is Free

“Transverse City”

Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon is one of music’s most iconoclastic personalities. He began his career penning hits for artists like Linda Ronstadt. In his final years, he talked candidly with David Letterman about his terminal lung cancer. “Werewolves of London” is his most recognizable song, although his “Keep Me In Your Heart” is one of the most poignant songs ever written. He was well-read, despite dropping out of high school. “Transverse City” was directly influenced by William Gibson.

Zevon was definitely a reader, and a fan of writers. He dedicated an album to detective novelist Ross MacDonald, and served as musical director and occasional guitarist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, the famous “garage band” made up of Stephen King, Dave Barry, Matt Groening, and Amy Tan.

 

At Least There Were No Anal Probes

“Spaceman”

The Killers

Lest you think science fiction and music quit cross-pollinating in 1980 (or that the writer is an old fart, although that is probably true), let’s fast forward to 2009 for “Spaceman” by The Killers.

The narrator is kidnapped by aliens, but returned none the worse for the experience, except for one lingering effect.

I hear these voices at night sometimes.

The song may be 21st Century, but the video, while entertaining, is strictly Eighties MTV cheese.

 

It’s Just Too Peculiar Here

“Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer”

Ella Fitzgerald

I work at a jazz radio station, so I am hardly going to leave off the UFO tune by none other than the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald. “Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer” exhibit their discriminating taste by fleeing the earth after getting a taste of our culture, notably our television shows. And this was in 1951, decades before TV political ads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

View It, Code It.

“Technologic”

Daft Punk 

Daft Punk is a “must have” on the list, since they’re robots from the future and all. Plus, their guest shot was the best thing about Tron: Legacy.

“Technologic” is textbook for the helmeted French duo, mixing up funk, techno, rock, and synth pop, with vocals that might actually be what my computer is thinking at any given moment.

 

 

 

 

 

I Hear The Weather in Transexual Transylvania is Great This Time of Year.

“Science Fiction Double Feature”

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Referencing classic sci fi cinema from Triffids to George Pal, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Science Fiction Double Feature” is a smooth ballad whose pop veneer lulls us into complacency before we are thrust into the gender-bending, rock ’n roll fever dream that Brad and Janet experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citizens of the Universe

“Mothership Connection”

Parliament

 

“We have returned to claim the pyramids,” proclaims George Clinton as “Mothership Connection” opens. Clinton, a fan of Star Trek, put together the 1975 concept album to “put black people in space.” Of course, today, the album cover featuring a pimp atop his space-faring Cadillac is a little jarring. Generally regarded as one of Parliment's best albums, Mothership Connection was the first to feature Maceo Parker and Fred Weasley, two veterans of James Brown's horn section, who would go on to be important jazz and funk musicians in their own right.

The Library of Congress added the album to the National Recording Registry in 2011, noting it’s influence on the jazz, rock, and dance music that followed. So in a way, it predicted the future of music just like Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein predicted the future of science.

And maybe gave Roland Emmerich the idea for Stargate, who knows?

 

Just a Ramblin’ Hobbit

“Ramble On”

Led Zeppelin

 

“Ramble On is one of three Led Zeppelin tunes that reference characters and scenes from Lord of the Rings, along with “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Battle of Evermore.” Although if your girl left you to be with Gollum, it’s possible you’re better off without her.

Bonus points to Jimmy Page, who designed the mysterious “Four Symbols” logo, which looks to me like Elvish.

 And the Beat goes on...

 

 

 

 

 

Music plays an important role in Dennis W. Green's “Traveler” books, which tell the story of a police detective who must slip between parallel realities to track down a murderous version of himself. A popular radio personality in his native Iowa, Dennis's work has been recognized by Billboard and by JazzWeek, which has named his station, KCCK-FM, Station of the Year four times in the last six years.

15 Talented Performers and Some Old Guy

It has been my honor to be a guest artist this fall with Kirkwood Performing Arts in the musical, "1940s Radio Hour."

It has been a complete blast, and if you're in the Corridor area, please consider this your invitation to join us for a step back in time to the music, and entertainment of the WWII era.

Nov. 3-6 in Ballantyne Auditorium. Directed by Rick Anderson and Fred Kiser. Reserve tickets by email at ballantyne@kirkwood.edu or call 319.398.5896.

Below are two video links. One is the interview I did with the cast, which includes a taste of the music. The other is some different song clips.

Showing The Rifle

The following originally appeared in 2015 on the blog of one my literary heroes, Ed Gorman. Ed passed away in October 2016. But you can still read some of his final musings at newimprovedgorman.blogspot.com.

Showing The Rifle

Like anyone who has spewed forth a book, I’m occasionally asked what the toughest thing is about writing. I’ll mumble something about the difficulty of making time to write when you have a full-time job and family, or trying to write when you’re not inspired, or something equally cliché.

But I’m lying. I don’t want to talk about it, but there is one thing that even after writing two books is BY FAR the hardest thing to do.

Knowing how to show the rifle.

You probably recognize the phrase. Anton Chekhov famously wrote that if you show a rifle hanging over the mantle in Act I it had better go off in Act III or you shouldn’t mention it.

Chekhov was referring to keeping extraneous detail out of your writing. If something doesn’t serve a distinct purpose to plot or characterization, chop it out. Great advice.
But for me, “showing the rifle” is more about burying the clues that my protagonist uses to solve the mystery the book is about. Because what you want to do is show the rifle, sure, but do it in such a way that when the gun goes off, it’s a complete and utter surprise to the reader. For my money, the hardest trick in literature.

In this context, of course, mystery is an all-encompassing term, not a particular genre. Every book... heck, every tale ever told is at its heart, a mystery. Every protagonist has a problem that must be solved, and the story consists of the obstacles and clues he finds along the way that enables him to solve the problem, be it romantic or galactic.

I’m a pretty easy audience. I’ll put up with wooden characters, familiar scenes, trite dialogue. As long as the story is moving at a good clip, I’m happy. But the second the detective suddenly produces a clue that was conveniently not mentioned when she first “noticed” it, or pulls some piece of arcane knowledge out of thin air, I’m out of there. 

Of course, the opposite is true as well. There are few things more irritating than reading a setup that is so obvious it might as well be outlined in red, then biding your time for the rest of the book for the “big reveal” on page 277 that you knew has been coming since Chapter 3.

So I obsess over the rifle.

It’s nerve-wracking. You painstakingly plant clue after clue, then scuff just enough metaphorical dirt over each one, hoping they go unnoticed even though to you it’s like there’s a big, red arrow pointing at each one that screams “LOOK, LOOK! SETUP FOR THE END OF THE BOOK HERE! RIGHT HERE! HE’S GOING TO REFER TO THIS LATER DURING HIS *SHOCKING* PLOT TWIST! BE WARNED!”

Fortunately, of all the reviews of my books, no one has ever said anything about the big red arrow. In fact, I have even gotten a few “I totally did not suspect the twist at the end!” What I consider to be the absolute highest praise any plot-driven author can receive:

There is no rifle in the Traveler books. At least, not yet. But if I put one in, it will definitely go off. And if it’s still a surprise after I telegraphed it for you just now, I’ll take that as a compliment.

The Premiere of Star Trek

Five decades ago, six-year-old Dennis Green was channel-surfing (all three channels that were available), when he landed on KMTV, the Omaha NBC affiliate, just in time to see this creature fill the TV screen, all twelve inches of it.

Scared the shit out of me.

It wasn't until years later, when like all Geeks-In-Training, I started watching Star Trek reruns after school, that I realized the creature that had given me a week's worth of nightmares was the Salt Vampire from "The Man Trap." And later I learned that even though "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was the (second) pilot, "Man Trap" was the episode that the network suits chose to air first.

Read on Blastr why "The Man Trap" was a better choice for a debut episode than we ever thought.

I can't say with 100% certainty, of course, that what I saw wasn't a rerun. But I choose to believe that I watched the Star Trek premiere on September 8, 1966.

At least thirty-seven seconds or so of it.

It's Always Weird to Read an Obituary with Your Name

Dennis Green laughed and laughed when I introduced myself to him at a Minneapolis radio conference in 1995. The then-Vikings coach was a guest speaker.

"You're lucky you don't live around here!" he chortled. "Your phone would be ringing all the time."

By all reports, he was a class act. Football (not to mention the world in general) could use more like him.

$.99 ebook sale!

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the Imagine Other Worlds with Authors event in Cedar Rapids. It was a great chance to talk books with readers and authors.

Special kudos to Terri LeBlanc, Dana Beatty, and Aaron Bunce for all their hard work putting the event together.

But next time, I want to be further from the singing Coke Machine...

In honor of the book fair, and for anyone who was not able to get there, the Prisoner ebook is on sale for the VERY FIRST TIME, marked all the way down to 99 cents. Traveler is also just a buck, but only for five days.

Pick them up on your Kindle by Thursday!

Buy Traveler for 99 cents.

Buy Prisoner for 99 cents.

Trav's Favorites - "Don't You Write Her Off"

(An occasional series about the music that inspires me when I write, much of which ends up referenced in the Traveler books)

Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman were three of the founding members of The Byrds.

(Click here to hear Chris Hillman explain how Miles Davis helped get The Byrds their first break)

The trio reunited in the late Seventies as McGuinn, Clark, Hillman, and released an album that has always been one of my favorites. Long-time fans who were looking to hear the signature Byrds sound probably were disappointed, as McGuinn, whose throaty tenor was the hallmark of that group, stayed pretty much in the background. Instead, Clark and the always-underrated Hillman payed homage to the new country rock sound popularized by the Eagles.

While this particular ensemble would not come close to achieving the success of musical cousins like Glenn Frey and Don Henley, they provided me with the most memorable concert experience I ever had.

McGuinn, Clark, Hillman toured in 1979 as the opening act for America, another group who were pretty much printing money by mixing pop, rock, and country. I went to the concert with a school chum named Steve Halberman.

Eric Clapton was playing in Omaha the next night, and every time a dark-haired slim fellow walked past, Steve and I joked that it must be Clapton.

We did not stop to consider how unlikely it was that if the guitar legend actually was present, he probably would not be sitting in the second balcony.

As the MCH set drew to a close, Steve saw something on the side of the stage that made him turn to me and cry "We need to get to the front!" 

So we dashed to the main floor, just in time to watch Slow Hand himself stroll onto the stage and join the former Byrds in a rollicking jam on "Eight Miles High."

Nothing against America, but their set was a total anticlimax after that. I don't remember any of it.

The Jazz of Star Trek

(This is taken from "More Than Zarathustra" originally published in Perihelion SF magazine. Read the full article here.)

At first listen, the original Star Trek Theme seems to be a pretty conventional orchestral piece, using classical forms, as most TV and movies themes of the era are. But Alexander Courage’s composition has its roots in jazz.

In a 2000 interview, Courage explained that his inspiration for the main part of the theme is from “Beyond The Blue Horizon,” a pop tune from the 1930s. Courage said it gave him the idea for a song which was a "long thing that...keeps going out into space...over a fast moving accompaniment." 

This swing version of the song, by Jack Hylton and his Orchestra, illustrates that.

But the most interesting musical parallel is apparently coincidental. The Star Trek theme shares a harmonic progression with the jazz standard, “Out of Nowhere.” That is to say, the two songs share the same several notes, played in the same order, to form each tune’s main melody (“the hook” in music parlance).

“Out of Nowhere” was introduced by Bing Crosby in his 1930 film Dude Ranch, and was Bing’s first Number One hit. You can definitely hear the melodic similarity in Bing’s version, but when Charlie Parker and Miles Davis slowed it down and made a ballad out of the tune in 1947, the resemblance is downright eerie:

It’s difficult to believe that Courage wasn’t familiar with “Out of Nowhere,” but he never mentioned it as an influence, and absent an “unconscious plagiarism” ruling of the sort that led George Harrison to pay a bunch of money to the composer of “He’s So Fine,” we are left with the resemblance as a coincidence. But a coincidence that the show has had some fun with.

In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry suggested doing a detective story based on the holodeck, and writer Tracy Tormé got the job of writing “The Big Goodbye.” In the process, Tormé created the character of 1940s literary detective Dixon Hill, one of the most memorable additions to the Star Trek canon.

As Captain Picard enters Dixon Hill’s office for the first time near the beginning of the episode, a radio is playing “Out of Nowhere.” 

It was producer Robert Justman who suggested the Easter Egg. A jazzer would say he was “hip” to the connection.

(It’s interesting to note that Tracy Tormé is the son of legendary jazz singer Mel Tormé. The younger Tormé would go on to co-create “Sliders,” and cast his famous father in the show.)

A musician friend of mine also insists there is a scene in Voyager that takes place on Earth at a Star Fleet reception where a combo is playing “Out of Nowhere,” but I haven’t been able to locate it.

Jonathon Frakes happened to play the trombone, which led the ST:TNG writers to send Commander Ryker to a holodeck jazz club to unwind. Ryker’s musical bane was “Nightbird,” which he could never master.

In fact, once jazz broke into the Star Trek franchise, it would play a small but significant role in every series.

  • The Deep Space Nine crew also liked to hang out in holodeck bars. Their favorite hologram was lounge singer Vic Fontaine, played by former teen heartthrob James Darren. Eventually, he would come to serve as a father confessor of sorts to various members of the crew.
  • Lieutenant (and clarinetist) Harry Kim led a jazz quartet on Voyager called the Kimtones. Unlike Frakes, Garrett Wang did not play the instrument, but memorized the correct fingerings, no small task.
  • And on Star Trek: Enterprise, we learn that free jazz has an interesting effect on the Vulcan psyche, when T’Pol hits a San Francisco club in the episode “Fusion.” "It was unusual, chaotic, but I was drawn to it," she says. "I felt...invigorated." This idea popped up in Voyager as well. In the episode “Riddles,” Tuvok loses his intellect for a time and quits repressing his emotions. During this time, he develops a fondness for jazz.

A word of advice: Don’t hint to a jazz musician that the best way to enjoy the music is to stupid and emotional.

More Than "Zarathustra"

What jazz tune shares a melody with the Star Trek theme? And what rock & roll tune tells its story against the background of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity?

Combining my love for music (jazz in particular) and Science Fiction, I recently penned an article on the relationship between music and Sci Fi for PerihelionSF.com.

Click on the picture to read the whole thing.