Thursday, March 8, 2018

Movie Review (Sort Of): Buddy, Buddy

Buddy, Buddy was the last film directed by Billy Wilder, one of the greatest directors who ever lived. It was written by Wilder and longtime collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, the writing team behind Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, and The Fortune Cookie. It stars the comedy gold team of Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon.

And it isn't good. Which is so weird!

In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert proclaimed that Buddy, Buddy contained no laughs. Zero. And while he might be overstating things a bit, I can't really argue with him, either. It's just not funny. It's just not good.

That said, it's not bad, per se. Watching the film was a pleasant enough way to spend a little under 2 hours.

I've turned movies off they were so bad, but I didn't want to turn off Buddy, Buddy.

I've rolled my eyes at the stupidity of movies, but I didn't roll my eyes at Buddy, Buddy.

I've spent hours detailing the plot and character problems in movies, but I have nothing to say about Buddy, Buddy in this regard.

I've railed against certain movies (looking at you Human Centipede) whose very existence feels like an affront to the concept of film making, but I won't go on a rant about Buddy, Buddy.

And of course I've enjoyed bad movies in a so-bad-they're-good sort of what, but not so Buddy, Buddy.

It's not bad; it's just not good. (And I know I've said that several times already, but I just can't get over the fact.)

At some point, I read an interview with someone involved in the movie industry that has stuck with me. I can't remember if this person was a writer, actor, director, producer or what, but he said that there is no way to tell if a movie is going to be great or going to be a pile of hot garbage until you see the finished product. This sounds absurd, but the more I learn about the film industry, the more I believe it to be true.

Let's take two movies from the opposite end of the spectrum: Jean Luc Goddard's Breathless and Star Wars. During the making of both films, the crew supposedly though that they would be a disaster. Yet both films were, essentially, saved in the editing room. You hear about this a lot. Or you hear about movies like Swamp Thing. By all accounts, the script for Swamp Thing was really good. Craven thought it would be his ticket out of the horror movie ghetto. Adrienne Barbeau thought it could be the next Star Wars. Then the budget got cut during filming. Then cut again. Then again. If you've seen the finished product . . . well, it ain't Star Wars, let's just say that.

So no matter how good a movie looks or doesn't look on paper, what matters is the end product. I kept thinking about this as I watched and reflected on Buddy, Buddy. This should have been a comedy classic. First off, there's the pedigree, which I mentioned in the opening paragraph. But even leaving that aside, it's just a really great concept. Mathau plays a hitman who sets up in a hotel room across from the courthouse where a star witness is set to testify against the mob. His job: assassinate the guy as he climbs the courthouse steps and then beat a hasty retreat. Lemmon is a standards and practises executive at CBS whose wife has left him for the founder of a Sexual Research Institute. He's taken the hotel room that connects with Mathau's and plans to commit suicide. Of course, their paths cross and hilarity ensues.

Only it doesn't.

All of the story beats are there, and on paper they're all funny. But on screen they fall utterly flat. Buddy, Buddy is a testament to the fact that when it comes to film making, the whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts.

After all of this, would I recommend watching Buddy, Buddy? I don't know. Maybe? It's certainly a curiosity.

It is a shame that Wilder went out on such a low-note. Probably it's best to rewatch Sunset Boulevard or The Apartment or Some Like it Hot. Or if you want to see what the team of Wilder/Diamond/Lemmon/Mathau were capable of, check out The Fortune Cookie.

But if you want to watch a movie that will keep you scratching your head as to why it's so utterly forgettable when it shouldn't be, in that case, I wholeheartedly recommend Buddy, Buddy.

See a Penny . . .

My short story "See a Penny . . ." was published earlier this year in the January/February issue of Mike Resnick's Galaxy's Edge Magazine (issue #30). You can buy it in various formats (paper and ebook) here. Or go to Amazon here, where you can buy it for your Kindle or, if you're old-school, in paperback.

I wrote "See a Penny . . ." as a sort of homage to George Clayton Johnson, who is my favorite writer that most people have never heard of. Johnson wrote mainly for television, penning the teleplay (a word that doesn't get used enough these days, I feel) for "The Man Trap," the first episode of Star Trek to grace the television airwaves. He also wrote famously for The Twilight Zone, contributing such episodes as "Kick the Can," "Nothing in the Dark," "A Penny for Your Thoughts," "Execution," and "All of Us are Dying." In addition to writing for the small screen, he co-wrote, with William F. Nolan, the novel Logan's Run, and while he was by no means prolific, he managed to turn out a few really top-notch short stories. That Johnson isn't better remember is a real shame.

I'm glad that "See a Penny . . ." found a home in Galaxy's Edge, which is one of my favorite science fiction magazines being published today.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Random Thoughts on DragonCon 2017

Another DragonCon is in the books. This was my third year going and it was, as always, a blast. An exhausting blast, but still a blast. Here are some random thoughts on the convention.
  • It strikes me that there isn't really a DragonCon so much as there are multiple DragonCons running concurrently. Total attendance at the convention is somewhere north of 80,000 people. The sheer number of folks who attend paired with the fact that it takes place in multiple hotels, plus the fact that there are multiple fandoms represented (literature, film, television, anime, gaming, comics, etc.) means that one attendee will have a very different experience than another.
  • The first year I attended, I was excited about all the craziness: the cool stuff in the vendor halls, the creative cosplay, the general madness. Three years in, that stuff has become less interesting, even annoying at times. (See: waiting half an hour plus to cram into an elevator with many smelly people.) However, what has now become the highlight is getting to hang out with old friends and new. Seeing people I don't normally get to, making connections, talking with FBI agents and NASA scientists, screenwriters and NYT best-selling authors, established pros and scrappy up-and-comers. That's what makes DragonCon badass these days.
  • As I have the last three years, I kicked off DC with a Mai Tai at Trader Vic's. Sweet nectar of the Gods!
  • Here's a fun story. A group of us were going to hang out at Baen Barfly Central. The Barfly suite is a DragonCon tradition, as well as a staple at several other cons. Essentially, some of Baen's awesome fans set up a hangout in their hotel room for Baen fans, authors, and editors to socialize. It's much more low-key and quiet than hanging out at one of the hotel bars. The room was on the sixteenth floor of one of the host hotels. We were waiting on the elevator. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Finally, someone (I'm pretty sure it was LJ Hachmeister) got the idea that we should just take the stairs. A handful of folks bowed out, saying they'd hang out at Barfly Central another night. Another handful of folks said they'd climb the stairs. Stupidly, I was in group two. The scene from the end of Ghostbusters is what you should be picturing. Later, when it was time to head out for the night, another person suggested we take the stairs back down. Going down is easier, but not that much easier. All this would have been fine, except when we got back to our hotel that night we were told that some jackass had pulled the fire alarm and the elevators were not working. We were staying on floor 57 and before you get excited, no, this story doesn't end with me climbing 57 flights of stairs. See, the Westin has two elevator banks: one that goes to floors 1-45 and another that goes from floors 46-70. After waiting an hour for the elevators to get reset, only the bank that went up to floor 45 was working. By this point it was almost one a.m. We had a choice: wait until the other elevators were running again or ride up to floor 45 and climb another 12 flights to our room. We chose choice B. Were my legs sore the next day? Readers, what do you think?
  • I would list all the cool folks I got to hang out with but I know that I'd accidentally leave some folks off, so I'll just say that I had a great time with you all!
  • I got to present the Year's Best Military and Adventure Science Fiction Readers' Choice Award once again this year, at The Baen Traveling Roadshow. For this, the third year we've presented the award, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller took home the prize for their short story "Wise Child."
  • Best cosplay: Elvis/Glen Danzig mashup. A guy in a black leather Elvis jumpsuit with devil lock hair. On the back of his cape was the Elvis TCB lightning bolt in rhinestones, only instead of "TCB" it said "138." Nice touch, dude.
  • Actually, the best cosplay was Baen Factotum and soon-to-be-published-space-opera-author Christopher Ruocchio as me. (See photo.) This was rather impromptu but I think he pulled it off. His impression of me hocking Year's Best was even more impressive, right down to me forgetting which story was in which volume.
    "You like science fiction short stories? Let me show you this."--Me and/or Christopher cosplaying me
  • Sold a solid number of copies of Year's Best. When I left there were only 3 left on the shelf out of a dozen or more. (I didn't count how many there were to start with).
  • Went to The Armory for the first time. This is two rooms downstairs in the Hyatt that feature edged weapons as well as firearms that are donated (temporarily, of course) to the convention. I'm not super into swords or guns, but this was really cool. (At least for me. Michael Z. Williamson referred to it as "a good start" and looking like the closet in his spare bedroom. Ha!) Highlights included an actual Vietnam-era rocket launcher, several suits of armor, a "Brown Bess" that was longer than I am tall, and a Tommy Gun.
    Clyde Barrow-style. (Okay, technically I don't think Clyde Barrow used a Thompson. Whatever. You get the idea.)
  • Another story: We got back to our hotel rather late Thursday night. We'd eaten a late dinner, but I was pretty hungry. However, I was exhausted and already in the room, so I figured I'd just turn in. Three hours of tossing and turning later, I was starving and had a splitting low-blood-sugar-induced migraine. At this point it was 3:30 in the morning, but I had such a bad headache and was so hungry that I couldn't even feel how tired I was. There was nothing to do but throw on clothes and go in search of something to eat. The hotel bar had long since closed, as had the Starbucks in the lobby and the gift shop. The front desk was still manned and I asked the employee if there was a vending machine anywhere. I was told no, but that there was a 24-hour CVS just down the block. Now, here's the thing about DragonCon: Yes, it's in downtown Atlanta, which can be a rather dangerous place after dark. But it's usually so chockablock full of nerds walking around and Atlanta PD making sure the peace is kept that you never feel unsafe. Let me tell you: Not so much at 3:30 in the morning! The streets were more or less deserted except for a few sketchy folks, including one (presumably) homeless man yelling obscenities to no one in particular and another who got into a screaming match with a young lady he felt was dressed too scantily. (Don't worry, she gave as good as she got and then some.) Luckily, I made it back to the hotel in one piece, but yikes! Moral of the story: Always bring snacks.
  • My degree of separation from John W. Campbell and Isaac Asimov is now as low as it ever will be. I met superfan Ben Yalow, who knew both gentlemen (and many, many other greats of the genre who have since passed away), and he regaled me with stories. It should be said that Mr. Yalow is a great guy in and of himself. One of the great old-school fans, from back when everyone knew everyone if not in person, than in the letters columns of the various magazines. Only Robert Silverberg has attended more WorldCons than Yalow. A very cool dude!

I'm sure I'm leaving out a bunch. It was a great time and I look forward to next year. If you get a chance, DragonCon is worth checking out.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Purchasing a Time Machine from Joe Lansdale

While I've always enjoyed reading, I did not become the voracious reader I am today until after high school. Up to that point, I'd read a novel or a short story here and there as something caught my attention. Now, I'm never without a book on the nightstand. Honestly, I don't remember what it was that caused the switch to flip, but once it did there was no going back.

It was during this first frenzy of reading everything I could get my hands on that I discovered so many great writers. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Cornell Woolrich, Shirley Jackson . . . and Joe Lansdale. Most I discovered browsing the shelves in the Allen Texas Public Library or at the various Half Price Books in the greater Dallas area I frequented, picking up books at random and seeing what caught my interest. But not Lansdale.

I first heard about Champion Joe, of all places, on Dallas's alternative rock station, 102.1 The Edge (R.I.P.). I was working at Guitar Center at the time and a handful of us decided to go out for a late dinner after our shift ended. We decided on the Bennigan's (R.I.P.) off Northwest Highway and the Toll Road. I'd never been and this was before everyone carried around a handy GPS system in their pocket. My buddy Nathan gave me directions and I headed out. For those of you in suspense, I made it there fine, but not before first missing my exit. Not a big deal, except this was the last exit for something ridiculous like five miles. As a result, I was in the car for something like 15-20 minutes longer than I might have been.

During that time, I had the radio on to keep me company. Normally The Edge played alt. rock--Nirvana and Green Day and Sublime and Weezer--but for some strange reason that night the D.J. was talking about this crazy new movie called Bubba Ho-Tep, which was playing at The Angelika theater. In it, Elvis Presley is alive and well and living in a rest home in east Texas. He teams up with an African-American man in a wheelchair who may or may not be John F. Kennedy to--wait for it--defeat a mummy that is sucking the souls of the occupants of the rest home.

Now, if that doesn't sound like a great movie to you, then we have very different taste in cinema.

Don Coscarelli, of Phantasm fame, directed the film, and it was he who was talking to the D.J. In the process of doing so, he mentioned that Bubba Ho-Tep was based on a novella by a Texas writer named Joe R. Lansdale.

I committed the name to memory. Anyone who would come up with such a concept was someone whose work I wanted read.

Some time later (I don't remember how long, though probably not more than a few days), I ascended the stairs to the fiction section of the library, searching out Mr. Lansdale's work. (I also made it a priority to see Bubba Ho-Tep ASAP, and if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor.) The library had a handful of Lansdale titles, mostly novels. I'm pretty sure they had The Bottoms and I'd be willing to bet there was at least one Hap and Leonard mystery in there. But what drew my eye was a short story collection called Bumper Crop.

I'll often start with a writer's short stories when picking up his or her work for the first time. For one thing, I love short stories. And for another, I figure I'll get a wider sense of his or her writing that way. If I happen to pick up a stinker of a novel, I'll have spend hours of time reading it and it may turn me off of said author for some time. But if I run across a bad short story, well, that was twenty minutes of my life I'll never get back, but I can always go on and see if the next one is more to my taste.

In the case of Lansdale, I needn't have worried. I've read dozens of novels, short stories, and essays by the guy and I've loved every one. Including all the stories in Bumper Crop. If you like short horror fiction, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Recently, I was at ArmadilloCon, in Austin. It's Lansdale's "home-base" convention. He's there, so far as I know, just about every year. Lansdale rents out space in the Dealer's Room, selling books and chatting with folks who drop by. I always make it a point to pay his booth a visit and pick up a couple autographed copies of his books. This year, I picked up High Cotton, another collection of his stories and--you guessed it--Bumper Crop. I'd seen Bumper Crop around in various used bookstores from time to time (sadly, it's out of print, though available as an ebook), but never plunked down the dollars to buy it. I figured I'd already read it and there were other Lansdale titles to spend money on. But when I saw a new-old-stock copy sitting on Lansdale's table, and with the knowledge that he's sign it to me, I went ahead and took the plunge, figuring it would be cool to have a signed copy of the first Joe R. Lansdale book I'd ever read.

I hadn't particularly been planning on re-reading Bumper Crop. Though I hadn't planned on not re-reading it. I figured it would look nice on the shelf and when I was feeling like a Lansdale short, I'd pull it down. But when I got home from the convention, I started paging through it. Soon I was reading the thing cover-to-cover. (I'm about a third of the way through as I write this.)

Let me just say that Bumper Crop is a total time machine, for me. Re-reading the stories contained therein transports me right back to that time when I was first discovering so many great stories, novels, and writers. Reading Bumper Crop is like putting in a mixed tape (or in my generation's case, a burned CD) of all your favorite songs from high school--and they all still hold up! Something I can't say for the actual songs I listen to in high school.

In the years since I first read Bumper Crop, I've read thousands of short stories, and in doing so have become, I'll admit, a little jaded. While revisiting Champion Joe's early stories, I'm the guy I was when I first heard that interview on The Edge and couldn't wait to get to the library to check this guy out.

A time machine for twenty bucks. Not a bad deal.

Monday, August 7, 2017

ArmadilloCon 39 Report

Another ArmadilloCon is in the books, and I must say, it was a good one.

Highlights included but were not limited to:

- Hanging out with great folks.

- Barconning until it was much, much too late. (Seriously, guys. I fear I'm getting old.)

- Sitting in the audience for some great panels.

- Being on some great panels.

- Closing out the convention by attending Howard Waldrop's reading for the first time.

- Listening to folks read their kickass stories.

- Doing my first reading at a convention. (Big, big thanks to everyone who was able to be there! I love you all!)

- I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton; it's quite the whirlwind.

Lowlights were:

- The tasteless and yet somehow still gross-tasting Subway sandwich I scarfed down between panels on Sunday.

- That's it! So overall, I'd say it was a big win.

Looking forward to next year!

Friday, August 4, 2017

ArmadilloCon 2017

My ArmadilloCon schedule is below, in case you want to come stalk me this weekend--which is totally fine by me!

**You should especially come to my reading on Saturday at 9 p.m. in the Conference Center. THERE WILL BE FABULOUS PRIZES!**

Full schedule:

Sa1100BD Short Fiction, Magazines vs. Online
Sat 11:00 AM-Noon Ballroom D

Sat 9:00 PM-9:30 PM Conference Center

Su1100DR Signing
Sun 11:00 AM-Noon Dealers' Room

Su1200BD Clarke Centenial: 2001 Space Oddysey
Sun Noon-1:00 PM Ballroom D

Su1400BF What Shorter SF&F works should you have read this year?
Sun 2:00 PM-3:00 PM Ballroom F

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Another Girl, Another Planet by Lou Antonelli

I don't really read science fiction novels much these days. With as many science fiction short stories as I read in order to assemble The Year's Best Military and Adventure SF series, when it comes time to wind down with a book, I find myself reaching for different genres. When I do read a science fiction novel, I tend to gravitate toward older works that I've meant to read but haven't gotten around to. All this to say, if a science fiction novel came out in the last three or four years, there's a stunningly good chance I haven't cracked its spine.

But I made an exception for Lou Antonelli's Another Girl, Another Planet. The premise was just too interesting. I couldn't resist.

With Another Girl, Another Planet, Lou Antonelli gives us the 20th Century we deserved rather then the 20th Century we got. It's an alternate history story in which Admiral Robert A. Heinlein (yes, that Robert A. Heinlein) convinces the United States and the U.S.S.R. to work together on a joint space program, rather than against one another in an escalating arms race. As a result, by 1985 (when our story is set) there is a thriving colony on the Moon and the frontier has moved to Mars.

The hero of the story is Dave Shuster, a low-level bureaucrat who is sent to the Mars colony to take over a vacant administration position. Once there, however, he discovers that the Martian governor has died while he was en route. Shuster is now interim leader of the colony.

The engine for Antonelli's plot is an Asmovian mystery involving a mysterious robot and android factory on Mars and a missing girl (an old flame of Shuster's) back in New York City. The mystery is well-done and kept me turning pages, and Shuster, who narrates the novel, is a likable protagonist with a great voice.

But the real joy of the novel is the world that Antonelli has created. For one thing, it's incredibly well thought out. More than that, it's just downright fun. In Another Girl, Another Planet, familiar faces from our timeline turn up in different settings throughout. Familiar technology such as fax machines exist alongside Moon-to-Mars rocketships. To say too much would be to ruin the fun of the novel, so I'll just mention two things that typify what I'm talking about. The first is when Dave Shuster finds a cassette of Buddy Holly's early material, from 1957 - 1961, before he and The Beatles became engaged in the U.S. vs. Britain Music Wars. Another is that we find out what happened to famed skyjacker D.B. Cooper in this timeline.

If I have a criticism to level against the novel it's that, from time to time, the forward movement of the plot is sidelined so that some aspect of the alternate timeline and/or retro-futuristic technology can be explained. But these diversions are so entertaining that it's hard to say that they should have been cut. I certainly would have missed them. Readers not as enamored with 20th Century history and pop culture might find themselves a little lost in all of the references, but I suspect that, for the most part, they will just sail on by, not causing a distraction.

Published by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta's Wordfire Press, Another Girl, Another Planet is available now. Here's a link to it on Amazon. Or, if you prefer, you can buy a DRM-free version from

If there were more books like Lou Antonelli's Another Girl, Another Planet, I'd read a whole lot more modern science fiction novels. Highly recommended.