Spam of The Day

I don't know about you, but my email spam seems to come in clumps of the same subject group. Not long ago, I was receiving dozens of messages each day touting the benefits of Flexible Hose. Then, it was a date with Ashley Madison.

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Or maybe Ashley was suggesting someone for me to date, as the former would make her one busy lady.

Plus, the usual sales offers of some variation on the spelling of Cialis, although it is possible that is actually what the first bunch was actually selling and I just didn't open the message to find out.

A new one today: Bosley-Hair Loss Expert. Not sure why I would need a Hair Loss Expert, most men my age pretty much have that down.

Although, I am glad to see Mr. Bosley found a job after Charlie's Angels ended.

Selling Out Before You're Even a Hit

The popularity cycle is the shortest it has ever been.

Because you're not sure who he is, either.

Because you're not sure who he is, either.

Pop culture used to live according to The Five Stages of Life As An Actor, credited to Hugh O'Brian. 

(1) “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”
(2) “Get me Hugh O’Brian!”
(3) “Get me a Hugh O’Brian type.”
(4) “Get me a young Hugh O’Brian.”
(5) “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”

And whether it was an actor, a TV show, movie franchise, book, or pop star, you could pretty much count on that progression playing out over a number of years.

But the kind of rapid rise and fall that we used to associate just with One-Hit-Wonders or Flavor-Of-The-Month teen idols is now the rule for everything in entertainment.

The handicapping of a movie's performance takes place the Monday after its release, and woe to the turkey that doesn't debut at Number 1.

An author blogged to his fans that the most important thing they could do to help his new book was to buy it on Amazon the day of release. "First week sales," he said, "are the only ones that count."

And don't even get me started on technology, where it is perfectly OK for an Apple or Google to quit supporting a phone or computer that is less than two years old.

It's also happening in in pop music.

I'm not talking about chart life. I haven't researched average life span of a pop hit, although I bet it's a good deal shorter than in the past.

No, it's the licensing of current songs for commercials.

Remember when letting a song be used in advertising was the worst kind of selling out, or the final refuge of a artist at the end of his or career, who needed the money?

Today, songs pop up in ads while they're still on the radio as a current hit.

And even stranger, it's now not uncommon to sell commercial rights to more than one company at the same time, so you can hear the same song a two or three times during a commercial break.

Sometimes you hear the verse, other times just the "hook," that twenty or thirty second chunk that defines the melody.

Do you suppose it's cheaper to just buy the instrumental part?

I started thinking about this because Good Morning America has pretty much co-oped Pharrell Williams' "Happy" as their new theme song. It's on all their promos and pops up three or four times in every show. It first popped up in "Despicable Me 2," but Williams hasn't even released it on an album yet.

Other recent offenders:

  • Phillip Phillips' "Home." I swear EVERY TV commercial for months used this as its backing track.
  • Ditto for Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" two or three years ago.

But on the up side, it used to take me months to get well and truly sick of a song.

Now I can do it in about twenty days.

Richard Matheson Wrote Everything You Like

I was listening to The Writers' Almanac for February 20, and Garrison Keillor noted it was the birthday of Richard Matheson. He passed away in June 2013.

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Matheson is a writer I've known and admired for many years, but the show caused me to dig into his work a little.

I soon discovered he was involved in just about all of my favorite sci-fi stuff.

Ever.

The first exposure I remember to his work was the 50's sci fi movie classic, "The Incredible Shrinking Man."

I later read "I am Legend," far superior to any of the three, count 'em THREE movies based on the novel. (Personally, I am partial to the one with Charleton Heston.)

And that's just the beginning. Here a FEW of his other credits:

  • The Twilight Zone:  Not only did he write "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," but he also wrote Rod Serling's opening and closing narration!
  • Star Trek: Wrote "The Enemy Within." (which also earns him a "Six Degrees of Shatner" notation.)
  • Bid Time Return: Filmed as the classic time-travel romance "Somewhere in Time."
  • Duel: Steven Spielberg shot to stardom after directing a TV movie version of this story.
  • Anne Rice and Stephen King cite him as influences.

And there's more. Check out his article on wikipedia.

What is your favorite project of his? And did you know it was him?

The First Rule of Travel

No matter where you travel, you will always bump into someone from astonishingly close to home.
-Green's First Rule of Travel

Rare indeed has been the trip where The First Rule never came into play. But on a recent trip to Arizona I mentally lifted the rule because:

a) I was attending a University of Iowa alumni event. And,

b) It was Phoenix in February, for cryin' out loud. This time of year, there are more Iowans in Maricopa County than there are in Grundy County.

Iowans everywhere, not even a challenge.

Transient

But then, I was checking out the celebrity photos of the hotel where we were staying and right, alongside pictures of the resort's founder, one Robert Foehl, posing with celebs like Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis, I came upon one with baseball greats Ted Williams and Bob Feller.

Yep, Bob Feller.  Arguably Iowa's most famous baseball export.

Just because The Heater from Van Meter is no longer alive doesn't make him any less of an Iowan.

Sounds like The First Rule to me.

Oh, and then at the Tortilla Factory there was that guy at the next table who looked just like a fellow I did Follies with a few years ago, but that was just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Glorious, Green Dolphin Food

The first stage role I ever played was in "Oliver!" when I was twelve. As such, the songs from that music are burned into my mind like a permanent brand.

So, there's this jazz standard that I always thought sounded like "Food, Glorious Food" from that musical. You've probably heard it. It's "On Green Dolphin Street," composed more than decade before "Oliver!" premiered in London.

If you ask me, Bronislaw Kaper would have had a much better plagiarism case against Lionel Bart than Marvin Gaye's family has against Robin Thicke.

Listen and see what you think.

A Little Sci Fi for Christmas

Recently, while digging through some old files, I turned up this story I wrote way back in 1992. Reprinted here with only grammar and typo fixes, the tech shows its age, but the sentiment brings a smile to my face at this time of year.

I post it here as a little holiday thank-you to everyone who has bought my book, showed up at a reading, or just clicked "like" on a Facebook post.  Encouragement from friends has been by far the biggest reward of my "coming out" as a writer this year.

No Place Like Home For The Holidays

School was finally out. All my favorite decorations were hung in all my favorite places on the tree. 

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My stocking dangled from our first real fireplace. 

December 24. I was nine years old.

And it was going to be the worst Christmas in recorded history.

My mom attempted to tame the kitchen, enemy territory for her at any other time of the year. Vox interrupted her every few minutes with gentle reminders about taking the cookies out of the oven, putting the turkey in, and tips for rolling out bread dough.

The interloper visited with my dad in his study. His presence kept my mother's parents, bearing a king‘s ransom of gifts, from making their annual visit.

Please don't get me wrong. Even though I was an only child, I don't think I was that selfish. Mom and Dad taught me real early that misbehavior to get attention wouldn't be tolerated in their house.

But I 'd really tested their patience the last few days. Still, my sullenness wasn't the only thing making the carols ring a little hollow that year.

Mom was upset because her parents weren't coming and it wasn‘t just because an exchange student was in the extra bedroom. When Dad suggested putting them up in the Holiday Inn, Mom told him that wasn't the problem. Dad had muttered something that sounded like "that bigoted fossil" and stomped out of the room.

The tension in the air couldn't help but trickle down to me. Vox was the only member of our household unaffected.

On top of seeing my parents argue, the change in holiday routine really upset me. The warm comforts of Christmas traditions were probably more important to me than to other kids. Dad taught at fourteen different universities all over the world while I was growing up.

However, no matter what language my classmates spoke, I could always count on Grandma and Grandpa Murphy coming for Christmas Eve. Now, here we were, finally settled in a town that was starting to feel more and more like home, and Christmas had turned alien.

Literally.

I stared at the Christmas tree, pondering both my pitiful plight and the boxes underneath the tree, when the study door opened. Dad and Jeb came out into the family room.

Even his resemblance to Leopold of the Dino-Rifiic Action Set couldn't mellow my attitude toward Dad's student. He had wide-set eyes with no visible eyelids. The scales on his head and face, grey over the rest of his body, seemed to change color in the sunlight.

Our old house had those tall, curved ceilings, but Jeb's headsail brushed against the molding when he moved. In science class they told us the Gotha used the fin-like crest on the top of their heads to help dissipate heat. A joke making the rounds at recess suggested a more titillating, if no less fundamental function.

"Chris, I was just going to call you," Dad turned to his student. "Sojn Jebzhif a, this is my son, Christian."

My hand got lost in Jeb's gigantic paw. I felt like I was touching at least two dozen fingers, although I knew the actual number was seven. It was cool, like a snake's. Jeb took medication to allow him to function in what was to him a frigid climate.

Served him right for coming to college in Iowa, anyway.

"It is my honor to meet the First Son of my teacher and friend." 

He ground the words out ponderously, but with no discernible accent.

"Pleased to meet you." 

I dropped my hand a second sooner than was really polite.

"Chris is really very interested in the Gotha, I'm sure he has lots of questions for you," my father offered.

"Um, not really."

Dad's face started to cloud over when Jeb interrupted.

"Perhaps later. I would like to send a transmission to my family if I may. As you know, it is also a time of observance on Goth."

"Of course, The Bak la. There's a terminal in your room. Vox can send it when you‘re done." 

Jeb wiggled his headsail and strode down the hall. Dad looked down at me with a strange expression, the grey in his sideburns contrasting with the chocolate color of his skin.

"He sure talks funny," I observed.

"He does have problems communicating with the other students," Dad agreed. "He speaks English."

He looked hard at me some more, but I stayed silent. Finally, he just shook his head.

“See if your mother needs any help."

I entered the kitchen quietly and headed for the demilitarized zone of the table. Soon, Mom had me dolloping batter onto the cookie sheet and rolling out dough so I could use the cookie molds. All things considered, she seemed fairly chipper and determined to infect me with her good mood.

"There," she announced, helping me put the finishing glitter on one of my masterpieces. "It looks pretty good, doesn’t it?"

I studied the cookie critically, and added one more shake of glitter.

"Perfect."

My smile mirrored hers for a moment before fading. I put down the shaker.

"It's just not the same without Grandma and Grandpa here."

Mom sighed, pushing a stray blonde hair back into place behind her ear. "We've been through this before, honey. Jeb is our special Christmas guest this year. Your grandparents will come after New Year's. Besides, just think how jealous the other boys at school will be when they find out you had a real Gotha at your house for Christmas!."

She had a point, but I wasn't about to let it rest. "Is Daddy mad at Grandpa and Grandma?."

"Of course not, dear." Mom bit her lip. "Well, maybe a little. Once in a while, grownups have different opinions on things. It's nothing you need to worry about."

"Grandpa doesn't like Jeb," I pronounced.

"No, it's not like that." 

She tried to choose her words carefully, not wanting to set me against husband or father.

"Grandpa just doesn't know Jeb, or any Gotha, for that matter. "

"Then why doesn't he come and meet him?"

"It's not that simple, Chris."

I folded my arms. "Well, I don’t like Jeb either." 

That got me turned around and shaken by the shoulders.

"Listen, young man. Jeb is a guest in our house and you will treat him with politeness and respect or there won't be any Christmas around here. Do you understand?" 

I nodded.

"Besides, you're the first young person Jeb has ever had a chance to get to know. I know he'd like to spend time with you, and you‘ve always been fascinated by the Gotha. I don't understand why you're acting like this."

The fact was, I didn't really understand either. But I did know I had pushed Mom about as far as I could, so I decided to make an honorable withdrawal. "I'm sorry."

She held out her arms, and. I accepted her hug with as much grace as I could muster.

"I know, dear. Why don't you find your dad and let's see if Gotha like Christmas cookies."

They did, although Jeb seasoned his milk with something that looked like motor oil before dunking. With cookies, tree and fireplace I was beginning to feel like myself again when Dad suggested we play Scrabble.

"But Vox has a lot more fun games than that! There aren't even any graphics!"

But Dad was determined to show Jeb an old fashioned Earth Christmas. 

"This is not the time for simulated war games. We're going to sit down as a family and play a real game with each other, not a computer. Besides, it will help Jeb's vocabulary." 

He looked up. "Vox, Location: Scrabble Board Game."

"Closet 03, Elevation .37 meters.” 

I jumped up and ran over to the closet, hoping to get the game and hide the evidence before Vox continued. But, my little boy legs could not hope to beat superconductors. Vox continued before I was halfway across the room.

"Directly underneath Clothing Article C018, poly—lycra blend T-shirt containing .6m1 cocoa-sucrose confection, dried."

I stopped in my tracks and watched as Mom got up, opened the closet door and pulled out the offending shirt. She held it in front of her. 

"Do you have an explanation for this?" 

I didn't say anything. The shirt dropped to her side. 

"I just can't believe the way you've been acting in front of our guest."

That did it. It wasn't enough to steal my Christmas, now Jeb had also managed to get me into trouble, too. It was just too much to bear.

"He's not a guest, He's a slimy lizard and Grandpa was right! I wish they were here instead of him!"

Arms folded, I stood defiant, daring them to punish me for speaking out about this horrible injustice.

They dared.

In addition to old-fashioned games, my parents also believed in the old-fashioned spanking.

When I'd had gotten one last I remembered it hurt. This time, it was knowing I'd so splendidly disappointed them that hurt as much as my sore butt. Exiled to my room, I wiped my nose on my sleeve and slumped at my desk.

A computer monitor sat on one corner of the tabletop. I regarded the blank eye of the traitor Vox. 

By today's standards, Vox was a primitive device. You have to remember it was only the second working prototype of it's kind. Alex Ingram and Dad roomed together in college. Uncle Alex had the original himself, but he was single, and a tech-wizard. Not exactly the proper test market. He gave us the early version to see if a normal family would accept and use software that performed as kind of an electronic butler.

No one expected me to treat the program like a member of the family. I didn't know anything about fuzzy logic or personality algorithms. I just knew that Vox was the one constant no matter where we lived. I think that was the main reason I didn't mind moving so much. Vox was always there.

And in those days a boy with his own talking computer was pretty popular, even if he was new to the neighborhood.

By the time I was nine, I treated Vox more like a utility than a playmate, but I guess deep down I felt that Jeb had somehow turned him against me, too.

Uncle Alex had installed the latest Vox update only a couple months before. He warned us there might be some bugs in the new version of the program. That's the only explanation I‘ve ever been able to think of for what happened next.

I slumped at my desk, trying to find a comfortable position for my stinging buns and reflecting on the unfairness of a cold and uncaring universe.

"Why did he have to come here?" I mumbled.

"Restate."

I glared at the screen.

"Why is Jeb here anyway?" 

To my amazement, the screen sprang to life with an image of Jeb speaking.

". . . to be somewhere while the college is closed and Dr. Beal was kind enough to open his home to me. The fact that the Bak la coincides with the human celebration of Christmas is only making it more difficult to be away from Goth during the observance. First Sister, I will miss listening to Chu k recite the Pizshta. Please tell him I know he will do his duty as your First Son admirab. . . ." 

The screen went blank.

"Bring that back!"

"Restate."

"The transmission you just showed me. I want to see the whole thing!"

"There have been no transmissions viewed at Terminal 04 since 1930 hours."

Try as I might, I couldn't get Vox to show me the rest of Jeb's letter home or even admit it had showed me the part I had seen. Finally, I called up a still photo of Jeb and just stared at it, trying to sort out my feelings.

"How far away is Goth?" I asked softly.

"9.62 light years at perigee," came the reply, but I wasn't really listening. 

Looking at the image on the screen, I saw another boy who wasn't celebrating his holiday the way he wanted to either. 

I sat up straight, wincing a little.

"Outgoing call."

"Destination?"

"Uh, the Gotha President."

 

I was released on my own recognizance for dinner, but I could feel Mom and Dad's disappointment like a thermal inversion hanging over the table. I had trouble sitting still, but not for the reason they thought.

Mom had just handed Dad the carving knife when Vox interrupted.

"Incoming call."

Dad frowned. "Source?"

"The Gotha Embassy." 

He and Mom exchanged glances. She looked over at Jeb.

"I hope it's not bad news," she said. 

I couldn't read Jeb's expression.

“Activate Screen 02.” Colors flashed along a portion of the dining room wall, coalescing into the image of a Gotha.

“Good evening, Dr. Beal. Please excuse me for interrupting your meal. I am Consul Dharn. It is my understanding that Sojn Jebzhif a is your guest during interim?”

“That’s right,” Dad replied. “Is there a problem?”

Dharn’s headsail wobbled. “No, no. Quite the opposite. I am calling because I had an interesting conversion with your son this afternoon.

The color drained from Dad’s face. I could see his teeth and it wasn’t because he was smiling. “If Chris disturbed you…”

“Not at all.” Dharn smiled at me. “Your artificial intelligence program found me in trying to obey a search parameter set up by your son. An interesting piece of software, by the way. Apparently, it settled on me as the Earth equivalent of the…President of Goth.”

“The President?” Mom echoed.

“Your son, realizing that the Bak la coincides with Christmas, took it upon himself to see how he could make Student Sojn feel more at home.

“He did?” Dad asked, disbelieving.

The video pickup zoomed out, revealing the consul seated at a festively decorated table, with three other Gotha who could only be his family. He glanced to his right.

“Student Sojn,” piped a smaller version of the consul, “I yield my right as First Son to recite the Pizshta. Would you honor us?”

For a moment, Jeb did not move. Then he motioned for us to join hands. Despite my hateful words earlier in the afternoon, his weren’t the least slimy.

Mom sniffed all the through the recitation, and I saw a hint of a smile on Dad’s face for the first time in days.

None of us understood what Jeb was saying, but it didn’t matter. As he finished, I looked up at him. A translucent membrane dipped down over one eye, and then was gone, so quick I wondered if I imagined it.

 

“And that is the story of the first holiday Chris and I spent together,” Jeb finished.

“But the best part of all,” I looked over the brood gather at our feet, “was the next day, when I kicked your father’s qcka at Scrabble!”

“Only because Vox helped,” laughed Jeb.

His wife called us into the dining room for the evening meal.

“When will you go home, Chr,s?” asked Jeb’s youngest daughter, who had taken my hand to lead me to the table.

“Just after Springdawn. But I’ll be back to start the next term, and maybe I’ll bring you a puppy.”

“Daddy, what’s a puppy?”

“An earth creature that will not be introduced to the Gotha ecosystem if I have anything to say about it,” Jeb replied. “It’s a mammal.

“EEyuuu!”

Jeb put his hand on my shoulder as we walked into the next room. He was only a foot taller than me now, but I still had to crane my neck to meet his eyes.

“We’ve come a long ways since that first Christmas.”

“That we have, Chris. I am pleased to repay the debt I owe your family.”

“Your kids are better behaved. And your telling puts me in a much better light than the version I remember.”

“You are too hard on yourself, my friend. Your were just a child. Both our species have come a long way since then.”

Jeb directed me to the seat reserved at every Gotha table for a guest. The rest of the family took their seats and we joined hands. Jeb nodded at his oldest son, who began to recite.

But not in Gothan.

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be registered. And Joseph also went up from Galilee to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child…”

The dry winds of Goth are strongest during the Bak la, so I’m sure it was the breeze whistling past my ear that distracted me briefly.

But just for a moment, across years both calendar and light, I thought I heard a soft electronic chuckle.

More positive press for Traveler.

Two recent reviews say some nice things about Traveler:

"a fun novel that fans of either sci-fi crime fiction or can see themselves shifting into."

"Overall, Traveler is a strong first novel. The traveling between parallel universes is neatly explained and the plot draws you in. Mystery lovers and science fiction fans should get a kick out of the novel. Traveler by Dennis W. Green gets a solid thumbs up."

I am particularly honored to be the first book review on the new blog, Second Run Reviews. I'll be watching that site for a lot more great content in the future! 

Thanks to Terri LeBlanc of Second Run, and also to Jeff Charis-Carlson from the Iowa City Press Citizen for sharing their thoughts!

"Follow the Red Shift and pick up Green's 'Traveler.'" Iowa City Press Citizen, Dec. 6, 2013.

"Review: Traveler by Dennis W. Green." - Second Run Reviews, Dec. 11, 2013

Green Stamps Were All She Gave...

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'Tis the season for Christmas songs to worm into our ears and bounce around in our brains, even when the radio isn't on.

It's always a little weird for me, because every time I hear "What Child Is This?", my brain does not hear the sacred lyrics, or even the original Greensleeves, but this parody by the Gold Coast singers, which I sang in high school Chamber Choir.

Gary Fiscus would be mortified to know that of all the music he taught me, this is the one that has stuck the longest...

Re-acquainting myself with the Tribe

As any reader of this blog (let alone my novel Traveler) would know, I am a lifelong Sci-Fi and Fantasy fan. I joined the Sci-FI Book Club at age fourteen and had built a substantial library by the time I got to college.

Totally outclassed by Christian Schoon, author of the excellent novel Zenn Scarlett.

Totally outclassed by Christian Schoon, author of the excellent novel Zenn Scarlett.

Note to the Internet Generation: the Sci-Fi Book Club was what you did before Amazon when you needed books faster than they could get to your library. Every month, they offered you two featured choices, plus a catalog of other books you could order. Nirvana. Only downside was that they sent you the Featured books automatically if you didn't reply in time. So, much of my library also grew by accident.) 

People who came to visit my parade of very-slowly-increasing-in-decency-level- apartments at the time were always surprised to see a living room lined with cheap bookshelves and hundreds of books. 

"Have you actually read all of these?" I was often asked.

They were surprised because in my public life, I didn't talk much about books.

And don't even bring up the twelve long boxes of comics in the closet. Nobody got that.

It was a different time. Today, ubergeeks like Jobs, Gates and Woz are rock stars, and The Big Bang Theory has brought cosplay, geeky T-shirts and Schroedinger's Cat to the mainstream.

As a guy trying to start a career as a media personality, it was important to find commonalities with the audience I was talking to every day, not illustrate how I was different. So, for many years, I followed spots and pop culture during the day, and devoured The Holy Trinity (Star Trek, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings) at night.

As I hung out with my tribe at ICON last weekend, for the first time in many years, it occurred to me how far things have come. Granted, you probably shouldn't show up to work as your Steampunk character, but if you are standing in the break room talking about seeing the new Thor movie, or remark that you're looking forward to watching Agents of Shield or Almost Human, people won't bat an eye.

So, I'm proud to come out of the closet and say it loud and proud, "Han shot first!"

Now I admit, I still have to work up to getting comfortable with appearing in costume myself, but I'm compiling a list of grey-haired Sci-Fi heroes now so I'm ready next year.