Archive for December, 2018

The pioneering ‘Mission to Horatius’ is both a path-breaking and pedestrian ‘Star Trek’ tale

December 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 31, 2018

It’s safe to say that when Star Trek debuted in the late 1960s, its corporate masters had no concept of its potential. NBC considered axing the show in 1968, after ratings for the series’ second season sagged, but a fan-led campaign of protests, letters and postcards persuaded the network to extend the show for a third year. (There would be no fourth season, of course, although the show eventually inspired a number of books and toys before segueing into a string of movies and television productions.)

Given corporate America’s initial cluelessness over Star Trek, it follows that initial efforts at merchandising the show were rather spotty. I mention this because for no particular reason I came across a copy of Mission to Horatius, the very first licensed book containing an original Star Trek story.

The 1968 novel was written by Mack Reynolds, an obscure but prolific science-fiction author who died in 1983 at age 65. The story, which was purportedly aimed at a young-adult audience, is straightforward enough: The U.S.S. Enterprise has been dispatched to respond to a mysterious distress call originating from the distant solar system Horatius. Centuries ago, three of the system’s planets were settled by humans, but the colonists have long been out of touch with their ancestral planet of Earth.

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Can a movie adaptation be better than the book? In the case of Ernest Cline’s 2011 tale ‘Ready Player One,’ that argument can be made

December 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 28, 2018

This spring, when I watched Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, I had yet to read the 2011 debut novel by Ernest Cline on which the movie was based. I recently did so, and I’m here to tell you that the book is… OK.

I can see why Spielberg would have wanted to adapt the tale for the big screen. The man at the center of Ready Player One, the late computer programmer James Halliday, harbored “an extreme fixation on the 1980s, the decade during which he’d been a teenager.”

That was, of course, the period when Spielberg was arguably at the peak of his cultural influence. E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, which Business Insider ranked as Spielberg’s second-biggest box-office hit, premiered in 1982. Raiders of the Lost Ark and its first two sequels came out in 1981, 1984 and 1989, respectively; all three are top-10 earners on Business Insider’s list. The Color Purple, slotted 12th by BI, was released in 1985.

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John Sandford and Ctein tell an enjoyable story of interplanetary travel in their 2015 novel ‘Saturn Run’

December 18, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 18, 2018

Saturn Run, a 2015 science fiction novel by prolific thriller writer John Sandford and mononymic polymath Ctein, is a diverting tale about two spacecraft racing to uncover the secrets of a mysterious alien artifact hidden in the far reaches of our solar system.

Sandford, a Pulitzer Prize–winning former journalist who’s probably best known for his 29-book “Prey” series, joined forces with Caltech-trained photographer/physicist/computer scientist Ctein for this tale, which I believe represents Sandford’s first venture into space. None of the characters evince much complexity, but the scenario is gripping enough to make Saturn Run a fun read for science-fiction enthusiasts.

The story opens shortly before an astronomer accidentally detects signs of an alien craft approaching Saturn in early 2066, an event that triggers a frantic U.S. government effort to retrofit a space station for interplanetary travel and research. This project is initially disguised as an effort to accompany and support China’s Martian Odyssey, a ship intended to establish humanity’s first colony on the red planet, but the subterfuge evaporates a few weeks later when every astronomer on Earth notices the alien vessel exiting the solar system.

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Incidents and accidents: Holy land tourism, part 3

December 12, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 12, 2018

So, about our time in Tiberias…

I’ve already chronicled many of the hitches and goof-ups that threatened to complicate my 2009 trip to Israel with Lady X. But I haven’t written about the sticky situation we got into on our first morning in the city nestled on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias, a.k.a. the Kinneret. (And it has a few other names to boot!)

After a leisurely breakfast, X and I drove down the hill and into town without much of a plan. After exploring a bit in our car, we strayed south of the main town and spotted an intriguing road leading toward the top of one of the picturesque grassy hills that loomed in the middle distance. We decided to head up the road without knowing what was there.

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Incidents and accidents: Holy land tourism, part 2

December 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 11, 2018

Some of the glitches on the Israel trip that Lady X and I took in 2009 involved airports. I’ve already recounted my possible (likely?) anxiety about not having booked a rental car in advance, but there were two further incidents that had some potential to go badly.

The first one was a discrete incident that occurred as we were waiting in line to be screened at Ben Gurion before flying back to the U.S., I suddenly became fixated on some knotted leather strings on X’s backpack that weren’t fastened to my satisfaction. It was a small thing, but I must have looked like a bit nutty. When the screener started quizzing us, X quite sensibly told me to cut it out and help her answer the questions like a normal person.

The other hiccup — which, like everything else on our trip, worked out fine in the end — occurred at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where we needed to clear customs and immigration before we could catch our flight back to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. However, this problem stemmed from a decision X and I had made, at my urging, upon our arrival in Israel.

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Incidents and accidents: Holy land tourism, part 1

December 8, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 8, 2018

Lady X and I flew into Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Dec. 4, 2009, and flew back to the States on Dec. 11. It was a wonderful trip, but there were a few moments that left me feeling anxious or frightened. This is an account of some of them.

I can’t remember whether I booked a rental car in advance; if not, I was certainly freaking out about transportation as we deplaned and went to pick up our luggage. Nor could I tell you if I got a good rental price. Regardless, we obtained a Fiat Punto without trouble and were soon on our way.

The car, which was white with a few sporty red and green stripes, served us well. We drove more than 300 miles in the course of a week: From the airport east to Jerusalem; after a few days in Jerusalem, east and south to Ein Gedi, a beach on the Dead Sea; then, on the same day, north through the West Bank to Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, which is also known as (among other things) the Kinneret or Lake Tiberias; after a few days there, west and southwest to Nazareth, then west and northwest to Haifa, and — still on the same day! — south along the Mediterranean to Tel Aviv; and after a few days there, southeast back to the airport.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 8-4 Stanford

December 5, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 5, 2018

As has been the case a number of times in recent years, last weekend I attended the Big Game watch party that was jointly hosted by the local Stanford and Cal alumni groups. This time it was held at Woody’s, a sports bar in Cary that I’d never been to before.

Typically, the hosts hold drawings. This time I won a Stanford car magnet. Even better, the guy next to me won a 2013 Rose Bowl Champions hat. He got it and said, “Great, a five-year-old hat.” His wife didn’t want it; nor did the first person or two to which he offered it. I happily took it, having attended the game, which I fondly remember! I barely removed it from my head the rest of the day.

• The Bad

Oh, Stanford’s defense. The Cardinal allowed Cal to roll up 155 rushing yards and 197 passing yards. The Golden Bears also converted a semi-respectable seven of 18 third downs and a relatively dismal three of three fourth downs. Stanford managed but a single quarterback hurry and only recorded four tackles-for-loss, three of which were sacks.

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Number nine: Cardinal extends Big Game streak with 23-13 victory in Berkeley

December 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 4, 2018

Stanford extended its historic Big Game victory streak to nine games on Saturday, beating Cal, 23-13, behind a pair of Cameron Scarlett touchdowns and two Paulson Adebo interceptions.

The Cardinal, who on Sunday accepted a Sun Bowl invitation to play Pitt on Dec. 31, finished the regular season 8-4 (6-3 in the Pac-12). Cal dropped to 7-5 (5-4) but demonstrated that they have taken significant strides in closing the talent gap that’s loomed between them and their archrival for much of the past decade.

Patrick Laird gained 116 yards on 19 carries and the Bears outrushed Stanford, 155 yards to 92. But the Cardinal, which controlled the ball for nearly 33 minutes, scored 10 points on three takeaways to maintain its hold on the Axe, the trophy that the two universities have contested for more than a century.

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