STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI


The audience started clapping as soon as STAR WARS appeared on the opening screen of The Last Jedi. For fans of STAR WARS, this movie will be review-proof. R2D2 makes an appearance. 3CPO shows up, too. An aging Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), usually in a grumpy mood, resists training Rey (Daisy Ridley). Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), leader of the Resistance, finds her small band of heroes decimated by the First Order. Bad Guys Snoke and Kylo Ren move to crush the Resistance. Plenty of battles result. The movie keeps flipping from the island with Luke and Rey to the beleaguered Resistance fleet. If you’re not a STAR TREK fan, none of this will make a lot of sense. Needless to say, The Last Jedi will make tons of money for Disney who owns the franchise. STAR WARS: The Last Jedi is likely to be the most profitable movie of 2017. GRADE: A-

FORGOTTEN BOOKS #454: GOODNIGHT MOOM By Jack MacLane (aka, Bill Crider)



Back in 1989, the late lamented Zebra Books published Goodnight Moom, a “Jack MacLane” classic. Bill Crider wrote a lot of books in various genres–mysteries, fantasies, westerns–but Bill’s horror novels like Keepers of the Beast (Zebra, 1988), Blood Dreams (Zebra, 1989), Rest in Peace (Zebra, 1990), and Just before Dark (Zebra, 1990) show off another side of his personality. In Goodnight Moom, a boy named Harry talks to Moom and gets some deadly instructions. I was hoping Goodnight Moom might be included in Paperbacks From Hell, but maybe some of the excellent covers in Bill’s “Jack MacLane” series will show up in a future edition.

As you know, Bill Crider has entered hospice care. FFB won’t be the same without him. I hope Bill enjoys all of today’s tributes to his talent, wit, and graciousness. What’s your favorite memory of Bill Crider?

PUSHCART PRIZE XLI BEST OF THE SMALL PRESSES 2017


I’ve been reading the Pushcart Prize anthologies for 41 years. At the beginning, I used to buy each volume. But, as the years passed, two trends emerged: the books became thicker (this volume is 640 pages) and the quality went down. Sure, there were still wonderful short stories and essays in each volume, but there was a lot of dreck, too. Especially the poetry. Terrible! In this latest volume, I can recommend Charles Baxter’s story, “Avarice” (it’s about being avarice). I liked Rebecca Makkai’s “The George Spelvin Players” which features a local little theater group with a theft problem. Jane Lancellotti has a lot to say in “If you can’t say anything nice write a one-star review.” “Taxidermy” by Vladislava Kolosova a college-student-prostitute and the Russian Rich. “Winter Wheat” is the sad story of a dysfunctional family. T. C. Boyle explores the cost of fame in “The Five-Pound Burrito.” My favorite story in this anthology is “Voltaire Night” by Deb Olin Unferth. An instructor of an Adult Education creative writing class has his class meet in a bar after the last class and play a game. He asks them to tell the worst thing that has ever happened to them. The results are shocking. “Bloodlines” by Lauren Slater tells the story of a troubled marriage that gets into more trouble when the husband and the wife get their genome sequenced.

As I said, there are some very good stories and essays in this volume. But, you have to search for them amid the filler. GRADE: B
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
The story of a true artist / Dominica Phetteplace
I sing you for an apple / Eric Wilson
Elk / Robert Wrigley
The G.R.I.E.F. / Micah Stack
Anna May Wong blows out sixteen candles / Sally Wen Mao
The hornet among us / Paul Crenshaw
The spring forecast / Shelley Wong
Avarice / Charles Baxter
Scream (or never minding) / Lia Purpura
Still when I picture it the face of God is a white man’s face / Shane McCrae
The George Spelvin Players / Rebecca Makkai
The revolt of the turtles / Stephen Dunn
If you can’t say anything nice write a one-star review / Jane Lancellotti
Basement delivery / Emily Skillings
Naming happiness / Monte Reel
The antique blacks / Adrian Matejka
Taxidermy / Vladislava Kolosova
The beating heart of the wristwatch / Martin Espada
Winter wheat / Doug Crandell
Consider Oedipus’ father / David Tomas Martinez
The mushroom queen / Liz Ziemska
Cocaine / Alex Dimitrov
Beets / Cate Hennessey
The tallgrass shuffles / Sea Sharp
The Devil’s Triangle / Emma Duffy-Comparone
The brain is not the United States / Elizabeeth Scanlon
New technologies of reading / Angela Woodward
From please bury me in this / Allison Benis White
The five-pound burrito / T.C. Boyle
Daddy dozens / Jamila Woods
Dr. J / Kalpana Narayanan
Pluto’s Gate : Mississippi / James Kimbrell
Forty-two / Lisa Taddeo
We would never sleep / David Hernandez
Priest / Erin McGraw
Walk / Jane Springer
Voltaire night / Deb Olin Unferth
More than this / David Kirby
Narrator / Elizabeth Tallent
100 bells / Tarfia Faizullah
Trash food / Chris Offutt
From thank you terror / Mathias Svalina
The line agent Pascal / Daniel Mason
The Luoyang poem / Ye Chun
The physics of turtles / Jenny Hendrix
Etta James at the Audubon Ballroom / Patricia Spears Jones
A local’s guide to dating in Slocomb County / Chris Drangle
Spiritual evaluation / Taije Silverman
Finders keepers / Jenn Shapland
Hurricane song / Cecily Parks
Things I know to be true / Kendra Fortmeyer
Forgotten sound / Melissa Broder
After reading / Peter Bichsel
Idyll / Richie Hofmann
Fail again / David J. Unger
I dream of horses eating cops / Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Midterm / Leslie Johnson
The raptor / Charles Holdefer
Resting place / Kate Levin
The invitation / Barry Lopez
Hospice / Jean Valentine
Mistress Mickle all at sea / Elizabeth McCracken
Laika / Sara Batkie
The Carnation Milk Palace / Melissa Pritchard
Cross your fingers God bless / Ron Currie Jr.
The tradition / Jericho Brown
Blue of the world / Douglas W. Milliken
Dritter Klasse ohne Fensterscheiben / Steve Almond
Cleaning the ghost room / Tatiana Forero Puerta
Safe home / Daniel Peña
Bloodlines / Lauren Slater

A CELTIC FAMILY CHRISTMAS CONCERT By NATALIE MACMASTER & DONNELL LEAHY


Fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy (her husband) arrived at SUNY AT BUFFALO’s Center for the Arts and delivered a rollicking Christmas concert. In addition to MacMaster and Leahy–two world-class fiddlers–there were bag-pipers and drummers and step-dancing! Something for everyone. Diane and I have seen Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy numerous times over the years. Their music always lifts us up and energizes the audience. We drove to the concert with snow falling so this concert had a real holiday feel to it. MacMaster and Leahy have six children (a seventh is on the way!) and five of them played songs with their parents on fiddles, accordions, and piano. If “A Celtic Family Christmas Concert” comes to your neighborhood, it’s worth a listen! GRADE: A
SET LIST:
Angels We Have Heard On High
White Christmas
The Christmas Medley
Up On The House Top
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Twelve Days Of Christmas
Little Drummer Boy
What Child Is This
Ding Dong Merrily On High
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Silent Night

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS


A movie with a cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi. Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer. and Daisy Ridley possesses plenty of acting chops. I’ve seen the 1974 movie version of Murder on the Orient Express with even more Star Power: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, and Michael York.

My problem with Agatha Christie movies is that once I’ve read the book and know Whodunit, the suspense vanishes when I watch the movie. This latest version of Murder On the Orient Express looks great on the screen. Kenneth Branagh plays Hercule Poirot with more physicality than Finny or David Suchet: Branagh chases Bad Guys and gets shot. And, this 2017 version of Murder On the Orient Express has done so well at the box office that a sequel, Death on the Nile, has been announced. But I’m hoping the producers cut away some of Kenneth Branagh’s ridiculous mustache! Do you have a favorite Agatha Christie movie? GRADE: B

GOOD BOOTY: LOVE AND SEX, BLACK & WHITE, BODY AND SOUL IN AMERICAN MUSIC By Ann Powers


Ann Powers writes about Rock & Roll artists from Chuck Berry to Justin Timberlake, Janis Joplin to Taylor Swift, Mary Wells to Beyonce, David Bowie to Sam Smith. Powers traces the erotic undercurrent of music in America from its beginnings up to the present. Just about all the key figures in popular music sashay across the pages of Good Booty. If you’re interested in the history of Rock & Roll, this is the book for you! What’s your favorite musical artist or group? GRADE: A-
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Preface p. xi
Introduction p. xv
1 The Taboo Baby: New Orleans, 1800-1900 p. 1
2 That Da Da Strain: Shimmying, Shaking, Sexology: New York, 1900-1929 p. 39
3 Let it Breathe on Me: Spiritual Erotics: Chicago, Birmingham, Memphis, 1929-1956 p. 75
4 Teen Dreams and Grown-Up Urges: The American Heartland, 1950-1960 p. 111
5 The Sexual Revolution and its Discontents: New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angels, 1961-1970 p. 155
6 Hard and Soft Realities: London, Los Angeles, New York, 1971-1979 p. 199
7 Oh No, It Hurts: Aids, Reagan, and the Backlash: New York, San Francisco, Seattle, 1977-1997 p. 245
8 Hungry Cyborgs: Britney, Beyonce, and the Virtual Frontier: Cyberspace, 1999-2016 p. 299
Epilogue p. 343
Acknowledgements p. 351
Notes p. 357
List of Illustrations p. 385
Index p. 387

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS VS. BUFFALO BILLS


After the 6-6 Buffalo Bills predictably lost to the New England Patriots last Sunday, they lost more than the game. The Bills quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, suffered a contusion to his knee. It’s doubtful that Tyrod will play in today’s game. It he does play, Tyrod will be severely limited. And mobility is Tyrod’s chief asset. If the Bills start backup QB Nate Peterman, could Peterman repeat his five-interceptions in one half performance like in the LA Chargers game? The lowly Colts are only 3–9. The Bills are favored by 4 points, but this game could go either way. What’s going to happen to your favorite NFL team today?

MI-5, VOLUME 1


I bought this 3-DVD set in a Goodwill store for a dollar. I’m a sucker for spy novels and movies. This British TV show blends action and intelligence into an entertaining package. If you’re a fan of double-crosses, double-dealing, back-stabbing, and mis-direction, you’ll enjoy MI-5. This clandestine security service takes on all kinds of domestic terrorism and skullduggery. You can also find MI-5 on HULU. Check it out. GRADE: B+

FORGOTTEN BOOKS #453: HARD READING: LEARNING FROM SCIENCE FICTION By Tom Shippey


Tom Shippey’s The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories (2003) and Shippey’s books on J.R.R. Tolkien established this academic as a critic to respect. Reading these collected essays, published over a 30-year span, shows the variety of Shippey’s interests. He’s a big fan of Kingsley Amis’s science fiction novels–The Alteration and Russian Hide and Seek–which I’m going to be reading in 2018 because of the strength of Shippey’s advocacy. Shippey discusses most of the great SF writers: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury. But Shippey reserves his greatest praise for Jack Vance (my favorite SF writer!). If you’re interested in Science Fiction and want to learn more about SF and politics, or SF and culture Hard Reading provides intelligent essays that will delight and inform you. Plus, I really like the Gray Morrow cover on this book! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
List of Figures ix
Note on References x
A Personal Preface xi

What SF Is
1 Coming Out of the Science Fiction Closet 3
‘Learning to Read Science Fiction’ 6
2 Rejecting Gesture Politics 24
‘Literary Gatekeepers and the Fabril Tradition’ 26
3 Getting Away from the Facilior Lectio 47
‘Semiotic Ghosts and Ghostlinesses in the Work of Bruce Sterling’ 50

SF and Change
4 Getting Serious with the Fans 67
‘Science Fiction and the Idea of History’ 70
5 Getting to Grips with the Issue of Cultures … 85
‘Cultural Engineering: A Theme in Science Fiction’ 89
6 … And Not Fudging the Issue! 103
‘“People are Plastic”: Jack Vance and t he Dilemma of Cultural Relativism’ 106
7 SF Authors Really Mean what they Say 121
‘Alternate Historians: Newt, Kingers, Harry and Me’ 124
8 A Revealing Failure by the Critics 141
‘Kingsley Amis’s Science Fiction and the Problems of
Genre’ 144
9 A Glimpse of Structuralist Possibility 160
‘The Golden Bough and the Incorporations of Magic in Science Fiction’ 163
10 Serious Issues, Serious Traumas, Emotional Depth 182
‘The Magic Art and the Evolution of Words: Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” Trilogy’ 185

SF and Politics
11 A First Encounter with Politics 207
‘The Cold War in Science Fiction, 1940–1960’ 209
12 Language Corruption, and Rocking the Boat 229
‘Variations on Newspeak: The Open Question of Nineteen Eighty-Four’ 233
13 Just Before the Disaster 255
‘The Fall of America in Science Fiction’ 258
14 Why Politicians, and Producers, Should Read Science Fiction 274
‘The Critique of America in Contemporary Science Fiction’ 277
15 Saying (When Necessary) the Lamentable Word 293
‘Starship Troopers, Galactic Heroes, Mercenary Princes: The Military and its Discontents in Science Fiction’ 296
References 311
Index 321

NOT DARK YET By Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer


I’m a big fan of Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer so factor that into this review of their latest music CD, Not Dark Yet. This is an album of “covers.” There are plenty of cover CDs, but none have the range of this one. Lynne and Moorer sing “Not Dark Yet,” a Bob Dylan song that’s also title of their album. And “Silver Wings” sounds as good as Merle Haggard’s version with a little more sweetness. If you’re in the mood for some entertaining singing, Lynne and Moorer will delight your ears. Check out the sample below. GRADE: A-
TRACK LIST:
SONG TITLE–WRITER–FIRST PERFORMED BY–TIME
1. “My List” Brandon Flowers The Killers 2:53
2. “Every Time You Leave” C. Louvin, I. Louvin The Louvin Brothers 2:24
3. “Not Dark Yet” B. Dylan Bob Dylan 4:20
4. “I’m Looking For Blue Eyes” J. Colter Jessi Colter 2:58
5. “Lungs” T. Van Zandt Townes Van Zandt 2:55
6. “The Color of a Cloudy Day” J. Isbell, A. Shires Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires 4:04
7. “Silver Wings” M. Haggard Merle Haggard 2:35
8. “Into My Arms” Nick Cave Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 4:48
9. “Lithium” Kurt Cobain Nirvana 5:39
10. “Is It Too Much” Allison Moorer, Shelby Lynne 4:47