Jeff Corey’s Appearance on Babylon 5

Babylon 5 drew from many places for its guest stars. Genre stalwarts like Michael Ansara and Brad Dourif. TV regulars like William Sanderson, Melissa Gilbert, and Erica Gimpel. Special guest stars like Michael York and Robert Englund. Even fresh new faces like Bryan Cranston.

But one of my favorite appearances, even though it was barely a cup of tea in length, was by Jeff Corey. You might know him from Little Big Man, where he gave an incredible performance as Will Bill Hickok.

Jeff Corey as Wild Bill Hickok
Jeff Corey as Wild Bill Hickok
A creepy Jeff Corey in Conan the Destroyer.

Or maybe from Conan the Destroyer as the creepy Grand Vizier.
Or maybe you recognize his voice as Silvermane in the 90’s Spider-Man cartoons. Or the sheriff in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Or Tom Chaney (the main villain) in True Grit Or from one of the 100s of roles he played on TV, such as in the original Star Trek or The Outer Limits. He was everywhere, and he tended to be memorable.

His turn on Babylon 5 is a real treat. Without revealing any critical spoilers, he plays a mysterious man that wants something from a skeptical Captain Sheridan (Bruce “Scarecrow” Boxleitner,) and is delightfully strange and oddly persuasive. It’s a great piece of writing, where the series creator, J. Michael Straczynski starts revealing what has really been going on for three seasons with some great dialogue and vivid imagery.

I have a clip with just enough to give you a taste without revealing too much.

What Makes a Person Good?

A few acquaintances said of them, after it all happened: they were good people. And there was nothing else to say, since they were.
There was nothing else to say. They lacked the weight of a grave error, which so often just happens to be what opens a door. At some point they’d taken something seriously. They were obedient.

— Clarice Lispector “The Obedient Ones.”

What makes a person “good?” Is it obedience? Is it pleasing others? In “The Obedient Ones,” Lispector describes an “obedient” couple, “good people,” and where their obedient life leads them.  (I don’t want to spoil it. Listen below. It’s the second story, but they are all worth listening to.)

Donald Trump likes to use “good” to describe people. “They’re good people” is a common refrain. When he uses it, it means someone who did something he liked. He often wants us to ignore people’s behavior and focus on “their hearts,” as if wearing a sheet to a parade or colluding with our enemies isn’t a good indicator of “heart.”

When people that please him are caught doing wrong, he wants us to ignore their behavior and focus on “their hearts,” as if wearing a sheet to a parade or colluding with our enemies isn’t a good indicator of “heart.”

Some religions seem to have a similar take on goodness. A change of heart at any point, even at the moment of death, can redeem a lifetime of evil, or at least a lifetime of disharmony with that religion. The Good Thief in the Gospel of Luke is a good example of this, and the basis for the doctrine on deathbed conversions.

He’s evil, but a patriot and defender of his people. Most of the time.

The nature of goodness is something one has to think about when creating characters. Characters can be antagonists or protagonists, but in the better books and movies that alone does not make them good or bad people. Among the many failings of the many recent Fantastic Four movies was failing to capture the fact that Doctor Doom stopped being a cardboard cutout of a “Bwahahaha, and then I will take over the world!” villain more than forty years ago. He’s not what we would call a “good person, own ” but there’s an explanation for his behavior.

Purely good characters are boring. In the new Wonder Woman movie Diana is about as close to an “all good” hero we’ve seen in a long time, but she stole the sword and the lasso, tried to sneak off of Themyscira, and then had a Mount Everest-sized moment of doubt in the end. Without these moments, it’s close to a made-for-tv movie in the early 70s.

Civil War Feels

Steve Rogers (Captain America) is a close second. In both “Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” he is a very principled man, but he is willing to go to extreme lengths to defend those principles, including fighting his government and even his friends.

Good is where behavior and belief meet. A character has a moral center, a set of beliefs, that guides their behavior. Realistically portrayed antagonists and protagonists both have this center and a set of beliefs.

Evil starts where those beliefs devalue other people’s lives and well-being.

https://soundcloud.com/selectedshorts/magic-and-realism-clarice-lispector

The Culture of Interruption, Redux

I finished The Shallows after I wrote and queued The Culture of Interruption.

We want to be interrupted, because each interruption brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts means is to risk feeling out of touch or even socially isolated (emphasis added.) The near-continuous stream of new information pumped out by the Web also plays to our natural tendency to “vastly overvalue what happens to us right now,” as Union College psychologist Christopher Chabris explains.

Wanting to be connected and keep up-to-date is a natural tendency, but we survived for a long time without “real time” updates about the markets, Washington, and the President’s idiotic tweets.

The tendency to overvalue the new is something that the crap artists at Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, have been exploiting for years, so it’s natural that it’s migrated to our cell phones and computers. The fact that the information comes from the Internet doesn’t make it any more valuable.

I’m writing this on Thursday. Irma has already decimated the Virgin Islands and left hundreds of thousand without power into Puerto Rico. It (she?) is over open water right now, bearing down on the Turks and Caicos, but I have caught myself checking the new three times already today. Why? Because something new might happen.

Nerd Humor Make Up Post

Silly WordPress scheduling messed up yesterday and posted 2 posts in the same day.

So here is a makeup image:

 

While you’re here, why not check out that free book offer on the right?

My Shoes Are Too Tight

“My shoes are too tight. But it doesn’t matter because I have forgotten how to dance.”

I’m binge watching Babylon 5 on my commute, and this scene from the first season is one of the scenes that hooked me when the show first aired in 1994.

Londo Mollari is the Centauri ambassador to Babylon 5, a space station that is a center for interplanetary trade and diplomacy. It was a series that broadcast at the cusp of TV’s renaissance, overlapping with Buffy the Vampire Slayer for two years, and The Sopranos for one.

Centauri culture is steeped in tradition. While they call themselves “The Centauri Republic” they are in fact a monarchy, with all the trappings of an ancient feudal country; a class system, legalized slavery, arranged marriages, bigamy, and an often bewildering set of social customs. As you can see from Londo Mollari’s appearance, the men literally dress and wear their hair like peacocks. The higher the social status, the more ridiculous they look.

One of the better storylines in the five-season series is Londo’s struggle with his place in Centauri society and how his time living among other races on Babylon 5 opens his eyes. It’s a storyline that spans the entire series and has an incredible payoff. This scene is one of the first in which we see that he may be more than just a scheming villain.

Vir (yes, that is Flounder from Animal House) has come to Londo to try to convince him to help call off an arranged marriage between two young Centauri. Londo does not want to because of “Centauri tradition.” As we see from this clip, Londo has his doubts though.

The best science fiction (and fantasy, which B5 contains elements of) uses imaginary places, peoples, and circumstances to teach us about ourselves. Babylon 5 does this in the large, with themes about humanity, spirituality, and the nature of evil, and in the small, with scenes like this.

Star Trek taught us too when it was at its best. The original series, which is one of the times it was at its best, of course, did it wonderfully in City on the Edge of Forever and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

But like most “franchises,” especially those that outlive their creators, Trek lost its way and became more about itself than about us. (See also; Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Star Wars, the Sopranos, and maybe even Game of Thrones after this latest season.)

Ironically, though, Star Trek’s last, best, gasp for relevance was probably Deep Space Nine, which may have been at least partially “inspired” by a pitch made by Babylon 5’s creator.

I sometimes wish for a new Babylon 5 series. And then look around and the feeling passes.

 

Introducing The Sixth Age

It started, as many ideas do, somewhere else entirely. I was struggling with the story I really want to (and will eventually) tell; the story of my grandfather during and after World War I. I was stuck again and decided that I needed to get a few other stories under my belt before I could tell one that was so personally meaningful.

As I was casting around for ideas, I came across a reference to The War Of The Worlds, which is something one often does. It’s one of science fiction’s ur-Stories. It’s not the first but often feels like it is and it’s everywhere.

So I quite naturally (for me, anyway) starting wondering what would happen if the Martians showed up at the Somme in 1916. In Wells’ story, the aliens take a peaceful English countryside by surprise. What about a war-torn Europe, with heavily militarized Germany already on the battlefield and loaded for bear, and the English ready to conduct one of the largest and longest bombardments in history?

This is already a fun concept just a few sentences in, but there are a couple of problems. One of them is that limiting the book to the Western Front of WWI makes for more of a short story or novella, like the original story. While the original WOTW is a great story, it never really felt like a war of the Worlds since it’s limited to just England. I need a larger scope. Do I broaden the setting, maybe to the Eastern Front?

But the bigger issue is how do I get there? I am comic book fan, and I like continuity. While there have been some interesting takes and follow ups to WOTW, most of them ignore the original. I wanted to fix that too. Can I connect World War I to the original invasion somehow?

One of the most famous follow-ups to WOTW is the Orson Welles’ production for Halloween in 1938 with the Mercury Theater. Welles set the invasion in Grovers Mill, New Jersey in 1938. The show was done as a serious of radio new reports and allegedly scared the crap out of a lot of listeners, although some historians claim that that part of the story has been exaggerated.

What if the Martians landed at Grovers Mill in 1897 (when the book was first serialized,) at the same time they landed in England?

What would have happened to the world after the invasion? We’re still feeling the political fallout of 9/11 sixteen years later. What the would the political landscape look like after a failed alien invasion? Would there even be a World War I?

Now I was on to something!

The first entry in my series is available as a free ebook right now. It’s a short story that weighs in at 65 – 80 pages depending on your e-reader.

You can get it by signing up here.

Let me know what you think of it!

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