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Wednesday
Aug122009

The Madden Curse

 

So you have the 7th overall pick in your league's fantasy draft, and after a quick run on RB's for the first six rounds you are left without any sexy options at that position. It is way to early to draft a QB, so you go straight to the top of the WR list. Well, Larry Fitzgerald seems like a pretty nice option. He had 1431 yards receiving and a blistering 14 tds last season. The Cardinals re-signed Boldin and kept veteran QB Kurt Warner despite some flirtations with retiring. Fitzgerald is a no brainer, right? Think again. The infamous Madden Curse has found its way over to Fitz and if I'm in the position to get this guy or Andre Johnson, I'm going with Andre, because history does NOT favor this monstrous receiver.

2000- Barry Sanders adorns the cover - RESULT - Retired 7 days before training camp, leaving the Lions cupboard empty.

2001- Eddie George - RESULT - For the first time ever, Eddie George didn't rush for over 1000 yards and the Titans, one year removed from a Super Bowl birth, didn't even make the payoffs.

2002- Dante Culpepper - RESULT - Threw more interceptions than touchdowns.

2003- Marshall Faulk - RESULT - The worst statistical year of his career to this point, was never the same again after this.

2004- Michael Vick - RESULT - Broke leg early in the season, missed most of the year. Went on to explore other career opportunities in underground dog fighting.

2006- Donovan Mcnabb - RESULT - This is the first guy that has had a real career AFTER gracing the cover of the game. He still plays and will be a good QB even this year, but in 05 he had a hernia and played badly and in pain all year, where the Eagles finished a dismal 5-11.

2007- Shaun Alexander - RESULT - Broken foot led to Shaun missing most of the season. FTR, three years later, no longer in the league at the age of 31!

2008 - Vince Young - RESULT - For his career, 22 TDS and 32 INTs in a whopping 29 starts.

Ray Lewis is the only defensive player to be on the cover of the game and is also the only player so far to avoid the "Madden Curse". Brett Favre kinda avoided it by retiring and coming back to play for the Jets, with an ok season, but really wasn't anything to write home about. I am curious to see how this all turns out for the Cardinals, but I do know this: I'm happy I have the third pick of my draft where I can safely avoid John Madden's latest victim and not look silly and superstitious doing so.

Tuesday
Aug112009

Next Exit: Deathlands

 I love truck stops.

Not the get-your-food-and-gas kind of truck stop. They’re convenience stores, no matter how big they are. No, I mean the honest-to-goodness-get-your-food-gas-shower-and-any-kind-of-electronic-device-you-can-think-of-kind-of-place. I’m talking about the kind where you can have a sit-down meal, the kind where you can buy all kinds of Harley Davidson and Native American paraphernalia.

That’s a real truck stop.

Before we go any further, you must know I’m not, nor have I ever been, a trucker. I’m not an extensive traveler. I’m not some kind of truck stop deviant lurker either. I am a science fiction fan.

Honestly, I love truck stops primarily for their books, music, and movies. Truckers love good 60’s and 70’s classic rock. They seem to enjoy classic war and western movies, the kind Clint Eastwood used to star in. And they love good books. We’re talking action/adventure stories, classic westerns, and a decent smidgen of science fiction and fantasy. And they like James Axler’s Deathlands.

Deathlands was born of the post apocalyptic craze back in the 80’s. Axler became the house name for the series after the original writer, Laurence James, died. The story follows Ryan Cawdor and his motley company as they make their way across the ruins of America 100 years after a massive nuclear exchange. There’s lots of action, lots of mutants, and endless possibilities. (Though, I must confess, in the hands of some of the lesser writers, the tales can be a bit redundant and boring.) Being the post apocalyptic junkie I am, the books have always appealed to me. How could you not love those covers – especially the ones by Mark Herring?

However, I must confess I never got around to reading them.  Why? Well, the older ones are hard to find, unless you’re willing to pay a collector’s price for them. (Which, I am sad to say, I am currently doing.) And for another, the series is up into the eighties right now. That’s a lot of reading. How do you catch up?

The answer came to me at a truck stop: Graphic Audio CDs.

The first time I saw them, I thought they were simply another set of audio books. (Truck stops have lots of those, too.) I have tried several times to listen to audio books but just couldn’t do it. It always seemed too passive for my imagination. I put it off and put it off, until I finally read the back of one. Their slogan hooked me: “a movie in your mind.” According to the case, the cds had a full cast, sound effects, and a score. Definitely didn’t sound like an audio book, so I thought I would give it a try.

My initial reaction cannot be put into words really. It was one of those intensely personal reactions, something that clicks deep-down inside you. I can’t even begin to think about putting it into words, so let me just say “Wow.” Had I not been wearing my sandals at the time, it would have knocked my socks off. It was all true: the full cast, the sound effects, the score. And the stories were pretty awesome, too.

The actors are the key, however; Richard Rohan in particular, who narrates and portrays Ryan Cawdor. They provide a depth and insight to the characters that you just wouldn’t get from a standard audio book. The effects are awesome and rev up the action so that it feels like you’re there in the thick of it with bullets whizzing by your head and smacking disgustedly into those near you.

Again, I’m no trucker, but I’ve become quite addicted to them. I don’t have long stretches of listening time, but I will go through a chapter or two running errands to Wal-Mart or the grocery store. I even find myself volunteering to go get a gallon of milk late at night. I’ve even listened on the exercise bike.

Now, Deathlands will not be for everyone. They are rated M for mature audiences, and believe me, they deserve it. Lots of violence and harsh language and, in the earlier ones, sexual content. If they were films, they’d be a strong R at least.

(By the way, I’ve discovered that you don’t have to listen to the stories in order for the most part. However, I would recommend listening to the first ten or so just to get the full back stories on the main cast of characters.)

Graphic Audio produces a host of other titles if Deathlands is not to your liking. There’s Axler’s Outlanders, westerns, and series by R.A. Salvatore, Elizabeth Moon, and Simon Green. There’s even comics. They’ve adapted DC’s epic 52 and some Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman stories. They’re even doing Pendleton’s classic Executioner series.

Unfortunately, not all of us live near truck stops. I don’t. The closest one to me is over a hundred miles away. You can go to Graphic Audio’s website and order them. They have CD and MP3 versions. You can also download them to you computer. There are stores on the internet, some even sale used copies. I get mine off of a store on ebay (user id causinhavokinwv). At truck stops they run about $16.99, which is not bad for a seven hour production. Every story is unabridged. If you order, of course, you’re going to have to pay shipping. Downloading is the cheapest way to go.

Still, there’s nothing like traveling down the road and seeing that gianormous billboard telling you there’s a truck stop ahead. It can be your next exit to adventure.

 

 

 

 

Friday
Aug072009

John Hughes 1950-2009

John Hughes, the poet laureate of teen angst, died today.  He had not directed a film in twelve years, nor one with any real impact in nearly twenty years.  Still, his passing saddens me more than other recent celebrity deaths.  I can easily forgive Hughes for the Home Alone films and dismal John Candy vehicles because he gave my generation some remarkable touchstones.  Starting with Sixteen Candles, Hughes made a string of films that captured the mindset of Gen X better than any other films of the time.  The films were so good, so popular, that they almost seemed to be reflecting the culture and creating it at the same time.  Alas, I'm not much of a star-****er, so instead of droning on about how Hughes enriched my soul or some nonsense, I'll just comment on the Hughes films everyone should watch in his memory.

 

Sixteen Candles--Molly Ringwald was so damned adorable as Sam Baker that it was nearly impossible not to feel for her as the events of the film unfolded.  The film hits very predictable buttons as the cool, smart girl is pushed to the background because attention is focused on her pretty, popular sister.  Still, every note is nearly perfect, and the image of Sam and Jake kissing over her lit birthday cake is one of the 80s most iconic.

 

The Breakfast Club--watch this one for the wonderful perfomances by the entire cast (some perhaps a bit broad, but still endearing) and for some of the best integration of pop music in cinema history.  Also, nothing says more about the way the masculine image was beginning to change than Bender removing his earing and giving it to Claire.  

 

Ferris Bueller's Day Off--okay, tough call here.  Ferris Bueler's Day Off is not nearly as good or as impactful as the first two films.  In fact, in my experience, viewers without nostalgia for the film or at least the period don't enjoy the it very much.  It has certainly dated worse than the two films above.  Ferris is far less likeable than we thought he was back then.  He's basically a smart ass who thinks he has all the answers and nearly ruins his best friend's life.  Still, in a lot of ways, he was the kid all of us wanted to be.  He was smooth, rebellious, and dating Mia Sara.  Most of all, the film should be watched for brilliant comedic performances from the supporting cast and the lovingly crafted tour of one of America's great cities.

 

So there it is, my little John Hughes Film festival.  If instead you end up watching Home Alone, Career Opportunities and Uncle Buck, don't blame me.

 

Monday
Aug032009

Fantastic Voyage: Terry Bisson’s Voyage to the Red Planet

Terry Bisson’s Planet of Mystery (PS Publishing 2008) transports readers to Venus, not the lifeless planet we know, but one filled with strangeness and, well, mystery. The novella harkens back to the days of pulp planetary romances, but it’s not the first time Bisson has left mother earth, and hopefully no the last. Anyone who has read Planet of Mystery, or who is just discovering this wonderful and insightful author, may want to check out his novel about the red planet.

In Voyage to the Red Planet (Avon, 1991), Terry Bisson rediscovers the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury. He describes the red planet as an ancient, dying world filled with beauty, awe, and mystery, a place where man can uncover the truth about himself and his place in the cosmos. There’s only one problem: grand revelations aren’t very profitable.

The novel is set in the near future when America is finally recovering from the Grand Depression thanks to giant corporations that have bought all of the national parks and government agencies.

Just prior to all the financial woes, NASA scrapped the first manned mission to Mars. Twenty years later, the mission is given the green light – by Hollywood. A roguish producer wants to make the first film on Mars, not about Mars, but set on Mars. To that end, he “acquires” a moth-balled ship, the Mary Poppins, and hires the two original pilots who trained under the joint NASA-Soviet venture, a top cinematographer, and some “pure-bred” actors.

While the Hollywood crew tackles the important task of filming, Bass (the pilot) and Jeffries (the doctor who developed a serum for bear-like hibernation that can have some interesting side effects) stumble across ancient ruins and evidence that their arrival has been anticipated. Both men are stunned by their discovery and must decide what’s to be done with it. They know that if they tell anyone in America, the discovery will be exploited for every cent it can possibly generate. On the other hand, to keep it to themselves means years of waiting with little hope, if any, that the discovery will be used to further man’s knowledge.

Bisson’s novel is remarkable on many levels. The characters are real and motivated by real concerns. Man is shown at his best (moved by compassion) and his worst (compelled by greed), and the story is an exciting, adventurous romp that pays tribute to the glorious pulp fantasies of the past. At the same time, it is a biting satire about commercialism in America, and while the novel is filled with many humorous scenes, the laughter is often cut short. In this land where theme parks and sports arenas have become nothing more than gigantic billboards, Voyage to the Red Planet doesn’t seem too fantastic.

 

Friday
Jul312009

Kentucky Fried Science Fiction

 

     Kentucky – home to horse farms, bluegrass, basketball, and fried chicken. Oh yeah . . . and science fiction. Science fiction? That’s right. Kentucky has a good claim on all of the above, including SF. Sure, you’ve heard of the Derby, Bill Monroe, and KFC. Many folks would even probably recognize some of Kentucky’s great writers like Jesse Stuart and Robert Penn Warren. But SF writers? Sure. In fact, one of today’s best and most acclaimed SF writers, Terry Bisson, has his roots in the bluegrass state.

     Bisson has published several highly praised novels for adults, including Fire on the Mountain, Pirates of the Universe and The Pick-up Artist. He’s also written comic books and several movie and TV adaptations. He’s even written numerous books for young readers, ranging in topics from NASCAR to Star Wars, but it is his science fiction and fantasy stories for which he is most recognized. 

     A sense of purpose fills Bisson’s writing. On the surface, what may appear to be a witty tale of space exploration, as in Voyage to the Red Planet, actually turns out to be a humorous yet startling glimpse of the world we live in today. In “Bears Discover Fire,” probably his most famous short story, bears learn how to use fire and develop a sense of community while humans begin to drift apart. The award winning “macs,” a story about cloning, shows how terrible human beings can be when given the opportunity. Some of his best shorter works are collected in Bears Discover Fire and In the Upper Room and Other Likely Stories.

     In addition to writing, Bisson has taught at the prestigious Clarion science fiction and fantasy writer’s workshop and with the New School for Social Research in New York

     Born in 1942, Bisson grew up in Owensboro, Kentucky. In an email interview with students from Whitesburg High School, he told how he began concentrating on writing as a teen: “a great high school teacher, Louise Brody, encouraged me to read widely and then to try to imitate the writers I liked as a way of finding my own style.” After reading what he describes as “a lot of trash and pulp,” he discovered the Beats – a group of provocative and unconventional writers of the 1950’s – and started writing poetry. It was also during this time that he was drawn to science fiction, but he would not begin writing stories until he was in college.

     While attending the University of Louisville, Bisson entered a contest for a magazine and won fifty dollars for his first short story, “George.” The experience inspired him to write his first novel which never sold. Fortunately, he didn’t stop. “I loved what a good story did to me,” Bison related, “and I wanted to be able to do that to others.” Over the years, he kept writing and kept learning, but it wasn’t easy: “when I first started, I wanted to be famous, like Kerouac or Hemingway, but that didn’t work out.” The secret to success, he learned, wasn’t trying to become rich and famous: it was discovering “the pleasure of working something over again and again, until you get it right.”

     Since then, Bisson’s works have been published in Europe, Japan and China and have garnered him numerous awards, including the Nebula and the Hugo, the two most distinguished awards in science fiction and fantasy literature. In 2000, he was awarded France’s Gran Prix de L’imaginaire. One of his favorite honors, however, was bestowed upon him in 1999. He was inducted into the Owensboro Hall of Fame, joining the ranks with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, NASCAR’s Darrell Waltrip, and Hollywood idol Johnny Depp.

     Now residing in California, Bisson continues to produce thought-provoking fiction and nonfiction. In 2008, PS Publishing released the novella Planet of Mystery, which combines his exceptional wit and insight with the planetary romances of Burroughs, Brackett, and Bradbury.  Nonetheless, Kentucky remains a part of him. He still listens to Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless, and he visits his home state regularly to camp and hike. Kentucky permeates his stories. You can see it in the rolling hills and mysterious woods he describes or the characters who know the ins and outs of growing tobacco and fixing cars. Despite the fact that most people do not think of science fiction when they think of Kentucky, he doesn’t feel he or his work has been negatively labeled or stereotyped. In fact, he sees it as a boon: “people assume I’m a ‘regular guy’ who knows all about horses and cool country stuff.”

     To find out more about Terry Bisson or his works, visit his website at www.terrybisson.com.