Four Letter Nerd

Author - Cam Clark

4LN Movie Review – The Mummy

The Mummy starring Tom Cruise hit the big screen earlier this month and has been met with some less-than-stellar reviews.  Luckily, fans of nostalgia and summer blockbusters have another movie to turn to.  No, I’m not talking about It, or Transformers.  I’m talking about the 1999 The Mummy starring the Encino Man himself Brendan Fraser.

Side note: I would’ve written a review for it when it came out, but I was 11.

Summary from IMDB:

An American serving in the French Foreign Legion on an archaeological dig at the ancient city of Hamunaptra accidentally awakens a mummy.

Oh yes.

The Mummy (1999) was written and directed by Stephen Sommers and stars Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah as a trio of adventurers (some better at it than others) tracking down the lost city of Hamunaptra.  After shenanigans involving curses, skin-burrowing scarabs, and another team of adventurers led by the shifty Beni, the trio finds themselves face to decaying face with Imhotep, and Imhotep is not a happy mummy.

The Indiana Jones vibe is strong with this one.  In fact, the tone of The Mummy falls more in line with the original Jones trilogy than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did, and I didn’t think that movie was all that bad.  It has that early Hollywood Errol Flynn feel that makes it more endearing than a gritty reboot would.

Speaking of Errol Flynn, Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell is great.  He’s not your typical action star that’s known for his physical presence, but he manages to steal the screen with his quick wit, over-the-top style.  Oh, and Rachel Weisz said that he literally had to be resuscitated after the hanging scene. If that’s not dedication to the craft, I don’t know what is.  I particularly liked Weisz in her role as Evelyn Carnahan.  Not only is she incredibly smart, but she is also brave, endearing, and is the only person capable of keeping her idiot brother and Rick O’Connell in line.

I also enjoyed that the film uses real sets instead of relying on CGI, which is all too common nowadays (looking at you, The Hobbit).  The set pieces look more like Temple of Doom than green screen, and that’s a good thing when you are making a love letter to old school adventure films.  Sure, the CGI they used was a little rough, but every time Imhotep’s jaw dropped farther than a jaw should drop it was creepy, and remember that scene where the scarab is crawling under that guy’s skin? If you were a kid when it came out, I doubt you’ve ever forgotten it #heebiejeebies.

Overall, The Mummy stands the test of time.  The final action sequence had everything you’d expect in a monster/action/adventure movie, including mummy zombies (zombie mummies?), romance, sword fights, one-liners, and last second escapes.  It’s hard to mash several genres together, but The Mummy does it well.  Parts of it are legitimately creepy, even when the violence is implied using the ol’ shadow on the wall trick, but then the comedic relief comes swooping in to make you laugh and break the tension.

If you haven’t seen The Mummy in a while, it’s time.  As long as you don’t go in expecting every aspect to hold up 100%, you should have a great time reliving your childhood with the help of Brendan Frasier’s relevance, at least me and my wife did. Now I just need to track down a copy of The Mummy Returns. I hear a certain WWF superstar might make an appearance.

#notmythemummy

4LN Book Review: Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is a colossus in the entertainment industry.  He is the creative mind behind Jurassic Park, ER, Andromeda Strain, Congo, and Westworld.  During his life, Crichton dominated the box office, the literary world, and television.  Dragon Teeth is the latest in a series of posthumous novels discovered by his family to hit the shelves.

Summary from HarperCollins:

About the Book

Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novela thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate Americas western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.

Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition. But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions. With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and Williams newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the Wests most notorious characters.

A page-turner that draws on both meticulously researched history and an exuberant imagination, Dragon Teeth is based on the rivalry between real-life paleontologists Cope and Marsh; in William Johnson readers will find an inspiring hero only Michael Crichton could have imagined. Perfectly paced and brilliantly plotted, this enormously winning adventure is destined to become another Crichton classic.

There is a particular formula a majority of Michael Crichton’s most popular books follow.  Take a team of scientists from diverse fields of study, insert a preternatural problem that serves as an antagonist – such as an alien spacecraft (Sphere), super-virus (Andromeda Strain), or genetically reconstructed dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) – and have the team of scientists work together to solve said problem.  Dragon Teeth smashes that mold.

While most of Crichton’s literary work would fall under the action/adventure genre, Dragon Teeth falls more in the realm of western/historical fiction.  The story takes place during the Bone Wars, which found two leading paleontologists – Cope and Marsh – in a bitter race to discover dinosaur bones.  Cope and Marsh, as well as Cope’s compatriot Charles Stern, all play significant roles in the story and actually existed (they have their own Wikipedia pages and everything). The Earp brothers also make their presence known in and around the town of Deadwood (bonus points if you read their parts with Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton’s voices).

While the historical characters are exciting, the true protagonist of Dragon Teeth is William Johnson; a fictional character that serves as a foil for the reader to learn more about the historical events unfolding. Born into affluence, Johnson has led a life of ease and excess. It’s not until he makes a spur of the moment bet and joins a paleontology exhibition headed west that he faces any real adversity, and boy does he face it. During the Wild West adventure, Johnson finds himself in the middle of both the Bone Wars and the Sioux Wars. Add to that the general cast of ruffians typical of western lore, and you got yourself a story more reminiscent of Louis L’Amour than Andromeda Strain.

It is important to note that this book isn’t technically a finished product. It was found in manuscript form, and a note from his wife indicates that he started planning it as far back from 1974. Some of the dialogue is stiff and the pacing is a bit jumpy, but I think this is a book fans of both Crichton and westerns will enjoy as long as they don’t expect something akin to his blockbuster titles.

For more like this, check out our Top Four Michael Crichton Novels

The True Story of Why Cracker Barrel Looks Like The Inside of Your Grandma’s Attic

Growing up in the South, Cracker Barrel has always been a part of the breakfast landscape.  Now that I have kids, my visits have become less frequent because my two-year-old is a hurricane and oh-my-god-there-are-so-many-breakable-objects-between-the-door-and-the-hostess-stand.

As most of you know, each Cracker Barrel has a uniquely antique sense of style. Recently, while sipping my coffee and waiting for my Momma’s Pancake Breakfast (eggs: scrambled, extra bacon: crispy), I started to wonder how Cracker Barrel manages to collect the number of vintage items required to cover almost every square inch of wall and ceiling.

It turns out, the answer is a lot more interesting than you thought.

First of all, all of those old tools, toys, signs, and memorabilia on display are 100% original.  They aren’t buying mass reproductions of old items, they are actively seeking antiquities that have that Cracker Barrel aesthetic.  In fact, the “look” is so recognizable that a lot of antique dealers will reach out to them when they come across an item that matches their style.  You see, at the Cracker Barrel home office, they have what they call a Decór Warehouse where they house a collection of over 90,000 artifacts obtained by their antique expert Larry Singleton.

Add to that the 700,000 relics already in stores, and you have one of the largest collections of Americana in the world.  When the first restaurant opened back in 1969, the founder, Dan Evins, enlisted the help of antique shop owners Don and Kathleen Singleton to nail down the “Country Store” feel.  The couple liked the job they stuck around and bequeathed the position to their son Larry – mentioned above – who maintains and expands the collection today.

Just picture the Indiana Jones warehouse, but with better lighting

The back of the warehouse holds a restoration area, where they clean and restore every piece before it finds its way to a store.  Once the items make it through the restorative process, they are cataloged and shelved in the vast caverns of homespun hospitality that is the front of the warehouse, where they await their chance to become the inhabitant of a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Each store starts with upwards of 1,000 original antiques that give the store its classic look.  Once a new store is under development, Larry and his team do research on the area’s history and culture so they can choose artifacts complimentary to the locale.  While a majority of the items are unique, there are a few things that every Cracker Barrel has in common.

For instance, every store has an ox yolk and a horseshoe over the front door, the restrooms are demarcated by a stoplight, an old rifle above the fireplace, and a checkerboard that rests on a cracker barrel (get it?) in front of the fireplace.  Once the items are curated from the Decór Warehouse, they make a full-scale mock-up of the restaurant and begin figuring out the placement of each piece.  Once they are satisfied with the arrangement, they take pictures of the finished product and ship the pieces to their new home.

Mockup created at Cracker Barrel’s Decor Warehouse is checked against finished product.

What I find amazing is the time and resources spent finding original items and restoring them.  A lot of these pieces of Americana would be lost to time if Cracker Barrel didn’t dedicate itself to the preservation of these antiques.  So next time you and your friends are gathered around the table at the Old Country Store, take a second to appreciate the time and effort that went into all of the memorabilia around you, amaze your peers with your new found knowledge, then get called an Ignoramus by the peg game found on every table.

For more information on Cracker Barrel’s Decór Warehouse, check out their website.

4LN Book Review: J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Beren and Lúthien”

Beren and Lúthien has been on a 100-year journey from conception to publication.  Like previous posthumous works of Tolkien, such as Children of Hurin, and The Silmarillion, Beren and Lúthien is edited by J. R. R. Tolkien’s son Christopher Tolkien from old notes and manuscripts that belonged to his father.  This book has been on my radar for a long, long time, and I am happy that it is now available.

Summary from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

‘The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

‘Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.

Published on the tenth anniversary of the last Middle-earth book, the New York Times bestseller The Children of Húrin, this new volume will similarly include drawings and color plates by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win Academy Awards for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Like Túrin Turambar – the tragic hero of The Children of Húrin – before them, a version of Beren and Lúthien’s story appears in the first section of The Silmarillion.  What sets this book apart from other posthumous works edited by Christopher Tolkien, is that this book contains multiple tellings of the same story that offers a rare look inside the evolution of one of Tolkien’s first stories in his legendarium.  As noted in the summary above, Beren and Lúthien was conceived in 1917 shortly after Tolkien returned from WWI, and the central love story was so important to him that he had Lúthien inscribed on his beloved wife’s tombstone, and Beren inscribed on his own.

Beren and Lúthien opens with a truly fascinating preface from Christopher Tolkien in which he goes in-depth into the origins of the story, the evolution of the story, and why, at the ripe age of 93, he chose this to be his final work.  From here, Christopher provides some notes on the Elder Days, which is useful as a refresher for readers of The Silmarillion, and new readers alike.  I found these introductory pages captivating.  It’s not often you get such a comprehensive look into the mind of an author from someone who knew them as well as their own son.

The first chapter tells the first narrative version of the story which is called “The Tale of Tinúviel.”  In this early version Beren – who would eventually be re-imagined as human – is a Gnome, but not in the sense that gnomes are thought of now.  Tolkien’s use of the term “gnome” actually stems from the Greek and means “thought intelligence,” and is a race of Elves in this story.  In later versions he abandons this word as it was too misleading.

Next, each version of the story is given alongside an essay from Christopher Tolkien documenting the changes from one to the next.  The reader is also treated to the multitude of writing styles of J. R. R. Tolkien.  While the first version is told more-or-less as a narrative tale, later versions are in a complex poem-like prose that uses purposefully arcane language.

Ultimately, Beren and Lúthien is perfect for fans of J. R. R. Tolkien.  The book provides an interesting look into one of his most beloved creations, and the backstory provided by Christopher Tolkien is truly captivating. Fair warning, if you are a casual fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s, or have mainly stayed within the bounds of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this book might be a bit on the dense side. Conversely, for those of us who’ve dug deep in the Tolkien mythos it’s a much easier read than The Silmarillion.  All-in-all, I found Beren and Lúthien to be the perfect farewell tome by Christopher Tolkien, who has provided Tolkien fans with myriads of unfinished stories about Middle-earth.

More Like This:

Wisdom from Tolkien’s Middle-earth

A Brief History of the First Age of Middle-Earth as Found in the Silmarillion and Other Writings

The Hobbit Life: How The Lord of the Rings Helped Me Become a Better Person

4LN Advanced Comic Review – SECRET WEAPONS #1

Writer: Eric Heisserer
Art: Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín
Publisher: Valiant Comics

Summary:

The government has dispatched Amanda McKee – the technopath codenamed Livewire – to investigate the ruins of a secret facility formerly run by Toyo Harada, the most powerful telepath on Earth and her former mentor. In his quest for world betterment at any cost, Harada sought out and activated many potential psiots like himself. Those who survived, but whose powers he deemed to have no value to his cause, were hidden away at this installation. But Livewire, having studied Harada’s greatest strengths and learned his deepest weaknesses, senses opportunity where he once saw failure. A young girl who can talk to birds… A boy who can make inanimate objects gently glow… To others, these are expensive disappointments. But, to Livewire, they are secret weapons…in need of a leader. Now, as a mechanized killer called Rex-O seeks to draw them out, Livewire and her new team of cadets will be forced to put their powers into action…in ways they never could have imagined…

SECRET WEAPONS works on multiple levels.  We will get into the main two levels – story and art – shortly, but on a personal level, the book’s setting is my favorite part.  SECRET WEAPONS takes place in downtown Oklahoma City near Bricktown, a place I’ve been many times.  While I am a Nashville native, OKC and surrounding areas is home to almost all of my family.  Seeing Livewire and the psiots she is working to protect roam streets that I’ve personally driven is pretty awesome.  I’m sure New Yorkers are tired of it, what with 98% of the Marvel universe rampaging through NYC, but as a son of two Okies, I love seeing it represented in comics.

SECRET WEAPONS looks and reads beautifully.  It is written by Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who is also the screenwriter for the upcoming Bloodshot and Harbinger films.  It appears that this might be his comic book debut, and it’s damn fine.  The characters are unique, and the odd powers the psiots exhibit (making inanimate objects glow, talking to birds, etc.) lead to some really good comic relief when the story gets dark.  Heisserer is joined by Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín, who go the extra mile to deliver some truly beautiful art.  Allén has such a unique style that almost resembles a type of pop art, and Martín’s colors are beautifully vibrant. One of the coolest things about this book is the work Heisserer and Allén put into making the setting authentic.  Each of the major locations are modeled after real-life landmarks in Oklahoma City, and that attention to detail sets this book apart.

If you’ve never picked up a Valiant title before, this is a good place to start. The creative team hit a home-run with all facets of this book. SECRET WEAPONS hits the stands on on June 28th, so tell your shop to order you a copy or two!

An Introduction to Comic Book Binding

It’s been a long while since we’ve provided you, our fellow nerds, with a primer.  The purpose of this series is to take an in-depth look at specific sub-genres of nerd culture, and today’s article does not stray from that premise.  Without further adieu, let’s take a look at art of comic book binding.

History

I’m going to ask you to bear with me over this next paragraph, because we are going to have a tiny history lesson.  Unlike some of our previous primers, bookbinding goes back a long way.  Remember hearing about Johann Gutenberg in history class?  Well, he is responsible for creating the movable type printing press, which allowed for faster printing.  Faster printing meant more books, and more books meant more focus on the art of bookbinding, which really took off in the late 15th century.  Also happening in the 15th century: the Aztec and Inca empires were at the height of their power. Fun fact: initially, books were shelved with the spines facing inwards, and the title inked onto the edge of the pages.  It wasn’t until Jean Grolier commissioned beautiful bindings with with lettering on the spine that they began to shelve them spines out, as is the custom now (stay tuned for my next primer on watching paint dry!).

Look, I know this might be boring for some of you, and possibly jarring since you are here to figure out if you want to get your DOOP collection professionally bound, but we really take book-bindings as they are now for granted. You’re right, though… it’s time to move onto the next portion of this primer.

Choosing a Bindery

Deciding whether to get your comic books professionally bound is a big decision.  I imagine a good sized portion of the comic community cringes at the thought of someone cutting the spine off a book and stitching it to a bunch of its comic book brethren.  Having said that, comic book binding is great for collectors like me that don’t intend to sell their books, want to keep them easily accessible, and don’t consider short boxes home decor.

I decided to give binding a shot because I have four short boxes filled with modern era Valiant Comics sitting in the back of my closet next to an expired fire extinguisher, assorted batteries, and our winter coats. A one-of-a-kind hardback book (that I helped design, no less) filled with some of my favorite comics was just too good to pass up.  After doing some research on the Google, I decided to go with Herring and Robinson Book Binders. Herring and Robinson is a family owned library bindery that began business in 1920. Before I decided to pull the trigger, I gave them a call to learn about the binding process.  They graciously answered all my questions during my initial phone call, and stayed in touch via email throughout.  Ultimately, it was their customer service that won me over.

Prepping Your Books for Binding

First and foremost, it’s important to decide which series or event you are binding.  For my first foray into binding, I chose my X-O Manowar collection, which included issues #1-50, two #0 issues, and two annuals.  Once you choose your books, it’s time to get them into the order you want.  While each volume could be up to 2 1/2″ thick, I decided to break my collection into two volumes so the gutter loss would not be as bad.  The first volume would include issues #1-25, and the second volume would include #26-50, with the #0’s and annuals put in according to when they were released.

Now comes the hard part… if you want to take away some of the thickness, or you find it more aesthetically pleasing, you can remove the ads throughout the comic as long as it doesn’t include any of the actual panels. While yes, you are technically cutting into a comic book which could be considered blasphemous, it’s for the greater good.  I decided to remove the last few pages of each book, because these usually contained previews for upcoming Valiant titles, which I didn’t need.  To do this, I simply grabbed my trusty Wrath of the Eternal Warrior box-cutter, and cut just to the right of the center line to avoid the staples.  Some binderies also prefer the buyer to remove the staples prior to sending, but Herring and Robinson don’t require this.  Once the pages are removed put the issues back in the correct order, place some comic boards on the top and bottom to protect the pages, and wrap them with a few rubber-bands.

I have included some photos of how I prepped my books below.  They are not for the faint of heart…

The Eternal Warrior always wins

 

Placing Your Order

Herring and Robinson provides a myriad of options for customizing your book.  You can have double lines, single lines, die-stamps, lettering, and choose the placement of everything. Then you have to choose the type and color of the binding, and the color of the lines and lettering, add a ribbon or headband, it’s… let’s just say you have a lot to think about .  I spent a lot of time figuring out exactly how I wanted the spine to look.  I eventually settled on double lines at the top and bottom, sans-serif lettering, the buckram material in royal blue with silver lettering.  Herring and Robinson provides the following order form, that has a diagram of the spine and front cover, so you can show them exactly how you want it to look by sketching it out.

New_Order_Slip

Now, pack the order form in with your books, make sure it’s well protected, and ship it off to Herring and Robinson.  The wait begins.

The Final Product

Their website says it will take 6-8 weeks for the order to be completed, but after only 4 weeks I received my invoice and tracking number.  I’m not going to lie, when I saw that my package was out for delivery and my mailman was running later than usual I stared out my window like Michael Scott stares at Toby.  The wait paid off when I pulled these beautiful books out of their package:

For a price tag of around $30 a book, I ended up with two beautiful, one-of-a-kind books that will look great on my nerd shelf.  The quality of these books is mind-boggling.  They are solidly constructed, and feel great to the touch.  But, is comic book binding for everyone? Probably not.  There are those that cringe at the thought of ravaging their comics with a razor blade.  Those of you, like me, who don’t plan on selling your collection, want to be able to display them proudly, and can make it through the prep, comic book binding is definitely worth it.  I am beyond happy with how my first foray into bound comics turned out, and I will definitely be sending more over the next few months.

4LN Comic Review – Eternal Warrior: Awakening #1

Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Renato Guedes and Ulises Arreola
Publisher: Valiant Comics

Summary from Valiant Entertainment:

It is a time before civilization…

On the brink of carving out victory in the most violent battle of his life, Gilad Anni-Padda suffers a devastating injury. He awakens weeks later in a strange land, nursed back to health but with no memory of his past. A tribe has shown him compassion in an age of cruelty, and he will return their gift in kind. Now the real violence will begin…

New York Times best-selling writer Robert Venditti (Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps.) and acclaimed artist Renato Guedes (BLOODSHOT REBORN) lead a celebration of the Eternal Warrior’s 25th anniversary here with the second of four standalone specials honoring the most famous Valiant tales ever told!

EW-AWAKE_001_COVER-A_CRAIN

Gilad Anni-Padda, the Eternal Warrior, Fist and Steel of the Earth is a farmer, and a poor one at that.  The warlord that struck the blow that took his memory is cutting a swath across the earth destroying everything in his way, and he won’t be stopped until he has the head of the Eternal Warrior atop his throne of bones.  Now Gilad must reclaim his memory, reclaim his mantle, and get to work.  If that doesn’t scream “EPIC” at the top of its lungs, I don’t know what would.

Robert Venditti’s Wrath of the Eternal Warrior is a great 15 issue run that dives into the mythos of the character’s ability to raise from the dead. Now, with Awakening, Venditti is going traveling to before to the turbulent era before human civilization.  The first 8 issue Eternal Warrior is the series that brought me into the Valiant world, so I always look forward to another adventure, and this issue did not disappoint.

The story stands on its own and provides a really cool tale about the Eternal Warrior’s past.  The tone is dark, and there is a really great interplay between that tone and the bright palette used by the color artist Ulises Arreola.  The artist Renato Guedes has worked on everything from the X-Men to Superman, and his work on this issue perfectly captures the violence of the era.  The action sequences are visceral, the characters are unique, and the desolate landscapes are beautiful.  I would love to see Guedes do more work for Valiant in the future.

Ultimately, Eternal Warrior: Awakening is a clinic in how to do a one-shot.  The creative team works well together setting an intense tone for the book, and it makes me pray to the Valiant leadership that more Eternal Warrior is on its way.  Eternal Warrior: Awakening hits the stands this Wednesday, May 10, 2017.  Make sure to track down a copy with the veracity of Alpha Hyamm.

Check Out A Sneak Peek At Eternal Warrior: Awakening #1 Below!

EW-AWAKE_001_COVER-B_GILL

EW-AWAKE_001_001EW-AWAKE_001_002EW-AWAKE_001_003EW-AWAKE_001_004EW-AWAKE_001_005

Jules Verne: 19th Century Nostradamus

Even if you have never read anything by Jules Verne, you have almost certainly heard of his literary contributions.  Mr. Verne is the author behind such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days. There have been multiple adaptations of his works across a multitude of mediums over the last century and a half. There is, however, one book you probably haven’t heard of because his publisher thought it too absurd to publish in the 1860’s, so it wasn’t published until 1994. The book is called Paris in the Twentieth Century, and it’s special because it predicted the future.

Vxxx_PV_cover

Jules Verne is a prolific 19th-century French writer with more than 60 novels to his name, and is widely considered the “Father of Science-Fiction.” His most famous work is his Voyages Extroaordinaires, which collects 54 of his novels including the big three listed above. His works are also a huge influence on the world of Steampunk, as his novels are filled with fantastical elements grounded in Victorian era science.

Paris in the Twentieth Century was one of his earliest works, which he turned into his publisher in 1863 after his  successful first novel Five Weeks in a Balloon.  The publisher refused to publish the book because believed it to be too pessimistic, and too unbelievable.  It wasn’t until 1989 that the manuscript was discovered by Verne’s great-grandson, and then it was another 5 years until it was published.  What’s ironic about the publisher turning Paris in the Twentieth Century down for it being unbelievable is that it accurately predicted several facets of the modern world 100 years after it was written.

So, what did Mr. Verne predict?  First of all, in his version of the 1960’s, the cities would be illuminated by electric lights, which is fitting since Paris is called the City of Lights.  He predicted skyscrapers, the expansion of the suburbs, subways, high-speed railway systems, telegraphs that would transmit pictures i.e. fax machines (which are already horribly outdated), electric machines that are a part of an extensive network and communicate with each other (the internet).  Additionally, Verne spoke about the rise of electronic music (Skrillex), synthesizers (the 80’s), and a recorded music industry. He also predicted that cars, which he referred to as gas-cabs, would be a primary means of transportation, and even predicted the infrastructure required to sustain automobile’s, like gas stations and paved asphalt roads.  In this novel, the weapons of war have become so powerful that most countries won’t even fight anymore lest everybody gets destroyed, which sounds an awful lot like the Cold War and the arms race between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Oh, and he sort of predicted porn? In his book, he predicted that the entertainment industry would be dominated by stage plays featuring nudity and sexual acts, so there’s that.

That is a staggering amount of accuracy for a book written a decade before Dr. Arliss Loveless attacked President Grant with his giant mechanical spider.  While it is true that Verne didn’t see himself as a scientific prophet – or even a science-fiction author for that matter – it is fascinating how many of his visions for a dystopian, 1960’s Paris actually became a reality.

arliss

Perhaps the most depressing part Verne’s future is that society has become obsessed with technology and business to the point where things like art, literature or human creativity, in general, are thrown by the wayside.  While our society is indeed engrossed with technology (see: pphubbing), human creativity still has its place, and with the advent of the internet, immediately available for consumption.

Ultimately, Verne’s version of the future is a bit bleaker than reality, but many of his predictions hit the metaphorical nail on the head.  Cars were hitting their stride in the 1960’s, and let’s be honest, if you combine the emergence of interconnected machines and lewd stage-plays, you have 85% percent of the world’s internet content.  What this all amounts to is that Jules Verne not only kick-started the science-fiction genre, he is also a a master of speculative fiction.

If you are interested in checking out Paris in the Twentieth Century for yourself, head on over to Amazon, or better yet, ask your local bookstore to order you a copy.  Fair warning – the story isn’t exactly uplifting.

For more information about Steampunk, check out our Primer!

 

Star Wars and Mindfulness Meditation

Anxiety seems to be an ever-growing issue that particularly looms large for people of my generation – the Millennials. The American Psychological Association estimates that 12% of millennials are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, while around 30% of working Millennials struggle with general anxiety. Now, I’m not good at math, but that seems like an awful lot of people. There are 75.4 million(ish) millennials wandering this planet, so upwards of 25 million of us have some form of general anxiety? Unfortunately, there isn’t any one magic cure – at least that I’ve found – but that’s not to say there aren’t ways to ease the burden a bit. One such way is called “mindfulness meditation.”

Before we get started, I think it’s important to note that I am a big believer that pop culture not only stems from our belief structures and societal myths but can also help us better understand them. Myths allow us to see things from a different vantage point, and, in some cases, it can become culturally-generative (in that it can help shape the idea that it stems from).  For example: when I was in an upper-level philosophy class during my college years, I was having a difficult time understanding a particular concept (Heidegger or Hegel if I remember correctly).  It wasn’t until I read an essay on the subject in the fantastic book Star Wars and Philosophy that I grasped it.

While meditation has been around for a long, long time, it’s seen a bit of a resurgence over the last several years (perhaps due to the statistics laid out above). That’s not to say that it disappeared for any length of time — I mean, it’s been around for thousands of years — but it’s become somewhat of a buzzword among industry professionals, celebrities, news anchors, and bloggers of all types. When I first stumbled upon mindfulness meditation, I didn’t understand it. The cynical part of me felt like Han when Obi-Wan Kenobi was explaining the Force to Luke – “So I am just supposed to sit here and focus on breathing? Listen, hokey religions…” Instead of writing it off, I decided to read several books on the subject, as well as any legitimate article I could find. It got easier over time, but it wasn’t until I saw snippets of what meditation, specifically “mindful meditation,” looks like through the lens of Star Wars that I began to realize it’s life-altering potential.

While reading about mindfulness meditation, I watched The Phantom Menace.  In it, Qui-Gon lays out the most basic premise of this form of meditation, which is being present.  At the beginning of the film, Qui-Gon and his padawan Obi-Wan are waiting for what I am sure would have been an exhilarating discussion with the Viceroy of the Trade Federation to resolve their blockade over Naboo. During this time, Obi-Wan is bothered about something in the future. When he mentions this to Qui-Gon, the Jedi Master responds saying, “Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.” When young Kenobi tells Qui-Gon that Yoda said “to be mindful of the future,” Qui-Gon responds saying, “But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.” The majority of us spend our focus worrying about the future, thinking about the past, or just focusing on whatever device we are currently using. And if you are anything like me, your inner-voice never stops talking and can be a bit of an asshole. This form of meditation combats that by settling one into the present.  By focusing on your in-breath and out-breath, you are attempting to silence the constant inner-monologue which is taking you away from wherever you are, and doing whatever you are doing.

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The most poignant example of Qui-Gon’s commitment to peace through meditation is during his lightsaber battle with Darth Maul.  During the fight, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul are all separated from one another by ray shields.  Darth Maul paces back and forth, snarling and angry, while Obi-Wan bounces on the balls of his feet, anxiously waiting for the next round of combat.  In stark contrast, Qui-Gon just switches off his lightsaber and settles into a brief moment of peaceful meditation, simply being.

When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he is standing on a mound of sand, staring at the horizon, and just because he finds adventure doesn’t mean he ever stopped looking toward the horizon. In Empire Strikes Back,  Luke was nearly refused training because he was so focused on the future.  Yoda believed this attitude was a possible path to the Dark Side.  When he starts to show his frustration, Yoda chastises him saying, “All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing.” It is Luke’s lack of presence that gives Yoda pause, and I think it’s a common cause for anxiety in modern culture as well. Our constant yearning for the “next big thing” and our inability to unplug because of our fear of missing out on something is a constant source of stress in our life.

Yoda-Meditating

As we see in Return of the Jedi, Luke is at least partially responsible for the downfall of the Galactic Empire, but the Luke we see at the end of the film is a far cry from the brash, bush-pilot-turned-Rebel who showed up at Yoda’s doorstep looking for training. Despite Luke going through a pretty horrible ordeal at the end of Empire, in Return of the Jedi, Luke is more thoughtful, less prone to violence, and the brashness we saw in his youth is no more.  Apparently this lesson stuck with him too, because the new trailer for The Last Jedi begins with him teaching Rey to use her breath as an anchor for meditation.

One of the most important aspects of mindfulness is not focusing on whatever worries you may have in the future, but existing in the present moment. No judgment, no focusing on the past or future, just being with what is there. While it might sound odd, the majority of us spend our focus worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. If you are anything like me, your inner-voice never stops talking, and is a judgmental asshole, especially when it comes to yourself. By constantly drawing yourself back into the present moment — commonly by focusing on your breathing as an anchor — you can interrupt that constant stream of noise, call it on its bullshit, and find some peace

If you’d like to know more about mindfulness meditation, there are a lot of resources available online. I learned a lot from Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, especially the last few chapters.  Mindful.org has all sorts of articles, including this video for beginners.  Finally, I found Insight Timer helpful, and I’ve heard great things about Headspace.

If you like this article, check out:

A Defense of Lando Calrissian

The Philosophy of Civil War: Tony Stark and Utilitarianism

The Philosophy of Civil War: Captain America and Deontology

 

 

 

 

The Top 5ish Quotes from “The Martian” by Andy Weir

Full disclosure, there are more than five quotes. You see, as I was working on this post I had a really hard time deciding which quotes to use, because The Martian is so good. So, instead of agonizing over which quotes to cut, I just included all of them. You’re welcome.

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If you haven’t read The Martian yet, you are missing out.  Do you have a favorite quote?

For more on The Martian check out our book and movie review!

The Martian book review

The Martian movie review