CTTO

KateThis week, The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) has asked our Chief Time Travel Officer (CTTO) to look back at his favorite science fiction shows over the years, to include more than just Doctor Who. He was given the choice of time travel devices for this effort, including a TARDIS, a Delorean, a stopwatch, and a hot tub.  Being a button-down preppie type, Parker asked for a BMZ Z4, as we expected. He was dismayed that we had not tailored the Z4 with a flux capacitor, and the weather hasn’t been stormy anyway, so he chose the stopwatch, thinking it looked good with his summer wool trousers (it doesn’t). So, without further ado, our CTTO’s list:

The Twilight Zone:

My favorite episodes are two of the show’s creepiest, “The Hitchhiker” and “Long Distance Call.” I don’t know why I keep one foot in the horror camp, considering how horrible it is there, but since it’s in my tagline (“science fiction, fantasy, horror, history, mystery, whiskey”) I figure I best get with the program, as it were.

Star Trek: The Original Series

This one’s easy. There are three episodes I could watch anytime, anywhere. The original pilot (“The Cage”) with its mysterious cast that wasn’t; Harlan Ellison’s incomparable “City on the Edge of Forever”, which is one of the best romances ever put on the broadcast TV; and the truly testosterone-driven guy episode (“The Doomsday Machine”). “They say there’s no devil, Jim …”

The Outer Limits

“Demon with a Glass Hand” because anything written by Harlan Ellison is superb, and “It Came Out of the Woodwork” because of that one foot in the horror camp thingie (yep, I said thingie … comfortable in my own skin).

Space: 1999

Keeping with the foot-in-horror one more time, this absurdly stupid TV series produced one of the scariest hours of programming ever with “Dragon’s Domain.” It’s the kind of thing that’d keep me up at night if it weren’t for the whole whiskey thing (see tagline, above).  Tentacles. Lots of slimy tentacles.

The X-Files

Gotta go with “Paper Clip” here for its incredible kitchen-sink mix of conspiracies and contemporary mythologies. I need to visit the grassy knoll one day.

The NEW Battlestar Galactica

Did you notice I said new? I’m referring, of course, to the re-imagined series that began in 2003, and not the commode-ringed insult to our intelligence and eyes that came out in the late 70s. Anyway, fave episode? The one titled “33”, hands-down. The whole concept could be made into a novel (note to self).  An attack coming every 33 minutes?  No time to sleep.  No way to even think.  Oh, hell, yes.  Great show!  The original Battlestar Galaxative?  Makes me wanna pour bleach in my eyes.

LOST

There are almost too many to list here, considering it’s one of my favorite shows EVER, but I think I’ll give the nod to “The Constant” when Desmond is jumping back-and-forth between his Army service and modern day, including finding Penny. Another gem is “Through the Looking Glass,” and it’s damn hard to discount the Pilot. There’s something about pilots (which means Jules Winfield and I are on the same page).  There’s a picture of Kate in her underwear above; the purpose of that is eye candy (#shameless #lech).

Firefly

All. Of. Them.  Every damn episode.  “Well, my time of not taking you seriously is coming to a middle.”

Classic Doctor Who

I haven’t seen as many as I’d like, but for now “City of Death”, penned by the best science fiction humorist ever, Douglas Adams, is never going to be far from the top in my book. Have I ever mentioned just how CUTE Romana is? Oh, yeah, I did. But it’s worth repeating. Also, since she’s not so terribly much older than I perhaps my crush on her is a good bit more acceptable than a crush might be on, say, Jenna-Louise Coleman, who’s probably young enough to be my daughter. I really need to look into using time travel to age backwards.

New Doctor Who

“The Name of the Doctor”.  Despite my sister-in-law’s (sister’s-in-law?) insistence that there’s only one Doctor (David Tennant) the seventh series finale of Doctor Who is a masterpiece of humor, horror, sentimentality, action, adventure and mystery. If the series had never hit a homerun before (it had) they certainly did with this.

And so, back to you …

The PITTS would like to tolerate thank Parker for his insight. His essay has been logged and filed in its proper location: the circular cabinet.

Peace.

Copyright (c) 2013 Keith Parker. All Rights Reserved. All trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners and are used for entertainment purposes only and as provided for by the “Fair Use” copyright clause.

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Discovery

20130728-181202.jpgI just got back from the beach, where I listened to the audio version of Stephen King’s The Shining. And while I was listening I realized that I had never seen Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of King’s classic horror novel, at least not from start to finish. The movie is rather embedded in our collective conscious, and many of its scenes (“Here’s Johnny!”) are so ubiquitous as to be fodder for satire. But the movie was new to me so I downloaded it from iTunes and watched it over a two-day period last week. The movie immediately struck me as quintessential Kubrick and a very thought-provoking horror movie.

During my self-imposed intermission I decided to look it up to see if it was considered as complex as it seemed. I was awed by the extensive analysis that’s been done over the years.

So, what does this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, when I asked my friend Jennifer Garlen about it, she gave me some great insight. Jennifer is a subject matter expert on classic movies and has a phenomenal blog at Virtual Virago. During our exchange of Facebook messages about the The Shining she mentioned she loved Doctor Who‘s allusion to the film. And at first I couldn’t think of which episode she was referring to. I finally had to ask my son — who has every episode of New Who memorized — to realize that the episode was “The God Complex.” I’m sure you’ve seen it if you’re a DW fan. But this set my mind off on a tangent. What exactly am I doing, writing about Doctor Who? I don’t review episodes. I don’t pan the show. I haven’t built a wiki or deconstructed “The Name of the Doctor” (yet). But what I have done is use DW as a basis for self-discovery. While there are as many ways to do this as there are people on planet Earth, this approach seems to work for me.

Like the psychological horror of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, the intellectual fantasy and science fiction of DW allow me to become introspective, learning a little bit about myself as I watch. And I think this is good for us. In “The God Complex” characters are subjected to hotel rooms that reveal your deepest fear. Could you handle that? Could you handle a room full of spiders, snakes, clowns or dentists? I’m not sure I could, but we all have an amazing ability to face our fears when we need to.

For a family-oriented program Doctor Who has an amazing capacity to scare the living hell out of us (“Are you my mummy?”). And I think this is a component of the show’s strength; but there’s more to it. Doctor Who is spectacularly good at optimistic endings, and this makes the frights bearable, knowing that everything will be okay. This is why I love genre and classic fiction. Too often these days we’re saddled with pseudo-intellectual stories that are ambiguous or inconclusive. If I wanted that I’d simply sit back and watch real life unfold. But for entertainment give me SFFH any day of the week!

After all, any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental. :)

Until next time,
Years truly,
Keith

Copyright (c) 2013 Keith Parker

Bootstrap

Sally SparrowThis week, The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) — in conjunction with State and Local Officials — has devised this warning for all time travelers and others involved in temporal excursions: Do not employ bootstrap time travel.

  • Bootstrap Time Travel (Encyclopedia Galactica*) — The bootstrap paradox is a paradox of time travel in which information or objects can exist without having been created. After information or an object is sent back in time, it is recovered in the present and becomes the very object/information that was initially brought back in time in the first place.

A recent examination by investigators — hired by the autonomous Fish and #TARDIS Sauce Group — indicate that there is an alarming rise of bootstrapped articles appearing throughout the timeline. The genesis of this “fad” seems to have been the airing of the Doctor Who episode, “Blink.” The PITTS, therefore, has been forced to implement emergency and draconian measures to staunch the flow of now-uncreated objects and information. Recent examples of bootstrap incursions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A man from Nantucket took a freeze-dried lizard back to his childhood, gave the lizard to himself, which he (the younger) then kept until he was a grown man with a chance to travel back in time … the situation was frustrated by teaching his younger self a limirick.
  • A husky Russian émigré, intent on playing football for Vince Lombardi, recently overshot his mark and took his time vehicle to 1947 New Mexico instead of 1967 Wisconsin, ruining our research and playoff hopes in one selfish move.
  • An English woman, home from the laundry mat and feeling adventuresome, took the family Wellsian for a spin to Victorian England with a basket full of extra footwear, creating an impossible temporal vortex of missing socks that will confound 20th– and 21st-century men for eternity.
  • An Alabama man took an egg (cage-free, organic, with Omega-3s) to China, circa 6000 BC, to the very day that the first chicken became domesticated and, as a result of self-indulgent selfish motives, removed the chicken-egg paradox from modern thought.
  • A Jaffa woman recently returned The Holy Grail to its shelf at The Cenacle, thereby eliminating any possibility we could determine the origin of said graal.
  • And in 2007/1969 Doctor Who told Sally Sparrow, “Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good luck.” The Doctor has been unavailable for comment.

These are but a few examples of what has become a worldwide epidemic. At this rate, all material objects, articles, matter, data, information, and salmon will not have a place of origin. The effects of this activity on the eco-military-industrial-climatic-god complex cannot not be overstated without embellishment. Please stay tuned to this channel for further updates.

The past is prologue; so is the future.

Years truly,

Keith

* All entries from Encyclopedia Galactica are, in fact, plagiarized liberated from Wikipedia.org (English version).

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

Custard

keep“Haven’t got a hotdog in there, have you?  I’m starving.  I know, it’s the Cyberman of food, but it’s tasty.” ~ The Doctor

I knew I’d found a show to call home when I googled “Doctor Who food” and came up with 351,000,000 damn hits.  That’s more hits than there are people in these United States of America plus Nebraska.  By contrast, the same search with Star Trek gave me 145,000,000.  In fact, it was Star Trek that gave me the idea for this post.  In “The Trouble with Tribbles,” Jim Kirk pulls a tray chock-full of tribbles out of the ship’s replicator.

“My chicken sandwich and coffee,” he says.  “This is my chicken sandwich and coffee.”

We were watching this episode at home during the run-up to Star Trek Into Darkness.  When I spoke these lines in perfect harmony with William Shatner, not only did I garner a sideways look from my wife (I wonder if she’s sitting in a lawyer’s office right now?) but I realized we SF fans tend to go a bit off the deep end when it comes to knowing our shows.

Since Doctor Who has a rather unorthodox (weird?) set of characters and plots, I wondered if fans had taken the time to compile lists of the more nutritious elements of the program.  Well, ask a stupid question …

So, just for fun, here are some of the more colorful concoctions from our favorite time-travelling creatures.  All puns intended, which is a bit like All Saints Day, but without the soul food …

  • Custard with fish fingers … (The Doctor ate that horror when he first met Amy)
  • Soufflés that Oswin/Clara made … (Gotta do something while trapped inside the insane asylum of the Daleks, I guess)
  • Romana gave K-9 a sponge cake that went sentient … (Never thought about conscious dessert; it’s usually conscience.)
  • Barbara Wright ate grapes sometime in … (Well, when in time.)
  • Kronkburgers … (How many billion of those have been sold?)
  • Lenta … (Kinda like your mom making you eat your English peas, only those didn’t double as mother’s little pill, did they?)
  • Mammoth casserole … (Wonder how that’d go over at a good ole Southern funeral?)
  • Protein bars … (Who said this show wasn’t ahead of its time?)
  • … (Nothing to see here, folks.  Move along.)
  • Yogurt … (Caution: Spoiler … the 11th Doctor’s favorite food.)
  • Brainy Crisps … (They’re not just for breakfast anymore.)
  • The aroma of Karamine pudding … (Like Paris in Spring, only different.)
  • And, lo, there are the ubiquitous Jelly Babies, made famous by Tom Baker, offered whenever stressful situations deemed it necessary  … (But first consumed by the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, for those trivia-minded among you.)

But take all this with a grain of salt (ba ha).  Because like the warning on the Ice Gun (“Do not use to cool drinks, freeze food, win arguments, or create Christmas grotto decorations”) my blog should not be taken at anything deeper than surface level.

Until next time, remember that it is the lack of food that keeps us hungry.  Keep eating!

Years truly,
Keith

Scale

scale“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ~ Arthur C. Clarke.

Scale and scope.

When did the scale and scope of speculative fiction become so obsessed with the unimaginable?  This question came to mind the other night when I was watching Star Trek Into Darkness, after having just seen a re-run of Doctor Who‘s “The Eleventh Hour” (s05e01) the day before.  Both shows, so completely different in theme, character, and setting, do have something in common: The stakes are so high that the action — both physical and dramatic — has to be quasi-supernatural in order to … in order to … in order to what?

Keep our attention?

  • Is it really necessary to have a fist fight with a genetically engineered god on top of an air-car traveling at 100 miles per hour?
  • Is it really necessary to have Mr. Spock from two different universes?
  • Is it really necessary to climb through an unimaginably large warp core that’s eerily reminiscent of a famous British police box on the inside?

Speaking of which …

  • Is it really necessary to hack into a global video teleconference?
  • Is it really necessary to have an villain who can shape-shift (clothes, and dog collar, and all) into anything, anything at all?
  • Is it really necessary to program a planet-wide computer virus?

Maybe it is.  I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, because both of these shows charge me with that sense of wonder that’s enchanted me since I was old enough to know what genre is.

Vast scales and scopes are nothing new to the mythos of speculative fiction; not when you had shows like The Twilight Zone telling you that there was a fifth dimension “as vast as space and as timeless as infinity” right there in the corner of your eye; not when you had The Outer Limits telling you that “we will control all you see and hear”; not when you had spaceships traveling to Jupiter so humanity could become star children.  And all of that was a generation ago.

But if we take away today’s themes of the universe-is-going-to-implode-and-all-of-spacetime-is-going-to-get-flushed-down-a-Planck-scale-toilet, then what are we really left with?  We’re left with questions.  And those are the hardest things of all.  Do we seek justice, or do we demand revenge when we see crimes of utter devastation?  Do we trust the man in the bow-tie when he was really only figment of our childhood?   Do we believe there is absolute good and absolute evil?  Or do we believe there’s a spectrum in between?

The struggle to save humanity — the galaxy, the universe, the mutli-verse itself — really pales when compared to the questions that these shows ask.  The visual candy is there — oh, yes — and I will gladly pay the price of admission time and time again to consume it.  But I want to ask these questions.  I want us all to ask questions.  In my opinion, that’s the only way we can grow.  I want to know if there’s moral absolutism or moral relativism … or both.  I want to know what we do when morality changes, if indeed it can.  I want to know how to ask these questions.  I don’t look for answers much anymore, but I don’t think that’s the point anyway.  I think we, as humans, have to ask them.

By the way, a Star Trek fan gave me two hand-made Tribbles.  They’re sitting on the mantle next to a Waterford crystal wine decanter, in stark contrast to one another: The sublime and the ridiculous.  The trouble is, I don’t know which is sublime and which is ridiculous.  That’s another question I’ll have to ask.

Until next time, years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013, Keith Parker, except as noted below:

Doctor Who is copyright © 2013 by the BBC. No infringement upon the rights of the BBC is intended.

For Susan, Wherever I May Find Her

Susan is ordinary. That’s the extraordinary thing about Susan.

Last night I watched the very first episode of Doctor Who, an episode titled, “An Unearthly Child,” that was broadcast on the BBC in November 1963, evidently not too many days after the Kennedy assassination.  I suspect, given the circumstances, that a fantasy such as this was a welcome relief, even in the UK.

So what did “An Uneartly Child” bring to the table that impressed me last night, approximately 49 years later?  It brought a haunting.  London fog.  Eerie lighting.  Suspense that only black-and-white television can deliver.  Horror memes.  And it brought a feeling that I know the episode’s protagonist, Susan Foreman.

Susan ForemanSusan is a very human alien (apologies to Captain Kirk).  She simultaneously astounds and confounds, baffling her teachers enough that they follow her “home,” to the junkyard where her grandfather keeps the TARDIS.  But I’m impressed with Susan.  And I wonder why that is.  She isn’t a knockout.  She’s not glamourous.  She doesn’t seem to have a flamboyant or funny personality.  She isn’t even particuarly normal, and yet …  and yet she aspires to be.  She is a genuis and a thinker — and sometimes the butt of a joke — who loves to groove to rock-n-roll on her transitor radio.  Like George McFly in Back to the Future, or even Star Trek‘s clumsy “Charlie X”, Susan shows little outward charisma.  (Side note: The actress Carole Ann Ford is actually quite attractive; I’m not being a beauty pageant judge here.)  But what Susan lacks in charisma, she makes up for with … charisma.  There’s something immenintly compelling about this girl who, of course, is not a girl at all.

This is something I’m going to mull over as I consider my next short story, and it’s an avenue worth exploring when reviewing movies, TV, and books.  How can a character be so engaging and yet so … plain?  There are millions of Susans in real life.  Maybe we’d do ourselves justice by seeking them out instead of the women who grace the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair.  I don’t know.  In fact, I know even less than I did, and maybe that’s a good thing.  And since I apologized to Captain Kirk, I need to apologze to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel as well, because I’m going to start looking for Susans, wherever I may find them.

Untill next time,

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker. All Rights Reserved.

The Foundation of Being Dumb

“Violence,” came the retort, “is the last refuge of the incompetent.” ~ FOUNDATION, The Encyclopedists, by Isaac Asimov, 1951

“To thine own self be true.” ~ Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, by William Shakespeare, c 1623

Look, it’s pretty obvious I was a dipshit for about 20 years. Why in the name of God would I try to write something I wouldn’t even want to read?  If you stay up 12 hours every night reading thrillers, then you need to be writing thrillers.  If you’re mesmerized by Joyce Carol Oates’ sublime prose, then you need to be writing about the jagged edges of love.  If you’re reading Playboy for the articles, then you’re lying.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been mesmerized by the science fiction and fantasy section of bookstores.   I’d wander in, mouth agape, eyes agog, images of spaceships and ray guns whirling around me.

I remember one store vividly –Adan’s Bookland, if I remember correctly – located at a mall here in Huntsville.  As a comedian once mocked, this mall was called “The Mall,” and was located on a parkway called “The Parkway,” which is not too far from a mountain called “The Mountain.”  Alas, my hometown is not renowned for its creativity.  If you went into the bookstore from its sidewalk entrance, the science fiction (or SF) section was immediately to your right.  My older brother, a brilliant hippie and headstrong physicist (or do I have that backwards) had turned me on to Star Trek and The Twilight Zone years before.  He’d drive me to The Mall, then ditch me while he and his high school buddies looked for the latest LPs by Badfinger and Led Zeppelin at Hornbuckle’s Records.  On one specific day – an icy-blue November Saturday – I’d just finished the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, devouring the copies of those three books that my brother had given me.  I wasn’t quite sure I understood the story, and I was as enthralled with the cover art as I was with the mysterious story itself.  The first book of the trilogy looked like this photo on the left.

Foundation Book 1

To my surprise that morning, I spotted another book right away that looked like it was part of the same series.  Its title was 50 Short Science Fiction Tales and it had Asimov’s name in bold font across the front – along with Geoff Conklin, whoever he was!  At the time – I was only nine – I didn’t know publishers commissioned the artists to do covers for different novels.  All I knew was the enigmatic cover art, so very similar to Foundation, was sitting there in front of me.  It looked like this photo on the right.

Fifty Short SF TalesSo, it was perfectly natural for a fourth-grader to conclude he’d soon be reading even more about futuristic heroes like Hari Seldon, Hober Mallow, Salvor Hardin, and, of course, The Mule.

What was it about that art?  Was it the eerie green glow?  The spaceship-and-sun logo?  The creepy man with the Roman nose and slanted eyes, the one who looked … Asian?  On the way home I asked my brother about this.  After all, every other SF book cover showcased men as white as Florida sand and shackled women as bikini-clad as Florida women.  My brother didn’t need to mull over my question.  He just flipped his hand flippantly (as it were) and said Asimov’s fiction took place 50-to-100 thousand years from now.  By that time humans would’ve evolved (he said) toward an Asian countenance because of that culture’s science, technology and logic.

I cocked my head, confused.  The entire population of Asia was composed of scientists and engineers who kicked their emotions to the curb like Mr. Spock?  Everybody?  There wasn’t a single pissed-off garbage man on the entire damn continent?

I encountered a lot of that type of weird stereotyping growing up, a half-insulting, half-complimenting broad-brushing of people who were “not like us,” whatever the hell that means.  If you grew up in the ruins of the old Confederacy, as I did, you know what I’m talking about.  You’ve learned to juggle these conflicting thoughts and feelings, contradictory morals and ethics.  It goes with the territory, as it were.

But I digress.  When I was nine if you’d asked me what I wanted to write when I grew up, I would’ve said science fiction without hesitation.  Hell, if you’d asked me when I was 18 I would’ve said science fiction, until a strange series of events in the fall of 1982.  I had started school at a small, liberal arts college with a tremendous academic reputation.  Like most guys my age, my studies took a backseat to the twitchy, inexplicable and completely normal crush I’d developed on a cute blonde I met that first week.  Things didn’t quite work out between her and me, mostly due to my awkward bungling of the whole affair.  But the subsequent letdown affected me for a long time to come.

That probably translates to about one week in the taffy-time of your teen years.

Her rejection sent me scrambling back to the sanctuary of SF.  I remember driving my old Plymouth to Brookwood Mall seeking solace.  I went straight to section containing Asimov’s books.   His literature was my comfort food, my meat and potatoes.

And what did I find that day?  I found something that rattled me as hard as the rejection from the girl on campus: The cover art of the entire Foundation series had been changed.  It had been updated.

It had been ruined.

Feeling lower than a man who’s just accidently shot his own dog, I dragged my sorry ass back to campus, realizing everything had changed, including me.

And that’s when I really became a dumbass, hiding behind a veil of dry humor, thinking I knew that SF was only for nerds.  Now don’t get me wrong … I had fun.  Or should I say, F-U-N!  College was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I met my wife and made friends so dear they’re like family to this day.  But I also gave up a piece of myself.  I ditched SF, and for that, I made Keith Parker a synonym for dipshit.  And I kept it that way until tragedy struck almost 20 years and two children later.

In February 2003 my brother – the one who’d given me the Foundation novels – dropped dead of a heart attack in his own kitchen.  Under the crushing stress of grief, my mother’s subsequent strokes and Alzheimer’s dementia, the loss of a job, the death of my father-in-law, and countless other freaky setbacks, I found myself gravitating back that charming realm of SF, seeking the asylum I lost that autumn day in ’82.

Thankfully, I’ve rediscovered my roots.  I know within a moral certainty that my writing has to be speculative fiction.  There’s no other way for me to be me without it.

So no matter what your passion is

and you know what it is

do not ignore it.  You’ll never write a successful novel, screenplay, short story, poem, haiku, or recipe without having the full weight of love behind it.

Oh, one last thing:  Those copies of Foundation that my brother gave me?  The ones with the “evolved” humans?  Those novels are gone forever.  Locked away.  Buried.  And I mean that literally.  Without anyone looking, I put those copies into the memory box of my brother’s casket.  I said goodbye.  Sometimes you have to say goodbye in order to say hello again.

Thanks for reading.

Peace, from Keith

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Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker, All Rights Reserved.  Images displayed under fair use laws.