On The Screen – Avengers: Infinity War – 4/30/2018

**Caution:  Spoilers**

I saw it last night – and I was both blown away and left at a total loss.  There were so many things I was ready for going into this movie – first among them losing either Cap or Tony – and none of my expectations were born out.  The movie left me stuck to my seat – watching the credits roll – wondering what the hell really happened – and how they were ever going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  The post credit scene only made it worse.  I’ve never, ever walked out of an MCU movie without having something to say before.  Last night was kind of a long walk back to the car.

I’ve watched every single one of these movies – all 19 now – but I met these guys long before I ever saw them on screen.  I first got to know them in the comics and I’ve always loved them.  I even used to read “Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandos”.  I’m not completely sure but those comics – along with DC’s “Sergeant Rock” – may have been the ones that got me started – I was spending a lot of time reading about WWII back then.

I suspect everyone has their favorites – for me it’s always been Thor and Cap – but Cap first and foremost.  Cap has, for me, always been everything a hero – not a superhero – just a hero should be – and he’s very rarely let me down in that regard.  I’ve always enjoyed the X-Men (particularly Wolverine – which is kind of weird given that he’s so different in so many ways from Cap), the Fantastic Four, Spiderman and Iron Man – but Cap and Thor stood above the crowd for me.  I still have a whole box of old comics sleeved up and in pretty good shape – they’re the Thor story arcs that I particularly loved.

My wife laughs at me for this – but we decided one day to bring them over the the local Comic Shop to get them priced and sell them – I spent about an hour over there – talking to the guys – swapping stories.  I never actually sold a single issue – took them all home – they went back into storage – and actually spent the last 15 minutes at the store going through the boxes – looking for issues I might want to pick up.  I really do love these guys and I loved them before they were Movie Stars.

I did truly love the movie and I think Marvel Studios pulled off a cinematic miracle that no one will ever manage again.  19 movies – 23 main characters – 10 years of film – all brought together in a crazy and amazingly well orchestrated cross-over and…they’re not even done yet.  All they’ve really done is set us up for “The End Game”.  I’ve read reviews that complained about the fact that there is too much going on or that there are too many characters moving back and forth between new and different places.  I can appreciate the feeling but I find the criticism to be a just a bit petty.  What Anthony and Joe Russo have done with this movie and what Kevin Feige has done with the multiple franchises over the course of 10 years is a one of a kind artistic achievement and I truly do not think that anyone will ever accomplish something like this again.  For what they’ve done, they do truly deserve to be recognized in a pretty glorious way – independent of the money they’ve made for themselves and their studio.

One final word – Sincere thanks to the Russos and to Feige for giving me ONE MORE WONDERFUL movie with Cap.  I’m sure his time on screen is about to come to an end and – while I know someone else always picks up the Shield – there is no real substitute.  When he does leave, it’s going to break my heart.  I’m also pretty certain that when he leaves – he’s going to do so in a way that is completely consistent with all those things that have always made him my #1.


Posted in On The Screen | 3 Comments

On The Shelf – Binge Week – Military Science Fiction – 4/29/2018

Not even sure how I got to this point but I finished “Redshirts” last week and was thumbing through my Amazon feed.  Lo and behold – the Big A had decided to offer up a slew of military science fiction titles.  It’s been a genre that I’ve invested time in over the years – not so much recently – but I’ve read through pretty much everything from David Weber, Tom Kratman, John Ringo, Michael Z. Williamson and so many others – Jerry Pournelle’s “Falkenberg’s Legion”, Gordon R. Dickson’s “Tactics Of Mistake”.  There actually are some very worthy reads in this genre.  I also pick up the odd title from time to time when I’m bored and need a change of pace.  This was different – I saw all those titles and decided – what the heck – in for a penny…in for a pound.

I started with this book from William Webb – ordered it first and read through it in a day.  I won’t review it today – I’m saving it for an omnibus review once I plow through everything I have lined up – I’ll only say that it was of minimal importance AND fairly entertaining.

Here are the other titles I ordered:

I’ve read the first five of the Carrera series:

  • A Desert Called Peace
  • Carnifex
  • The Lotus Eaters
  • The Amazon Legion
  • Come And Take Them

I do not recommend them to anyone who’s not deeply into this genre – or for anyone who believes there’s a place in geopolitics for things like diplomacy or soft power.  Not sure how best to say this but Kratman is relatively severe / harsh in his attitudes and opinions and it shines through in his writing.  Having said that, he writes about combat with a lot of power and intensity.  For that, I’ll stick with him until he finishes this series.  I noticed that the 7th book in the series – “A Pillar Of Fire By Night” – was scheduled for release in October and I hadn’t yet read #6 – “The Rods And The Axe.  I took the plunge – ordered it – and expect delivery this Wednesday.

One was not enough though – and I have all of the following coming on Wednesday as well – and I’ve included the Amazon links in case anyone wants to check them and decide for themselves if I’ve run off the rails:





They’re all first entries in new series and none are available in Hardcover – which gives you some indication about the legs that the publishers feel they might have.  Honestly, I surprised myself on these – I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve ordered a paperback book.  My normal approach for a new author is to order an e-copy and see how it reads.  If it’s worthy and I feel like the Author may be worth following, I’ll go back and try to find a Hardcover edition – thinking it might find its way into the Library.  With these, I guess I was just in the mood to go fishing.  I plan to binge on these over the course of the next week like they were a family size bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos – orange fingers and all – and see which authors are left standing at the end.  Once done, I’ll put them all side by side in a review to let you know if there’s anything worth reading here.

And…so you don’t thing I’m completely unmoored, I also ordered a pretty highly reviewed new fantasy title:

Thanks to MW for the recommendation – this one I do have high hopes for and am looking forward to reading.

With all that going on, it’s probably important to note that I still have several books that I’m currently in the middle of and will eventually finish:

I really enjoyed the 1st entries in both series:

  • “The Rook”:


  • “The Thousand Names”


Both were good enough to draw me in and convince me to move forward with the Author and the series.  I’m about halfway through both “Stiletto” and “The Shadow Throne” and am I’m really enjoying them both.

I’ll get back to both soon enough – I guess I just had a hankerin’ for literary junk food.

Let you know soon enough how it goes.

Have a Great Week.

Posted in On The Shelf | Leave a comment

On My Mind – Odds & Bits – 4/29/2018

Morning Folks and something a bit different today – over the course of the last week, I’ve picked up a few odds & bits that I found thought provoking, that were a source of satisfaction or that brought a smile to my face and thought I’d pass them on.

The first involves Jeff Bezos and the meeting culture at Amazon – I know…odd topic – but stay with me – I’ll bring it around.  I ran across an interesting article from Business Insider on LinkedIn and wanted to pass it along – link below:


After working within corporate cultures for 25+ years where PowerPoint reigns supreme, I found it encouraging that Bezos has taken a different approach at Amazon.  Long to short, Bezos has banned PowerPoint in all meetings at Amazon and instead requires presenters to generate thoughtful, well-written memos on the topic to be discussed.  He then carves out an appropriate amount of time at the start of the meeting to allow all participants to actually read the memo – a realistic appreciation for the fact that all too often – all too many of us don’t prepare and just fake it – then devotes the rest of the time to an indepth discussion.  His rationale – it leads to a more robust thought process and better preparation on the part of the leader of the discussion as well as deeper understanding of the topic on the part of the audience – all of which, in his opinion, leads to higher quality discussions and better decisions.  One other reason suggested by the author of the BI piece which I loved:  “There might be another reason for this “weird” meeting culture. Bezos is a book lover who started Amazon as an online book store. Reading is in the company’s DNA.”  As far as I’m concerned, props to Jeff on this one.

Here’s a second bit that my wife and I really are happy about.  Guess what opened up in our neighborhood this month:

We now have a brand spanking new Half Price Books.  It’s been open about 3 weeks now and we’ve been twice.  I’m going to be happy whenever a new bookstore opens but I’ve always liked the treasure hunting aspect of HPB.  I very rarely buy but – when I do – it’s usually because I run across a collectible in good shape that fills a hole in my Library.  There’s just something far more satisfying about finding buried treasure on a physical shelf than on the internet.  HPB – welcome and very happy to have you.

Finally, here’s one that just tickled both Sue and I.

I think Sue found this one at Whole Foods and we had to give it a try.  In addition to loving the label – excepting the fact that the books are placed over the fireplace – not recommended – the wine wasn’t that bad.  This one brought plenty of smiles to both our faces – both before, during and after. 🙂

Thought I’d share a few tidbits – hope they left you smiling.



Posted in On My Mind | Leave a comment

On The Nightstand – Redshirts – 4/28/2018

Anyone who grew up in the South knows that we have a saying for almost any occasion.  One of my favorites has always been “If there’s fog in the pulput – there’s gonna be mist in the pews”.  Probably goes without saying but the inference is – a speaker better be crystal clear about the message he’s trying to communicate or the lesson he’s trying to teach or he’s just going to leave his audience confused.  That’s how I feel about this book.  I just wasn’t sure – by the end – exactly what Scalzi was trying to accomplish and it all just seemed like a bit of a mash up.

If you’ve been with me for awhile, you’ll know I’ve reviewed several of Scalzi’s books:

  • The Collapsing Empire


  • Old Man’s War


  • The Ghost Brigades


If you’ve read those posts, you’ll also know that I’m a little ambivalent about Scalzi’s writing.  He’s entertaining, he tells good tales, he sometimes finds novel concepts (geriatric rejuvenations as soldiers in “Old Man’s War”), he sometimes creates really engaging characters (Kiva Lagos in “The Collapsing Empire”) – but I’ve never had the feeling – at the end of any of his books – that I’ve read something truly worthy.  His work always strikes me as above average – nothing more – and I’m struggling with that a bit since the guy has one Hugo nomination for “Old Man’s War” in 2006 and a Hugo win in 2013 for “Redshirts”.

Redshirts is a perfect example.  This starts out as a straight up Star Trek satire – all the characters are there – it builds off an aspect of the show that has always been kind of a running joke – the expendability of / high mortality rate associated with the Security detachments assigned to Away Teams – and it provides some snappy dialogue and easy laughs.  In the second half of the book, however, it starts to focus on more serious themes and teaching points – particularly in the final three Codas.  It almost feels like Scalzi started out writing one book and decided – in mid-stream – to shift to another.

Compare that to these two books by Steven Erikson:

Both are shamelessly simple Star Trek satires – they make no pretensions – they’re written in a lovingly ridiculous way – and I found them to be far funnier than Redshirts.  Erikson goes for cheap laughs based on some admittedly low humor at times – but he keeps it simple and outrageous and funny.  With “Redshirts”, I felt like Scalzi was trying to do two very different things and neither of them worked as well as they should have.

There’s even a point in the book – the 1st Coda – when the screenwriter of the Star Trek knock off that drives much of the plot is blogging anonymously about his writing – where I almost felt like Scalzi was talking to himself – lecturing himself for his lazy approach to his writing – not putting the effort into it that he should and that his audience deserves.  I found it to be a revealing but disorienting chapter.

Overall, Redshirts is an entertaining read but I just do not understand how it could have been singled out as the Best Science Fiction novel of 2013 when there were so many other incredible books that might have / should have earned that distinction.  By way of example, “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie won the Nebula Award for best Science Fiction Novel in 2013 – a book which I reviewed here:


Here’s a full list of the Nebula nominees for that year:

“Redshirts” wasn’t even nominated – not even in the running.  So – what am I missing?

It actually brings me to the last point I wanted to make in this post – the difference between the Nebulas and the Hugos.  As I’ve mentioned before, the Nebulas are chosen by other Science Fiction writers while the Hugos are selected by fans.  It’s analogous to the difference between the Oscars and The People’s Choice Awards.  I’m not saying that this lessens the legitimacy of the Hugos in any way.  I could cite a fair number of examples where I felt the professionals and the critics got it wrong.  I would just suggest that you’ll find greater consistency with respect to quality of writing, imagination, complexity and impact when it comes to those works recognized by the Nebulas than you would with the Hugos – different set of judges looking for very different things.

Read “Redshirts” – you’ll enjoy it – but let me know if you feel that I’m being too hard on the Author and his work.

Posted in On The Nightstand | 1 Comment

On My Mind – Making Progress – 4/21/2018

I occasionally step away from my books and book reviews to write on subjects related to my work.  This is one of those posts and I hope my regular readers will be patient with me as I put up a brief post about something that brings me a great deal of satisfaction.

For almost 3 years now, I’ve had the privilege of leading a full spectrum Customer Engagement Division at an amazing Mission Driven organization.  That Division consists of Business Development, Enterprise Marketing, Business Operations and State and Payer Relations.  Our goal as an organization has always been to build a set of capabilities and processes that rival those I came to know in the larger, more richly resourced companies I’d served for over 25 years.

I’m very happy to say that our Enterprise Marketing organization was recently selected by Gartner / The Corporate Executive Board (C.E.B) as the subject of a case study to be made available available to their Marketing Leadership Council overviewing our transformation to a programmatic marketing approach.  Our Enterprise Marketing Leader will also be featured on a webinar open to C.E.B. members discussing this transformation next week on April 24.

In selecting our Marketing organization as the subject of this case study, we were encouraged to hear from Gartner / C.E.B. that they weren’t aware of any other organization with under $1B in revenue, much less a non-profit, that was running these types of programmatic media campaigns.  This stands out as a tangible milestone in that journey towards best practice and excellence and I can’t be more proud of my Enterprise Marketing Leader and his amazing Team for bringing us so far in such a short period of time.

Well Done Folks!

Posted in On My Mind | Leave a comment

On My Mind – In Memoriam – April 17, 2018

This is one of those days when I hope we can all pause for a moment to both remember and give thanks for an amazing individual.  Barbara Bush was laid to rest today in Houston, TX.  Over the course of her long and truly impressive life, she served as the Second Lady, the First Lady and the First Mother of the United States.  She’s only the second woman in history to claim that unique string of distinctions – her only peer being Abigail Adams.

For all the time we’ve been privileged to know her – even if only from a distance – she’s served as a near perfect representative of decency, respect, devotion, kindness, consideration and common sense.  By all measures and accounts, despite having lived at the center of wealth and power for decades, she never lost her common touch, her sense of humor, her practicality and her humanity.  I can’t help but think – as I drag myself through the newspapers every morning, as I wade through the dross that fills up the internet and as I watch in my daily life how poorly we often treat each other – the lack of civility and mutual respect that permeates our civil discourse – the death of community and connection and courtesy at the hands of unbridled individuality – that we are all lessened by her passing.  As a nation, I feel that we’ve been blessed to have her and I – for one – will truly miss her.

I think it’s also worth noting that reading was one of her lifelong passions and that she committed herself for many, many years to the cause of promoting literacy in our country.  She worked to bring attention to the connection between poverty and homelessness and illiteracy.  During her time as First Lady, her most public cause was family literacy.  After leaving the White House, she supported the development of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy – which she chaired until 2012.  As someone who is passionate about books and reading, if nothing else were true of Barbara Bush, I’d value her for this alone.

With Deepest Regard and Respect!

Posted in On My Mind | Leave a comment

On The Nightstand – Across The Nightingale Floor – 4/21/2018

“Mon zen no kozō narawanu kyō wo yomu.”

It’s a Japanese saying that translates roughly to “An Apprentice Near A Temple Will Recite Scriptures Untaught” and it suggests that a person can learn and grow simply by being in the right environment and surrounded by the right people.  This one resonates with me and I can see its truth when I think back to the time I spent in Japan.  I had two opportunities to live and work in Japan for a total of 7 years and both were important learning and growth experiences for me.  I’ve met many Americans who fell in love with Japan and saw the country, its people and it’s culture as more meritorious than their own.  That’s not me.  There are many things about Japan for which I developed a deep and abiding appreciation.  I’m also objective enough to recognize the negative aspects of it’s culture.  On balance, however, I find it a fascinating and admirable country and I’m very thankful for the chance to have so thoroughly experienced all it had to offer.

Some of the aspects of the culture that I most appreciated and that affected me most fundamentally:  1) the sense of community and the importance of group identity, 2) the personal discipline so critical to fulfillment and success, 3) the expectation that respect, consideration and courtesy permeate all human relationships, 4) a commitment to a shared set of values that define both the person and the nation.  For a young man, still in the process of defining himself as a person and a professional, those are not the worst set of foundation stones upon which to build.  I can’t say that I was a perfect student but all left their mark as I learned to work with and relate to my Japanese colleagues and peers.

This book captures many of those elements and I appreciated both the refresher course and the memories it conjured up.  This is an older book – published in 2002 – based on a fictional country and culture modeled on that of medieval Japan.  It’s one I’ve always been aware of and interested in but never purchased or read.  I finally took the opportunity to do so this week and it was a pleasure.  The two protagonists – Shigeru and Takeo – are portrayed in such a way that they either embody or strive to reflect those values.  They’re juxtaposed against a set of antagonists – Noguchi and Iida – that exemplify some of the more negative aspects of the culture.  As with so many Japanese stories – or stories about or modeled after Japan – death is the defining experience.  The story makes it clear that death is preferable to the dishonor of a poorly lived life and how and when you choose to die or accept death is the ultimate measure of the individual.

The Author – Gillian Rubinstein – an Englishwoman who eventually moved to Australia and who wrote this series using the pseudonym Lian Hearn – definitely resisted the temptation to satisfy her readers with a typically American happy ending.  A whole host of characters that you come to respect and appreciate do not survive the story and those that do are forced to make tortured decisions regarding their future – denying or deferring love – refusing the opportunity to embrace power and fame.  Ultimately, that is what makes this story so interesting and so very Japanese.  Your choices define you and life makes no promise with respect to easy decisions or joyful outcomes.  The needs and desires of the individual are, by necessity, subjugated to the needs of the larger group or to the demands of dignity, duty and honor.  Happiness is not a goal worthy of pursuit if it asks the individual to violate a higher or greater set of obligations to family, society, justice or nature.

I would think that many who read the book will find it sad – I only see nobility of intent and purpose in the protagonists and that is one of those aspects of Japan which I often – not always but often – experienced and did come to truly and deeply appreciate.  I am very glad I finally read this one and it has me thinking about a return to Nihon after a 17 year absence.

The series is called “Tales Of The Otori” and it consists of three volumes – the second and third being:  1) “Grass For His Pillow” and “Brilliance Of The Moon”.  I would recommend them to anyone interested in considering a very different way of thinking about what we’re placed on this world to do or how we should live.

Posted in On The Nightstand | 9 Comments

On My Mind – Pulitzer Prizes – 4/17/2018

I didn’t want the day to go by without a quick note on something that I believe merits everyone’s attention.  The 2018 Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday at Columbia University’s School of Journalism.  The Prizes, meant to encourage excellence in the areas of Journalism and Letters, Drama and Music, were first awarded in 1917.   The full list of 2018 recipients can be accessed via the link below on the Pulitzer Organization’s website.


To be completely transparent, I’ve always paid more attention to the Journalism awards – not so much the Letters, Drama & Music Awards – ironic for someone as passionate about reading as I am and not something I can explain.  I do like to review the Journalism Award Winners every year, however, and this year I felt it particularly important to do so.

In a year where the Free Press has been under relentless assault from so many questionable actors of all political persuasions, my request to everyone is that you carve out some measure of your reading time every day and actually spend it with a newspaper.  It’s my unshakable belief that if you rely on either the television or social media to get your “news” – you’re getting nothing at all.

I’ve stated in a past post that I find the 24 hour Cable news programs – all of them – to be travesties – delivering entertainment disguised as commentary.  They’re not completely fact free but if you limit yourself to only one of these stations – CNN, MSNBC or Fox – I can assure you that you’re not getting a balanced and unbiased version of domestic or world events.  I do not know how anyone could still have one iota of faith – after all we’ve come to know about the ability of malicious actors to disseminate inaccurate and / or inflammatory content – in social media as a source of reliable information.

I actually spend a fair amount of time trying to stay informed and , in my humble opinion, the only relatively reliable way to do so on a daily basis is to actually read several – not one – but several newspapers.  I subscribe to both the New York Times and the Washington Post and read them every morning before I head in to work.  On a daily basis, I also scan the articles pushed out through the websites for NPR, BBC News, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal.  Finally, I read the Economist on a weekly basis.  There’s enough diversity of thought across all those platforms that so that I feel fairly confident that I can make relatively informed decisions about what’s actually happening in the world.

I’m not looking for truth.  I’m looking for information – for fact based reporting – for data points that help me form opinions and make decisions.  I’ve become reasonably certain over the course of the last 56 years that this is the only way to get there and I’d encourage everyone to give it a try.  It helps.

For those of you who might be curious, here’s the text of the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

There’s a reason the Founders put this one first.  It’s meant to provide the most critical fail safe for our Democracy.  For the first time in my life – someone who’s always been a true and passionate believer in the principles upon which this country was founded – I worry about it’s durability.

Posted in On My Mind | Leave a comment

On The Screen – Pacific Rim: Uprising – 4/15/2018

I’m going to keep this one pretty brief – primarily because it doesn’t really deserve much thought.  Yes – I saw the movie – I see almost all Science Fiction / Fantasy related movie releases.  Yes – I enjoyed it – it was mindlessly entertaining.  No – it was not a good movie.  With the exception of John Boyega, the acting was mediocre at best.  The story was silly.  The ending was contrived.  Still – I had fun.

You have to place that in context – I think the first Pacific Rim represents one of those odd,  unexpected B Movie classics.  How they got Idris Elba to make that move, I don’t know – but if gave it a measure of respectability that it otherwise might not have had.  I’ve seen it 3 or 4 times and if I see it listed as a late night option on my cable service when I’m surfing, I’ll click on it and watch it again.

It was therefore inevitable that I’d see the movie.  Combine that with the fact that I’ve been a HUUUGE Kaiju – Godzilla / Rhodan / Mothra / Ghidorah / Gamera – fan since I was a very young kid and it was also inevitable that I’d have fun at the movie.

Given all that, my unemotional, educated, sophisticated me will admit that this is a dumb movie and it’s one that would be better seen you’re home alone at 12:05 AM Sunday morning after Saturday Night live but you’re just not ready to call it a night.  Yeesh – guilty pleasures. 😉

Posted in On The Screen | 2 Comments

On The Screen – Ready Player One – 4/15/2018

So…I’d always intended to see the move – I see most new Science Fiction / Fantasy movies and I love the fact that I have so many decent choices these days.  Having said that, I also always try to read the book before I see the movie adaptation.  I like to experience the Author’s vision before I’m overwhelmed by the interpretation of the Director and the various production companies – sifted through Marketing’s sense of what will sell.  I did read Ready Player One a few weeks ago and posted a review – which you can read here:


The book has been positively reviewed – an average of 4.5 Stars from almost 17,000 reviews on Amazon.  I gave it a thumbs up as well – for reasons which are somewhat disconnected from the quality of the writing.  It definitely belongs in the Teen Fiction category – the MMORPG construct of The Oasis and the coming of age components will resonate with my childrens’ generation – but Ernest Cline very cleverly flooded the story with 80’s pop culture content that makes it fun for old guys like myself.  Ultimately, what I liked most about the book was its ability to serve as a pretty knowledgeable history of computer gaming and gaming culture.  You can see all that in my review.

Transitioning to the movie – which also did relatively well with the critics – 74% on the Tomatometer and 80% Audience Score – I have to say that I enjoyed it – but not nearly as much as the book.  It was a well made, fun movie – not a surprise given the fact that it’s a Spielberg project – and it faithfully captured all the Teen-oriented components of the book – the portrayal of The Oasis as a huge gaming environment, the teen love interest, the coming of age aspect.  The parts of the book that were shortchanged were the 80’s pop culture component – it was there but it just wasn’t as pervasive – and the great historical overview of the development of computer games and gaming culture.  It didn’t put me off on the movie – I found myself enjoying the 80s rock / pop sound track and I kept calling out all the 80’s game and pop culture images – but it just wasn’t woven into the bones of the movie narrative the same way Cline managed to do so with the book.

In Spielberg’s defense, if he’d wanted to preserve that aspect of the book, he would have had to commit to multiple episodes – you can’t contain all that in a 2 hour film – and that just wouldn’t have worked for viewers.

I also found the antagonists in the book – IOI, it’s management and it’s minions – a bit more forbidding and threatening in the book – in the movie, they were a little too cartoonish – but that’s defensible as well.

Overall, it was a fun film but given a choice between reading the book and seeing the movie – I’d go with the book every single time.

Posted in On The Screen | Leave a comment