[REVIEW] The X-Files — “Eve”/”Fire”

The X-FilesI’ve already done some talking in these reviews about the two types of episodes found in The X-Files. These are: mythology episodes and monster-of-the-week episodes. As the show was originally conceived, The X-Files would have consisted entirely of monster-of-the-week episodes, as Chris Carter was enamored of the short-lived Darren McGavin vehicle, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Thankfully for us, though, he decided to change things up a touch and add the mythology episodes, which provide a sort of narrative backbone for the whole affair and thereby make The X-Files more than just a collection of spooktacular moments and a (mostly) coherent long-form story.

After the very well-done “Fallen Angel,” The X-Files decided to shift gears on us again and go back to the monster-of-the-week well. And as was the case with the previous pair of episodes we talked about in this space, one episode is good and the other is… meh. Not bad, just meh.

But let’s start with the good, shall we? “Eve” is a self-contained episode, as I say, but it’s an interesting departure from what’s come before because it’s actually, authentically creepy. A lot of people say they love “Squeeze” because of its horror elements, but “Eve” is a much more effective exploration of the genre. In the episode, a little girl’s father is discovered in the backyard of his house, drained of four liters of his blood — and, yes, this does kill him — but with no sign of the blood around, nor a struggle, nor anything that might point to foul play. Definitely a mystery.

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[REVIEW] How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, by Randy IngermansonI go through cycles in my reading and can usually be found consuming some particular kind of fiction or nonfiction for a stretch of a few weeks or months before switching out to something else. Lately my preoccupation has been writing books, and I kicked off my exploration of this nonfiction category with author Randy Ingermanson’s book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.

I’ve heard about the Snowflake Method for quite a while now, and I was aware that Ingermanson, who wrote a few modestly popular Christian novels, was selling not only a book on the subject, but a piece of software designed to assist the process. I wasn’t ready to splash out $100 for software I might use once and never use again, but four bucks for a Kindle edition was just the right price.

Now I have my own way of writing books, and I’ve been using it successfully for some years now. There’s absolutely no pressure for me to change the way I go about my business, as what I do clearly works for me. But for the same reason doctors go to conferences to learn all the latest techniques and such, writers should also be on the lookout for ways to step up their game. Ingermanson may not be a bestseller, but he’s popular with his readership and respected for his work, so he’s obviously doing something right. I’ll steal from anyone to better my writing, and I was fully prepared to steal from Ingermanson.

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[REVIEW] Miami Vice — “The Great McCarthy”/”Glades”

Miami ViceOne of the more interesting things about Miami Vice is that although it was a groundbreaking show in many respects, it still had a foot in the old world of TV cop dramas. I mentioned in an earlier review how today’s television series would have handled the Calderone storyline completely differently, possibly drawing out the final confrontation between Crockett, Tubbs and the Colombian mastermind for the entire season. Or at the very least half a season. But shows simply didn’t do that back in the ’80s, being firmly planted in the soil of episodic television. New episode, new story, reset at the end with no real changes.

Now Miami Vice did experiment a tiny bit with serial storytelling later on in the series, but these things were confined to mini-arcs of two or three episodes for the most part, which is not deviating from the norm all that much.

Whether Miami Vice would have benefited from a more serial approach to its plots is subject to taste. Personally, I would have liked to see more of it. Maybe I didn’t think so at the time, since I had nothing to compare it to, but I definitely think so now.

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[REVIEW] Dracula Untold

Dracula UntoldUniverses! Universes! Universes! Everybody wants to have a universe in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and why not? The Marvel movies are making a fortune at the box office and one, Guardians of the Galaxy, is the biggest hit of 2014. Not bad at all.

Universal Studios — or Universal Pictures, take your pick — has been a major player in the development of Marvel’s universe, so it was really only a matter of time before they decided to stop sharing the wealth with Disney (who owns Marvel) and do their own thing. One can even argue that Universal Studios started the whole idea of a shared universe with their Classic Monsters series back in the ’30s and ’40s. In those films, eleven pictures of varying quality, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man had individual movies to their credit, but were combined in various ways in a few of the stories. This has been called retroactively the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe, and many of the films in that canon are a blast to watch even today.

Cut to today. Universal, spurred by their success co-funding the Marvel pictures, has decided to reboot their cinematic universe and bring all the classic monsters back, plus the Mummy. The Mummy, despite people thinking otherwise, was never a part of the shared universe. It was still considered a Classic Monster, and rightly so, but he never interacted with the Big Three of Universal fame.

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Ich bin ein Berlinerisch!

La Frontera, by Sam HawkenIn Europe every year they have this thing called the Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s a huge to-do where everyone who’s everyone gathers to network, attend panels, party and, of course, hustle sales. I’ve been a small part of this convocation for four years now, with my books for sale to foreign markets. In the past I’ve had some really great deals made, including a substantial rights sale to Klett-Cotta, a German publisher. I always hope we’ll get a repeat of that particular feat every year, but it hasn’t happened yet.

This year I have a few wares on offer, including the Camaro novel, The Night Charter, as well as Missing and, last but not least, La Frontera. These last two are the final installments in my Mexican journey, so it’ll be interesting to see how and if they go to the nice folks gathered in Frankfurt. Obviously I have dreams.

One of the things that’s been interesting about my literary career is that my own country is considered a foreign market by the publishers I’ve had. Serpent’s Tail, which has published three of my Mexico novels, is a London-based publisher. Betimes Books, which published La Frontera, is based in Ireland. And when the deal was struck for The Night Charter by my English representation, the deal was considered foreign again because the agency is from the UK and Mulholland Books is US-based. So basically I’m an American author who has been marketed and sold as an overseas commodity. If you think that’s a little weird you’re not wrong, but this can be an odd business.

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[REVIEW] The X-Files — “Space”/”Fallen Angel”

The X-FilesIn television terms, a “bottle episode” is one that takes place primarily on one set, or a group of already existing sets, and does not require a lot (or any) new building or location work. These episodes are intended specifically to reduce budget issues on shows that need at times to control their money flow to bigger, more expensive episodes that occur along the way. Every show does this to a greater or lesser extent, even if you don’t realize it. The X-Files was no exception.

Already in The X-Files‘ run there had been some pretty pricey episodes, not least of which was (paradoxically) “Ice,” which had all the hallmarks of a bottle episode, but had to splash out on sets and recognizable actors. Showrunner Chris Carter was asked to come up with an episode or two that could be done on the cheap to make up for expenditures like these, and it’s in this spirit that “Space” was written.

On paper “Space” would seem like a fairly straightforward bottle episode. Most of its action is confined to a single building and a mock-up of NASA mission control in Houston, and the episode is loaded with stock footage of the Space Shuttle. Cheap, cheap, cheap. But….

It turns out that making even a small replica of mission control is not a penny-pinching affair, and that official NASA footage doesn’t come without a price, either. “Space” ended up being one of the most expensive episodes of the season. And what makes this turn of events more painful is that it’s also one of the worst episodes of the entire show.

In “Space” Mulder and Scully are called upon to investigate what may be sabotage at NASA. A senior techno-whatsit has discovered what she suspects to be evidence of tampering with critical systems. Her fiance is going up in the next shuttle, and if her suspicions bear out, he’s in grave danger.

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