Thursday, June 28, 2007

AI War, Die Hard, and the Best Cheeseburger in Los Angeles ...

Bantam doesn't want AI War, but is willing to sell it back to me for $14K and change. I should be able to work with that. We've got a lot of legal bills at the moment (or to put it another way, Alan Rodgers persists in being the biological father of my older 3 kids) -- but court's going fairly-well-so-far, and my finances have gotten a lot better recently. I left fulltime employment and went back to consulting work 6 weeks ago. Amy's got a job lined up for September, when Connor goes to kindegarten, that includes first-rate medical insurance. Consulting is risker -- too risky for almost the entire time we've been together, with small children and the threat of astonishing medical bills, with Amy unable to work much because of babies and toddlers. (Someday I will tell the story of my son Connor's 5-week premature birth, the $300K medical bill from that, and how desperately both I and the insurance company tried not to pay it ... while the web boom was collapsing around me ...)

The last several years have seen a return to form for the industry. It's not late 90s boom days, but it's not 2002 either, and my phone rings once a week or so with someone looking to hire me for SQL Server contract work: there are some benefits to having had the same cell phone # for the last decade. So in March Amy and I decided I'd go back to contract, offering my time at $150 an hour, carrying Cobra until Amy's new job starts. I gave two months notice on my job -- data architect for a popular website, not to be named because Alan Rodgers keeps fantasizing in public about getting me fired from my various jobs -- and now I'm doing long-term contract with them and a couple other clients. So far it's gone well -- I've not quite doubled what I was making on salary.

Just in time for Alan to reappear in our lives, in fact. Ah, well. :-) Even with lawyer bills and Cobra, we're in the black on the move. When Amy goes back to work and the Cobra goes away and she starts getting paid, life will be better.


Saw Live Free or Die Hard last night. Best movie of the summer by a lot. It's not as good as the original Die Hard, but that's sort of like me saying that Larry McMurtry's other novels aren't as good as "Lonesome Dove" -- duh: regression to the mean is a bitch. There can only be one best of anything, and Lonesome Dove is the best novel I've ever seen, and Die Hard is the best action movie. Die Hard 2 was a misfire, Die Hard 3 I just watched recently and it's better than I remembered, though not in the ballpark of the original. Live Free or Die Hard approaches the original in places, which is high praise. It goes over the top at the end, though it's a lot of fun to watch even then -- good action movie cartoon is OK by me, but up until then I'd been in the movie, not outside it appreciating the effects work.

I won't go see it again this summer, but I'll certainly rent it on DVD when it comes out.


The Best Cheeseburger in Los Angeles ... is not the Kobe Burger at the Crocodile Cafe.

The Crocodile Cafe has changed its menu lately, though it does still have the classic Oakwood Cheeseburger on the menu. On Tueseday we were in court in downtown, so when we got done earlier than we expected, I took the family to lunch at the Crocodile Cafe on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. Rather than ordering the Oakwood Cheeseburger (though I was relieved to see it still on the menu) I got crazed and optimistic and ordered the Kobe Burger. I keep having a fantasy that someday I'll eat a great Kobe Burger that's going to rock my world -- I like the idea of great beef inside a burger -- but it hasn't happened yet, and maybe won't. The Croc's Kobe burger came with smoked Gouda cheese, Prosciuto ham, Cayenne mayo (which I quite liked -- I might order that with the Oakwood Cheeseburger next time I'm there.) Spinach greens, tomatoes, on a bun made of some good cut of bread I didn't quite recognize, but liked.

A serious disappointment. I ordered it medium rare, it came well done. The Gouda was OK, but cheddar would have been better, and the ham completely overwhelmed the taste of the burger. That Oakwood grill taste -- a 900 degree oak grill chars the burger like nothing else -- was there, and still superb, but even that couldn't compete with the taste of the ham. A 5. A sad, disappointed 5.

A few days prior to that I ordered the Fatburger on my way home from a long night onsite at a client's, 50 miles from home. There's a Fatburger open to 2 AM not far from where I live, so I hit it right before closing and got the basic Fatburger cheeseburger, flame grilled. This is the key to Fatburger: they make an OK fried burger. But they keep a flame grill off to the side of the frying grill, and it improves the burger substantially. No Fatburger variation is a 10, but there are several flame-grilled 9s, and this is one: relish, pickles, lettuce, tomato, cheddar, white bread bun, excellent flame-grilled patty. A consistent 9, I've had this burger several times a year for years now. The only kvetch is price -- In'N'Out can make a superb $1.65 cheeseburgert, and Fatburger charges roughly twice the amount for similar quality. A 9 anyway.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Why Rocky Is Better than the Entire Summer of 2007

Amy and I went to go see Oceans 13 yesterday.

I'm a sucker for caper movies – why Ron Bass hasn't made a movie based on The Perfect Thief is beyond me, by the way. A piece of the gag in Perfect Thief (Voleur lives in two different worlds at the same time) made its way into Passion of Mind, a Demi Moore movie a few years back. I've seen most of Bass's movies, but I admit I never Passion -- nor did too many other people, apparently, so I don't think Bass's reuse of that gag would prevent him from going back to the source and making one of the great caper movies ever …

Caper movies don't particularly have to make sense – making sense is a bonus in caper movies, not an absolute requirement. (If I remember, I'll post a list of my favorite caper movies somewhere down the road.) Oceans 13 doesn't make sense – it's a downright stupid movie filled with downright stupid people – but the movie and the people are gorgeous, and you'll forgive me if I just rolled over and went to sleep afterwards.

It hasn't been a great movie summer. Spiderman 3 sucked except for Toby Maguire's dance scene, I didn't bother to go see Pirates of the Caribbean – and I love Johnny Depp and like pirates.

(Though in recent years I keep noting that people don't wear patches the way real people wear one – the dude on Lost had the thong tying his patch down twisted up in several shots. No one who wears a patch all day long would have left that thong twisted like that – it'd rub a spot on your forehead.

(Digression on a digression -- if you google "Lost" and "eye patch" the first couple links are about the TV show Lost and the eyepatch wearing dude, but the third one down is – if you know anyone struggling with an eye problem, that's a community with a lot of resources on how to cope with the loss of vision in one eye -- or the actual loss of the eye – and how to protect the remaining eye. Good people.

(My eye's stabilized. At one point I was worried I'd lose the physical orb – plenty of people over at have – and I was determined to deal with it with style, if it happened – I'm talking eyeball with a Lakers logo. Exiting recursive digression ...)

Back to the summer … this summer we got part 3 of Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek 3, and the Oceans franchise – who's have guessed, going in, that fluffy little Oceans 13 would be the best of the bunch? I have low hopes for "Live Free or Die Hard," by the way, though I'm probably going to go see it on opening night. Of course – I had low hopes for Rocky Balboa last year too, and it turned out to be a superb movie. If you go to the "Memorable Quotes" page for Rocky Balboa, you'll find this – I sat in the movie theater with a tape recorder on my third trip to go see Rocky, and tape recorded this piece and typed it into IMDB. (And yes, to the intellectual property crowd, I know I'm going to hell – and I expect to enjoy the company there.)

Rocky Balboa: Yo, don't I got some rights?
Boxing Commissioner: What rights do you think you're referring to?
Rocky Balboa: Rights, like in that official piece of paper they wrote down the street there?
Boxing Commissioner: That's the Bill of Rights.
Rocky Balboa: Yeah, yeah. Bill of Rights. Don't it say something about going after what makes you happy?
Boxing Commissioner: No, that's the pursuit of happiness. But what's your point?
Rocky Balboa: My point is I'm pursuing something and nobody looks too happy about it.
Boxing Commissioner: But... we're just looking out for your interests.
Rocky Balboa: I appreciate that, but maybe you're looking out for your interests just a little bit more. I mean you shouldn't be asking people to come down here and pay the freight on something they paid, it still ain't good enough, I mean you think that's right? I mean maybe you're doing your job but why you gotta stop me from doing mine? Cause if you're willing to go through all the battling you got to go through to get where you want to get, who's got the right to stop you? I mean maybe some of you guys got something you never finished, something you really want to do, something you never said to someone, something... and you're told no, even after you paid your dues? Who's got the right to tell you that, who? Nobody! It's your right to listen to your gut, it ain't nobody's right to say no after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do!... You know, the older I get the more things I gotta leave behind, that's life. The only thing I'm asking you guys to leave on the table... is what's right.

Stallone wasted a lot of his career and his potential. But he made two Rocky movies, the first and the last, that are genuine works of art. (And that first Rambo movie's not bad.) Last summer we got Rocky and a Bond that rivaled Connery's. This summer, Clooney, Pitt, and Damon looking pretty.

OK, so life could be worse.

We're going to court tomorrow, again – this is going to go on for a while, I'm guessing. But Wednesday morning I'm going to try tracking down a human being at Bantam to talk about AI War. I'll let you all know what happens, all around.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Free Jami Shuey CD ... Casanegra ... Caine Black Knife

Saw Jami Shuey at the Cinema the other night -- she was apparently getting over a cold, but was in as good a voice as ever. I bought 2 of her CDs -- one of them is free to the first person who sends me a street address at asking for it. Listen to (at least) her song "Wrong Girl" over at her MySpace page first -- the CD's free to a good home, but make sure you like the sort of folk/country she sings before I send it off.

Finished the Underwood/Due/Barnes novel, Casanegra, and Matt Stover's Caine Black Knife. I'm not going to comment on Matt's book, except to say it lived up to my extraordinarily high expectations -- I'll talk about it at more length when it's available to be purchased, but he knocked this out of the park. It's the first of a trilogy, too.

Casanegra's a 3-person collaboration between Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due (spelled correctly) and Steve Barnes. It is on sale and it's the first book of a noir series about former gigolo, part-time actor and bodyguard Tennyson Hardwyck. It's a surprisingly touching novel for noir (Due's influence, maybe) -- the fight sequences are trademark Barnes, and I'm not even going to speculate about who wrote what in the really explicit and lengthy sex scenes -- this is the first noir novel I've ever come away from knowing the actual size of the viewpoint character's penis. (Who's based on Blair Underwood. Which means -- well, good for him.)

It's a successful collaboration, and I'm not a big fan of multi-author collaborations -- I always liked the stuff Barnes wrote with Larry Niven, but the 3-way collaborations he did with Jerry Pournelle and Niven always felt cobbled together -- I always thought I could spot which passage had been written by which writer, sometimes down to the paragraph. With a couple rare exceptions I can't do that here -- maybe it's the first-person voice that helps unify things, but I was never aware of dueling authors at any point. This is good stuff and I'm looking forward to the sequels -- I'm a sucker for stories that never stop moving, literary sharks, and this qualifies and still manages to glide through the grace notes that make you care about the characters -- early in the book Hardwyck tells his father, a heroic ex-cop who's had a stroke, that Hardwyck is going to take him out of a nursing home and care for him personally, at his house -- things go sideways, Hardwyck-the-screwup-son is in trouble ... and he has to call his father and tell him no, dad, I'm sorry: you're staying in the hospital. It's as wrenching as it sounds.

The last line is a nice grace note, too -- I was waiting for it, but credit to them for getting it right.

Apparently the sequel concerns the murder of OJ Simpson. That sounds interesting.


Saw Fantastic Four on Father's Day with my kids and two of my nephews. If you have small children, it's not a bad way to spend a couple hours. Otherwise I wouldn't bother, and I like the Silver Surfer.


According to Variety there's a Cowboys and Aliens movie coming -- this was the plot of my first novel, which I wrote when I was 16. It wasn't supposed to be a novel; it was supposed to be a short story about a man playing poker with an alien in the old west. But I didn't know how it ended, and it kept getting longer and longer and longer ... finally finished it several hundred pages of single-spaced text later. I've got a very-poorly-scanned copy on my hard drive -- it's awesomely bad, but I am eager to see the basic idea done by someone with (presumably) more competence -- anyway, I'll be there on opening weekend.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Public Service Announcements

Or "whoring out the new blog," depending on your viewpoint.

I've been asked to note that fans are raising funds for a full page thank you ad for Studio 60. "The ad is a tasteful goodbye to the cast & crew and also encourages readers to contribute to the Tipitina Foundation (the NOLA music organization)."

More here.

The last time I heard an unknown who sang like this, her name turned out to be Melissa Etheridge.

I'll most likely be at the Tuesday performance at the Cinema. Amy might be too, depending on scheduling. Fair warning, the Cinema's a dive that doesn't hold more than 40 or so people -- but on the upside, you'll get to listen to Jaimie within a few feet. Two years from now, she won't be playing dives like this for free.

Upcoming performances --
Tuesday June 19th - 9pm
Cinema Girls open for Bruce Ray White
The Cinema
3967 Sepulveda Blvd.Culver City, Ca. 90230

Wednesday June 20th - 10pm
Jaimi Shuey & Tracy Huffman
The Buccaneer45 N. Baldwin Ave.
Sierra Madre, CA.

Sunday June 30th - 5pm
Cinema Girls on The Echo Back Porch!
1822 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles (Echo Park), California 90023

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Matt Stover sent me the new Caine novel ...

"Caine Black Knife"

I have a bunch of stuff I revisit every decade or so -- Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, a half dozen of the best Heinlein's, John D. MacDonald, Gregory McDonald, Roger Zelazny. (Every now and again I look longingly at the "War Against the Chtorr," and I'd dive back into that in a minute if David Gerrold would ever finish the fucking thing. And yes, I get the irony there.)

And I have a much smaller set of works that I read over and over and over again -- it's the stuff listed in my profile. Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" – the best novel I personally have ever read. "The Perfect Thief," by Ronald J. Bass; the Vimes and Granny Weatherwax novels by Terry Pratchett, and "Heroes Die" by Matt Stover.

My wife bought Matt's first novel and I read both of his first two Caine novels in manuscript – I can remember Amy passing the first manuscript to me with the comment, "Let me know what you think of this, it seems your style of thing." And I sat on the bed all night long, unable to put the manuscript down. I remember thinking there were a couple of minor things wrong with it – I'm not being nice to Matt when I say I no longer remember what they were, I just don't remember – but when the book saw print I picked it up again and read it out of curiosity, and man, it had gotten better – I found myself sitting up all the night long reading the book again. And six months or so later, doing it again –

The sequel came, "The Blade of Tyshalle" – which in an unrelated note has probably my favorite cover art of all time – I'd pay real money to hang that painting on my wall. And I read that in manuscript, and it was brilliant – a richer and more ambitious work than Heroes Die – and over the course of the years I've read that book maybe 3 times now (maybe 4) …

I can't tell you how many times I've read Heroes Die, because it's turned into one of my touchstone books – it's by my bedside. I pick it up and browse a chapter, and find myself lost and reading for an hour – put it down, come back the next day and start from the first scene, come back a month later and start from wherever I vaguely remember leaving off –

Last night Matt sent me the manuscript for the 3rd Caine novel, "Caine Black Knife." I read the first 75 pages last night when I hadn't slept more than 4 hours a night in 3 straight days and damn well needed to catch up – and I'll be done by this weekend, despite all the crap swirling around me at the moment. John D. MacDonald's dead, Zelazny's dead, Heinlein's dead, Gregory McDonald's last few novels have disappointed, Larry McMurtry's last few have disappointed, Bass only writes screenplays, Mary Stewart is really old and I'm going be as old as Mary Stewart is before David Gerrold finishes the damned Chtorran series …

But I have a new Caine novel. Every day on the right side of the dirt is a good day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Keeping the blogs separate --

Almost everyone reading this knows about the Alan Rodgers blog I'm maintaining, I'm sure. If you don't, and if the subject matter over there is too nasty for you, fair enough. I separated them for a reason.

But if there's any one post over there you should ever read, it's this one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Studio 60 and Television

I don't watch much television. Much of the year we don't have cable -- we turn it on when the Lakers season starts, and turn it off when the season ends. If it weren't for the Lakers, we'd have no television at all.

-- which is not the same thing as saying I don't watch tv. I do – back in the day I watched NYPD Blue religiously until Bobby Simone died. A decade or so prior to that I watched Hill Street Blues religiously – saw every episode until the fifth or sixth season, after which I lost track of it. And let's not forget The Rockford Files, still the high point of all television anywhere since the dawn of time …

There have been other shows that have caught my attention over the years, if not quite the same degree of passion I invested in the Bochcho shows & Rockford. When I was young I watched James Garner's Maverick, before Rockford came around. I was a regular for The Wild Wild West, too, though I didn't come to that until it got into reruns. And Star Trek, of course, the original – when I was in my early twenties my sister Jodi and I used to go to Hakata Sushi on Wilshire and drink beer and watch, in order:

9 PM – Channel 9 – The Wild Wild West
10 PM – Channel 11 – The Rockford Files
11 PM – Channel 13 – Star Trek

Jim West, Jim Rockford, and Jim Kirk: we used to invite people to come drink with us for "Three Hours Of Jim," or "Jim, Jim, and Jim" …

My sister Jodi turned me on to Quantum Leap as well – a good show made great by its final episode. If you want to know what a Good Guy looks like to me, watch enough Quantum Leap to get a feel for the characters, and then watch that last episode. There are very few real heroes in television, but Sam Beckett is one, a man who does the right thing no matter what it costs him, and it costs him everything, at the end.

In the 90s I sold an episode to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – which was the best of the various Star Treks after the original show, which isn't as big a compliment as some people might think. I could write a long post about what was wrong with Star Trek, or I could observe that they whored that property out for every nickel they could squeeze out of it and move on to talk about what I was actually watching, which was Babylon 5, Joe Straczynski's show. Aside from occasionally clunky dialog B5 had great characters and great story arcs. I always like the aliens better than the humans – G'Kar and Londo were probably the two most fully realized people in the history of televised SF, funny accents and latex be damned. I rewatched Babylon 5 with my 3 sons recently – exactly their speed – and there's a season 2 episode, "The Coming of Shadows," which is tragedy, and art, of a high order. I can't think of anything comparable in any other SF television show, ever – even B5 never quite reached that peak again, though it came close multiple times.

Quite recently I ran across Firefly – Joss Whedon's show. I never watched it while it was on the air, but I took the boys to go see "Serenity," the movie based on Firefly, and the movie was so good we went back and rented the DVDs and watched those. It's a brilliant show – never quite hit the highlights of Babylon 5, but it was wittier, better acted, and better directed – and might have ended up superseding B5's accomplishments, had it survived. But it didn't and last I've heard there's no "Serenity" sequel in the works. And in the last few years, on DVD, we caught up with "24."

Covering all that in order it sure sounds like a lot of television – mind you, I'm covering 35 years in that listing. Possibly another way of looking at it is to list the shows I've never watched a complete episode of – The Cosby Show. Seinfeld. Friends. Frasier. Any version of Law & Order, any version of CSI. Northern Exposure. Homicide. The Sopranos. (The West Wing, for that matter.) And I could go on, but really, what I mean is, I probably haven't watched three hours of television a week over the last two decades, averaged out.

Right now we're doing the Ritual of Grieving for the latest Aaron Sorkin misfire. My wife and daughters and I were huge Sports Night fans. Sports Night ran two seasons and it was the funniest half hour sitcom I'd ever watched, and the most touching. Any real Sports Night fan can reel off lines of dialog from that show from memory – "You're wearing my shirt, Gordon." "Swallow, Jeremy." "And some days you just stand there, knee deep in pies." "I just want one good thing to happen before the day is over!"

Cancelled at the end of the second season. Sports Night was the first television show I absolutely had to watch pre-recorded, because I laughed so hard at it I'd lose huge chunks of dialog otherwise. "Swallow, Jeremy," made me laugh until I fell off the fucking bed.

We never watched West Wing. It came on while Sports Night and NYPD Blue were still on the air, and I didn't have time. And then it was too deep in and I didn't want to try and catch up. To this day haven't seen a whole episode end to end.

When we heard about Studio 60, Amy and the girls and I decided we'd take a run at that. We'd been watching 24 on DVD – so we figured that this year, on Monday night, we'd watch 24 at 9:00 on Fox, and Studio 60 at 10:00 on NBC.

It was a disaster and reminded me why I watch TV on DVD and not on cable. 24 was terrible. I don't mean bad, I mean deranged awful terrible to the point that I went back to the DVD to see if it was just trying to watch it week to week that made it so bad, or if the show had just gone completely off the rails the moment Amy and I decided to watch it live. Turns out it was the latter – the DVDs were still good. The show on Monday nights was still stinkin' bad.

But Studio 60 saved the night for us. It was Sports Night again, creative people with rough edges putting on a show under substantial pressure and tight deadlines. And about the 4th episode in, I said: "This show is doomed." It was brilliant, vain, sometimes shallow, not terribly interested in being accessible – appeared anti-religious and might have been – I'm sure religious people thought it was. The show is probably a close reflection of who Aaron Sorkin really is. I suspect I'd like Aaron Sorkin – I've hugely enjoyed both of the shows he's written about people like himself.

NBC put the show on hiatus after the 16th episode, "The 4 AM Miracle." They cancelled it while it was on hiatus and then started running the final episodes. The last 6 episodes are currently airing – and it looks like they're doing "24," sort of: the last 5 episodes appear to cover a single day in the lives of the cast and crew of "Studio 60."

A lot of people hated Studio 60 and are happy it's gone. I won't be, obviously. I'll be quoting lines from it at my wife and daughters for the next decade – Danny Tripp, after the accident with the robot baby and the guillotine: "Oh, my God, what have you done?" Harriet Hayes mocking a guest star who was supposed to be shot, but whose squibs didn't go off: "You looked like this!" and then shaking her body and laughing at the same time as she pretends to get shot. A dozen others – but finally, the one that's really going to stay with me.

It's the end of the third episode, I think. Everyone's terrified about the ratings – the first episode did well, and they're waiting on the overnights to see if the opening bump is sustained – and at the after party, they get the news: the ratings went up from the premier.

Everybody rejoices – jobs for the rest of the year, anyway! – and party away, everyone really, really happy …

Matt Albie, played by Matthew Perry, smiles at everyone and leaves the party, gets off in his car and drives away … as "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" plays over.

Nothing lasts. Life is loss, to paraphrase Rocky Balboa, and there are three more episodes of Studio 60 to enjoy before the lights go out.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Steve Barnes and Tanarive Due -- Best Cheeseburger

Visited with Steve Barnes and Tananarive Due last night. They're a fascinating pair. Before we left they gave us a copy of their latest, "Casanegra," which they wrote with Blair Underwood -- Underwood's been in about a billion things, but the best known is his role on L.A. Law. I haven't read the book yet, but it's noir set in L.A., and I'm a sucker for that.

Earlier in the day, around 2 PM, we ate at Jack in the Box. I swear this is coincidence and unrelated to my mean (but accurate) post the other day -- we were up in Sylmar (desert, mostly), had our 5 year old in the car, and he was hungry, and Jack in the Box was the only thing around. So we pulled in and I ordered a cheeseburger -- Amy ordered the tacos, which, for the record, are terrible, terrible, terrible tacos -- but are first-rate Chinese food, like a sort of weird egg roll with hot sauce. Connor had the chicken fingers, which are not good, but are safe and are not known to have ever killed anyone.

I ordered something called the Sirloin Bacon 'n' Cheese Burger -- cheddar cheese, no onions. It's by a lot the best Jack in the Box burger I've ever eaten: it was almost completely tasteless. It resembled a cheeseburger in interesting ways -- there was bacon, though it was barely noticeable. The cheddar was lousy and a little old, but you could sort of notice it was there. The bread wasn't terrible, the lettuce and tomato were actually fresh, and if I closed my eyes and wished hard I could pretend the mayo really was mayo and someone had thought hard about eggs while making it. The beef was cardboard, which, for Jack in the Box, is a huge improvement.

I got sick, a little later in the day. Terrible stomach ache. About $4.50 for the burger, I think.

Overall, a zero. The stomach ache might have been a coincidence, and I was hungry and almost finished the burger. This is the first non-negative-number burger review Jack in the Box has ever received from me. Progress.

On the way home from seeing Barnes and Tananrive, we rolled through In'N'Out. Those of you living off the West Coast of the United States -- I'm sorry. A 9. The cheeseburger was $1.65 -- it's the best burger on the planet for the money. At the Moran Institute of Cheeseburger Reviews, we rate on an absolute scale -- but money matters, end of day, and that $1.65 cheeseburger is better than anything on the planet that doesn't cost at least four times as much.

Every now and again when I get crabby with serious Christians -- this may be shallow, but it's sincere -- In'n'Out reminds me what good Christianity can look like. The owners are devout Christians who treat their employees better than almost any other similar business on the planet, without being unionized or forced to it in some way. They pay $9.50 an hour for counter help, as of the last "help wanted" sign I saw there. Employees are uniformly cheerful, helpful, and happy to be on the job. Somehow they merge this with incredibly fresh food -- real ice cream in the shakes, never-frozen burgers, fresh lettuce and tomato, french fries cut out of the potato right in front of you. There's no better model of doing well by doing good that I know of, in that market space.

The burgers are the best fast-food burgers you can buy. (Fatburger's flame-grilled burgers are in the ballpark, but are more expensive and are not better.) The default In'N'Out cheeseburger -- there's a hidden menu passed down in In'n'Out lore, google it up if you're interested -- the default burger is on a freshly baked bun, with a superb tangy Thousand-islandish secret sauce, the meat is free of any sort of additives and is from good cuts of beef, the lettuce is crispy and the tomatoes are top notch. This is as good as fast food gets -- every burger variation they sell is a 9 and anyone who wants to call it a 10, I won't argue. Certainly the best burger value on the planet.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Email from Joseph Aldred --


I was wondering if any of your books are available in audio or PDF (or some other electronic format)? I listen to audio books at work and work would go a lot quicker of I could listen to some of your stuff also. Particularily The Long Run.

Joseph Aldred

No, there are no audio versions of these documents available. I'm open to audio, but I'm not doing it myself and no one has approached me to do it.

There are .pdf versions of everything I've ever written -- I typeset the Quietvision editions myself. And did the covers for that matter.

I'll find some way to make those available at some point, I think. I'm going to talk to Bantam later this month and see if they have any interest in AI War (apprently they posted online at some point that the rights had reverted -- news to me, if so) -- if they don't want it, great. If they do -- great. As a brand, "Daniel Keys Moran" is damaged, and even if Bantam damages it further with a lousy release of "AI War," not a big issue to me. I'm more concerned with my crime fiction at this point, and that can always go out under a pseudonym if it comes to that -- I'm past having my ego involved with seeing my name on a book, but I would like to see my stories published again.

Far as I know Quietvision is no longer selling copies of my works. I haven't heard from the guy who runs Quietvision in years -- no royalty statements, no royalties since at least 2003 -- which is fine, I'm not taking the guy to mediation over whatever amount I'm short with him, but I did send him an e-mail today making sure that he and I agree that Quietvision and I are quits.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Best Cheeseburger in Los Angeles

7 or 8 years ago I started to do a comprehensive survey of the best cheeseburger in Los Angeles. To that end I made a list of restaurants, read all the "best burger" lists -- I'd eaten most of those places already, as it happened -- and started eating burgers and taking notes.

I soon realized I was never going to finish. New restaurants open too quickly. Burger variations pop up at places you've eaten at before. Rather than an article summarizing the best burgers in Los Angeles and picking a winner, I realized that the best I was going to be able to do was keep a running tally, updating as I had the chance --

The scale goes 1 to 10 -- and there are negative number burgers -- Jack in the Box, which serves meat that actually killed four people back in the early 90s, for example. Even when they don't kill you, every Jack in the Box burger gets (and merits) a negative number. I risk my life (for you, the Consumer) every few years to verify that the burgers are still as lousy as ever there, and my expectation has never been disappointed.

A 1 is a burger I'd eat for free if I was hungry; a 10 is perfection. There are only three 10s.

The current three Best Burgers in Los Angeles are:

10. The Apple Pan on Pico Blvd., west of Westwood Blvd..

I've been eating at the Apple Pan for twenty plus years, and the restaurant itself has been on the same location on Pico Blvd. since 1947. The burgers are consistently perfect. They serve a "steak burger," which is a 10, and a barbecue burger, which is a 9.

Apple Pan is seriously old school. There's a counter -- you stand and wait until a seat becomes available, and then you eat, and pay, and leave, because there are people waiting for your seat. The fries, pie, coffee and drinks are all good, but the burgers are why you come.

The burger comes on a slightly greasy toasted bun, lettuce, Tillamook cheddar, pickles, mayo, and what's probably the best burger relish anywhere in the known universe, a sweet red ketchup relish that takes a great burger and makes it perfect.

If you're visiting Los Angeles and have time for only one burger, make it this one. I've eaten here dozens of times over the years, and not only is the burger great, the consistency can't be beat. It's the same perfect burger every time.

About $7 for the burger alone.


10. The Pie'n'Burger in Pasadena, California Blvd. east of Lake.

I've only eaten here once, and the burger is a surprise to me, because on description I wouldn't have expected perfection ... the Pie'n'Burger resembles the Apple Pan – thin, well-done patty, soft toasted bun, a big chunk of lettuce, good pickles, onions and tomato if you ask for them – raw onions actually make me physically ill, so I skipped that, but I asked for tomato.

Apple-Pannish, so far. But the cheese is American, which I don't normally like, and the dressing is thousand island, which I also don't normally like – but here it works. A 10 and though I haven't been back in the year or so since I first ate here -- I don't get to Pasadena too often -- I will be back, and I'm pretty sure the quality of the burger will be the same.

I've heard people complain about the cleanliness at Pie'n'Burger, but the one time I was there it was as clean as any other diner.

Didn't note the price. Usually I try to, but sometimes I forget. Around $7, if I recall.


10. The Crocodile Café, 3 locations

I used to eat here more often -- there used to be four Crocodile Cafes, scattered around the L.A. area: one in Santa Monica near the pier, where I ate at frequently; one on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena; one on Lake in Pasadena; and one in old Burbank. All but the Lake Avenue location are gone (there are only three Crocodile Cafes left anywhere: San Diego, Glendale, and Pasadena.)

Writing this summary, I glanced at the menu for the Pasadena location -- and this burger may be gone. There are now three burgers listed on the menu, all marked "NEW" -- a "Kobe Cheese Burger," a "Ranch House Burger" with barbecue, and a "California Cheese Burger," none of which sound like close matches to the classic Oakwood cheeseburger.

The classic Oakwood cheeseburger was a thick patty, which I always ordered medium rare. The seasoned beef was cooked over a 900 degree oak fire, resulting in a taste really unlike any other burger I've had elsewhere. It came with shredded lettuce, mustard, pickles, tomato, on a bun thick enough to deal with the juice – when a burger can be ordered medium rare, I do.

I'd guess you can still order that classic burger, even if it's off-menu now; they still call it an "Oakwood" burger, in any event. I can't vouch for any of the new items.

About $10 for the burger alone.


Those are the three best, out of about 300 reviewed and written down in the last decade. Yesterday I had lunch at Hamburger Mary's, a chain with locations in half a dozen places. It had the chain feel. I ate at the location on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.

Had the Kobe Burger, medium rare. The pickles weren't burger pickles, they were chunky half-sours, the bun was a fairly thick sesame seed, good cheddar cheese, and a nice hunk of iceberg lettuce.

The beef didn't come medium rare, it came medium, just a hint of pink in the center. And the odds of it being real Kobe are very small -- the burger was $16, which sounds like a lot for a burger but isn't much for Kobe. Most likely it's American Wagyu – a good chunk of what's sold in America as Kobe beef isn't, and I'm pretty sure this is one of those cases.

A good burger -- a 7 -- but not worth what it costs. I may head back and try one of the other burgers -- they have quite a selection.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Protect the Innocent -- Star Wars -- Lawrence -- Lonesome Dove -- Knightriders

When my nephew Kevin was about four years old (a decade ago, he's 14 now) ... he asked me one day what the difference was between good guys and bad guys. At first I thought I was getting a different question -- who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys? Well, the good guys are me and you, bud, of course --

But he's a smart guy now and he was a smart four year old. He didn't want to be told he and I were good guys -- he knew that already about himself, and when you're four, anyone who loves you is a good guy: at four when someone asked him whose boy he was, he said "I'm Uncle Danny's boy."

What he really wanted to know was, what's the difference between good guys and bad guys? What makes you good, or bad?

This is a harder question than it seems at first blush, even in the world of a small child -- you can talk all day about strength and courage and honesty and "doing the right thing" ... but where's the core? How do you know what the "right thing" is?

What's your Code? Can you explain it to a four year old child in a way that makes sense?

It took me about ten seconds, but I liked my answer and I still do. "Good guys," I told Kevin, "are strong, and they protect people who aren't strong from anyone who wants to hurt them."

In "All Possible Worlds," the main character, Sam Goodnight, is a member of the ancient Order of Navigators, an order of people who can travel in time, who can navigate probability, who can see when they and others are going to die -- about all that's left over from the version of the story where they were professional Deaths who led souls into the next life. (And we'll skip over the show that resembled that premise, now, and move on.)

Navigators are bound by a Code, and when I took a first pass at it I ended up with a Code that was 7 or 8 items long. It was too long, reeked of false Arthurian-legend Christian knight crap -- I disliked it as soon as I'd gotten done with it. Pretentious and inelegant at the same time -- I can tolerate one or the other, but both together is a killer.

I hacked away at it a couple times and it didn't get much better (though I lifted the phrase "hideous strength" from C.S. Lewis at one point, and that almost worked -- if I ever get past the pilot of APW I'm liable to come back to that: an angel says to Jake Two Knives, "To best that hideous strength, were you brought into this world.")

I was thinking of removing all mention of a Code from the All Possible Worlds pilot -- when I flashed back on that long-ago conversation with my nephew, and went back to my computer and typed:

The Code of the Order of Navigators:
1. Do No Harm
2. Protect the Innocent

I wrote that down about a year ago now. With a year to think on it, it seems to cover almost everything meaningful about what it means to be an adult, to be a man, a father, to behave morally in your interactions with the world. (I can't tell you what it means to be a woman, a mother -- different wiring there and I won't presume -- though the older I get the more I think that being a good man and being a good woman are very nearly the same thing.)


Every year on or about my birthday I watch Knightriders. The gag is this: they're a wandering troupe of performers who put on jousts ... atop motorcycle. Except that what's an obvious put-on to the outside world, is (to varying degrees) real to the people living the life ... late in the movie, watching the knights fight, a girl says: "They're crazy." And a scummy agent, watching them fight, grins and says, "Yeah ... but that's what makes them sellable."

There's a brilliant bit midway through where King William (played by the best actor of his generation, Ed Harris), sitting by the fire at the side of the road along with his lawyer, with Merlin, and a roustabout named Bagman, talks about his Code: "It's tough to live by the Code. I mean it's real hard to live for something you believe in. People try it and they get tired of it, like they get tired of their diets, or exercise, or their marriage or their kids or their job or themselves, or they get tired of their God ... you can keep the money you make off this sick world, lawyer, I don't want any part of it. Anybody wants to live more for themselves doesn't belong with us. Let 'em go out and buy some pimpy psychiatrist paperback says it's OK, don't ask me to say it's OK, it's not OK!"

And Bagman responds. He's just spent the night in jail having his ass whipped by a Bad Cop ... he tells a story about waking up in a jail in Alabama after having his ass kicked years back, and just wanting to die, trying to cut his wrists with a bed spring ... but now: "Well, last night, I got my ass kicked, and I came up laughing. Because now I'm in Camelot. See, the way I see it is this: you got two separate fights: the one for truth and justice and the American way of life and all that, it's gotta take a back seat to the one for staying alive, you gotta stay alive, man, you can have the most beautiful ideals in the whole world, but if you die, your ideals are gonna die with you. The important thing is we gotta stay together, we gotta keep this troup together, and if keeping this troup together means we gotta take some of this promoter's money, I say we take it and get some sleep."

And everyone does to go sleep, and King Billy stares into the fire ... and then wakes up Bagman and rants at him: "Listen, I been thinking about what you said, all that stuff you said earlier, I been thinking about it, I been thinking about it real hard ... there's not two different fights. There can't be two different fights. You've got to fight for your ideals and if you die, your ideals don't die. The Code that we're living by is the truth, the truth is our Code. I can't let people walk on that idea, I can't."

... and King Billy borrows his lawyer's motorcycle and rides off to go do battle with the Dragon.

Knightriders isn't a great movie. In places it isn't even a good movie. It's too long and embarrassingly sincere when Ed Harris and Tom Savini (Mordred, essentially) aren't on screen. But Savini is good and Harris gives one of the great performances in any movie ever -- something comparable to Peter O'Toole's Lawrence ... which last night and tonight I watched with my 4 younger children. None of them had ever seen it -- and a couple of months ago I got my hands on a 1080P copy.


We watched the first two-thirds, up to the original theatrical intermission, last night. Tonight we watched the final third. My kids are boys, 5, 8, and 11; and a girl, 15. (My oldest is 17, has a 4+ GPA and is being recruited by every college on the planet -- she doesn't have time for 3-1/2 hour movies unless Harry Potter is in them.)

So the younger four watched. We kicked the boys out for the scene where Lawrence got tortured by the Turks, and my five year old cuddled up with me every time we hit a battle sequence -- but the movie was made in 1962, and the real violence is almost entirely offscreen -- people swing swords, but they impact off the edge of frame, that sort of thing. And we had a 3-1/2 hour conversation (annoyed my wife at times) about whether Lawrence was, or was not, a good guy. Mostly they were on track with him being a good guy, because he was fighting for the people who didn't have any power -- until late in the movie, when Lawrence attacked a column of utterly defeated Turkish soldiers who were straggling off the field of battle. It's clear in context that Lawrence wants to kill the Turks because of what they did to him -- tortured and raped him, not knowing this pretty blue-eyed boy was really the famous Lawrence, and then cut him loose after the Turkish commander was through with him. My sons didn't see that -- but still, they worked their way through to it: no, killing the defeated Turkish soldiers this wasn't what a good guy would do.

... had a great moment of synchronicity today. Talking with my daughters and oldest daughter's Very Smart Friend at dinner -- 17 year old girl who describes herself as a nihilist and knows what she means by that -- when I quoted Trevanian at them: the long run, the "minor" virtues are the only ones that matter. Politeness is more reliable than the moist virtues of compassion, charity, and sincerity; just as fair play is more important than the abstraction ofjustice. The major virtues tend to disintegrate under the pressures of convenient rationalization. But good form is good form, and it stands immutable in the storm of circumstance.
-- Trevanian: Shibumi

We hit that exact idea again, in Lawrence's attack on the Turkish column. Earlier in the movie, Prince Faisal (Alec Guiness, who shows up again later in this foolishly-long post) says:

With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.
-- Prince Faisal

I don't doubt for a second that the quote from Lawrence informs the bit in Shibumi. They're the same idea, expressed at different lengths. If my kids get anything from me, growing up, I hope they get this -- you can depend on people to do what is in their nature. So you'd damn well better associate yourself with decent people who will do the right thing because it's who they are ... because nothing else can be relied upon.


And man, Lonesome Dove.

The two best movies I've ever seen are Lonesome Dove and Lawrence of Arabia. They're similar works in interesting ways. Omar Sharif once described Lawrence as a movie four hours long with no love story -- of course Sharif is wrong (or forgiveably disingenuous, given the era in which he grew up.) Lawrence is a love story between O'Toole's Lawrence and Omar Sharif's "Sherif Ali." The fact that it's utterly chase, with no hint of sex, doesn't change the core of the movie, the love between the two men. Without Ali and the love he comes to feel for Lawrence, Lawrence is merely a sociopath -- we see something better in Lawrence through Ali's eyes, not our own.

Lonesome Dove is a triangle -- Gus McCrae, Woodrow Call, and Clara Alan. The two men aren't fighting over the woman: Woodrow and Clara are fighting over Gus. And Woodrow Call wins. Clara marries another man, a man she doesn't love because, as she says to Call -- this is close, maybe not exact, from memory: "I wasn't going to fight you for him every day of my life." And Gus and Call grow old together, and in their early old age, take a cattle drive up north to Montana, passing by Clara in Nebraska, along the way --

So my two favorite movies are Men On Horses -- OK, Horses and Camels -- with gay subtexts. (I was past 40 before I realized this, by the way. You'd think I'd have loved Brokeback Mountain, for which Larry McMurtry cowrote the script -- damn thing bored me silly.

(The core emotional relationship in Knightriders is between Morgan and King William, for that matter -- Men On Horses and Camels and Motorcycles ... oh my.)

So I'll just skip lightly over what all this says about me as a person, and on another day I'll post at length about the Unbearable Lightness of Being and Audrey Hepburn and Michelle Pfeiffer and my He-Man credentials and all ... but let's get back to Lonesome Dove .

Larry McMurtry might be annoyed at the suggestion that Gus McCrae lives by a Code -- but he does. When the evil halfbreed Blue Duck kidnaps Lorena, Gus sets out to rescue her. She's a sulky whore -- and when she laughs, she reminds Gus of the sisters he left behind in Tennessee. So Gus plays cards with her and tries to help her win, because he likes it when she laughs. When Blue Duck kidnaps her to trade her to a group of renegade Indians, Gus heads off after her without hesitating, almost without thinking -- misses Blue Ducks, kills the renegades, and rescues Lori. She might be a whore, but in the context of the terrible things about to happen to her, she's an innocent, and Gus rides off to save her.

The next half of the movie (6-hour miniseries, actually) is Gus gently disentangling himself from the woman he's rescued. A bit later, Gus and Call run across murdering horsethieves -- Gus mounts up, leaving Lori anxiously behind: "I can't let a horsethief go, Lori, particularly one who's killed a boy."

I read Lonesome Dove the way some people read the Bible. It sits next to my bedside and I read passages to myself before going to sleep at night -- I've read 4 separate copies of that book until they came apart.

Early on in Lonesome Dove, there's a moment where Gus has been out all night, whoring and playing cards, and Woodrow Call gets up in the morning and finds Gus cooking the morning biscuits, and reading the Bible. Call says, "I expect you sat up all night, reading the Good Book."

... and I always recognize myself in that scene. Though it's a different book I'm up with, usually.


It's the 40th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper. I don't have much to say about that -- I'm musically obsessed, but I'm not musically literate, so more musically literate people than me will have to comment.

And it's the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. That I can talk about a little.

I was fourteen when I saw Star Wars the first time. The debate team at my high school -- we must have been freshmen, looking back -- got to go see this new sci-fi movie as a reward for something-or-other. We must have been dreadful geeks to pick that as our reward, but -- OK, debate club; of course we were dreadful geeks.

We took a school bus out to the Chinese Theater (Grauman's Chinese, back then.) I was reading SF by then -- the first real piece of SF I remember reading was Robert Heinlein, when I was 8 -- Stranger in a Strange Land. (And no, I shouldn't have been reading that at 8 -- my mother was reading it, and was crabby I kept sneaking off with it before she could finish.) By the time I was fourteen in 1977 I'd read everything Heinlein had published, huge amounts of Asimov, Clarke, Niven, Zelazny, Poul Anderson, Sturgeon, Cordwainer Smith, Doc Smith, Clifford Simak, Fred Pohl -- OK, I really could go on for a good bit here, I think is my point. I read everything I could get my hands on -- every single SF work in my junior high school library, most of what was in the local public library, and almost all of the (pathetically small) collection of SF in my high school library.

None of this prepared me for Star Wars. We saw the first showing, on the first day the movie was open to the general public, and unless you saw that movie during its first run, you don't understand: you can't. You saw all the stuff that stole from Star Wars, and when you came to Star Wars, later, it lacked the shock of the new that all of us felt in 1977.

Star Wars changed the way movies were made; before Star Wars, and to a lesser extent Jaws, there was no "summer blockbuster." Spielberg and Lucas invented the category. But Star Wars didn't just change the way movies were made; it changed the way they were told. Star Wars moved like a rocket ship. Movies made pre-Star Wars may be great movies, but they seem a little stiff, a little slow, by post Star Wars standards. Today a movie can start in action, zoom through whatever passes for a story, never slow down, and know perfectly well that the audience will keep up: we've learned how. But before Star Wars, Empire -- Raiders -- movie makers didn't know that and almost never tried it.

I've never been sure how well Lucas understood what made Star Wars work. I can tell you the core of why Star Wars worked, when so many other similar movies don't: conviction. Look, Star Wars is a stupid movie. I won't bother to spend time trashing it, it's obviously, transparently stupid in so many ways there's no conceivable reason the movie holds together. Except this: Lucas didn't know he was making a stupid movie. He believed his story. He believed it so passionately that he took his tired plot and tired characters and better-actors-than-he-deserved and dared anyone to snicker at it.

And no one did. Star Wars wasn't camp. Lucas never ever winked at the audience. He didn't put a 9 year old boy in a spaceship and have him save the day, so that he could sell some damned toys. He didn't have 3PO get hauled through a desperate battle where people were dying left and right, moaning, "This is such a drag." Young George Lucas would have recognized those moments for the pure sellout they were. "Look," the filmmaker who made Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones was saying to the audience, "I know this is stupid stuff. But bear with me and we'll have some fun and I'll show you Natalie Portman's pokie little nipples."

Lucas made two great movies. Star Wars is brilliant and Empire is better -- though the best moment in Empire, the exchange between Leia and Han Solo --

Leia: "I love you."

Solo: "I know."

-- was improvised on set by Harrison Ford.

By the time Jedi rolled around, Lucas had lost the feel. By then Ford had a better feel for the material than Lucas -- Ford wanted Han Solo to die in Return of the Jedi. In an interview, Ford said about Solo -- this is from memory, but it's an exact quote across all the years: "He's got no mama, he's got no papa, and he's got no story."

But Lucas had lost the touch. He didn't kill Solo, and he inflicted on us the dreadful Luke-and-Leia-are-twins storyline that performed the amazing feat of travling back in time and making parts of Star Wars and Empire suck retroactively. He gave us Ewoks fighting and beating Stormtroopers -- until then Stormtroopers had seemed kind of badass, no? -- but it's hard to be scared of an Empire that can't whip a bunch of short guys in ugly teddy bear suits.

Though the shot of Luke burning Vader's body made up for a lot.

On balance, two great movies, one forgivable misfire. If Lucas had quit right then and never come back to it, he'd have saved his reputation from some substantial damage.


I wrote three Star Wars stories for Kevin J. Anderson, back in the mid-late 90s. I'm proud of them: I did my best with them. They were stupid in places -- plotting I couldn't touch, such as Lucasfilm's determination that Boba Fett could only spend a couple days down inside the sarlacc; names, such as "Labria" and "jizz bands" -- that were so unfortunate all I could do was ignore them as much as possible and move on. But I did what, to my understanding at least, Lucas had done with Star Wars: hid the stupidity beneath sheer force of conviction, and charged ahead. And I think it worked.

The first story, "The Devaronian's Tale," appeared in "Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina," and was written around a really nice story by Kathy Tyers -- she wrote about the Band; I made the devil Dude, the guy with horns you see for a couple seconds, a music fanatic who'd been trying to get to see the "Modal Nodes" for decades -- the piece follows his machinations to get the Modal Nodes away from Jabba, and to the cantina where he, Labria, can sit and enjoy their music. A slight story but I liked it and signed my name to it even after they told me I couldn't use the word "whores" -- apparently there are no whores in the Star Wars universe. Mostly the story is mine, minus a few textual changes no reasonable person could be particularly pissy about.

The second story went poorly. I turned in and had approved an outline for a story about what happened to Boba Fett after he fell into the Great Pit of Carkoon. Short form -- the sarlacc is self-aware, Boba Fett spends years down there being digested and commingling memories with the sarlacc -- eventually Fett breaks his way free, and returns to Tattooine for years afterward, to kill the sarlacc very, very slowly ....

I put a pseudonym on that story after I got done revising it to their spec, and then someone not-me revised it further. I got a call from a Lucasfilm employee at one point asking me to please not use the pseudonym -- no one had ever put a pseudonym on a Star Wars story, and the request was upsetting people. I didn't care at that point; told the woman to publish it with a pseudonym or publish my original piece with my name on it -- I was easy to get along with.

I think her point, when she got off the phone, was that I wasn't easy to get along with .... but the story was published with J.D. Montgomery's name on it. In it, Boba Fett falls into the sarlacc -- which isn't sentient. He squabbles with one of his neighbors ("Susejo" -- "O Jesus," backwards) -- for a couple of days, and then fights his way up out of the sarlacc. And the last line: "A dark angel ascended into the night" -- became "A dark spirit ascended into the night."

And then Kevin Anderson did a third collection, "Tales From the Bounty Hunters." And asked me to write the Boba Fett story.

I'm not often really surprised by people. Mostly people do what it's in their self-interest to do, as they understand it, and if you understand what other people think their self-interest is, most of the time you'll see them coming.

I don't really think it was in Kevin Anderson's best interests to hire me to write that story, and I suspect he knew it at the time. (I don't think it did him any particular damage, long-term ... but it wasn't the safe choice. I've always admired that decision.)

I turned in an outline for "The Last One Standing," and said, essentially, "This is it. This is the story. If Lucasfilm doesn't like any substantial piece of it, get someone else." (Admittedly, it was easy to be virtuous with those stories -- there was no money in them to speak of. More than you'd make selling to a magazine, surely, but a lot less than the guys writing the novels were making -- anyone who wrote those shorts, wrote them for love.) And KJ said, "Write the outline. I'll protect it." And he did -- when I turned the story in, Lucasfilm really hated one of my two favorite scenes -- early on Kardue sai Malloc, my character "Labria" from the Cantina story, the devil man -- gets caught by Boba Fett. Malloc is a war criminal wanted on his homeworld, and he tells Boba Fett how they execute people on his homeworld -- throw them into a pit of starving animals, and if you're smart, you throw your head back to expose your throat and get it over quickly --


IN THE ICY Devaronian northlands, beneath the dark blue skies that had haunted Kardue'sai'Malloc's dreams for over two decades, some ten thousand Devaronians had converged in the judgment Field outside the ruins of the ancient holy city of Montellian Serat, the city Malloc had shelled into its current state.

It was a beautiful day late in the cold season, with a chill breeze out of the north, and high pale clouds skidding across the darkened skies. The suns hung low on the southern horizon; the Blue Mountains lifted away up to the north. Malloc barely noticed the Devaronians surrounding him, the members of his family dressed in their robes of mourning, as they pushed him through the crowds; to the pit where the quarra waited.

He heard the quarra growl, heard the growl rising as he grew closer to the pit.

His daughter and brother walked a bare few steps behind him. Malloc recalled he had once had a wife; he wondered why she was not there.

Perhaps she had died.

A dozen quarra in the pit, lean and hungry, leaping up toward the spot where Malloc's guards brought him to a halt.

Devaronians are not creatures of ceremony; a herald cried out, "The Butcher of Montellian Serat"―and the screams of the crowd raised up and surrounded Malloc, an immense roar that drowned out the noise of the snarling quarra; the bonds that held him were released and strong young hands shoved him forward, and into the pit where the starving quarra waited.

The quarra leapt, and had their teeth in him before he reached the ground.

He could see the Blue Mountains from where he fell. He had almost forgotten the mountains, the forests, all those years on that desert world.

Oh, but the trees were beautiful.

Arch your head back.


I finished that piece and got up and walked around, bouncing, happy with myself. I sent KJ a letter saying "When I'm old and have sons, I will tell them, 'Daddy was bad once.'"

Lucasfilm -- I don't recall who and probably wouldn't, at this late date, name him or her if I did -- hated that scene. Referred to it in correspondence as "the torture scene." Wanted it out-and-we're-not-kidding ...

It stayed in. I don't know what happened, don't know if KJ went to bat on it or just sent it to the typesetters at Bantam without arguing any further -- but it stayed in. And I've always been grateful to Kevin for that.

Some years later I spent a few hours wandering around the World Science Fiction Convention up in San Francisco. I've been to maybe 8 SF conventions in my whole life; 3 of them were Worldcons and another I was the guest of honor. (Small convention, that one, only a few hundred people.) I don't like conventions for reasons too complex to go into here -- they take place on weekends for one, and I play basketball on the weekends, and it takes a lot to interrupt my basketball time. And other reasons I may write about another time.

I was l0oking for Kevin Anderson -- he and his wife Rebecca put up me and my then-fiancee at his house overnight, that weekend -- and found him on a panel discussing Star Wars. I sat down at the back of the convention hall -- I'm morally certain he didn't see me come in -- and listened for a while. A while later someone asked him what his favorite Star Wars story was -- and he said, "The Last One Standing," by Daniel Keys Moran.

I've always liked KJ.


The Last One Standing is not merely my favorite Star Wars piece; that's a limited universe. It's one of my favorite pieces of writing, overall. I went back to Harrison Ford's comment about Solo: "no mama, no papa, and no story." And I gave Han Solo a last moment in the sun, got the wife and kids away from him, got Chewie away from him, and sent him off to have an adventure by himself, to put him on the field with another old horse, Boba Fett, for one last confrontation.

At the time I intended to send a copy of that story to Harrison Ford; it's his story as much as it's mine, in genesis. I never did, and I still wish I had.


I'm pretty much past Star Wars these days. The second trilogy did for me what all the televised stuff did for Star Trek -- took material I cared about and diluted it until the elements that had made it unique and worthwhile were barely there. Sure, Revenge of the Sith is a good movie, in an everyone-goes-to-hell kind of way. (And Matt Stover's novelization is better than the movie, quite seriously. "This is the end of the age of heroes" ...)

But there are no Good Guys in the second trilogy. There are nice guys -- Yoda and Obi Wan seem decent enough, well-meaning chaps if a little dim. But my sons don't feel about Star Wars the way I felt about Star Wars, and that's probably a good thing.

My generation got Luke Skywalker. My generation got the kid who made good, who saved the day, beat the bad guys, did his level best to rescue his father and damn near succeeded at that --

And to my kids, Lucas offered Annakin Skywalker, bitter, angry, murderous, Darth Fucking Vader, and wrapped this inside a pretty little nine year old boy that all the little ones could identify with -- just to make it worse for them. Asked a generation of kids to identify not with the heroic Luke, but with the evil Annakin.

After Phantom Menace came out, one of my older sister's boys got told by the older kids that Annakin Skywalker was going to grow up to be Darth Vader. Little boy just shook his head mutely -- what kind of miserable bad joke was that? Not a chance: That Is Not How Stories Work.

There's a change Lucas could have made that would have made all this tolerable to me. Start with Annakin a little older. Give us a kid in his teen years, brilliant but already twisted by life, and start the story there. Not a big change -- but all the little kids out there who wanted to be Annikin Skywalker, wanted to win the pod race and blow up the space station, could have found some distance from the teenage Annikin, could perhaps have identified with an honorable Obi Wan rather than the infant Darth Vader --

What would it have cost? Some toy sales?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Things quieting down --

I've been busy over at the Alan Rodgers Experience -- that's going to quiet down soon, I'm most of the way through documenting how he killed his infant son. I wrote a chunk of the Star Wars post I mentioned, last night, and that should be up later today.

The television pilot I wrote is called "All Possible Worlds," about the Revolt of the Angels -- it's set in the same universe as "A Moment in Time," for those of you who ever read that script. There's a pilot script that's gotten good responses, and a 40 page outline that's gotten reviews ranging from "blown away" -- from a guy who's been on the Board of Directors of the Director's Guild -- to Matt Stover, who I like a lot because he likes my stuff and is a bona fide badass, for a writer: "Jesus WEPT, man -- this is so good I just don't believe you can possibly get it made" -- to a producer who loved the pilot script and was so freaked out by the outline that he backed off the project. :-) So we're looking for a new producer, but I'm sure we'll attach one. Looking at Adam Baldwin to play the lead, and looking for an unknown athletic 6-foot tall 20 year old girl to play his daughter, Jake Two Knives, The Destroyer of Worlds ...