Star Wars Fun with Samuel Clemens and Edgar A. Poe

Sam and Ed

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Rickman Rocked It (From Hogwarts to CBGB)

Today, news of Alan Rickman’s death flooded the internet, just days after David Bowie’s passing.

He played in many sf/fantasy films, including Galaxy Quest and as Snape in the Harry Potter movies. He also did films that had a more magic-realist spin–including the sweet Truly, Madly, Deeply, where he plays the ghost of a woman’s dead love who returns to her.  And his Hans Gruber was the best 1980s action-movie villain, period.

The last thing I saw him in was a rock and roll film: CBGB. He played the legendary club owner, Hilly Kristal, who gave New York’s early punk bands a place to play before the music had a following. The film shows him discovering The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Dead Boys, and other punk legends.

Rickman’s understated portrayal of Hilly made the film worth watching. He’s a guy who looks beaten before he ever started, who never shows enthusiasm even when he’s seeing something that he knows is amazing and ground-breaking. That’s a hard role to pull off. He nails it, suggesting a guy who admires these weird band’s enthusiasm and thrill of liberation, even though he’s not buying completely buying into their shtick.

The movie as a whole isn’t great, which is probably why it won’t be mentioned in many Rickman obituaries. As you can see from the trailer below, there are far too many moments where the dialogue seems lifted from a rock journalism  primer. But Rickman holds it together.

I think Rickman is one of those actors who could switch between the broad, elegant theatrical mode (a la Shakespearean drama) and the American film minimalist acting mode unerringly. His CBGB performance is definitely the latter. It’s worth a watch, especially if you’ve loved his work in the fantasy genre and want to see how he handles a rock bio-pic.





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On Bowie’s Death

I’ve written about David Bowie on You Sell Wonderment because he’s probably the best example of science fiction and pop music co-mingling to produce cool results.

I’m still in shock about his passing.  It seemed like he’d be around forever.  Not much more to say, even if I felt up to it.

In mourning with the rest of you.

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2016 Kansas City Worldcon: Academics and Wonderment

I’m one of the organizers for the academic track at MidAmeriCon II, the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in my hometown of Kansas City, MO, in 2016.

We’re looking for many types of presentations, particularly ones that will appeal to Worldcon’s broad range of attendees (fans, academics, writers, and independent scholars). The site has a list of examples for presentations and sessions.  Deadline is January 16th.

The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction is hosting this track of programming at the con.

On a personal note, I’d like to hear from people interested in the kind of material covered on this site: SF nostalgia, retro-futurism, steampunk, 19th-century SF writers like Mark Twain and Edgar A. Poe, and connections between SF and pop music. If I’ve written about it on You Sell Wonderment, I’m interested!

(Also, since I didn’t mention it here before, I’m really happy the Kansas City Royals won their first World Series since I was in short pants last year.  Happy 2016!)


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At Work with Twain, Millar, Vowell, and more

It’s been a busy November, so I’m giving a few updates about my writing.  Stuff I’ve done rather than write blog entries here:

None of these qualifies as a major, long-term project (except the Vowell event, which was planned over months, but over the first week of November).  All put together, however, it’s been pretty wild juggling.

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Ian Dury’s Multifaceted Connections to Sci-Fi/Fantasy

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ian Dury recently.  A few nights ago, I finally rented Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, the fictionalized film account of Dury’s career.

Why should fantasy/science-fiction fans care about a little-known music biopic?

  • The film is a chance to watch Andy Serkis give a bravura performance as Dury. If you’re a fan of Gollum or Planet of the Apes‘ Caeser or Avengers’ Ulysses Klaw or whoever he is in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you should check out what Serkis can do in a leading role without CGI and minimal makeup.
  • Doctor Who fans will note that Ian Dury is the musician The Doctor tries to take Rose to see in the Season Two classic, “Tooth and Claw,”  before they get re-routed to Victorian England.  Could Russell Davies’s have given Dury a better shout-out than to make Tennant’s Doctor a big fan?
  • Dury’s guitarist, Wilko Johnson, was cast as executioner Ilyn Payne in Game of Thrones, mostly because his on-stage glare matched George R. R. Martin’s description of the character perfectly.

Dury’s story–British kid gets polio, struggles with his limited mobility, and uses his “never give up, never take shit” attitude to help found punk rock–is pretty well known.  I was impressed, however, that the film focused on Dury’s relationship with his son and his love of wordplay and the English language. Dury never went for cheap sentiment, and the movie doesn’t either.

The rest of the film is hit-and-miss. There are a few too many scenes of drugged-out people lying around.  And there’s not much about other performers who crossed his path during that era of British music.

Here’s a video clip of Dury performing “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” (the song Tennant blast in his TARDIS with Rose). That’s Wilko on guitar, and Davey Payne doing the dual saxophone solo:

Here’s the finale of one of Dury’s shows, performing “Blockheads”:

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Steampunk Images from Hannibal

Just posting some photos from the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, MO.  My parents went up there over Labor Day weekend and snapped these.

As I said in an earlier post, it’s nice to see one of America’s best nineteenth-century tourism towns (thanks, Mark Twain!) has embraced steampunks with open arms.



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