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Forty years ago today: ‘Star Wars’ released

May 25, 1977: “Star Wars” was released. The film cost $11 million and made $1.55 million in its first weekend. It would go on to take in $460 million in the U.S. (I would see it a month or two later at the Roosevelt Theater in Hyde Park on the way home from working as a CIT at YMCA Day Camp. Taylor and Samantha won’t see it until August.)

Forty years ago today: Spring finally arrives, Ringling Brothers with it

Spring finally graced New York after the second coldest winter on record. The temperature reached 81 degrees, not quite breaking the record of 86 degrees set in 1945. Skateboarders, joggers, sunbathers and joggers were out in force. As was the elephant Konga, standing on her head in the middle of West 33rd Street. She was celebrating the circus, not the weather. The traditional parade of animals marched from the silver circus train in the Penn Central yards to Madison Square Garden to mark opening day of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Happy youngsters and parents followed behind.
–Brought to you by Lights Out Summer, set in 1977, coming Oct. 1.

Source: New York Times

Forty years ago today: NYPD bunco squad faces staff cuts, jump in picked pockets, con games

In its 120th year, the pickpocket and confidence squad, the oldest detective unit in the NYPD, was struggling because of staff shortages and rising crime. The number of detectives had been cut to nine from 19, while complaints involving pickpockets and confidence games jumped 5,000, topping 19,000 in 1976. The bunco squad estimated picked pockets and con games hauled in $5 million a year, more than triple that lost in bank robberies. Only one detective team was on patrol at any time covering all five boroughs.
–Brought to you by Lights Out Summer, set in 1977, coming Oct. 1.

Source: New York Times

Forty years ago today: NYPD morale crashing

Forty years ago today: The NYPD is more than ever beset by internal dissension following two years of budget and personnel cuts, says the New York Times. Morale, job performance and absenteeism are worsening and spreading to the higher ranks.
–Brought to you by LIGHTS OUT SUMMER, set in 1977, coming Oct. 1.

On Star Wars Eve…

Once upon a time in a town two counties north of here and most definitely a long long time ago, I discovered a passion for reading. Science fiction was my gateway drug. In fifth and sixth grade, I admit I dabbled in a Houdini obsession. And there were several months living only with World War I aces. Eddie Rickenbacker. Frank “Balloon Buster” Luke.

2372Then, one day, I picked up a book in the Danny Dunn series. “Danny Dunn and the Time Machine.” Or “Danny Dunn and the Shrinkifying Machine.” One of those. That lead to Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, and on to the big guns, Heinlein and Asimov and Andre Norton and Larry Niven. By high school, I subscribed to Analog magazine and reveled in Vonnegut, since he gave me literary cred yet let me wallow in sci fi. (Quite honestly, I wasn’t paying attention to the literary stuff.)

What I could find in books in the early and late seventies, I could not in movie theaters or on TV. “Star Trek” was already long gone. Irwin Allen’s craptastic series “Lost in Space,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and “Time Tunnel” were in constant reruns, but they weren’t what my books conjured. In movies, aside from Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” there hadn’t been a good science fiction film since “Forbidden Planet” came out in 1954.

Amazing worlds in the books I read. A vast wasteland in film and television.

Sometime in the fall of 1976 or winter of 1977, I was grocery shopping with my mom at Shop Rite in Wappingers Falls. As I usually did, I wandered to the paperback book racks and browsed. I came across a novel called “Star Wars.” The back cover promised a film in May 1977. The front cover looked interesting enough. I’d learn later it was the first poster art created for the film by famous fantasy artist Hildebrandt. Luke Skywalker holds a light saber aloft with a buxom Princess Leia in front of him. Neither of the faces are those of the actors. A giant ghostly Darth Vader head floats behind them, with Tie fighters and the Deathstar in front of the star field.

That was my first inkling a “Star Wars” was coming my way. In those days a long long time ago, there was no EW or io9 or any of the rest of the media-entertainment-industrial complex. I next heard about the film a week or two before its May 25, 1977 opening. A full-page ad in the Weekend section of the New York Times. Same poster. I don’t remember any buzz—we didn’t do buzz then—only my own feeling that I needed to see this film.

I went with my dad and some of my siblings to the Roosevelt Theater in Hyde Park, a long drive for us to get to a big old-fashioned single-auditorium theater (it even had a balcony).

The prologue crawl rolled back into the stars. This already was intriguing. Crawls usually rolled flat, bottom to top. The back story sounded fantastically similar to the books I’d been reading for six or seven years. A planet hung in the darkness of space. The little ship flew into the shot from the top of the screen, the sound effects making it seem like it had flown right over us. It was being fired upon. More slowly, but still going menacingly fast, the Imperial Star Destroyer slid into the shot taking up more and more of my view. This was a big damn starship blasting away at the little one.

I will stop there. You know the movie. I want to write what was going on in my head in that moment. Someone—I’d later learn a man named Lucas—had finally taken those amazing images science fiction books put in my head and projected them onto a movie screen. A golden age began that day. Movies. TV shows. Hell, stage plays, puppet shows and theme park rides. Some good. Some bad. But everything changed when that big ship chased that little one across the screen. Science fiction came out of the ghetto.

I’m now off to see the nine o’clock show. It won’t change everything. But it’s welcome.

Update at midnight: It was good, and good enough. One big quibble later.

Update two days later: Samuel R. Delany’s preceptive 1977 review of the original film.

New York Times gives me VR for free… and it works

nyt 1

I didn’t get my jet car. I didn’t get my hover board. But the virtual reality I was promised way back in the nineties is finally here. I trace that particular techno-promise to the third or fourth issue of Wired magazine, which put dreadlocked VR guru Jaron Lanier on its cover. He was wearing a VR rig that looked something like a welder’s mask. And a big ski glove. He promised a totally immersive, massively available VR experience coming to my face mask soon.

Never happened. Tossed on the pile with the flying car and the hover board. Oh yeah, and the jet pack.

A couple of weeks ago, legacy (irony) media outlet the New York Times, delivered with my Sunday paper Google Cardboard (killer brand name, that). This flat thing looked like a Trick-or-Treat-for-Unicef box before you put it together, just with thicker walls. When I folded it all up, flat cardboard (not brand name) turned into something like a squared-off Viewmaster, but one that uses a smartphone as the media player, rather than round discs with little pictures on them. I downloaded the NYT VR app and Velcroed in my iPhone. nyt 2The first film I watched was on three refugee children surviving in three war-torn countries. The second, “Vigils in Paris,” presented Parisians visiting different memorial sites after the terror attacks and talking about what happened.

The low-cost, hybrid approach leveraging my own phone delivered. Seriously. In each film, I was immersed in the experience. Not because it was 3-D—it wasn’t—but because of the 360-degree view I got of the refugees’ worlds and of the memorials and the people honoring the dead. While one of the refugee kids was talking, I could watch him, or I could turn 180 and see where the little canoe was heading. Same with the vigils. One man was singing, and I was checking out the rest of the crowd, the flowers, the candles, and cards and the statue towering over us (yes us).

Lesson to me is that immersion is not about 3-D, it’s about believing you’re standing in the middle of the world filmed. Pretty cool that everyone’s smartphone is a VR device. Just add cardboard (love that branding!).

If you threw your Google Cardboard away when it came with your Times, go dig it out.


LAST WORDS wins Honorable Mention for mystery in Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year Awards

SAN FRANCISCO — Foreword Reviews announced the winners of its annual INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards for the best indie books of 2014. Last Words was honored with the Honorable Mention award in the category of mystery.

INDIEFAB-logo-250x250Representing hundreds of independent and university presses of all sizes, the winners were selected after months of editorial deliberation over more than 1,500 entries in 63 categories. This year’s list of winners includes the Dalai Lama, Lev Grossman, Jeet Heer, Chuck Palahniuk, Zack Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Lee & Low Books, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kent State University Press, Rizzoli, Abingdon Press, Quirk Books, Cleis Press, and Six Sisters Stuff, among others. The winners exemplify the best work coming from today’s indie authors and publishers.

Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention awards were determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers and announced at a special program during the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco on June 26.

Last Words, the first Coleridge Taylor Mystery, was published Oct. 1. Drop Dead Punk follows on Aug. 15. Camel Press is the publisher of the series (www.camelpress).

Here is the complete list of Foreword Reviews’ 2014 IndieFab Book of the Year Award Winners.

About Foreword: Foreword Magazine, Inc is media company featuring a FOLIO: award winning quarterly print magazine, Foreword Reviews, and a website devoted to independently published books. In the magazine, they feature reviews of the best 170 new titles from independent publishers, university presses, and noteworthy self-published authors. Their website features daily updates: reviews along with in-depth coverage and analysis of independent publishing from a team of more than 100 reviewers, journalists, and bloggers. The print magazine is available at most Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million newsstands or by subscription.