TRUTH, HISTORY, AND HEROES

“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Malcolm Reynolds, “Serenity.”

We finally watched “Serenity.” It’s a consolation prize, a followup movie to the all-too-brief television series “Firefly.” We loved it. It went a small distance to answer the questions left in the wake of the premature ending of what should have been the best ever science fiction television show.

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Nathan Fillion was a fine, dashing, surprisingly believable hero. He was just un-heroic enough to be witty and upbeat, but brave enough to save the universe.

Despite space ships and a futuristic other planetary setting for the movie, it’s a western. It’s “Tombstone” and “The Magnificent Seven.” A dollop of “Ride the High Country.” It is every thriller, western, and space opera you’ve seen. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Forbidden Planet,” too.

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It’s based on “Firefly”, currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime — so if you haven’t seen it and you like science fiction and/or westerns and/or thrillers, you can’t help but love this.

Heroes curse in Chinese. Some have super powers or maybe they aren’t super powers, but they sure do seem pretty super to me. Beautiful women, handsome men. Terrific pseudo-science that you are pretty sure you almost understand because it uses familiar gobbledygook language.

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No warp drive. I suppose that means that going from galaxy to galaxy on a whim isn’t going to happen. No one exactly says where the story takes place. It’s a “terraformed” planetary configuration that you would call a solar system, except that technically, there’s only one solar system because there’s only one “Sol.”

And then The Hero, Mal Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, said it. He’s the kind of guy you probably don’t want mad at you, so when he came out with a line this terrific, I wrote it down on the back of an envelope before I forgot it. I knew I would write about it.

“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Spoken by Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of “Serenity.”

I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, steam punk and weird mysteries involving some kind of magical or futuristic technology. But I also read a lot of history, recently a lot of history that essentially debunks all the history I read in the past and makes me completely rethink everything I thought I knew. Tony Judt’s “Postwar” was one such book, but there have been a bunch of others. Some of them I’ve reviewed or otherwise written about. Others, I will talk about in the future.

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But this so well summed up history as we know it. Not the “mythology” of history, which is what we were fed in school. Not mainstream history we are told is Truth with the capital “T” and that the majority of people accept at face value, if  they remember any history at all.

History isn’t about telling later generations what really happened. It ought to be — in my opinion — but actually, it’s about getting everyone to believe a story that supports the current power structure. Debunking those stories comes in the future, when a new power structure needs a different story.

Nathan Fillion Hero

Take your history with many grains of salt. Not because I said so, but because Mal Reynolds said so. He saved the universe, so he ought to know.

VAMPIRES IN TORONTO — CANADA’S DARK UNDERBELLY

If I could have a sequel, this show would be a great candidate. I know — not a movie — but it was a great little show that ended too soon.

I first discovered Forever Knight when it was in reruns on the Sci Fi channel. It was showing around 2 in the morning. Garry was working the dawn patrol and had already left for work by the time the show came on. I was working from home, allowing me to sometimes see my husband before he was off to work … and indulge my taste for weird TV shows you can only see in the middle of the night.

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I became an addict. I needed my knightly fix. They were showing season two when I found the show. I didn’t see the first season until I bought the DVDs (used) on Amazon. We watched them last winter when the ice and snow locked us into the house. It proved a good antidote to cabin fever.

How cool can a cop show be? This one is extremely cool. A vampire, repenting of his formerly evil ways, joins the Toronto police department. How does he get around the whole “vampires can’t be in the sun” business? Not to mention they “only drink blood” thing?

He has this big old American car with a huge trunk in which he can hide in a “sun” emergency. Drinks cow’s blood. Works the night shift. Invents a massive allergy to the sun to explain his inability to work days.

Nick Knight is more than 800 years old. A vampire working homicide. He is trying (with the help of Natalie, a lovely young coroner) to regain his humanity. Knight is not his name, of course. He was an actual knight in the 13th century when he became a vampire.

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The show ran from 1992 to 1996, though the pilot ran in 1989. The DVDs divide into three seasons and no, I don’t understand how they count seasons. There are 22 shows in the first season, 26 in the second, 22 in the third for a total of 70 episodes.

The original broadcast channel in North America was CBS — May 5,1992 to May 17, 1996. The show also ran in Germany, England and Australia (I don’t know if it was ever shown in Canada). It has been rerun in several places since including the Sci Fi channel here. The DVD sets originated in the US and Germany. The sets are different in length, and how they were edited. The German versions are longer and sexier. Mine came in boxes that say made in USA, but the DVDs were pressed in Germany. This link (in Wikipedia) gives a full list of episodes.

A cop show with a vampire as the lead detective? It isn’t just a guilty pleasure. It’s a good show and ahead of its time. And last, but not least, it’s witty and clever.

Geraint Wyn Davies plays Detective Nick Knight. He also co-wrote and directed many of the shows. Nigel Bennett is Lucien LaCroix, Knight’s maker and the weirdest overnight DJ in radio history. Deborah Duchêne plays Janette DuCharme, Nick’s sexy vampire “sister” and sometimes lover. Catherine Disher is Natalie Lambert, the police coroner and Nick’s sort-of love interest.

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The acting is good. The scripts are coherent, thematic, often with a moral twist and some interesting philosophical speculations. And who would have guessed Toronto was crawling with vampires? Fortunately most of the show’s undead are surprisingly circumspect showing far more restraint than they have shown in their pasts, which are seen in flashback.

During the show’s final season, when the producers, director and cast knew they were not being renewed, they methodically kill off the entire cast. That third season is memorable. Fascinating. Unavailable.

Forever Knight Season 1 and Forever Knight Season 2 can be downloaded from Amazon Instant Video. Season 3 is available only on DVD (used), sometimes as a single season, but also as a set of all three seasons. I own the set, though I bought each season separately which saved me about $50. It also took two years to finally find a copy of that elusive third season.

As Garry and I binge-watched our way through the series, I think it may have been a bargain after all. It’s a lot of entertainment … a lot of bang for the bucks.

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It’s fun. Well-written. Original, Unique. Sexy. Creative. It won’t gross you out with gallons of blood and gore but I love it when Nick’s eyes glow orange or green, depending on circumstance. I like the music and Toronto is a lovely city.

I recommend Forever Knight, though I’m not sure what you will do about season three. You might have to come to my house and watch it with us.

DOUBLE MINT, GRETCHEN ARCHER – A WITTY ROMP WITH DAVIS WAY

I have loved everything Gretchen Archer has written, from her first book “Double Whammy,” to this latest, greatest entry into the Davis Way caper novels.

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Davis is growing into herself. Still madcap, but madcap in a Sherlock Holmesian way. She knows what she’s doing. She knows why she’s doing it. She sees connections between seemingly random events. How they form a pattern. The problem is getting anyone else to see.

She and Bradley make a great team. They have that “thing” which makes husband-wife detective couples so much fun — the ability to communicate so cryptically no one else understands. But they “get” each other … and it may save a life or two.

It serves them well as the complex plot unrolls. Finding themselves living in the Bellissimo Casino itself (it’s temporary, isn’t it?), in the most hideous apartment imaginable. There’s a conference of bankers going on and Davis can’t get in. Not even for a quick security scan.

Why not? What’s really going on?

Bankers who have their own security people? Who look and act like thugs?  What’s going on with that super-secure vault? What does the apartment’s previous occupant and (shudder) designer, have to do with it? Has Fantasy gone nuts? Where is No Hair when you need him?

Mysteries within mysteries call for Davis’s clever mind and remarkable ability to see what no one else can see. Will anyone else believe her? Will they “get it” before it’s too late?

Welcome to another taut mystery and hilarious romp through the world of casino gambling, mysterious bankers, and sealed vaults. Not to mention gigantic heaps of money. Or something like it.

AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK.

Double Mint: Intelligently written with complex plot. Gretchen Archer never drops a stitch. It’s a marvelously witty detective tale you’ll love from start to finish — and wish it would never end.

THE DUMBEST VILLAIN IN THE WILD WEST

Open Range (2003) stars Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Abraham Benrubi and a lot of other people, but notably Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter) as the stupidest villain in the old west.

Mind you, Open Range isn’t a bad western, as these things go. It’s pretty standard, with a rather better cast than most westerns. All the good clichés are included and the movie builds up to a massive shootout between Duvall and Costner against Gambon and his thugs.

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Here’s the plot. It contains spoilers, but I feel safe in saying the movie has no surprises, so really, there’s nothing to spoil.

Old West, 1882. “Boss” Spearman (Duvall) is an open range cattleman, who, with hired hands Charley (Costner), and Mose (Benrubi) (et al), is driving a herd cross-country. Charley, a former soldier who fought in the Civil War, feels guilty over his past as a killer. 

Boss sends Mose to the nearby town of Harmonville for supplies, a town controlled by ruthless land baron, Denton Baxter. Mose is beaten and jailed by the marshal (owned body and soul by Baxter). The only friendly resident owns the livery stable.

Boss and Charley worry when Mose doesn’t return. The get him out of jail but are warned to not free-graze on Baxter’s land. Mose’s injuries are severe, so Boss and Charley take him to Doc Barlow where they meet Sue Barlow, the doctor’s sister.

Killing and skullduggery follow. Charley and Boss vow to avenge the various murders and injustice. Charley declares his feeling for Sue and she gives him a locket for luck. 

Boss and Charley are pitted against Baxter and his men. A gun battle erupts in the street, with Boss and Charley heavily outnumbered … until the townspeople begin to fight.

It’s an shootout of Biblical proportions. Epic. Costner is the troubled hero, which is just as well because he directed and co-produced the movie. Gambon, a murderous Irish immigrant with a killer brogue, is a brutal tyrant with no compunctions about slaughtering anyone. Everyone. He owns the sheriff, he owns the town. He has a lot of cows, but it’s not enough. It will never be enough.

He is the consummate villain of the old west, an out-of-control, power-mad cattle baron. You just know there’s going to be a lot of killing.

Skipping over the early individual killings to get to the big battle, it’s now the final quarter of the gun battle. It’s a high body count. I’ve lost count and I swear some of the actors died more than once, but maybe it’s just me.

The first seriously stupid bad guy moment comes when Baxter’s ace hired gun stands in front of Costner — who is loaded for bear and hates the son-of-a-bitch — and taunts him. So Costner shoots him through the head. One shot, dead center of his forehead.

I look at Garry and say “Well, what did he think was going to happen?” The fight was on.

A few minutes later, corpses litter the landscape. Heads are exploding right, left, and center. The townsfolk are unhappy about being under the thumb of Baxter, the power-mad cattle baron, but they’re too wimpy and cowardly to do anything about him.

Until Baxter, the asshole, stands up in front of the whole town (they’ve come out to watch the shootout because they don’t have anything else to do) and tells them that as soon as he gets through killing the good guys, he’s going to start killing them. “All your children will be orphans” he rants.

Say what?

Guess what happens next? Right you are! The townspeople, realizing they have nothing to lose, pick up their guns and start killing Baxter’s men. What a shock.

Costner marries the pretty sister of the doctor. Duvall offloads the cattle. Costner and Duvall take over the saloon and everyone lives happily ever after. I assume they bury the corpses.

This one gets my vote for the dumbest bad guy in the west. But maybe you know something I don’t know …

DAVIS WAY IS BACK! DOUBLE MINT, GRETCHEN ARCHER

I have loved everything Gretchen Archer has written, from her first book “Double Whammy,” to this latest, greatest entry into the Davis Way caper novels.

Double mint gretchen archer

Davis is growing into herself. Still madcap, but madcap in a Sherlock Holmesian way. She knows what she’s doing. She knows why she’s doing it. She sees connections between seemingly random events. How they form a pattern. The problem is getting anyone else to see.

She and Bradley make a great team. They have that “thing” which makes husband-wife detective couples so much fun — the ability to communicate so cryptically no one else understands. But they “get” each other … and it may save a life or two.

It serves them well as the complex plot unrolls. Finding themselves living in the Bellissimo Casino itself (it’s temporary, isn’t it?), in the most hideous apartment imaginable. There’s a conference of bankers going on and Davis can’t get in. Not even for a quick security scan.

Why not? What’s really going on?

Bankers who have their own security people? Who look and act like thugs?  What’s going on with that super-secure vault? What does the apartment’s previous occupant and (shudder) designer, have to do with it? Has Fantasy gone nuts? Where is No Hair when you need him?

Mysteries within mysteries call for Davis’s clever mind and remarkable ability to see what no one else can see. Will anyone else believe her? Will they “get it” before it’s too late?

Welcome to another taut mystery and hilarious romp through the world of casino gambling, mysterious bankers, and sealed vaults. Not to mention gigantic heaps of money. Or something like it.

AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK.

Double Mint: An intelligently written, perfectly plotted, marvelously witty detective tale you’ll love from start to finish — and wish it would never end.

A PAINFULLY DIFFERENT HISTORY – POSTWAR, TONY JUDT –

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
by Tony Judt – Audiobook

Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort. This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had the beginning of a grip on the material.

Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretense of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is truly neutral. Every historian has an agenda, a point to make. Whether or not he or she puts it up front is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she feels strongly about it. All history is changed, shaped, slanted by the historians who write it.

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...

Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched antisemitism, xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.

After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of  the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.

Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.

If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European antisemitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach churning. Pretty lies are easier to handle than ugly reality.

It’s easy to understand why so much of what we know is wrong. That’s they way we were taught. If we took the courses in school, we learned the “official version” of how the world was made.

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 cover

Even though I know more history than most civilians, I didn’t grasp the impact of these post WW 2 years — until Postwar.

I assumed, having lived these decades and followed news, that I knew what happened. I didn’t. What is reported by media barely scratches the surface.

The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of war to a modern European union is far more complex and far-reaching than I knew. These changes affect all of us directly and personally. I will never see the world the way I did before reading Postwar.

I read Postwar on paper, then listened to the audio version. It’s available from Audible.com. I recommend it to anyone with easily tired eyes because it is a very long book, no matter how you read it. The audio version has excellent narration. It a fine platform for the author’s conversational writing style.

Postwar is analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see our modern world the same way.

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS – ERIK LARSON

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS

Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

I have rarely been more conflicted about a book than I was about this one. It was gripping, sometimes mesmerizing. Simultaneously appalling and annoying.

William Dodd was made ambassador to Hitler’s Germany because no one else wanted the job — and because they didn’t want to put a “real” ambassador in a lose-lose position.

From the outset, it was the intention of Dodd’s bosses that he should fail. The U.S. government never had any intention of supporting him, of stopping the Nazi rise, or curtail the personal power of Adolph Hitler. You need to understand this in order for the rest of the story to make sense, if indeed it could be said to make sense.

The indifference and callously entrenched antisemitism of US State Department officials and their resulting tolerance for the atrocities of the Nazi government is hard to stomach.This is not an image of our government that would make anyone proud to be an American.

The failure of all western nations to do anything to stop Hitler while they could have done so with relative ease, is difficult to fathom. Their choice of Dodd, who was considered an amateur and not “one of the club” was an incredibly cynical move by the U.S.

Most of the people in the book are awful in one way or another. Dodd, the ambassador, ultimately grows to become, in his own way, heroic. He saw what was happening and tried — within the very limited power of his position — to do what he could. That no one listened to him is part of the tragedy. Dodd’s daughter, on the other hand, is a feather-headed self-absorbed brat. She is like a case of hives. The more you scratch, the more you itch.

Everyone acts in bad faith to one degree or another. Even more hard to bear are those who failed to act, failed to respond to Dodd’s repeated pleas for aid. Usually, it wasn’t because they didn’t believe him (although some didn’t), but because the majority of them were hardened anti-Semites who thought Hitler would rid Europe of the menace of Communism while wiping out the Jews. He didn’t get rid of Communism, but he did a pretty thorough job of wiping out European Jewry. Historically, I guess that would make the glass half full?

How revolting is it for me to learn this? I always rejected my mother’s suspicions on this score as paranoia. I refused to believe my government could allow — encourage — the genocide of an entire people. Sometimes, discovering mom was right is not heartwarming. This is one of those times.

To put the cherry on this dessert, the State Department’s little plot to allow Hitler enough latitude to “take care of the Jews” also led us into to the bloodiest war in human history, a conflict in which more than 30 million people — military and civilian — died.

The banality of evil has never been more terrifying. Read it and weep.

Evil intentions never produce good results. This book offers the ultimate cautionary tale.