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As we rejoin the action, the Yamato Argo has just visited unholy destruction on a Gamelon carrier that foolishly ventured within range of the main guns.  I’ve always wondered what those guns actually fire – looks like a plasma beam, recoils like an artillery shell, sounds like short-wave radio bouncing off the ionosphere on a cloudy Friday evening.

In any case, the score is now Star Force: 1.  Gamelons: 0.

For his part, Leader Desslock (the Gamelon’s supreme commander, for the uninitiated) is not, shall we say, overly concerned.  A “foolish gesture”, he sneers, his slender fingers tracing delicate patterns in the hot, radioactive Gamelonian air.  Even better, his generals on Pluto have a plan:  use the Yamato Argo Star Force as a test target for their new super-weapon.

The weapon in question?  None other than… wait for it…

The Ultra Menace Missile.


This is what happens when the Gamelons build a forward base in your solar system.

Not making that up.  Also, don’t speak Japanese, so cannot assess the quality of the translation for you.  Still, you have to wonder.  Was there a first generation weapon called the Menace Missile?  Followed by the Extreme Menace Missile?

Whatever the case, the Ultra-Menace Missile (UMM) is nothing to sneeze at.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s break it down with some basic math:

Fact #1:   It is between 2.7 and 4.7 billion miles between Pluto and Earth, depending on where the planet and planetoid in question are in their respective orbits at any given time.  We’ll split the difference and call it 3.5 billion miles.

Fact #2:  We know it takes less than one day for the UMM to travel from the Gamelon base on Pluto to Earth (we know this because every episode ends with an update of the doom counter, the number of days until Earth is uninhabitable.  All the action described herein happens with the clock stuck at 364 days).  Here again, we shall split the difference and assume the UMM is in transit for 12 hours.

Fact #3:  The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second.


Math Problem #1:  3.5 Billion Miles / 12 hours = 81,000 miles per second = 44% of the speed of light.  That’s the average speed, which doesn’t even take into account the acceleration profile.

Fact #4:  Though we don’t know exactly how big the UMM is, we do know that its large size is one of its distinguishing characteristics.  Is it the size of a bus?  A Saturn V rocket?  An aircraft carrier?

Well it doesn’t really matter, does it?  It also doesn’t matter what sort of explosive power that thing is packing – it could be none at all.  Because the real “ultra” in “ultra menace” is the fact that it travels at relativistic velocities!  Never mind the planet bombs the Gamelons have been raining down; the UMM hitting Earth is going to make the asteroid that did in the dinosaurs look like a bottle rocket bouncing off the side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Except… well, except there is the Argo to consider, with none other than Derek Wildstar on the guns.

I mean, dude never even blinks. The UMM hits Earth’s atmosphere, with a remaining expected transit time of let’s say (300 miles  / 81,000 miles per second) = a little less than .004 seconds.  The Star Force sees it coming on radar, somehow, never mind the fact that the UMM would be, like, RIGHT BEHIND the returning radar reflection since it’s traveling ALMOST THE SAME SPEED RADAR GOES.

Wildstar?  He just eyeballs it.  Growls “finally” at the camera once that idiot Mark Venture actually gets the wave motion engine started, and calls out some instructions for the gun crews like a seasoned veteran.  “Turn twenty degrees!  Adjust sightlines!”  The gun barrels swivel slowly in response; Venture orders the Argo 15 degrees to port; the camera pans back, and we see the ship veer off… to the RIGHT.  Damn rookie bridge crew!  But it don’t matter.  Wildstar don’t care.  He takes a breath, pulls the trigger, those weird plasma beam thingies lance out, and BOOM!

This happens:


That’s right, “Leader” Desslock.  It’s gonna take more than several tons of hardware traveling near light speed to take down the Star Force.  Because, you know, STAR FORCE!!!

And then, finally, this:  the Argo deploys its single most bizarre feature, its in-atmosphere wings.  Even in cartoon land this is just plain silly; it’s like putting a squirrel suit on a semi truck.  But atmospheric wings the Argo has, so atmospheric wings it deploys, and then sails blithely away, leaving the laws of physics weeping softly in its wake.

There are only 364 days left.  Me?  I’m bullish on their chances.


I’m watching Star Blazers again.  Not, mind you, Space Battleship Yamato, but the actual American version, the honest-to-God Star Blazers of my youth.  Season One:  The Quest for Iskandar, with its unspeakably awful voice acting and crazy translations, Derek Wildstar, Captain Avatar and Leader Desslock – the works.

And I’m going to blog about it, and there’s not a damn thing any of you can do to stop me, other than of course to sprain your right index finger trying to click “back” on your browser as fast as humanly possible.

No?  Still with me, and up for the journey?  Then let’s jump right in.

First, ship naming conventions.  I had  forgotten that in Star Blazers the ship itself is called the Argo, not the Yamato.  Not a bad choice, if we accept as given the need to remove all the scary Japanese-sounding names for American consumption (remember this was 1979, seven years before Datsun would suck it up and rebrand itself the far more ominous “Nissan”).  The Argo was of course Jason’s ship in his quest for the golden fleece, so given that the Star Force is questing after the Cosmo-DNA from Queen Starsha of Planet Iskandar, it makes sense.  

Still, though:  


We’re off… to find a fleece…




That’s more like it.


It definitely loses a little something, doesn’t it?


Aw yeah!

And speaking of Queen Starsha, this does have to be addressed.  Aware of the plight of the humans, she dispatches a ship which covers the astronomical distance from Iskandar to Earth, somehow runs the Gamelon blockade out at Pluto (more on that in a moment), reaches Mars – only to crash land (because, y’know, faster-than-light travel easy; making successful planetfall hard), but then be found, and thus succeed in its mission in delivering to the Earthlings:

Plans, and a map.  

Plans, as in, how to build a wave-motion engine (and gun!), and a map, as in, how to get to Iskandar, and Queen Starsha herself, who has the Cosmo DNA, which can rid the Earth of all the horrible radiation imparted by the Gamelon’s planet bombing (remember:  Japanese cartoon!  The world’s experts on nuclear-nightmare-inspired science fiction.).  

Why, you might ask, didn’t Queen Starsha just send the Cosmo-freaking-DNA on the ship itself?  Why put the Star Force to all this trouble?  This plot point is in fact addressed, although the answer is basically she just couldn’t so stop asking.  Why do I have the feeling this came up in a production meeting somewhere, way back in the day, one of those aw-shit moments where everyone in the room suddenly realizes the whole thing makes no sense at all?  Sort of like that why-doesn’t-Gandalf-just-have-one-of-the-eagles-drop-the-ring-into-Mount-Doom-as-soon-as-he-even-suspects-just-on-general-precautionary-principles moments we’ve all had in retrospect? 

Anyway.  She just can’t.  There is a whole line of dialog that makes this clear.  As this is all of course being written from a place of love, we shall take it it as given, and move on.

Next up:  The Ultra Menace Missile!


I went to the Banff film festival a few days ago, which this year seems to be having a debate with itself.  A big-picture debate, one of those “what’s the point of it all” kind of affairs, at the heart of which were two films with diametrically opposing viewpoints.

1.  “The Last Great Climb”:  Our world is infinite!  There is always another peak to climb!  We must go forth and conquer!

2.  “North of the Sun“:  Um, no.

I presume you know the story of the race to the South Pole?  Scott vs Amundsen, snowmobiles vs dog sleds, England vs Norway and all that?  If not, never a better time to get your Masterpiece Theater on than right now!  (Spoiler alert:  Amundsen wins.)

Well, the Brits and Norwegians are at it again.  Except this time, while the UK is busy sending its most badass climbing team to Antarctica to seek out and conquer one of the last great unclimbed peaks, the Norwegian rebuttal was offered by a pair of kids in their twenties, who journeyed to a remote beach on an island north of the Arctic circle, to see whether they could build a shelter from the trash that washes up there, live on free food that had passed its expiry date (scavenged from the island’s one grocery store), and learn something about themselves in the process.

For an entire year.

The contrast couldn’t have been more striking, and as the days have gone by and I’ve sat with the experience of seeing these movies back-to-back, I find myself increasingly inspired by the latter, and at the same time growing more resentful that the first was even made.

Put bluntly, “The Last Great Climb” is one of the most self-indulgent adventure films I’ve ever seen.  A friend of mine called it masturbatory; I’m inclined to agree.  Even while I was watching it I was rooting for one of those famous Antarctic storms to weather those fools right off that peak, so they’d at least be a bit humbled by the experience.  Because honestly, as far as my own psyche is concerned, all that film left me with was a vague sense of depression that these guys, with all their money and gear, managed to make the world just that much smaller.

And after all was said and done, watching the conquering heroes stare at the camera, and tell us there will always be another peak to go find and conquer – and another, and another after that?  Pity’s sake, even the name of the film puts the truth to that lie, and you could tell they didn’t even believe it.  If anything, I think the experience left them flat; like a month later, they were right back home, and now what?  I hope so, anyway.

(In fairness:  the one saving grace of the film is the peak itself, the real hero of the story.  Its name translates to “Wolf’s Fang”, and it looks like something Lovecraft had in mind when he wrote “At the Mountains of Madness”.  I can’t guarantee there are shoggoths living in caves at its base, but if not there then nowhere, y’know?)

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 3.17.20 PM

$6 to rent it online. Mocha and a tip. Well worth it.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 3.17.36 PM

I’ll take the mocha, thanks.

By comparison – and there really isn’t one –  “North of the Sun” is a truly post-modern adventure story.  One that throughout acknowledges that our link with the natural world has changed, but the essential need to find and explore that connection remains the same.  The characters build a house from washed up palettes and plastic bottles, an oven from an old oil drum, even a wheelbarrow from the flotsam and jetsam washed up on their beach.  They clean up trash, and they surf.  Theirs is not a macho survival challenge, their goal is not to break a record, or be first somewhere; hell, one of them climbs the nearby peak so he can get cellphone reception and talk to his girlfriend in New Zealand, and they even go home for Christmas.

No, theirs is a voyage of self-discovery, pure and simple.  Which just happens to be the same reason all the rest of us mortals who are drawn to the natural world take that first step out our front doors, over and over again.

“Chasing time.”  “Few, but strong impressions.”  “How was the surf?  Cold, but good.”  This is the language of the film, sparse as the landscape that surrounds them, and as profound.

See this movie.  Six bucks and forty minutes of your time, and I bet it changes you too, just a bit.

And that… is how two months go by without a single blog update, or hardly a word written.  I blame work – but then, so does every struggling writer when they are struggling to write.

This will be quick today; just wanted to jot this idea down before I forget it, perhaps to be returned to later.  

Some facts:

Fact:  The White Sturgeon, Acipensur transmontanus, is an anadromous fish, meaning that it lives in freshwater, but migrates to saltwater to spawn.  In layman’s terms, it’s sort of an anti-salmon.  Or rather, an anti-steelhead, since it spawns multiple times in its life.  One imagines sturgeon and steelhead passing each other with a knowing look, each heading opposite directions, up and down the salinity gradient, but with very much the same destination in mind.

Fact:  Acipensur transmontanus, according to Wikipedia which I presume is now the definitive source for all matters icthyological, can live up to 104 years.

Fact:  The Hiren M. Chittendam locks – the system of locks that  makes it possible for large ships pass back and forth between Puget Sound and Lake Washington – became operational in 1917.  The locks come equipped with a salmon ladder – but not a sturgeon ladder.  Far as I know, when they were built, that was the end of sturgeon moving back and forth between the lake and the sound.  


The boater who found it “first thought it was a shark”. Now that would be interesting: bull sharks in Lake Washington? Don’t tell the SeaFair committee!

So:  does that not then mean that the youngest remaining sturgeon in Lake Washington is now 96 years old?  Such that, in a decade, the last of the Methuselah fish will have died?  The one in the picture above was found dead back in August.  I wonder how many are left?

Perhaps I’m wrong about this.  I have read that some sub-populations of this fish can in fact breed in freshwater, when forced to do so – though you do have to wonder about minimum viable population sizes even in that case.  Certainly I hope I’m wrong!  It’s a comfort to imagine these ancient creatures, somehow still managing to make a go of it, hidden away beneath the jet-skis and seaplanes.

Still, I wonder.  If they are doomed to local extinction, I wonder about the exact moment when the last one dies.  Will it happen during a rush hour commute, as tens of thousands make their busy way back and forth across our floating bridges?  Will there be some psychic nudge, interrupting just for a moment that never-ending rush from home to cubicle and back?  

Will just one person pause in their text messaging, just for an instant, and feel – just for a second – the loss of something magnificent that used to be?