Twilight Zone 2019 Review

As a fan of the original Twilight Zone, I was excited to see a new version on CBS All Access. I’m a fan of the original and watch all the marathons. But it was very dated and in some ways limited. So here’s my Twilight Zone 2019 review.

As much as I loved the original, sometimes it was painfully obvious the show was made in the 60s. The stilted, wordy dialogue, the comically bad special effects. A colleague once told me that was because, “Back then, they had to rely on things like writing and acting.” And some episodes do that brilliantly, while others…not so much. The good news is the new show seems to have improved on the old one.

The first episode, The Comedian, is about a standup comic, Samir, who is really, really terrible at standup comedy. Despite spending years doing it, he has never, apparently, studied other people’s acts and tried to figure out what they were doing right that he wasn’t. Whatever, he’s about to enter the Twilight Zone and get his fucking wish anyway, thanks to the ghost of a dead famous comic who randomly shows up, tells him the secret to comedy is to use his own personal life, then warns him he will be giving away these things to his audience.

Assuming this is just a metaphor, Samir goes ahead and tells a joke about his dog, which gets lots of laughs. Then he goes home and discovers his dog is gone and his girlfriend swears they never had one. He can’t even find a picture of his dog to put up flyers. Yet despite this ominous turn of events that’s quite literally what the ghost guy warned him about, Samir proceeds to tell jokes about his nephew, who also, shockingly, disappears. Then he gets the brilliant idea to just start joking about people he hates, including everyone who’s ever pissed him off. (Gotta be honest, I’d do that too.) Although the ending was predictable, the dialogue was clever and the whole thing was so entertaining it didn’t really matter. The show also made some interesting points about how comedians and other creatives often do find their best material in their own lives—to the detriment of their relationships.

Nightmare at 30,000 Feet is a remake of an original TZ episode—you might recall the famous one where William Shatner is haunted by someone wearing the world’s worst Bigfoot costume and pancake makeup hanging out on the wing of an airplane. I was looking forward to seeing this done with modern special effects…and a lead who could act his way out of a paper bag. It did not disappoint.

Twilight Zone Nightmare at 30,0000 Feet
Nightmare at 30,0000 Feet

In this version, the protagonist is a journalist who gets on the plane and finds an MP3 player with a documentary about…his flight. Flight 1053. As if it already happened. Hey, that’s not creepy at all! The journalist keeps thinking various people are going to cause the plane to crash as he continues listening to the ominous podcast. But no one listens to him—not the flight attendants, not most of the other passengers, not the air marshal.

I’m going to be honest here, this episode gave me the perverse desire to record a doom-and-gloom story about a downed flight and leave it on a plane for the next unsuspecting passenger. Oh wait, I can’t do that because I can’t afford to fly anywhere in the first place. Okay, one of my loyal readers please do it for me.

This episode is fleshed out much better than the original version, and has an added twist at the end. The acting was good and nobody in a hairy Bigfoot costume made a cameo on the wing.

Both episodes lost a lot of things I put up with in the original series. The lengthy monologues in which the protagonist details the main plot conflict, for starters. These were apparently popular in the sixties. Just have the protagonist explain the problem, the history of the problem, their childhood neuroses, blah blah, like they’re having a therapy session. Today you don’t see that. It’s 2019, if a viewer can’t figure out what the main conflict of the show is, they can go fucking ask someone in an online fan group. Subtlety is possible because the internet.

Which reminds me, the new version has profanity, because it’s on a streaming channel where the Puritanical pricks at the FCC don’t get a say. This adds to the show’s gritty realism—of course people are going to fucking swear when things go wrong! You see Bigfoot twerking on the wing of your airplane in real life, you’re dropping an F bomb or two, right?

Jordan Peele steps into the role of Rod Serling, the guy who shows up at the beginning and end to sum up the lesson the protagonist was supposed to learn…a little too late. (And it’s always too late in the Twilight Zone. ALWAYS.) He really has the delivery down and closes out each episode with that classic TZ ending.

As a writer, I’m always thinking about how to refine a story I’m trying to tell. I don’t always do it well, but I do try. Sometimes you can have an okay idea, but if you don’t take the time to refine the idea, to chip away at the rough edges and really bring what you’re trying to say into focus, it may just stay an okay idea. If you do take the time to sharpen it up—cut unnecessary words, shape up the plot, raise the stakes of the plot, better define the characters—you end up with a better product. The early TZ was a good show, but the new version takes everything that was good about it and just…makes it better.

My main complaint is that we only got two episodes, then waited ten days for the third, and presumably will get one a week in the future. Of course those asshats at CBS can’t just give us the whole season at once like Netflix. They want to force people to keep paying six bucks a month, the greedy bastards. And of course they release this show close to the end of the second season of Discovery, so I won’t be able to cancel my subscription when that’s over. (And yes, I pay every month for Netflix too, but it has TONS of stuff I want to watch, not just two shows.) It’s a diabolical plot to keep collecting my six bucks a month.

***

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, a science fiction book series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans abandoned Earth—and we’re what’s left? She is also the author of the political satire, Fail to the Chief, in which she envisioned the presidential election as a reality show… more of a reality show?

 

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First Contact for Dummies, a Science Fiction Short Story

First Contact for Dummies

A Science Fiction Short Story

 

I was just about to dig into my mouthwatering lentil and quinoa bowl at Happy Herb’s Vegan Restaurant when the aliens walked in.

I stopped, spoon halfway to my mouth, and stared at the newcomers.

I normally try not to stare but, well, they did have tentacles trailing out from under their arms and a third eye smack in the middle of their foreheads.

science fiction short story

The one on the right was wearing a long black coat with no shirt, the blue tentacles curling around the edges of the open garment. He marched over to where I sat, phone in hand to take a picture of my meal, and pointed a three-jointed blue finger at me. “You! You are a vegan?”

Well, I never expected that to be the first question a space alien asked me.

“Um… yes?” Just my luck, the guy was apparently from some planet where everyone angrily demanded to know where vegans get their protein…just like here on Earth.

The second alien, who was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and chinos, leaned over my table and glared at me with all three of his eyes. I guess it was a him. Actually, they were both wearing pants and I had no idea if they were mammals, so the lack of boobs might not mean anything…

“You started a war!” he yelled at me.

Well, that was different. Usually I got accused of killing carrots or eating all the rabbits’ food or some other nonsense. “What are you talking about?”

Johnny Cash reached out and pulled Grateful Dead back with one of his tentacles. “We know what you people did to our planet, and we’re not going to take it.”

“Your planet? Look, we humans have fucked up Earth royally, but to the best of my knowledge we haven’t managed to ruin any other planets… yet.” In retrospect, that was maybe not the best argument.

Johnny Cash gripped the edges of my table with two tentacles. They had suckers that adhered to the plastic-coated surface, pulling the table a few centimeters back toward the aliens. “Look, this isn’t…I believe the expression on your planet is, ‘This isn’t funny.’”

Ah, so they were using some sort of internal translation device. I wondered about that.

This isn’t funny lost something in the translation, though. “I’m not laughing. And I don’t know what you think we vegans did, but I promise you, we didn’t start an interplanetary war or whatever. All we do is eat plants and take pictures of our food and post them on Instagram, I swear.”

Grateful Dead slapped the table with a tentacle. “What if we don’t believe you?”

Shit, what should I do now? “Did you look at our planet when you were… about to land? You might have seen some satellites in orbit and a couple space stations, but did you see anything that looked like it was capable of taking off for another solar system? Google it from that computer chip in your head if you don’t believe me, but we humans have never been farther than our own moon.”

“But you’re not human,” snarled Grateful Dead, while Johnny Cash stared off into space, presumably taking my advice. “You’re vegans.”

I blinked. “Vegans are humans. We’re just humans who eat plants. Like this.” I gestured at my quickly-cooling bowl of quinoa and lentils. If these aliens didn’t leave me alone soon, it was going to be ice cold.

Johnny Cash looked down and locked all three of his green eyes on me. “The net says you’re telling the truth. Your physiology is a 100 percent match for our database’s info on humans.”

“Um… thanks?” It’s not often I get called normal, but I’d let it pass if it got rid of these two.

“But there are vegans here. Your net has many references to them. It says this is a vegan restaurant.” Grateful waved a tentacle around the room. None of the other diners notice.

“But they’re all human, according to our database.” Johnny looked around, confused, then turned back to me. “Why did you say you were a vegan if you’re not?”

Why would he think a bunch of vegans started a space war? Why would he be searching our internet for info about vegans in the first place? Did vegan mean something else on their planet?

Their planet! I smacked my hand to my forehead, forgetting it was holding my phone, and nearly gave myself a black eye. Of course, Vega was a constellation somewhere in space.

“You’re looking for people from Vega?” I asked.

They both blinked all their eyes at me like I was stupid. “Yes. That’s what we’re saying. This is supposed to be a restaurant for vegans.”

I couldn’t help it. I started laughing.

“We are not amused,” said Grateful Dead, and they definitely did not look amused.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But we don’t have any people from Vega here. When you find the word vegan on our internet, it means people who eat vegan food. Like this.” I point at my bowl again. “It has nothing to do with being from Vega, okay? We’ve never even had alien visitors before.”

quinoa

All three of Johnny’s eyes went wide. “Wait, you mean you eat… “

He trailed off and looked at Grateful. I didn’t know if they were communicating via their chips or what, but they didn’t say anything, they just stared at each other for a minute. Then they swiveled their heads back around to face me.

“We’re sorry for the misunderstanding,” said Johnny, slowly backing away. “We won’t bother you or your planet again.”

They both turned and sprinted for the door.

Now, why would they be afraid of a plant eater like me? Most people make jokes like, “Oh, a vegan, guess you don’t know how to hunt, huh?”

Unless he misunderstood me a second time…

I turned my attention back to my food and finally took a bite of my perfectly-flavored quinoa and lentils. I guess the pieces of tofu might have looked a little like meat. But why would anyone eat people from Vega when they could eat quinoa and lentils?

And that’s the story of how I, armed only with a bowl of lentils and quinoa, saved Earth from being attacked by confused and angry aliens.

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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Today in Weird Science News: The Sarcophagus is a Letdown, Your Early Memories May Be Fake, and Ancient Dude Thought Getting Laid Saved Lives

If you’re like me, you were probably excited to hear an ancient sarcophagus had been found in Alexandria, Egypt. I mean, according to all the movies I’ve ever seen on the subject, this should introduce us to an ancient curse or a mummy zombie—hey, there’s a new category of TV shows for you—or maybe something more rational, like a nice plague. Or at least a stash of gold treasure.

Weird Science News: Sarcphogus is a Letdown

Instead, when investigators opened the box, all they found was…old bones. Yeah, exactly what you’d expect in a sarcophagus. And also, raw sewage that somehow leaked inside.  I wonder what kind of warranty they offered on coffins in 332 B.C? Think the company that made it is still around?

Also, some wiseass started a change.org petition asking for permission to drink the mummy sewage juice because… people are fucking nuts, that’s why.

Okay, maybe the end of the world was too much to hope for. But another interesting piece of science news this week caught my attention. Researchers in England say that memories from before the age of 2 are probably fake. In one study, they found that forty percent of participants claimed to have memories from their “preverbal” stage between 9 and 12 months of age. The study’s author says people can’t actual form memories at this age, and are most likely thinking they remember an event based on pictures they’ve seen or stories they were told.

I found this interesting, as I recently had a conversation with someone who didn’t think it was possible for a character in a story to remember something that happened when she was three. I thought that was silly, because I can clearly remember the plots of Sesame Street episodes I watched at that age, what I got for Christmas that year, what I wanted but didn’t get, and what my favorite t-shirt was.

So I did some Googling, and what I found was that most people don’t remember anything before the age of 3, and many memories from that time period often fade by the age of 6 or 7. The average age of a first memory is estimated to be about 3.5.

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Then there’s the really exciting science news of the week: An ancient Grego-Roman dude named Galen, who was presumably whatever passed for a doctor two thousand years ago, had a fascinating theory: According to an old piece of papyrus paper that was recently translated, Galen believed women could die of “hysterical apnea” due to lack of sex. In other words, he thought that if women didn’t get laid they’d just spontaneously stop breathing. I’m going to assume he also thought he was saving a life every time he did the horizontal tango. I can just picture the bumper sticker on his chariot: “Save water, save yourself, shower with me.” Or maybe he wrote on public restroom stall doors, “For hysterical apnea treatment, call 55-GALEN.”

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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How to Develop a Writing Habit

I’ll admit I have never formed a daily writing habit. I’ve made several attempts at Nanowrimo. The first time, I thought I was going to write my first published #scifi book, Stupid Humans, in the month of November. I started in November of 2012, and I finished in November…of 2014. Whatever, they didn’t say what year it had to be.

Writing: It’s Complicated

Admittedly, my 176,000+ word first draft was way longer than the 50,000 words required to complete Nanowrimo. Still, I didn’t work on it daily, even during November of 2012. I did work on it several days in a row, then I burned out and wrote maybe every couple days for the rest of the month.

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After November ended, I got even lazier and less motivated. I wrote a couple chapters every couple months, then forgot about it for a couple more months. In November of 2012, the store I worked in closed, and I decided to take the opportunity to finish my book while I had the time, so I finally did. I should have used Nanowrimo as an opportunity to develop a daily writing habit, but unfortunately, I didn’t.

After that, I spent a couple years writing two more manuscripts, at one point writing a political satire in three months after losing yet another job (this time to a ten-dollar-an-hour-no-benefits intern). After writing and publishing that one under another pen name, I went back to writing #scifi, slowly working my way through another novel, about a guy who invents a pill to make people more trusting. Then I spent a lot of time writing blog posts, doing interviews, and generally avoiding doing very much writing.

I did manage to write about a chapter a week of a parallel universe book last year, and got to about 35,000 words—maybe a halfway point. Then I got the idea that I wanted to make Stupid Humans a series. So I ended up shelving the parallel universe story, which I will come back to at some point, and starting on the second Stupid Humans book for Nanowrimo of last year.

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Developing a Daily Writing Habit

I’ll confess, I cheated. I started writing in October and still didn’t finish in November. I did finish in December, by continuing to write daily. Okay, most days. Nobody’s perfect.

So I finished the second book and started on the third. I considered making writing 1,000 words a day my New Year’s resolution for 2018 (although I usually refuse to make resolutions because I kind of like myself just the way I am). Anyway, I made an exception and decided on an unofficial resolution to try to write 1,000 words a day most days. If I did that, I could write 365,000 words a year! That’s like four books if I don’t go over 100K on any of them and one is only 65K.

Developing a Writing Habit That Works For Me

Okay, that may have been overreaching a bit. A week in, I’d written on maybe two days. I blamed it on editing the second book, and the trust pill book. Or on having to do writing for freelance clients, like press releases and ad copy. (At one point, I saved a client from who knows how many lawsuits by ensuring his brochures didn’t actually say yoga classes could cure diabetes.) But, I did not manage to write 1,000 words a day of my own stuff.

I gave myself a week off to try to finish editing the second book, finally finished, and decided to start over. I did better with that, and have managed to write most days since then. I missed some Saturdays. I didn’t manage a thousand words every day—some were only 500. I decided writing SOMETHING every day was better than writing nothing. I took another week off last week to finish editing the trust pill book, something I expected to be done by now. Unfortunately, when I went back to the beginning and started rereading it, I realized I hated the first fifth of the book and it needed serious surgery, including a couple complete chapterectomies. I’m not sure why I didn’t fix this stuff before—maybe being away from the manuscript for months gave me perspective and allowed me to grow as a writer. Or maybe I got Hemingway’s famous advice about “Write drunk, edit sober,” backwards. At any rate, I took some time to fix that manuscript up, then got back to writing.

It was easier than I thought. I wrote 1,000 words today, and yesterday, and I plan to tomorrow as well. The biggest thing that has helped me keep this up is starting as soon as I get off the treadmill in the morning. I toss around story ideas in my head while I run, and I figure I’m never going to have better blood flow to my brain than during and right after a workout, so that’s what I do. After I get out of the shower, I make a vegan protein shake with Sunwarrior protein powder and peanut butter, take some active B vitamins that are supposed to have a nootropic effect (although that’s probably bullshit, I like to think it makes my brain work better), and sit down to write.

But the most important thing I do for my daily writing habit is I force myself to write something before I do anything else—check my email, go on Facebook, etc. That way I write a thousand words before I get into an argument about whether Star Wars or Star Trek is better (Star Trek all the way!). Sure, I still waste time arguing with people on social media (probably more than I should), but at least I got some writing done first, right?

I also remind myself that it’s okay if I don’t have any good ideas for what to write next. One of the best things you can do as a writer is give yourself permission to write something that’s not perfect. If I don’t have a good idea, I write my best bad idea and hope I think of something better. Usually, I do, and I can go back and delete the crap I wrote before it. I guess I could amend Hemingway’s famous advice by saying write drunk, or at least without inhibition, and edit sober, or at least with a very critical eye.

How did you develop a daily writing habit?

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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Thoughts We’ve All Had During #Nanowrimo

While working on my #Nanowrimo novel, the second in the Stupid Humans series, I have a variety of non-writing thoughts I’d like to share. I’m sure many people writing a book for the first time (or fifth, or tenth, whatever) can relate. In no particular order, here they are:

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  • Why do I do this every year?
  • Why did I give these People tails? I did it in the first book and now I’m stuck with it and what if it wasn’t that great of an idea? (Even if you never gave your characters tails and don’t have a first book in the series, you’ve probably done something you regret earlier in the book, that you’re now stuck with unless you want to rewrite half the book. Which you definitely don’t want to do.)
  • This writing thing is an interesting pastime, but I think I need to find an easier hobby, like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen or baking brownies in the ovens of hell or maybe head-to-toe body piercing.
  • Maybe the tails aren’t half as bad as that last paragraph I just wrote, which I can’t delete because then my word count goes down.
  • Good thing someone invented that delete key. Who did that? They deserve a Nobel prize.
  • Now would be the PERFECT time to try to edit or rewrite or do something to that short story that’s been rejected twice. Fixing that seems a hell of a lot easier than writing the rest of this novel.
  • Fuck this, I should work on that dystopian novel series idea I’ve been kicking around my head instead.
  • I’ve been writing for half an hour, how am I not at 50,000 words yet?

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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How Do Nerds Really Spend Friday Night?

Nerds-are-Cool

What Do Nerds Do On Friday Night?

Me, watching #StrangerThings2:
“Bob, you idiot, you know BASIC coding but you don’t know not to walk off and leave the gun behind when you’re being chased by a hungry demagorgon from the Upside Down?
“Run, Bob, run!
“Don’t just stand there and stare at each other, there’s a fucking demagorgon after you, RUN!
“Someone shoot the fucker already!
“Is that the best shotgun they made in 1985? That sucks. Where are the guns from The Matrix? Whoops, wrong era.
“OMFG phones that were attached to walls and you couldn’t put them on SILENT and no caller ID, how did people live like that?
“Why is it that Max’s absentee parents are the only ones to notice their kid’s been gone for three days or something?
“Is the old, gray-haired doctor the dude from Seinfeld or the guy from Mad About You, because I know he was on one of those shows before he went gray.”
How Nerds Spend Saturday Night Watching Stranger Things V. R. Craft @vrcraftauthor #scifi
How Nerds Spend Saturday Night Watching Stranger Things
Then CBS All Access emailed me that my last payment didn’t go through, probably because Citibank sent me a new card with a totally different number for no apparent reason (I didn’t lose my old one, it wasn’t compromised). Unfortunately that was the credit card I used for Amazon, Paypal, and everything else online, so it’s been a real pain in the ass going in and adding the new card number to everything. Thought I got them all, then CBS sends me this message:
We are having trouble processing your credit card. We don’t want you to miss out on your favorite CBS shows and live TV, so please update your payment information as soon as possible to avoid any interruptions.
So I Google, “When does Star Trek: Discovery return?”
January 7.
Okay, I think I’ll remember to add my new card number in January so I don’t have to pay for December for no reason. HAHAHA, screw you, CBS. Guess the new card thing worked out okay after all.
#StrangerThings2 #HowNerdsSpendSaturdayNight #ArmchairMonsterHunter

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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Random Thoughts I Have While Watching Stranger Things Season 2

Imagine a time when you could scrape together a few coins and buy something, or spend two hours in an arcade.

So I’m only on the first episode of Stranger Things Season 2 right now….

  • Imagine a time when you could scrape together a few coins and buy something, or spend two hours in an arcade.
  • The scene in the drug store has me questioning my own reality.

    Bob walks in and asks if they have any trick-or-treat pumpkins in colors besides orange. This is a ruse to get Joyce in the back room so they can make out. It initially also struck me as funny because trick-or-treat pumpkins were all only orange until at least the late nineties/early 2000’s, judging by my own memory of being a kid in the nineties. But as Bob leaves the store room, he points at a green trick-or-treat pumpkin and says, “There’s a green one.” So, are they in some alternate universe 1984 where some trick-or-treat pumpkins are green? Or am I remembering a childhood in an alternate universe where trick-or-treat pumpkin design progressed more slowly (and possibly also coinciding with the Berenstain vs. Berenstein Bears alternate universe, or maybe it’s the other way around)?
  • That drug store scene in Stranger Things season 2 also had me marveling that back in the eighties, a single person could apparently work one minimum wage cashier job, support two kids, have money for cigarettes and a VCR, and not have to get a second, third, or fourth job like many people only trying to support themselves do today.
  • Mad Max is awesome.
  • When is Nancy going to dump that douchebag Steve?
  • Arcades! They were cool but so is a PS4 and not having to put on pants and leave your house to play video games.
  • When is Stranger Things season 3 coming out?

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”

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