Read more at Goodreads
Read more at Goodreads
Guided by aliens, a man builds a desert time machine. Can the Integratron work? Will he finish it before the government finishes him?
Calling All Earthlings (2018) is a sincere documentary focusing on the life and influence of aeronautical engineer George W. Van Tassel as well as the people who have attempted to pick up where he left off in realizing the dream that is The Integratron–a domed building in the California desert designed, according to Van Tassel, by extraterrestrial influence during a chance encounter one night. It is a tale of coincidences and intrigue that begins at a sacred Morongo site and ends with a suspicious heart attack in a Pasadena motel room.
New age religionists claim that the Integratron building is a device designed to “reprogram” human DNA, giving the opportunity for prolonged life while the site’s caretakers claim that it’s a time machine that runs off the natural bioelectric field of the human body. Van Tassel’s own family claims that it is a source of free electricity based on Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe prototype. The US government–particularly the FBI–in the 1950s frequently investigated Van Tassel’s activities in the Mojave desert and black helicopters from the nearby Twenty-Nine Palms USMC base add to the intrigue.
Did the government murder George Van Tassel for his work in free energy? Are there spirits roaming the Big Rock site, waiting for contact with the corporeal world? Will the Integratron work as intended? Like all good conspiracy theory stories, the answers are left open-ended, but the journey is a fun one for anyone who enjoys entertaining the idea of “alternative science” (even as a skeptic). The subject matter is treated with the respect that human beings deserve, and makes no judgement into their enlightenment or their quackery–much like Art Bell, et al. have done with Coast To Coast A.M. Interviews with locals, academics, and Integratron “stewards” dive into the feelings and emotions that one experiences in the area and pose questions about the madness that solitude in the desert can bring about.
Did George Van Tassel really have a close encounter with an extraterrestrial being? We may never know the real answer, but in Calling All Earthlings, the idea seems to be less answering the facts and more about exploring, documenting, and even celebrating the interesting characters who continue Van Tassel’s legacy.
Project: TIROS is in full swing, so I thought I might post a little primer on the namesake. Enjoy this bit of vintage film reel and be sure to follow the progress here and at element14!
It’s been quite a while since we’ve had the typical James Bond novel of deep cover and intrigue. The last attempt was Goldfinger and Bond was so incompetent with the execution that I scarcely dare consider it. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond–sick and tired of “desk work” chasing down leads on Ernst Stavro Blofeld (his assignment since Operation Thunderball), mostly ending up as wild geese–seriously considers resigning from the Double-Oh Section and going into some other line. He even goes so far as to dictate his resignation letter to his secretary, Mary Goodnight, when he gets an urgent call from M informing him of a new lead on Blofeld at the Royal College of Arms.
Bond goes under deep cover as a representative of the Royal College of Arms to help determine if this Blofeld fellow (who wants to claim a dukeship in France), proprietor of a health clinic and ski resort on top of a Swiss alp, is the same character who mastermined the Thunderball affair. What he finds is no real surprise, but the cat-and-mouse game of subterfuge is Fleming’s knack for nail-biting suspense at it’s peak (or should I say, “piz”?)!
Fleming gives Bond one of his best and most “James Bond-like” outings of the series in this taut thriller that puts Bond completely in the lion’s den with no gadgets, no backup, and possibly no escape. Bond is literally in character, locked in a fortress, and under near-constant surveillance from his quarry. The devil is in the details, though, as our wily secret agent has to improvise his way around the compound, find the information he needs, and escape with his life–or die trying.
Desperate mountainside chases on skis and bobsleds highlight the intense action worthy of any great action film (brilliantly portrayed by George Lazenby in 1969 in the most faithful adaptation of the franchise) while sweaty, page-turning suspense inside the Piz Gloria culminate in what might be the best book of the series. James Bond is human, and there’s a definite sense of the stakes involved in this caper. We’re not entirely certain that he’s going to make it, but even a hero needs the help of a hero every once in a while….
It’s quite interesting to read a James Bond story from the perspective of the Bond Girl, and Ian Fleming takes the opportunity to get in touch with his feminine side, penning a personal account of a chance encounter with the famous secret agent during one woman’s moment of life-threatening peril. Vivien Michel is a young Canadian woman on personal exile after a particularly heartbreaking string of affairs with European men during her early 20s in London (UK, not Ontario). Instead of giving up on life, she takes what savings she has, buys a Vespa, and decides to motor her way from her family’s home near Montreal into New York to Miami.
We meet Viv as she is preparing to close the motel where she’s been staying for the last few weeks, somewhere in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. A series of wistful anecdotes illustrates her whirlwind romances with “lesser” men before she is rudely interrupted–in true Fleming fashion–by two particularly unsavory gangsters, complete with grotesque mannerisms and features befitting any Bond villain. Two two men terrorize Viv while never completely stating their true purpose, leading to several desperate attempts to fight or flee–ultimately being captured or subdued each time.
We’re not introduced to James Bond until nearly 3/4 of the text is passed. He appears out of nowhere, a knight mounted in a hired Ford Thunderbird, after a conveniently punctured tire leaves him stranded on the road to Washington. Naturally, Bond steps in and does what Bond does in true Fleming style. Rescue, revenge, and relish all in the span of one night.
The Spy Who Loved Me is an interesting experiment in storytelling, a departure from the Bond narrative that we’re used to. We don’t really get the introspective Bond that plots and plans every detail of the attack–instead, we get to watch Bond from the perspective of the damsel in distress. We get to see how Fleming believes the “woman’s psyche” works as she falls in love with this dangerous man. Sure, its attitude is dated and–like all Bond novels–may not fit a modern “liberated” sensibility, but the storytelling is robust (even `the small stories are worth reading), and the action (once it happens) is taut and dramatic. Much like For Your Eyes Only before it, The Spy Who Loved Me is a vignette, a small window–a “side quest”, if you will excuse the metaphor–of a much larger Bond story that was never told. Like the Mexican drug caper tossed aside at the beginning of Goldfinger, it’s an unimportant setup precluding the daring adventure that we’re reading.
The Spy Who Loved Me shows Fleming as a master storyteller capable of crafting compelling, emotionally interesting characters in a small setting and giving us a glimpse into the “real life” outside of Bond’s globetrotting adventures, posh hotels, and gentlemen’s clubs.
James Bond is BACK!
After a disappointing outing in Goldfinger and an appetizer of juicy vignettes from For Your Eyes Only, Fleming has brought Bond back to all his former, pulpy glory in a new adventure in an exotic locale with a brand new enemy–SPECTRE–in the ever-thrilling Thunderball!
The first few chapters seem to play with the audience’s criticisms about Bond: M thinks he’s tired, possibly washed-up, and sends him on a mandatory holiday at a health spa in the country learning to fast, eat vegetables, cease smoking and drink, and other “un-manly” things that were the new health craze at the time. The retreat really serves as a reboot in the series. Bond casually investigates a fellow inmate, the inmate tries to kill Bond in retaliation, and Bond responds in kind. Very typical “tough guy” Bond that we all know and love. All the while, Bond begins to soften somewhat and take on a more healthful visage; he returns from the retreat energetic and healthy, much to the delight of M but receiving the uncharacteristic reprimand from his faithful housekeeper who knows more about his life than Bond might’ve suspected.
After the delightful opening act, physically rejuvenating Bond and reminding the reader what made them love the character in the first place, we are introduced to our new villainous organization, SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for CounterTerrorism, Revenge, and Extortion)–led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld–to take the place of (the now, apparently, defunct) SMERSH in a more “realistic” capacity and, ostensibly, to allow Fleming more freedom to write around the confines of the Cold War rather than from within. It’s a bold move, and one that–as we look back historically–has worked out well for the franchise staying relevant.
The novel is paced well, much like the early films, and reads like one of Connery’s outings. Bond is back to being his introspective tough guy, and Felix Leiter returns in a starring role (hook, peg leg, and all). The stakes are the highest that they’ve ever been in a Bond novel, and the action stays intense throughout!
As in years past, we are offering you a Special Bonus Question in which you get to predict what you think will happen in the coming year–not just to you, but to the world around you. For this year’s version of the Special Bonus Question, we have teamed up with Larry Smith’s Six-Word Memoirs, which recently published Six Words Fresh Off The Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity & Coming To America. For this bonus question, be as local or as global as you like, so long as you answer in exactly six words.
So much change. So much disruption.
When September 2019 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you’ll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you’re at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?
It’s really amazing to look back, specifically at last year’s questions and see exactly how things have come since then! In almost all instances, each answer of “I want to do X. I plan to do X.” has come about thanks to sheer determination on my part (and maybe a few lucky breaks). I hope to look back in a year and see where I was right when I took another major leap in my life–pushing headlong into uncharted waters of entrepreneurship! I hope to, at that point, look back to now and see that I was headed this way just as I look back to last year and see how I was putting everything into place to get here!
I’m really hoping to continue to grow from now until then (and beyond)! This is only the beginning!
What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?
One thing that I fear is becoming irrelevant to the next generation. I don’t have kids of my own, and I don’t really plan to, so I have to be content with being “Uncle Matt” to my sisters’ kids. Which, for the most part, I am. My nephews and my niece light up my world–even though I see them only maybe once a year. There’s a lot that I feel that I can teach them, lots of those odd little life lessons and so forth that they might not get from their parents. My uncle Homer was like that for me. Homer’s a kooky old codger–somewhere between Jimmy Buffet and the Dalai Lama–that I really only saw at family reunions, but he took a shine to us kids. I remember him telling old tall tales of his adventures when he was younger–bootlegging, private investigating, and a whole slew of jobs that a young boy really only encounters in adventure books and films! On top of that, he was the man who introduced me to some of the greatest (underrated at the time) minds in science: Tesla, Bucky Fuller, and Philo Farnsworth to name but a few!
I want to be The Most Interesting Man In The World to these kids. I want to be the lighthouse when they inevitably have issues that they don’t feel comfortable bringing to their parents. I want to be the man who does everything and anything and spins yarns about his adventures to these kids. I suppose that, at least for now, I just gotta do it!
Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2019?
As always, I strive to learn as much as I can about as much as I can. Picking up work from element14 Presents has been challenging in that I don’t know as much about all the different boards and programming languages as I feel like I should. I continually remind people that I’m not Ben Heck, but I also realize myself that I’m not Ben Heck in that I don’t have the decade(s) of experience that he has working with microelectronics. I have a passion for these things, and I have enough knowledge and experience to–for example–take apart a VCR and put it back together again or to rewire old gaming equipment, but I don’t have a background in design, I don’t have a robust relationship with Ki-CAD or Blender, and I don’t have a Felix or a Karen to fall back on when I need to bounce ideas around.
I started a crash course in Blender this week, and I should be somewhat up to speed very soon. At least versed enough to build the simple designs that I need for an upcoming project. The next goal will be Ki-CAD, and from there I’ll just start adding to my skills repertoire until I’m at least as functional as The Heckendorn!