Moment of Wonder: Juno sends its first snaps

pia20707_figaDid I mention NASA’s Juno mission yesterday? Well, it looks like mind-blowing images are already starting to arrive from Jupiter.

The camera aboard the Juno spacecraft has sent its first images after its July 4 arrival, NASA announced yesterday. The visible-light camera switched on six days after the craft fired its main engine and propelled itself into orbit around the gas giant.

Pretty impressive, I’d say. Especially considering high-resolution images of Jupiter are still a few weeks away, according to NASA. Those start arriving August 27.

The shot above was taken June 10, when Juno was still 2.7 million miles from Jupiter on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day orbit. It shows the Jovian planet’s atmospheric features, including its eye-like Great Red Spot. You can see three of the planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa and Ganymede, from left to right.

During its mission, Juno will circle Jupiter 37 times, doing flybys of the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,600 miles. Sounds there’s plenty of wonder yet to come.

Moment of Wonder: Ceres’ permanent shadows

I missed my opportunity to get excited about NASA’s Juno mission, which entered Jupiter’s orbit when I was spending time away from the blog. (I needed to finish up edits on a novel.)

Hopefully this bit of cosmic craziness makes up for my truancy.

Here’s the deal: It appears one of NASA’s other missions, Dawn, has helped scientists identify permanently shadowed regions on the dwarf planet Ceres. Most of these spots have probably been cold enough to trap water ice for a billion years, meaning it’s possible ice deposits exist there now.

Ceres is the largest object in the astroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s also been of particular interest to scientists because a remnant internal ocean of liquid water might be contained under its icy mantle.

“The conditions on Ceres are right for accumulating deposits of water ice,” said Norbert Schorghofer, a Dawn guest investigator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold — colder than most that exist on the moon or Mercury.”

The permanently shadowed regions lie along the northern hemisphere of Ceres. NASA used images taken by the Dawn mission combined with computer modeling of illumination to run its calculations and to develop the cool video above.

If you really want to drill down into the subject (pardon the pun), the findings are available online.

Forgotten Films: Wild in the Streets (1968)

1968's cult classic "Wild in the Streets" deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

1968’s cult classic “Wild in the Streets” deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 168th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films.

Since it is an election year, I thought it might be wise to review a politically charged film from that hotly contested year of 1968. I was not yet old enough to vote when this came out, but I was interested in the political process and watched both parties at their national conventions and the attendant folderol that went with it. I was (then and now) very anti-war and saw it as a major part of the campaigns.

Somewhere that year, the theaters on Ft. Sam Houston (where I was living) managed to show Wild in the Streets, and I somehow got to see it, even with an R rating. Perhaps the clerk thought I was one of the soldiers since I had a burr haircut at the time. Anyway, I saw it and thought it was a hoot.

Flash forward 48 years and I see that TCM was going to broadcast it one night while I was not at home. Mr. DVR came through for me, and I captured the film again. I watched it the other day with my wife and found it interesting, naïve, stupid — and totally relevant to the current political scene.

Max Flatow Jr. (Christopher Jones) is raised in a home with a shrill, dominating mother (Shelly Winters). It does not take much for him to rebel, beginning with manufacturing drugs and explosives in the family basement. He blows up his father’s new car and leaves home. Four years later, he is 22 and a multi-millionaire rock star under the name Max Frost with his band the Troopers – which also includes 15-year-old attorney Billy (Kevin Coughlin) on guitar, former child star Sally LeRoy (Diane Varsi) on keyboards, Abraham “the Hook” Salteen (Larry Bishop) on bass and trumpet and anthropologist Stanley X (Richard Pryor) on drums. They are young, rich and bored. They’re also asked to perform at a political rally for Congressman Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), a young candidate urging for voting rights for 18 year olds, which was a hot topic at the time and one I supported. Max does a live gig for the rally but pushes his own agenda, which is for the vote to be extended to 14 year olds.

The reaction is overwhelming, and Fergus finds himself a reluctant ally to the charismatic rocker. Established political advisors are appalled and want Fergus to drop Frost like a hot potato. Among those is Senator Allbright (Ed Begley). With youth demonstrations for the 14 voting age expanding across the country, Frost and Fergus compromise on 15 and Ready. They select that age so Billy can actually vote. Fergus is elected in a landslide.

Just as the election happens, a local congressman, aged 84, dies. To be elected to Congress you must be 25. Coincidentally, Sally Leroy has just turned 25 and finds herself appointed to Congress. Her first act is to introduce a constitutional amendment reducing the age for someone elected to Congress or the presidency to 14. A water supply spiked with LSD reduces the joint session of Congress to hysterical mania and the amendment is approved. (No one bothered getting the states to ratify it, but that’s just a detail.)

Soon, Max Frost is president and legislation is passed making people go into mandatory retirement at age 35, at which time they’ll be sent to camps where they’ll be fed, clothed, and provided LSD on a regular basis.

It progresses from there, but the tale of a charismatic outsider who rouses his troops and maneuvers into the political arena sort of resonated with me. I’m not going to get into a political discussion. I know who I am voting for and I hope you know your own mind also. The upcoming vote will be divisive I am afraid, but I hope some form of sanity manifests itself during the process.

I had fun with the Wild in the Streets. Christopher Jones had a short run in Hollywood, bowing out after the death of Sharon Tate (with whom he had an affair) left him devastated. IMDB only gives 10 acting credits for him and only one after 1970 (Mad Dog Time in 1996). He died in 2014.

It’s not a good film (too absurd and too many plot holes), but it is a better film than American International normally made. Give it a shot. Songs by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill include “Shape of Things to Come,” which made it to #22. It was #1 in San Antonio as I recall from that time. It is heard three times in the film.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama (1988)

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama promises B-movie sex and violence — and it delivers.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 167th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films.

It has been a while since I did a really bad B film. (Fans might remember the enthusiastic review of Zombeavers last August.) The other day, I was reviewing a DVD catalog and this film was available for about $7 and I knew I should see it. When it comes to horror movies, I’ve got a soft spot for so-called Scream Queens, and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama promised plenty. I’ve only ever met one Scream Queen — Jewel Shepard, when she was signing her book If I’m So Famous, How Come Nobody’s Ever Heard of Me? She was a very fun signer and I really enjoyed talking with her. Her book was a hoot and a half, too.

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama has, hands down, one of the great sleazy names for a B horror film (not that Zombeavers was any sort of slouch). It really tells you what your audience is going to be. You got college girls, horror, bowling and slimeballs. Well, in truth, you only sort of have slimeballs.

College roommates Keith, Jimmy and Calvin (John Stuart Wildman, Hal Havins and Andras Jones, respectively) are bored one night. Calvin’s playing a video game, Jimmy’s drinking beers and Keith wants one of the beers. Jimmy is not the giving sort, but Keith offers up that he knows where Delta Delta Delta sorority is doing their pledge initiation that night. The sorority, known as Felta Delta, promises to have some salacious happenings. So the boys go over to see what they might.

Pledges Taffy and Lisa (Scream Queens Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauers, respectively) are on the wrong end of a sorority paddle and an aerosol whip cream attack from initiation masters and all-around bitches Frankie, Rhonda, and Babs (Carla Baron, Kathi O’Brecht and Robin Rochelle). Babs has some sadistic ideas for finishing up the initiation, when the boys are discovered inside the Delta house watching Lisa and Taffy shower. Soon, all six are sent off to the mall bowling alley to secure a bowling trophy. Babs’ dad owns the mall and they plan on doing some mean stuff to the group.

Inside the bowling alley, Calvin runs across punk thief Spider (huge Scream Queen Linnea Quigley) ripping off the gaming machines and register. He tries to pick her up, but she’s not having any of it. Eventually, though, she helps the group get into the area with the trophies. They steal a large one that’s 30 years old.

Unfortunately, they accidentally drop the old trophy, and out of it comes an ancient imp (voiced by Dukey Flyswatter). The imp is grateful for his release and offers each of the folks a wish. Jimmy orders lots of gold, but Calvin cautions that things might not be as good as they seem.

Keith wants to have sex with Lisa and Impy makes her amenable to the idea. Suddenly, Babs, Rhonda and Frankie interrupt things and we find out that Calvin was absolutely correct in not trusting the imp. Of the 10 main characters (the nine listed plus a janitor for comedic relief), eight are going to die. I hope I’m not spoiling it for anyone, but this one is nearly 30 years old and has been shown a lot. Just because I never saw does not imply that you did not.

We have knifings, smashed heads by bowling ball, flame thrower, deep fryer, decapitation, zombie-ism, Bride of Frankenstein-itis (for Frankie, of course), being pulled apart and more. The mayhem is handled very effectively. The budget was low but you can tell the movie makers put it all onto the screen.

All in all, this one delivers exactly what it promises: a B movie with sex and violence and some humor. If, like me, you enjoy that sort of thing, this movie is definitely for you. Be warned, though, this is not Akira Kurasawa or Citizen Kane, and if that’s what you want, well, to each their own. As I always say, your mileage may vary. I was glad to finally see this one. Maybe you will be too. If not, there’s always next week.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Cocktail Hour: The Next in Line (Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s story of the same name)

The Next in Line cocktail takes its name from Ray Bradbury's tale of the mummies of Guanajuato.

Ray Bradbury wrote some truly terrifying fiction over the years, and for my money, “The Next in Line” is among his creepiest.

The story was the result of his 1945 visit to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he saw the city’s famed mummies. Relatives of the dead were required to pay an annual grave tax to keep their dearly departed underground in Guanajuato. Fail to pay up, and your loved one’s corpse would be dug up to make room for new arrivals in the crowded cemeteries. When they began to exhume bodies, however, the authorities discovered that many of them had naturally mummified in the arid soil.

Guanajuato, of course, saw another revenue opportunity. It stood the mummies in a line and lets tourists gawk — provided they pony up a few pesos.

“The Next in Line’s” middle-aged American couple, Joseph and Marie, are on vacation in Mexico. Joseph is eager to check out the famed mummies, but Marie wants nothing of them. They couple has already witnessed a funeral procession for an infant and the morbid scene has left her feeling rather uneasy.

That unease builds into terror, and because this is a horror story, Joseph naturally drags her into a face-to-face viewing of the mummies. When she does, Bradbury invokes powerful descriptive language to give us the creeps as well.

They looked as if they had leaped, snapped upright in their graves, clutched hands over their shriveled bosoms and screamed, jaws wide, tongues out, nostrils flared.

And been frozen that way.

All of them had open mouths.  Theirs was a perpetual screaming.  They were dead and they knew it.  In every raw fiber and evaporated organ they knew it.

She stood listening to them scream.

The "Next in Line" is available in Bradbury's October Country collection.

While plenty of horror writers can describe dead bodies, Bradbury’s story sticks with the reader because he so effectively taps into Marie’s mounting dread. Every tiny sign of illness, every symbol of death, becomes an awful and foreboding drumbeat in her own funeral procession.

We also realize that Joseph is a sadist who mocks her morbid fixation, at one point buying a Day of the Dead candy skull and eating it in front of her. Naturally, he makes sure she notices that the skull is decorated with her own name.

If you’ve read “The Next in Line,” you know exactly why Marie has reason to be terrified. If you haven’t, I won’t give it away. Either way, why not pick up Bradbury’s October Country collection and give it a read with its namesake cocktail in hand?

Tequila seems to be the obvious liquor for a story taking place in Mexico, and in homage to the American couple, I borrowed the other ingredients from a whiskey cocktail called the Brown Derby, the namesake drink of the famed restaurant in Bradbury’s L.A. hometown.

It’s just the kind of easy-sipping cocktail that would go down easy in the Guanajuato sun. And like nasty Joseph, it’s got a bite that sneaks up on you.

THE NEXT IN LINE

2 oz. anejo tequila
1 oz. freshly squeezed graprefruit juice
1/2 oz. honey
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Twist of lemon rind for garnish

Place all the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Pour into a couple glass and garnish with the twist.


 

Forgotten Book: Iroshi by Cary Osborne (1995)

Cary Osborne's Iroshi transports the ronin story to space.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 185th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week’s selection is certainly a Forgotten Book. I have had a copy for about 20 years, except for a brief period after I sold my library, after which I acquired another copy. Cary Osborne has been a friend for more than 20 years and she is one of the nicest people I know. That said, I am ashamed to say I did not actually sit down and read Iroshi until last week. I had it and it was around, but I didn’t get the compulsion to read it versus some other books.

So, confessions aside, I read Iroshi the other day and really enjoyed it. It is not a perfect novel. It is a first novel, and it has some of the regular problems associated with those books. But, it was enjoyable.

Laicy Campbell is a young woman on Siebeling, one of the many inhabited mining planets around the galaxy. Her father took off one day and left Laicy’s mom and family flat. They took in wash and did other chores to get by. At 12, Laicy started in on martial arts. Her instructor, Robert Crowell, taught her for five years in the various fighting styles. Where she excelled was in kendo, working with swords. After the five years, Crowell sent her to Earth to train with his old master, Mushimo. The training was long and arduous and involved reading and understanding the zen of what she was doing, in addition to the forms. One of the things she was trying to master with Mr. Mushimo was achieving the void.

While at Mushimo’s there is an attack of ninja warriors. Ninjas were supposedly long gone from Earth. Laicy and Mushimo defeat them with the aid of another helper/student Akiro. Mushimo sends Laicy into a room filled with swords and tells her to pick one. She hears the voices of the swords, and one in particular calls to her, drowning out the others. It is Mushimo’s ancestral sword going back many generations. He gives it to her, saying he has no heirs to pass the tradition on. Soon he dismisses her and gives her a credit disk with more money than she can imagine. She decides to wander, using the name Iroshi. She hears that Mushimo has died and left his entire estate to Crowell, her former teacher.

She soon acquires a reputation as a badass who picks fight and rarely loses. She finds herself on the planet Rune, another arid mining world. She senses a call to the desert and finds an abandoned town with a hidden water source and other secrets. Those secrets include the bodiless souls of the former inhabitants who are able to guide her. Chief among these spirits is one called Ensi who is particularly bonded to her. Her old master Mushimo is also among these spirits. Together they want Iroshi to establish the Glaive, a kind of warrior guild that she will administer, and to see that others are trained in the proper ways of the masters. She is again attacked by nameless assassins who fail to stop her.

This ends Section 1 of the book. Section 2 takes place eight years later. The glaive is becoming a political force throughout the galaxy and Iroshi, as its leader, has become a powerful person. Her facility on Rune is attracting attention, which includes that of Mushimo’s two sons, whom he disowned earlier. They want to stop her and seize the property that their father has given to Iroshi and Crowell.

The fight for Earth and control of the fortune takes the second half of the book. I didn’t find it as compelling as the first half, but I did not dislike it either. The break seemed a little forced to me, but I wasn’t the one writing it.

Overall, the melding of a female Ronin warrior and a space traveling society and zen religion was a little odd, but I thought it worked. There are currently three books in the Iroshi cycle – Iroshi (1995), The Glaive (1996) and Persea (1996). They are all back in print right now as ebooks. Cary Osborne’s website indicates that she is working on a fourth Iroshi book to be titled Beyond the Void.

After reading Iroshi, I know I will pick up the other volumes in the series, although I will possibly wait until the fourth one appears, so I can get the sense of closure that reading an incomplete series does not give you. Hopefully, it will not be 20 years before that happens.

If this sounds like your cup of sake, give Iroshi and the other titles a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed. But, fair warning, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: Tarzan and the Trappers (1958)

Who can resist the promise of "wild jungle action?"

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 163rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome back, my friends. It seems like forever since I got to tell you about films and shows you did not want to remember.

I have been incredibly busy. Since the last posting, I accepted a new job, visited Alpine, Texas, where the job is located, placed an offer on a house, gave my own house some serious cleaning so it could be shown to potential buyers, loaded up 250+ boxes of books, movies and the like and got them into the garage (with some much needed and appreciated help from close friends), had the rear window of my one year old car destroyed by hail because said boxes were in the garage, drove to Austin with a taped up window during a rain storm to prevent having to wait a month for replacement, attended a work conference in Corpus Christi and moved into a dorm apartment in Alpine while waiting for the house to sell so we can buy the other house.

Get your programs right here! You can’t tell the score without a program!

As a result of all the scrambling, watching films and reading books have not been high on my priority list! But now things are settling down. Still need to sell the house and buy the new one and move stuff out here, but all that is doable. Consequently I have told Sanford that I should be back on a more reliable schedule of providing these little columns. We shall see.

This week I decided to watch an old Tarzan movie starring Gordon Scott. I had never seen many of his outings as the jungle lord, but I thought he looked the part and acted semi-literate as opposed to the Johnny Weissmuller monosyllabic Tarzan, whom I watched and enjoyed as a kid.

This “film” was made in 1958 and released in Iran (if we can believe IMDB) but was not shown in the U.S. until 1966. I put the quotes around film because this is a conglomeration of three television pilots later re-edited into a very episodic release. The pilots were presented to the three networks at that time and no one chose to bite, so producer Sol Lesser tried to recoup some of the money.

The plot is pretty standard TV fare – white hunters invading tribal lands and killing or capturing animals for zoos and trophies. Tarzan stop bad men. Then, the brother of the bad man wants to hunt down Tarzan with the help of an evil guide looking for the treasures of a lost civilization. City found; no treasure. Bad guys stopped.

As a holdover from the Weissmuller days, we have a lovely Jane (Eve Brent), who does little, and a son, Boy (Rickie Sorensen), who provides some young interest and is always available as a potential captive/hostage. Cheetah the chimp (billed as Chetah) is possibly the best actor in the group, particularly in the final half of the film. Scatman Crothers makes an appearance under the name Sherman Crothers as Tyana, one of the tribal chiefs.

I watched this because I recently saw the preview for the new Tarzan film due this year. (Previews for that look good, so I will be watching.) And also because I have a signed Gordon Scott photo of him as Tarzan. (Thank you Barry and Terry for that wonderful gift so many years ago!) While Scott, who made six Tarzan movies between 1955 and 1960, is better than some of the many actors who played the role, he’s not particularly memorable in this outing.

So, be warned this isn’t a spectacular Tarzan film. Watch at your own risk. As always, your mileage may vary depending on your nerdiness. Ungawah!

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Moment of Wonder: The Shock Breakout of a Supernova

NASA has shared some amazing footage of Mars, Pluto and the moons of Saturn. But this may be its recent money shot.

The space agency’s planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope has for the first time captured the flash of an exploding star’s shockwave using optical wavelength, or visible light. Astronomers call this brilliant flash a “shock breakout.” They only last about 20 minutes and are essentially the opening salvo of a dying star going supernova.

A team led by Peter Garnavich, an astrophysics professor at the University of Notre Dame, analyzed light captured by Kepler every 30 minutes over a three-year period from 500 distant galaxies to obtain the the photometric observations used to create this video animation.

“In order to see something that happens on timescales of minutes, like a shock breakout, you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky,” Garnavich says. “You don’t know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler’s vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began.”

Sit back and enjoy the light show.

Moment of Wonder: The Rings and Moons of Saturn

Saturn's rings and three of its moons.

When I was a kid, the mystery of Saturn’s vast rings had me in their sway. I did a number of school projects on our solar system’s second-largest planet and even attempted to draw a comic book chronicling the adventures of its alien inhabitants.

The recent photos coming back from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have helped rekindle that fascination (although I’ve long since given up any aspirations of being a comic artist). Yep, those vast rings still hold plenty of mystery.

Take, for example, this photo Cassini snapped of three of Saturn’s moons — Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas — straddling the rings.

In this configuration, Tethys (660 miles across) appears above the rings, while Enceladus (313 miles across) is just below at the center and Mimas (246 miles across) is located to its left.

For those keeping track of such things, the craft acquired the shot at a distance of 837,000 miles from Enceladus. Tethys was 1.2 million miles away and Mimas was approximately 1.1 million miles away.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

 

Moment of Wonder: Scott Kelly, astronaut and photographer

Unless you’ve been lost in orbit, you’ve probably heard about Scott Kelly, the NASA astronaut who returned to Earth yesterday after an astounding 340 days in space. His trip, the longest completed by a U.S. astronaut, is expected to yield important data on the effects of long-term life in space on the human body.

During Kelly’s 5,000 trips around the planet on the International Space Station, he had time to document his journey on social media using #YearInSpace. The stunning photographs he posted afford those of us stuck on Earth an opportunity to dream big.

Here are a few of my favorites: