What the Stars Read

Do you ever wonder what the movie and TV stars read?

After too long a break, I traveled once again to a multi-media convention in the Baltimore area as both a panelist and guest, giving me unique opportunities to learn about books, movies, television, actors, and other forms of popular media.

Among the topics discussed were the interactions of cyberpunk (tech-heavy stories) and the modern world, stories that cross genres and copyright laws (Is there anyone Scooby Doo didn’t meet? Why is there a Terminator in Wayne’s World?), trends in speculative fiction (Lunarpunk, anyone?), and more. And those were only the ones I was able to attend.

The best part of such gatherings is meeting the guests of honor. Guests can change at any time due to filming schedules or illness (Robert Duncan McNeill was replaced at the last second by John Billingsley, a phenomenally entertaining actor in person, due to McNeill testing positive for Covid), but there are always a number of interesting people making appearances. This year, among many outstanding actors, the guests included Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck, The Last Ship) and Summer Glau (Firefly, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sequestered, Arrow), and I was able to speak with both of them.

Summer Glau has put acting on the back burner for the moment as she home-schools her children. She herself was home schooled due to an overriding love of ballet, and thus was able to pursue dance more in depth with the flexibility of home schooling, though she admits there are gaps in her learning. I asked her who her favorite authors were, and what she likes to read. Glau is a fan of Steinbeck, especially East of Eden, as well as the classic Russian novelists like Tolstoy, and of course Jane Austen. She prefers her children have a more classical education, and that includes classical literature. She’s been reading books on farming, with daydreams of someday having a small farm (she is originally from Texas).

Adam Baldwin was a delight (No, he is no relation to Alec Baldwin and brothers). At 23, he appeared in the classic Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, which is one of my favorites, and we discussed different war films we had each seen. He told me to watch The War Machine with Brad Pitt, I told him to watch 9th Company, an excellent Russian film about their 1980 invasion of Afghanistan. We talked about the WWI epic 1917. Baldwin admits he never made it to college, going into acting by the age of 18. His favorite authors? He likes reading Michael Crichton‘s best sellers such as Congo and Sphere, as well as Tom Clancy, and classic Stephen King, such as The Shining. By his own tale, he informed Stanley Kubrick that his film adaption of the The Shining was not as good as the book, which didn’t put him into Kubrick’s favor (Stephen King has been rather vocal on how much he himself disliked the film, despite it being ranked among the greatest horror films of all time).

In public, actors are always answering questions about their work, things they’ve done or would like to do, or nitpicky trivial questions about a single line of dialogue from decades ago that they can’t remember. Finding out what they like to read is a question they haven’t heard a thousand times, and brings out different aspects of the person behind the tabloid reports. Actors are more than just the roles they play, and finding something in common with them reminds us that off camera, they are people just like us!

Susan Reads: Retribution Falls

WoW!  That’s all I can say.

Who doesn’t love the TV series Firefly?  Who doesn’t want to see Firefly come back?

Retribution Falls is about as close to a Firefly clone as you can get.  Better yet, Firefly crossed with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in a rough-and-ready blend of space faring steam punk. From almost the first chapter, the parallels, whether planned or endemic to the genre, are uncanny at times.

Have I got your attention yet?

Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, a second-rate ship he won on a bet, but it’s the only home he’s got. Frey is a minor-stakes air space pirate, picking up small legal jobs here and other illegal ones there, hoping to make enough to keep his ship running and his crew fed, with a few coins of profit left over (sound familiar yet?).  His crew is made up of a rag-tag group of misfits, each one on the run with secrets they’d prefer to keep hidden, from the secretive but aristocratic Crake (my mind cast Paul Bettany in the role) to the quirky navigator Jez, who can manage to fake death a little too easily (I can picture Angelina Jolie here), and more.

When Frey and his crew are framed for blowing up a ship during a petty robbery, he finds himself on the run for his life – but are the Century Knights after him, or one of his crew? Frey’s attempts to unravel the mysteries lead him down a trail of old flames and bad memories, while the secrets of his crew slowly come to light. The path of salvation appears to lie in a pirates’ haven called Retribution Falls, a place of myth no ship has ever returned from. Frey must make hard choices – entrust his beloved ship to someone else in case of emergency, or run the risk of execution if captured. In the end, Frey and crew find that being an oddball among a group of oddballs makes you nothing but normal, and that to get trust you also have to give a little.

I read one review of the book that nit-picked every line of dialogue and every motivation of every character until there was nothing left. That really irked me. Even as a writer, I don’t read a fiction book to beat the story to death. I want a good story that holds my attention, characters that I can relate to whether through abhorrence or camaraderie, and a thread of believability – I’ll believe your unicorns can fly, but don’t tell me they have dainty little shoulders. Beyond that – I don’t care that females or mermaids or talking parrots are underrepresented. I don’t care if air pirates are passé. I don’t care if you think mechanical golems are cliché. This is the way this story goes. The characters and situations read like the first of a series, and in a good series, it takes time to fully develop all the characters – otherwise, what’s the point of a series?  If you put all the food out at a banquet at once, who cares about the next course? 

If any book deserves to be made into a film – or better yet, TV series – this is the one.Read it. Enjoy it. It’s worth every page.