Hey! 2021 is a big movie “birthday year!”

As something of a movie nerd, I’m usually aware when favorite films celebrate “milestone” birthdays (or anniversaries, if you will). This past weekend, I yammered a bit about Top Gun on the occasion of its 35th birthday, as it was released on May 16th, 1986. Back in April, I found time to wax nostalgic about the classic science fiction film The Thing From Another World, turning 70 this year after being released on April 7th, 1951. I think anyone who’s spent any amount of time here knows I’m pretty reliable so far as remembering things like the various Star Trek films, but there are plenty of other favorites, like the original Alien or Superman movies to name just a couple of prominent examples.

(I also remember to take note of favorite television series, too. This is especially true of older series from days gone yet I still remember with fondness. Alien Nation, M*A*S*H, Planet of the Apes, Space: 1999, and so many others.)

2021 seems to be a banner year for celebrating movie milestone birthdays. I’m not just talking about old black n’ white flicks, though a few of those are marking anniversaries of distinction this year, as well. I don’t even mean to stop with movies I saw first run in a theater as a kid or even a young(er) adult, in many cases before the age of home video and all that jazz. We’re deep into that era, progressing from video tapes, LaserDiscs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs to streaming video, all of which have for more than thirty years allowed us to revisit fondly-remembered films any time we feel like it. However, none of that equals the thrill of my young eyes being glued to one of those giant movie screens all those years ago as the lights dimmed and the music started to ramp up. Even today, with so many options at my fingertips, there are still films – old and new – I want to see on that giant movie screen, just as their creators intended.

So, what have we got? Well, here’s a sampling of what’s still to come in 2021:

On Friday, May 21st, Escape from the Planet of the Apes – the third in the “classic series” of Apes films, turns 50. YOU READ THAT RIGHT.

Celebrating its 40th birthday on Saturday, May 22nd, is Outland, Sean Connery’s low-key, even underrated “High Noon in Space” riff, which opened in 1981. Still one of my favorite 1980s science fiction films.

Also on May 22nd but celebrating its 25th birthday after being released in 1996 is the first Mission: Impossible movie. As I write this, Tom Cruise and company are working to finish that series’ seventh film, with an eighth already waiting in the pre-production wings.

Thelma & Louise. Don’t call them names on the CB radio.

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Thelma & Louise embarking on their infamous road trip, which began on May 24th, 1991. On that same date, Ron Howard brought to us is wonderful drama about firefighters, Backdraft, starring Kurt Russell and William Baldwin, and Robert De Niro.

Sweet hat, amirite?

Those are just the things I’ve got for the remainder of May. June and July will bring a whole truckload more, as we remember our first encounters with Ferris Bueller, Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, and Indiana Jones on the occasion of their respective “milestone” anniversaries. We’ll also say “Welcome Back!” to Ellen Ripley, James Bond, and (he says, grudgingly) Robin Hood for similar reasons. And that’s just for starters.

Don’t worry, TV friends. I haven’t forgotten you! On television, May 23rd will mark the 20th anniversary of the Star Trek: Voyager series finale, which saw Voyager and its crew make their triumphant return to Earth on this date in 2001.

2021 is also “important” for remembering our first meetings with Jack Bauer, Captain Jonathan Archer, and – if you want to reach even farther back – Colt Seavers, the unknown stuntman who made Eastwood look so fine.

Jack, Jonathan, and Colt….all celebrating milestone “birthdays” in 2021.

I don’t know that I’ll get to individual entries for most or even several of these. I guess it’ll all come down to time available, but I’ll try my best because these sorts of look-backs are fun, and 2021 is a banner year for me and my fellow movie nerds. When it’s not making me feel old, of course. While I ponder that notion, feel free to throw your personal favorites into the comments section.

You! Down in front! The movie’s starting!

Talk to me, Goose! Top Gun is 35!

“I gotta send somebody from this squadron to Miramar. I gotta do something here. I still can’t believe it. I gotta give you your dream shot. I’m gonna send you up against the best. You two characters are going to Top Gun. For five weeks, you’re gonna fly against the best fighter pilots in the world. You were number two, Cougar was number one. Cougar lost it, turned in his wings. You guys are number one. But you remember one thing. You screw up just this much, you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.”

May 16, 1986: the United States Navy is gifted with what might still rank as its best-ever recruiting film. That’s right, elipsing such classics as McHale’s Navy, The Hunt for Red October, and even Down Periscope.

Continue reading “Talk to me, Goose! Top Gun is 35!”

Happy Birthday, Lee Majors!

The Six Million Dollar Man himself celebrates his 82nd birthday today!

Yes, I know he’s had a long, full career, both before and especially well after his bionic adventures, but he’ll always be Colonel Steve Austin to me. Okay, with a side of Colt Seavers. And maybe a dash of Christopher Chance. And Pop Scarlet.

A check of his IMDB page shows he’s still finding ways to keep plenty busy. I’m actually kind of tired just reading it all. I saw him pop up for a guest turn on the rebooted Magnum P.I. a year or so ago and he looked great! Here’s hoping I can find my way to having half his energy when I’m his age.

Also? I fervently maintain that Lee Majors has the manliest running stride in the history of running men. Fight me.

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Geek Fact: When I was a kid, I so wanted a jacket like the one in this pic.

Geek Fact 2: I kinda still do.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Majors!

Margaret Wander Bonanno, 1950-2021.

Today I was shocked and saddened to learn about the passing of author Margaret Wander Bonanno. According to information shared by her family, she died unexpectedly of natural causes. There’s precious little information available at this time, but my thoughts now are for her family and friends.

Though she wrote more than a dozen other novels of fiction and science fiction, I came to know her back in the mid-1980s thanks to her first Star Trek novels, Dwellers In the Crucible and Strangers from the Sky. I greatly enjoyed the latter book when I read it soon after its initial publication, and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorite Star Trek tales. She was one of the great contributors to that era of Star Trek publishing and — though I didn’t know it at the time — an inspiration for me years before the silly notion of becoming a writer entered my head.

While she’s credited with writing five other Trek novels, she’d be the first to tell you one of them really isn’t hers. How one novel, Probe, came to be is a story only she can tell the way it deserves to be told, and you can find that account on her website’s bio page. As for the novel from which Probe is derived, Music of the Spheres, it is just what you’d expect it to be: a wondrous tale told by a master, that just happens to also be a Star Trek story. My copy of the original manuscript is one of the true prizes of my rather disturbingly large library.

She was a gifted writer with a wicked sense of humor, but also a kind soul, warm and welcoming when upstarts like me started showing up on the Star Trek fiction scene. I still remember the first time I met her at the Shore Leave convention, already established as a writer but still smiling like a fanboy as I handed over my copy of Strangers for her to sign. This happened soon after one of the true highlights of my Star Trek writing career, when Margaret joined Kevin Dilmore and I as we teamed up with writers Mike W. Barr, Dave Galanter, Christopher L. Bennett, and Howard Weinstein along with editor Keith R. A. DeCandido for Mere Anarchy, the six-part eBook novella series published to coincide with Star Trek‘s 40th anniversary in 2006. From the beginning of that project’s development, it was a no-brainer that she would write the sixth, concluding piece of our little celebratory saga, and one has but to read her contribution to understand why she was perfect to anchor the series.

Back to Strangers from the Sky for one more bit of reminiscing: For those unfamiliar with the novel, it depicts humanity’s first encounter with Vulcans in the early 21st century, with Kirk and Spock traveling through time and keeping the fugitive Vulcans safe until they can secure transport away from Earth and back to their home planet. Part of the book involves events from a fictional novel Kirk is reading, also called Strangers from the Sky, and it becomes apparent that the supposedly fictional story is chronicling real events in which he and Spock somehow took part.

While Margaret’s story was later superseded by the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact, which depicts the “canonical version” of the first visit by Vulcans to Earth in the mid-21st century, her novel has remained a fan favorite since its initial publication in 1987. Skip ahead to 2003, when I was working with Kevin on our first Star Trek novel collaboration, A Time to Sow. I was writing an early scene in that book when I made an impulsive decision to reference Strangers from the Sky. In this case, it was in the form of Will Riker giving Captain Picard a copy of the fictional novel Kirk was reading. As Riker and Picard were both involved in the film’s events and that version of first contact, it’s a bit of an in-joke on my part.

When I inserted the reference, I had no real idea I might do it again, but a few years later I was in the midst of writing another Star Trek: The Next Generation novel and found a way to drop in another nod to Margaret’s book. Then I did it a couple of more times as circumstances allowed, such as it becoming a book Picard read to his young son. A few months ago while writing Moments Asunder, my latest Trek novel which will be published later this year, I once again found a way to work in a reference. Even though I never call out the book by name in any of these instances, sharp-eyed readers still catch the “Easter egg,” which I once explained as a recurring tip of the hat to Margaret. Like I said earlier: Strangers remains a personal favorite.

At some point, she caught wind of what I was doing and wrote me a private note on Facebook, thanking me for acknowledging her in that way and how much it meant to her. As I told her at the time: “I know it sounds corny, but you and the others writing Trek novels back in those days inspired me to try my hand at writing. I have you all to thank for where I am now.

It’s true. Along with her contemporaries, Margaret Wander Bonanno helped to set the bar for Star Trek novels, elevating them to something more than simple “tie-in fiction” and establishing a standard I along with my colleagues strive to emulate. It’s an honor to be in her company, and she will truly be missed.

Thank you, Margaret. For everything.

Happy 70th Anniversary to THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD!

It creeps… It crawls… It strikes without warning!

A group of scientists and military officers at a remote Arctic outpost near the North Pole discover a mysterious craft buried in ice. They also find a body, similarly entombed, and excavate it from its frozen grave.

And — as things tend to do in stories of this sort — everything goes straight to Hell, for what they have discovered is not a human or indeed like anything on Earth. Instead, what they’ve found is….

Following premieres in Cincinnati and Dayton as well as Washington, D.C., The Thing from Another World stomped its way onto theater screens across the United States on April 7th, 1951, seventy years ago today. The film’s screenplay was written by Charles Lederer, loosely adapting John W. Campbell, Jr.’s seminal 1938 novella Who Goes There? (originally published as a 12-capter serial in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction under Campbell’s pen name, Don A. Stuart).

Continue reading “Happy 70th Anniversary to THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD!”

Happy First Contact Day, Trekkies!

April 5th, 2063: We’re only 42 years from this most excellent of events, yo.

While we wait, we continue to look to the future with hope and excitement. After all, we know that this monumental meeting between humanity and intelligent beings from a world beyond our own will usher in a new era of peace, optimism, prosperity and collaborative spirit as the people of Earth take their first tentative steps into a larger universe.

first-contact

So, grab yourself the first Vulcan (or other non-terrestrial biological entity) you meet, wriggle to the left, wriggle to the right, and do the Ooby Dooby with all of your might. Let’s get this party started, all while living long and prospering in forthright, logical fashion, of course.

Happy 90th Birthday to the one and only William Shatner!

Today we’re celebrating the 90th birthday of the Man himself: Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911 Guy, Denny Crane, Priceline Negotiator, and CAPTAIN JAMES TIBERIUS BY GOD KIRK.

:: ahem. ::

We’re talking about a guy who’s been in front of a camera over a span of eight decades. Seriously, go look at his IMDB entry. I get tired just reading it, and that’s not even counting writing, producing, and directing credits. It’s even money you can find him somewhere on your TV right now. He’s currently serving as the host for The UnXplained on the History Channel. That’s just one of the various things he’s got going on, and he shows no signs of slowing down. If the stars align in just the right way, I may even be able to hand him a copy of Kirk Fu later this year, and hopefully he won’t go full Jimmy Wall Banger on me.

The one and only William Shatner: 90 years old, and still running circles around people half his age. I’ll have what he’s having.

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Happy Birthday, sir. May you enjoy many more.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is 65!

It started…for me, it started…last Thursday, in response to an urgent message from my nurse, I hurried home from a medical convention I’d been attending. At first glance, everything looked the same. It wasn’t. Something evil had taken possession of the town.…”

Dr. Miles Bennell is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Continue reading “Invasion of the Body Snatchers is 65!”

February 1st, 2003: Columbia.

Eighteen years ago this morning, the Space Shuttle Columbia, returning to Earth after a successful 16-day mission, broke apart during re-entry and disintegrated, killing its seven-member crew.

I spent the rest of that afternoon and the ensuing days watching the news coverage as new information came to light, and possible explanations and causes for the disaster began to emerge. To this day, it’s hard to believe something so seemingly simple as a few damaged heat tiles could wreak such unchecked destruction.

On the other hand, the tragedy served to reinforce the harsh reality of the incredible dangers inherent in crewed space flight, and nothing about it is “simple” or “routine.” I did and still believe our exploration of space is a worthy and necessary endeavor, and I hope the sacrifices made by men and women such as Columbia‘s crew will always be heeded when taking our next small steps and giant leaps.

Generations from now, when the reach of human civilization is extended throughout the solar system, people will still come to this place to learn about and pay their respects to our heroic Columbia astronauts. They will look at the astronauts’ memorial and then they will turn their gaze to the skies, their hearts filled with gratitude for these seven brave explorers who helped blaze our trail to the stars.

– Sean O’Keefe, NASA Administrator
Arlington National Cemetery, February 2nd, 2004

 (l-r, blue shirts): David Brown, William McCool, Michael Anderson.
(l-r, red shirts): Kalpana Chawla, Rick D. Husband, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Ilan Ramon

Where never lark or even eagle flew….

73 seconds after launch on a particularly cold Florida morning 35 years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

On March 21st, 1987, a permanent marker paying tribute to the crew was placed at Arlington National Cemetery. The marker’s face features likenesses of the crew and the following dedication:

In Grateful
and Loving Tribute
To the Brave Crew
of the United States
Space Shuttle Challenger
28 January 1986

Inscribed on the back of the marker is this poem:

High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings,
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence hov’ring there.
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew
and while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space
put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

– John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

challenger-crew
L-R: Ellison S. Onizuka, Michael J. Smith, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Francis R. Scobee, Gregory B. Jarvis, Ronald E. McNair, Judith A. Resnik