Unknown Plant Encounters

Ok buckle up because this is going to be another odd one.

You may remember that last year, I mentioned the late-season revival of my lobelia plant, thoughts connected to that, and that I was going to try to overwinter it. Well, this I duly did, and … it did not go great, pretty much as various gardening websites had led me to expect. The plant did produce a bunch of seed, but then it died back completely, and although I had put the seed back into the same pot, there was not much in the way of signs of life.

Except for this one small green leafy bit that didn’t look much like lobelia to me but I was prepared to take a shot on it, and when spring came I put the pot back outside in the sun and I’ve been taking care of it. Here’s our current state of affairs.

Friends, that is not a lobelia.

Whatever it is, though, it is about to bloom, or moving towards it, anyway, and it’s a bit of a mystery to me exactly what sort of plant it could be after all this time. Everyone loves a mystery, so of course I have to wait and see what the flower looks like, and perhaps then I can identify it.

I’m reasonably confident it’s not a triffid.

As per usual, I also Have Thoughts about all this. This plant pot has been through a bit – winter, the death of what was there before – but now something else has grown. Different than what was there before, but something that promises to have its own beauty to it, along with the special sauce of being new and unexpected.

I like to hope that may be where we’re headed, as we very gradually start to come out of the worst of the pandemic. We’ve been through a lot. A lot of things that were there before may have gone away, or at least changed a lot, so even as the pandemic loosens its grip, we may find that things will not be the same as they were before. (Historian hat briefly: this is what previous pandemics should lead us to expect) But,

And also, many of us have been shut down in various ways over the past year or so, either because of things we haven’t been able to do, or we haven’t had the energy or been in the right head space due to the pandemic reality. That’s starting to loosen up a bit, and perhaps that means we can get back to doing all those interrupted things, and start to do cool stuff again. Like … whatever this plant is about to do.

I’m starting to feel like I might be in the right place to write some stuff again. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And I’ll keep you updated on the mystery plant.

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Important Work

I had another thing I was going to write about this week, about the casting for the Sandman series and how it made particular people lose their minds and what I think that reveals about them, and I don’t know, maybe it would have been a decent blog entry.

But then the bodies of 215 children were discovered on the site of a former residential school in B.C., and it doesn’t seem worth writing about the Sandman cast any more.

Canada’s genocide against First Nations and Inuit people is the ongoing shame of our nation. It is a crime that continues to affect people up to the very moment that I am writing this, and it has many facets and tendrils, but the residential school system must be among the most horrific. It was designed by the Canadian government (no, we can’t blame the British for this one) specifically to eliminate First Nations people and enable the continuing expropriation of their land and resources. It was implemented largely by religious institutions, but (conscience-salving though it might be) we can’t shift all the blame onto them either because, again, the objectives were set by the government. Quite explicitly.

Some people still feel it important to try and defend these things, add qualifiers, ‘yes but’s. I don’t understand those people.

I remember when some of the first court cases brought by survivors started to happen in the 80s and 90s. I remember my first reaction was thinking ‘well, that can’t be right’ because of course that wasn’t the sort of thing that happened in Canada, that Canadians did. I had learned, very much, the comforting national tale of Canada the good and kind. When my history classes had touched on First Nations people (which was not all that often), we learned the version of the story where Indigenous people preferred dealing with the British to the Americans because they got better treatment. There are few things more Canadian than seizing the opportunity to dunk on the United States.

Now of course this was at best partly true, and certainly not the whole or most significant part of the story, and we certainly never got to the part where Sir John A. MacDonald asked for a way to get rid of Indigenous people. I don’t really blame my history teachers, because my guess is they didn’t know much about it either. A lot of the ugly parts of Canada’s history have been very carefully camouflaged under the ‘aw shucks’ national myth.

But the schools were there, and we’ve known a lot of the horrifying details about them for a while now, about the physical and sexual abuse, about the unpaid forced labour, about the poor conditions, and about the deaths of so many of the children. How many? Well that was hard to say, because no-one thought it was important, or maybe not prudent, to actually keep proper track.

So you have things like the bodies of 215 children waiting to be re-discovered.

I’m not the right person to say what can or should be done to try to heal the wounds of all the people hurt and traumatized by everything that Canada has done to Indigenous people. I really don’t know how you can ever reach a point where things are ok, or anything like ok. I believe it must be a long and probably endless process of trying to recognize the truth of what has happened, to listen to what Indigenous people need, and then giving it.

I believe that a minimum starting point is to – as my friend Jay Odjick puts it – treat the site of every residential school like a crime scene, right now, and examine them all to find all the remaining evidence of what happened there. Of course it will cost money, probably a lot of money, but the thing is there always turns out to be money for the things we think are really important. This is really important.

There’s so much work that is really important that urgently needs to be done. I have tried to do what little I can by teaching about these things when I have the chance. I have a lot to learn, but it’s really important to try.

I also take a lot of heart from the fact that – unlike me at that age – many of my students are already aware of all this, and already angry about it. It gives me hope that a really different future is coming.

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There Should Be Only One

Soooo we missed another week in there (sorry) and I’m a bit stuck for a topic this week as well – it was Pentecost on Sunday, which is a religious feast I like for non-religious reasons, but I already did that one – and a lot of my brain is still occupied with assigning grades to things at the day job, but when all else fails I can usually fall back on being grumpy about something, and apparently they’re remaking Highlander.

I am, for the record, a great fan of the first Highlander movie, this gloriously daft 80s swordfight fantasy. I have probably seen it a dozen times and it’s still always entertaining. The daftness is part of what makes it great, with a French actor cast as a Scot and a Scots actor cast as an Egyptian/Spaniard, and a grand villain from Clancy Brown.

However, we also immediately have a cautionary tale as well, because Highlander 2 was so bad they pretended it didn’t exist when they made Highlander 3, which was itself no great shakes really. My feeling is that the first Highlander was one of those times where they had a really fun, satisfying story that absolutely did not need to be continued or added onto. (The less said about the TV series, the better) I know the temptation of more $$$ by making another chapter to something you know was a hit is strong, but sometimes you need to recognize that your story is done and be the artist who knows when to stop painting.

(Semi-hot take – The Matrix was another case where they should 100% have done that.)

Ok, so the Highlander series (of movies, and otherwise) was a bad idea, but we (apparently) live in the age of reboots and remakes, and so perhaps no surprise that they’d get around to looking at a movie that still has a lot of fans today. It must look like easy money.

And yet.

What are they going to do that’s better that the original? ‘The special effects’, you might say, but honestly when you have a movie as daft as Highlander, the, ah, specialness of the effects is part of its charm. The last thing you want to do is a gritty rewrite of the premise that tries to take itself seriously, any effort at ‘authenticity’ is ludicrous, so you’re left with basically trying to cover band the unapologetic goofiness of the original.

I have seen some people suggest that they gotta keep the original Queen soundtrack, and indeed it’s hard to imagine Highlander without it, but at that point – why are we not just watching the original? I have no doubt you could find actors that would have fun with it and do creditable performances, but … is it necessary?

And I ask that because (and this is a point I’ve made before) there are so very many stories out there that have never been adapted for the screen that have fans (and creators) who would be delighted to see them get a chance. I know basically nothing about the film industry, but I have no doubt that there’s a thousand thousand scripts out there for SFF movies with creators who are dying to see them get a shot.

We live in a time when there is more SF, fantasy, and horror making it onto our screens than ever before, and it’s great. I would love to see more of that be stuff that isn’t attached to established franchises (beloved though they may be) or remakes/reworkings/reboots of something old.

I would really love it if they did that instead of remaking Highlander.

p.s. I just checked with my Alarmingly Young Friend and they have not seen Highlander. I think I may need to fix that.

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Books and a Giant

So, extra late this week, because things have been happening, one of which is even something I should talk about on this blog! Specifically, I’m very excited to say that Heretic Blood, my Victorian spy/fantasy story, has been accepted for publication by Renaissance Press, the same publisher that printed my first two novels.

Renaissance has exciting news of their own these days, as they have recently struck an improved distribution deal that will see allllll their many titles (including my Adam Godwinson books) on the shelves in bookstores Canada-wide. This is great for all their authors, great for increasing the exposure of their whole list, and it made the decision to team up with them again to see Heretic Blood in print a really, really easy one. It’s a great success story for a small local press that has had a ton of hard work behind it and continues to grow because of it. I will always be proud to be one of their first acquisitions and I’m really excited to see Heretic Blood in the hands of readers.

There is still a long road before the book is ready for release – there will be edits, and rewrites, but it is a delight for me to know that the process is underway and that the world will get to meet some of the characters that I have had the most fun writing. I hope you’ll have just as much fun reading the story, when it’s ready.

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I also wanted to write something about this really cool discovery about the Cerne Abbas Giant, in England. It is this enormous figure carved out in a hillside by cutting away the turf to expose the sand and chalk underneath, notable both for his enormous club and his enormous, er, dong.

There has been much debate and attempts to interpret what this thing is, how old it was, and who put it there. This week archaeologists were able to reveal that by analysing the sand from the deepest parts of the figure, and measuring when they were last exposed to sunlight (and, how cool is it that that is a thing we can do?), the figure is medieval, created sometime between 700 and 1100 CE.

First, this is cool because of the science, and it’s also intriguing about the relationship between the giant and the nearby abbey, which was founded in 978. Did they build an abbey there to try to counteract local giant culture? The abbey documents do not mention the giant, but no doubt they wouldn’t. It seems improbable that there’s no relation between the two, but what is it? Unsolved questions are fun.

I also think it’s great because basically none of the theories about when the giant was created turned out to be right. There were arguments that it was an ancient, pre-Roman figure from Britain’s Celtic past. Due to the giant not being mentioned in 16th and 17th century documents, there was also an interpretation that it was much later, perhaps created to mess with Oliver Cromwell’s prudish sensibilities.

Both wrong.

I think that’s interesting (connecting back to an earlier blog) because obviously with a big, er, impressive giant on a hillside, lots of people have wanted to tell stories about it, and ultimately told the stories they thought should be true. (And I’m not disparaging that these were earnest efforts by people who wanted to understand the past, at all) We do this all the time with the past, of necessity. We look at it and do our best to figure out what it means, what the story is.

There were very different stories suggested for the Cerne giant, almost none of which turned out to be right, and now historians and archaeologists have a new story to figure out. Coming up with the story is something beloved of writers, and I think, of historians. It pleases me that there are still so many intriguing questions out there to be answered about the past, so many great stories to be uncovered, and written, and read.

Thank you for reading.

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Why I Do This

We’re getting to the end of another college semester here (hello, pile of marking) and as I often end up doing around now (only in part because I’m procrastinating) I have been thinking a bit about why I teach history. To a degree this is probably something everyone does – why do I do this?? – but it strikes me especially because I teach at least one history course every year that all the students in our program are required to take, and it won’t be the only time in their education where someone will make them take history, even if they’re not after a degree in it.

Add to that that the interest level in history among the students – interest level going beyond ‘10 unbelievable facts about the ancient Greeks! – is middling, and I periodically question why we do this. Perhaps obviously, I think everyone should study history because history is the best and everyone should love it. I can go on about that at length but again I suspect most people can be equally passionate about their chosen fields, and they’re not all compulsory.

So why is history?

People wore yellow Stars of David that said ‘No COVID certificate’ to a protest in the UK last week. I trust I can skip the step of explaining why this is unbelievably offensive, cruel, and dangerous, to suggest a parallel between an industrialized genocide and being asked to get vaccinated against a disease. But perhaps I shouldn’t, because people wore yellow Stars of David to a protest, and people defended them.

I wonder whether part of the reason they felt emboldened to do so is the increasing gap of time between the Holocaust and the present day, and the decreasing number of people for whom it is living memory. We should also factor in that far-right ideologies (with which me must surely associate anything that denigrates or minimizes the Holocaust) and conspiracy theories (which we must categorize anything attaching sinister motives to public vaccination as) have a louder voice today than in even relatively recent years past.

But I think on some level the answer is that these people simply weren’t taught history very well, and simply don’t understand what they are talking about, or the comparison they were making. Perhaps it explains that louder voice for the hateful and the dangerously foolish, as well.

There was a fuss, recently, about the things being ‘Anglo-Saxon’. It sounds a neutral enough term, and I will say that I think many people who use it do so intending nothing more than a harmless shorthand for a time in English or British history that is ‘after the Romans, but before the Normans’ while also including ‘not the Vikings’. In my PhD studies, I read a great deal of what was termed ‘Anglo-Saxon’ studies and read about ‘Anglo-Saxon Britain’ and a great many other ‘Anglo-Saxon’ things. At the time I gave it no more thought than other periodization shorthands like ‘Angevin’, ‘post-Plague’, or ‘Tudor’.

But there are problems. One is that it is a kind of useless term. Except for a literal handful of examples, we find neither people referring to themselves as Anglo-Saxon nor monarchs who claim to rule such people. Alfred of Wessex (despite the whole ‘West Saxons’ thing) envisioned the title ‘King of the English’ (Rex Anglorum) which his son would later claim and this is generally what we find throughout the period. Various titles, but not ‘Anglo-Saxon’.

So it’s a created anachronism that basically no people ever used to describe themselves or their own culture, applied later by historians who (it must be said) like a handy label. It creates the illusion of unity and homogeneity when it probably didn’t exist and one that would probably not have been recognized by people at the time.

That’s problematic, but we might stick with the handy label, except that at least some of the time (and perhaps a lot of the time) it gets used, it has a wholly different meaning, often unspoken: ‘the right sort of white people’. It’s used by racists and xenophobes to weave their fiction of a ‘pure’ ‘white race’ into which all the right sort of people can be said to belong, and bring along with it the idea that the values of this made-up common culture are under threat and need defending.

I’m not the right person to fully engage with this foundational aspect of white racism and why it is central to many of the scary ideas that we see people standing up to be counted with today. But it is, and that is why many historians get upset about the use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’. Historians may arguably have created the problem with a handy label, but it’s also an understanding of history that allows us to attack the scary ideas.

It’s somewhat bemusing to me to see the grab bag of historical stuff that bigots grab onto to drape themselves in – you will see ostensibly ‘Viking’ runes and symbols along with the arms of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire. I trust we don’t approve of Charlemagne’s policy of conversion of pagans by force, but I also trust it’s clear that any attempt to suggest that these two symbols meaningfully belong together is based on absolute nonsense.

At some point, these people have simply never learned history.

This is getting long and I don’t want to go on at too much great length, but I will also say this – if they did know about the history of ancient Rome, or Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire, or medieval England, if they knew what these places were really like, not as they are imagined in the fever dreams of racists, they would know that all of these cultures were multi-ethnic and what today we would call multi-racial. People who looked different, spoke different languages, ate different food and lived their lives differently were always there. Historians never fail to find them, when we are looking.

Again, the argument that there was ever a time when white people did not live in a racially mixed society? It only survives because people don’t know their history.

I don’t pretend that the couple of courses I teach to 17 year olds who are mostly thinking of other things is going to solve that problem. Except maybe it will, in one or two cases, perhaps. And that is enough, and at least part of why I teach history.

Thanks for reading.

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Where’s That Focus

So it is not exactly a great and guarded secret that my focus has not been all that it could be, the last while. As may have been noticed, I missed another blog entry last week, in what we must now admit to being a pattern. I really haven’t written anything of significance in a while, and this latest semester at the Day Job has been a tough climb.

Some of this is no doubt the result of the enduringly dire vibe of the present moment, and the stress of the current situation where I am, along with ordinary background stress. Budgeting our energy is something that I think everyone is having to do, to differing degrees, right now.

However, there’s a particular thing with me right now that I have to admit is affecting me. I didn’t really plan on writing about it yet, or maybe at all, since there’s not a great deal to be done about it and this isn’t in any significant sense a blog about my life or anything similar. On the other hand, as much as I was hoping it wouldn’t, it is affecting my writing (and everything else), and I feel like I should at least explain a little to whatever limited audience this blog does have.

About a month ago I went in for what was meant to be some routine testing relating to a stress episode I had in the winter. Two different doctors were pretty certain that there was nothing to be found or worried over, but the tests are covered and so why not be exhaustive.

Well, what we discovered was that I have a defective mitral valve in my heart that is going to require surgery to fix. It’s not the result of diet or lifestyle, just a bad draw from the genetic deck that has always been there. Since then, I’ve been doing some further tests to determine how urgently the repair is needed.

The good news is that (according to the cardiologist) the surgery is relatively routine at this point and that recovery from it generally goes really well. And, with the repair done, I will be back on the same ‘longevity curve’ (as my cardiologist put it) as I would have been had the problem never been there in the first place.

Even so, ‘bit of a shock’ rather undersells it. If you had asked me earlier last month about my health, I would have said it was good, or at least that I had no serious issues or worries. There’s a lot of conceptual space between that point and ‘heart surgery needed’, and I guess I’m still covering it. Any medical procedure where they stop your heart has a certain weight to it that I, at least, am not easily able to shrug off. I think I’ll feel better when I know how soon I’ll need to have the procedure and can start to plan around it a bit.

But, whatever answers materialize, it’s a major, life-changing thing that sort of dropped out of the sky on me that day, and it’s soaking up a lot of my brain juice just about now.

I don’t have any particular wisdom about this – maybe I will later on in the process – but if you’ve been wondering ‘man alive, where’s Evan’s head these days?’, that would be it.

Thanks for reading.

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Indy 5(00?)

Hey I have something to write about this week because apparently they’re casting another Indiana Jones movie. If you know me very well at all and/or have been reading this blog for a while, you will know that I love the first 3 Indy movies very much; they were some of my favourites growing up. They’re fun, undeniably exciting, pretty charming adventures, and Nazis get punched in 2/3 of them.

(yes, I know about the reading that Indy doesn’t actually affect the course of events in Lost Ark at all)

Then they made Crystal Skull, which I still haven’t watched (despite the presence of Cate Blanchett) because I thought, and still think, that Last Crusade was just such a perfect ending to the series and for the characters that they should never have touched it. I really believe in that idea that sometimes the greatest skill of an artist is knowing when something is done, and the Indy movies were done when everyone rode off into the sunset at the end of Last Crusade.

But, of course, money, and the nostalgia wave that shows no sign of cresting is fairly overwhelming, and so we have not one but soon two additional movies. I continue to think it’s a bad idea, and I have more reasons all the time.

In addition to the above, obviously Harrison Ford is getting older and is really well past the point where it makes a lot of sense to have him star in an action movie. There’s probably a whole thing to be written about how the cutoff that clearly exists for women actors does not appear to affect male actors, even in action roles like this one, but I’m not the right person to write it. I do think a 78-year old playing Indy is not a great plan.

Aha! Some people will say. Recast the role like James Bond, or indeed Han Solo, so that we can have more stories. I was one of those who thought Solo was not a bad movie at all (far far better than the egregious Rise of Skywalker), and yet – I still think this is a bad idea.

It’s mostly because I think we should really just let Indiana go. The movies were fun, and exciting, and the characters were lovable, but I also think the central conceit is problematic enough that it’s time to move on. Without belabouring a point many others have made, the story of a white guy running around the world sending artefacts back to a museum in America is, uh, not one that we would tend to describe as especially heroic, these days.

And that’s ok. I don’t think that invalidates the first three movies – they’re still fun – and I don’t think it means everyone who worked on them is a terrible person. It’s just as a society, we have a better understanding now, and while we don’t have to burn every copy of an Indiana Jones movie ever made, it also makes sense to just not do it any more.

I was heartened today to see an interview with the Simpsons actor Hank Azaria, who after the controversy about the character of Apu (who he used to voice) went and spent some time listening to people and learning about the issues of a white actor voicing a role like that. He recognizes now that it wasn’t right and he’s just gonna stop. Azaria isn’t a terrible person for having done the role for as long as he did, I don’t think – he didn’t understand the issue. Now he does, and he’s gonna do better.

That’s all any of us can do. Do our best, until we know better, and then … do better.

I think we’d do better by moving on from more Indiana Jones stories.

It’s not like there’s any shortage of great, great stories out there whose creators would be delighted to see take their turn in the spotlight.

Thanks for reading.

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No Entry (again)

So (as was likely apparent) no blog entry last week – I got some tough news that sort of knocked me off the rails briefly, and then the rest of the week was scrambling to make up for that.

This week is a tough one also, because the pandemic situation here is not great and I wrote a whole post in reaction to that – but I don’t want to post it, and I’m not going to.

I want to stick to the idea from my previous entry that better days are coming, and we just need to hang in there a bit longer, and tough as it is right now.

We can do it.

Take care of each other.

Thanks for reading.

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Bare Feets

I am trying hard indeed to come up with something that is not to do with vaccinations and the pandemic, currently. I find it hard for it not to be foremost in my mind, since it touches so much of what I can and cannot currently do. But I don’t especially want to write about it.

No, I haven’t seen Justice League.

But then last week, I was able to go outside in my bare feet.

I should (perhaps) explain that for whatever reason, I like to be barefoot whenever I can. One of the first things I will do upon arriving home is lose the shoes and socks. Growing up, I ran around barefoot exactly as much as my parents would let me get away with. Remarkably, I only ever cut myself badly once, and that was stepping on glass at the beach.

I’m not sure exactly why. I suppose it might be tactile – I like to feel the different surfaces, or something. But it’s really one of those preferences that I have always had and can’t really articulate as to why.

Obviously, though, living where I do, bare feet become an indoors-only thing for a good chunk of the year, to my regret. But last week, the weather was finally becoming more spring-like, or spring-ish, and so I stepped outside without shoes or socks for the first time since sometime last autumn.

Now, it wasn’t a good idea. The ground was still cold as iron and honestly I probably couldn’t have kept it up for all that long without making a hasty retreat.

But it still felt pretty nice, a kind of statement that winter was ending and the warmer days were coming.

I suppose maybe that feels especially important just now, when it feels like I’ve been stuck in the same situation for a very long time, without much prospect of change on the horizon just yet.

(Recognizing, of course, that comparatively speaking, I have had a very very easy ride)

But things are changing, day by day. We’ll get the warmer days back, and be outside in our bare feet before so long now. And with time, we can get most of the rest of it back too.

Thanks for reading.

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Work in Space

I was sad to start of my morning today by reading that the actor Yaphet Kotto had died. Like a lot of SFF fans, I would imagine, I knew him best from his role as Parker in Alien, although part of my morning was then a steady stream of ‘wait, he was in that??’ discoveries. Which was cool.

But Alien is what I immediately thought of, and Kotto’s character is a big part of the reason why I like that movie so much. For me, it’s the best of all the Alien movies, and part of the reason is that it’s a horror movie rather than an SF adventure like all the ones that follow it (I like SF adventures just fine, but Alien is a reasonably unique SF horror), and it is horror done well.

But, I also very much like the working class aesthetic of the film, and Kotto’s Parker is a big part of that. He wants to discuss the bonus situation before agreeing to any additional parts to their mining trip. He doesn’t think it’s his job to go and investigate weird alien signals. Like a lot of us, he hasn’t read the terms and conditions. The Nostromo in Alien is a working ship with working people on it, who start out just trying to get home from work.

I like that vision of what space and living in space would be like. I think one of the reasons I have never been a huge Star Trek fan is the extremely clean and polished vision of the future it presents: no-one needs a job, people do work they want to do, and certainly not because they need to pay the rent or what have you. It’s a lovely vision, but I guess I don’t think it’s a very plausible one, and when I think about what things would be like if humanity ever did expand out into space, it would be rather like we see in Alien: people would be on the job, in ships and environment that looked like workplaces – dirty, knocked about, worn – and not the gleaming spotlessness of the Federation.

It’s something I know I mentioned before as part of why I like The Expanse, and even Star Wars – all these imaginary space societies are places where people gotta go to work, use tools and get dirty. That’s been human society for as long as there has been human society, and I don’t really believe we’re terribly likely to move off that.

Anyway, Yaphet Kotto did a fabulous job portraying a working-class character who was smart, with plausible concerns and worries, and then who got focused on trying to handle this unimaginable emergency he was suddenly dropped into the middle of. Of course one of the horrific parts about Alien is that most of the Nostromo’s crew doesn’t survive, leaving only similarly working-class Ripley to tell the tale.

I don’t think the movie works nearly as well without such a fully-realized, interesting, and plausible crew, and Parker has always been a favourite among them.

Thanks for the stories, Mr. Kotto.

And thank you for reading.

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