Evil Tim Curry

Tim Curry has the perfect voice for evil. The other day, someone in my family posed the question of whether he ever plays anything except the villain. It seemed like a joke at first, but when I looked him up on IMDB, I was aghast at his resume.

If you’re not familiar with IMDB.com, it’s the database of all movies, tv shows, actors, writers, etc., etc. It’s amazing. I keep an app on my phone to settle arguments.

Everyone knows Tim Curry best as Frank Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show, the funnest cross-dressing villain ever. And in Clue, his butler Wadsworth kills Mr. Body. (True, it’s only in one of the endings, but it’s the one that counts.)

Now check out the rest of this bizarre filmography:

  • Rooster Hannigan in Annie – the guy kidnapped an orphan, for Pete’s Sake!
  • Hexxus in Fern Gully, the cloud monster who teaches us about the evils of pollution … and who single-handedly kept my daughter from sleeping in her own bed for an entire summer!
  • Pennywise, the evil clown in IT
  • In Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he played … wait for it … Satan. Yup, of all the bad guys there he had to out-evil them all.
  • Cardinal Richlieu in The Three Musketeers
  • Captain Hook in Peter Pan (TV series)
  • Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island (part of his evil pirate phase)
  • Chancellor Palpatine in the Clone Wars series
  • Gomez Adams in Adams Family Reunion. I include this as a villain only because nobody but Raul Julia should ever play Gomez.
  • Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (animated version)
  • Forte, the possessed grand piano in the straight-to-video Beauty and the Beast II. Did I mention the summer my kid stopped sleeping in her own bed? Yeah, well this is what scared the crap out of her the very month she finally went back to her room. Tim Curry owes me a full 6 months of sleep!
  • George Herbert Walker “King” Chicken in the Duckman TV show. I don’t even know what to do with that.
  • Count Nefarious in a video game called Toonstruck. It’s hardly worth mentioning since nobody has ever heard of that game, but come on – Count Nefarious? How great of an evil name is that?
  • Another truly amazing evil name: Slagar the Cruel in A Tale of Redwall
  • Neville Baddington in Saving Santa
  • Then they get lazy. In Gary & Mike, his character was just called Killer. Kind of gives it away, huh?
  • In Once Upon a Christmas Village, he was Sir Evil. This one merits a forehead slap.
  • Reverend Whoopsie in What About Dick? Now, having never seen this, I cannot definitively say that this is a villain, but I think we can all agree that there’s nothing good coming from a character named Rev. Whoopsie.
  • Rounding this all out are a series of Scooby-Doo villains from The Goblin King to Mastermind.

In the entire 50-year span of his career, I could only find one character who was truly good and wholesome. Nigel from the old Nickelodeon cartoon, The Wild Thornberries. That’s a pretty darn good one, though. It almost redeems him for all the others.

Well, except for Forte. That one should have never existed. (shudder)

Best Books 2015

Whenever I read a book that I fall in love with, it becomes my goal to pass it along. I look for just one person in my life who enjoys that type of book, and I insist that he/she read it. If that person loves it to, it becomes a shared experience that makes me feel so good.

This year, however, I have a blog. So instead of searching individually, I’m going to share with all of you the best books I’ve read this year, broken down by category. (One caveat – these are not all recently published. This just happens to be the year that I discovered these.)

For more book recommendations, see my “Books I Can’t Stop Talking About” series

If you try and enjoy of these books, please leave a comment.

Best Pure Sci-Fi Novel: I’m sure you’ve been seeing the ads for Matt Damon’s new space movie. Go see it, but I’m telling you, no matter how good the movie is, it will not be as funny and engrossing as the novel it’s based on, The Martian, by Andy Weir. There’s still time to rush out and buy the novel before the movie comes out. Trust me, you’ll hang on every page and stay up late to finish it.

Best Time-Travel Sci-Fi: If you love time-travel, you need to learn about Connie Willis. Though most of her novels are standalone, she’s created a unique set of time-travel rules and procedures that give her novels a gripping edge. And the research! Rarely does historical fiction give this strong a sense of taking you into the moment.

The 2-book series Blackout and All Clear are set in England during WWII, primarily centering on the Blitz. Make sure you have both books before you start, though, because Blackout stops so abruptly it feels like pages are missing. Apparently it was written as one very long book and then chopped in two by the publisher.

Best Superhero Novel: Ignore the fact that this is a young-adult novel – it’s hilarious. Well, it’s all in the title. I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb, will make you laugh out loud at least once per chapter, if not once per page. It’s a short read, so grab this one when you just need to spend an afternoon enjoying a little nonsense.

Best Sword-and-Sorcery Fantasy: I am a huge fan of Joe Abercrombie. This man is a master craftsman of action novels. I first discovered him with the one-off book “Best Served Cold,” but, like any pure fantasy guru, he tends toward trilogies. This month the third volume of his “Half A” Series was released, so run out and get your hands on it. (That’s an order!)

I refuse to give away any of the plot, as one of my favorite things about him is that you never have a clue where his stories are going, though he always takes logical steps to get there. He loves doing feints, where he’ll telegraph a plot twist, let you see it from a mile away, then at the last minute, he’ll change it up again and leave you shocked.

One warning, though – it does get violent and bloody. Almost all of Joe’s novels center on war, and he doesn’t shy away from fight sequences.

But you can’t help but love a guy who writes lines like: “We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”

Look for Half a King, Half the World, and Half a War.

Best Fantasy Romance (with Time Travel): Because of Showtime, most people have now heard of the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon. The first book in any series like this is always the best, of course, but after that, Book 4 in her series, Drums of Autumn is the one that stands out.

With all of her books running in the neighborhood of a thousand pages, it won’t surprise you to hear that Diana often takes quite a while setting up adventures, with scene after scene of people sitting around discussing the plot thus far. Books 1 and 4 are the ones that avoid that trap, and so much action is packed into these two that when you’re done with either you’ll feel like you’ve read an entire series.

Disclaimers galore, though: intense sex scenes, plenty of violence, cussing, war & politics … but the nastiest part is that the main character is a doctor so the author loves to shove in scenes of 1700s surgery. My recommendation is to skim any scene that begins with her going for her medical bag.

Non-Fiction is worth mentioning, too. It’s hard to recommend a non-fiction book, because whether people will try it is entirely based upon whether they care about the subject and whether they will ever spend time on non-fic. So my rule is that I only recommend NF books that read as though they are fiction. By that, I mean the story has to be compelling and easy to read. If it feels like a textbook, I won’t mention it.

My favorites from the past year are:

Best Non-Fiction Science: Why I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown, the Planetary Astronomer who discovered the temporary “tenth planet” which resulted in the downgrading of Pluto’s status. Amazingly, this book is funny, personal, and has quite a bit of tension toward the end.

(Or, just read this summary in one of my earlier blog posts.)

Best Non-Fiction History: If you’re interested in early American colonies, Giles Milton‘s research on the early colonies of Roanoke and Jamestown is fascinating. Big Chief Elizabeth centers on the efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh to colonize the new land, between politicking in England and the men (and later women) who suffered through the harsh conditions of the under-provisioned adventures.

(Or, click here for a recap of the highlights of the Roanoke colony.)

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Please feel free to add your own recommendations to the comments section.

Box, Wheel, and Book

I’m going to lose my cool the next time someone in a meeting tells me, “We need more out of the box thinking.”

Look, that phrase was innovative once upon a time. It was a new way of saying that you should strive to be original, go against the flow, look at things a different way.

Now? It’s about the laziest phrase you can possibly use — and you’re saying it to try to demand originality from someone else? Please!

While we’re at it, there are a few other phrases we’d all improve ourselves by forgetting:

  • You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Of course you can! There’s an entire industry devoted to book marketing. The entire point of modern book jackets is to give you the basic plot, tone, and target audience of any given book while you hold it in your hand unopened.
  • Stop trying to reinvent the wheel.” Why? We invent new versions of wheels all the time, and they are almost always an improvement — just ask Goodyear. Are you saying we should have stopped at the first wheel ever made, presumably chiseled out of rock or wood into a not-quite-circular shape?
  • We need to all get on the same page.” I’ll give you a pass on this one if, and only if, you are in a meeting that requires everyone to read along. (Because I’ve never yet attended such a meeting without at least two people trying to start reading a few pages in, no matter what the leader of the meeting tells them to do. Sigh.)

Sorry, I just had to rant.

Braving the Canyon

All world explorers have great stories to tell – of braving the unknown, facing incredible odds, possibly never to return. Even the preparation for these journeys amazes me; I simply can’t fathom how you even begin to pack for a trip that doesn’t allow for stopping at a Wal-Mart when you realize you’ve forgotten something critical. Complicate that further by limiting your provisions to only what you can stow in a very small space and it’s amazing that some of these people ever returned at all.

gcanyon1

One story I’m fascinated with is John Wesley Powell, who chose to explore The Grand Canyon the hard way – by sailing four wooden rowboats down the Colorado River that cuts through it. He led nine men on a 99-day trek through these rapids in the summer of 1869. All they knew going in was the total distance of the canyon; the cuts and turns of the river were a complete unknown.

As Powell wrote in his journal, “We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not. Ah, well! We may conjecture many things.”

gcanyon2As gorgeous as the views were, the sailing was rarely pleasant. They often found flat banks for camping at night, but the narrower the path became, the higher the walls rose above them, making it certain that whenever they were in the most danger they were also without an escape route.

Every sharp bend of the river was sure to have large rocks jutting out, waiting to be smashed into. Where the rapids merged, eddies spun their boats around “like little toys.” And the waterfalls!

gcanyon3With the rock walls stretching a mile straight up on either side, currents too strong to fight pushing you onward, with nowhere to run, nowhere to even rest and get their bearings, they had but one choice. “Better to go over with the boat … than wait for her to be broken to pieces.” Yep, they rode over the waterfalls, doing what little they could to keep the boats level so they wouldn’t hit the bottom nose-first and be lost.

Naturally, when they heard the falls in the distance, they did everything they could to stop and scout the area first. Toward the end of the journey, they stopped just shy of the worst rapids they’d encountered yet. They could see a dam created by fallen boulders, creating “a broken fall of 18 or 20 feet; then there is a rapid, beset with rocks, for 200 or 300 yards, while on the other side, points of the wall project into the river. Below there is a second fall; how great, we cannot tell.” Beyond this laid another 200 yards of rapids and yet another waterfall.

gcanyon5

Not wanting to lead his men into certain death, Powell spent the afternoon climbing the granite walls, trying desperately to find a vantage point that would show a peaceful stretch of river beyond the falls. He pushed too far, however, and found himself stuck, suspended 400 feet above the river. His men scrambled to the top of the gorge, lowering a rope for him, but he could not let go of the rock to grab it.

Why? Powell only had one arm. His other had been blown off by a cannon ball in the Civil War!

So there he dangled until his men devised a plan of wedging their oars into the crevices, thereby holding him against the wall until he was able to let go of the rock and be pulled up by the rope.

All that and they still had to brave the impossible falls the next day. 

Inside walls of the Grand Canyon just above President Harding Rapids on Colorado River

They managed it, of course. After three months of sailing through what Powell called, “our granite prison,” they came at last to The Grand Wash, the end of their journey. Powell’s journal entry that night summed up the expedition:

“Ever before us has been an unknown danger, heavier than immediate peril. Every waking hour passed in the Grand Canyon has been one of toil … endured in those gloomy depths. … Now the danger is over, now the toil has ceased, now the gloom has disappeared. … The river rolls by us in silent majesty; the quiet of the camp is sweet; our joy is almost ecstasy.”