Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Brief History of Flight

I love writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Occasionally, however, they alter my work, either for space or content considerations. I don't mind--usually, it's for the better. One recent example was a story I did on airplanes in popular culture. The editors at the paper changed my lead and took out the entire A Brief History of Flight section. You can read the entire published version on the Star-Telegram's website.

Below is my original lead and short history lesson:

People are just plain passionate about airplanes. We see this reflected in the movies we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to and the games we play.

While some are afraid to fly (a condition called aerophobia), and airport security can be a pain, most travelers love that you can get from Dallas/Fort Worth to Paris, France in around nine hours (for example), a trip that would have taken weeks (or months, depending on the time period) prior to the advent of the airplane.

A Brief History of Flight

Flights of fancy date back at least to ancient Greece, where Bronze Age tales of such characters as Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, and Pegasus, the flying horse, were a big part of that culture’s oral tradition.

Beginning around 400 BC, the kite, which is believed to be invented in China during the 5th century BC, was studied as a possible means of propelling humans through the air. For centuries, humans have tried (and failed, of course) to fly like birds, fashioning wings made of feathers or light wood.

Real progress involving human flight occurred in 1782 with Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier’s hot air balloon, which Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes piloted in Annonay, France in 1783. This was the first manned, non-tethered flight.

Further progress was made with George Cayley’s gliders (beginning in 1799), Leonardo da Vinci’s Ornithopter design (1845), Samuel P. Langley’s steam-powered aerodrome (1891), the publication of Octave Chanute’s Progress in Flying Machines (1894) and, of course, the groundbreaking work of Orville and Wilbur Wright. In 1903, the Wright Brothers’ “Flyer,” piloted by Orville, traveled 120 feet in twelve seconds at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. This was the first heavier-than-air flight.

Aviation took off from this point at sonic boom speeds, leading to warplanes, work planes and the modern day jet airliner, the latter first developed during the middle part of the 20th century.

Friday, August 16, 2013

My First Story for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

I've been freelancing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since April of 2010. Here's the first story I wrote for the paper, chronicling the house fire and writing life of James and Livia Reasoner.
(Click on the image for a closer look).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Batman and Superman to Team Up in Man of Steel 2

One of my primary sources of income these days is through AntiqueWeek, a weekly newspaper with several editions published across the country. I typically have 1 or 2 (and sometimes 3) articles per week in AntiqueWeek, and those articles are often printed in more than one edition. I get to write about many of the things I enjoy, including comic books, art, conventions, movies, museums, trading cards, collectible toys, and even video games.

From time to time, I reprint one of those articles on my blog, including this piece on Batman and Superman teaming up to fight crime (and probably one another) in Man of Steel 2.
The spectacle that is Comic-Con International: San Diego has come and gone once again, leaving in its wake a number of news items to thrill comic book buffs and fantasy film fans alike. One of the biggest announcements came at the end of the Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures panel, where it was revealed that Batman and Superman will appear together on the silver screen for the very first time.

The tights-wearing twosome will tangle (and, hopefully, work together) in 2015’s Man of Steel 2, directed by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel, Watchmen) from a screenplay by David Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises). Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill will reprise his role as Superman, but there’s no word yet on who will play Batman.

While this will be the motion picture debut of Batman appearing with Superman, the Caped Crusader and the Metropolis Marvel have fought side-by-side in the comics for decades.  

According to DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes (1995, Bulfinch Press) by noted historian Les Daniels, “Superman and Batman shared a brief, one-panel cameo as early as All Star Comics #7 (1941, $5,800 in near mint), but didn’t really get together until Superman #76 (1952, $3,800),” in which Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent independently (not to mention coincidentally) book a vacation cruise on the same ship, learning one another’s secret identities in the process.
Starting with World’s Finest #71 (1954, $2,500), Batman and Superman began appearing within the same stories on a regular bases. In previous issues of World’s Finest, the pair would appear together on the covers, but in separate stories. According to Daniels, the team-ups were serendipitous, occurring “after production economics had shortened the page count and forced them to share the same story.”

During the Silver Age of Comics, Batman and Superman were the best of pals. However, beginning in 1986 with John Byrne’s Man of Steel Superman reboot and Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns, which is set in a dystopian future, the duo’s disparate natures came to the forefront, kick-starting years of conflict—much of it violent—between DC’s two biggest icons.

Industry veteran Paul Kupperberg, who has written numerous Superman titles for DC, prefers cooperation between the characters instead of contempt—fighting evil instead of each other.

“Superman and Batman are good guys, working towards the same end, so why wouldn’t they be friends,” he said. “Of course, that was back in the olden days, when super-heroes were still the good guys, as opposed to the dark and gloomy interpretations we get these days. It would never occur to ‘my’ Superman or Batman to be anything but friends. Superman could achieve the physical things Batman wasn’t capable of doing while Batman could provide Superman with the strategic thinking that the more direct, punch-his-way-through-a-wall Man of Steel didn’t usually employ.”

Kupperberg’s favorite Batman/Superman team-up of all time is “The Origin of the Composite Superman” from World’s Finest #142 (1964, $140), in which a freak accident gives a man all the powers of the entire Legion of Super-Heroes.

“I was nine years old when it came and it just blew my mind,” he said. “The concept was amazing and the visual was awesome. I read and reread that book until it disintegrated. These days, I keep the DC Direct Composite-Superman figure on my desk.”

Regarding Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel 2, which is set to begin filming next year, Kupperberg will approach the movie with “VERY guarded optimism,” hoping that Batman and Superman will put aside their differences long enough to work together as a team.

Monday, August 5, 2013

SMS Encyclopedia - Match 5 for Intellivision - Sonic Book

One of the benefits of being a writer is getting review copies of games, books, and other items. Last week I got a nifty new puzzle game for the Intellivision and two really cool books. I plan to review them at some point, but wanted to go ahead and mention them on my blog as each are worthy projects that deserve attention.

Match 5 is a brand new Intellivision game, complete with professionally produced box, manual, and keypad overlays. It's a puzzler in which, as the title suggests, players match rows of five items to make them disappear. You can order the game, which I've played and thoroughly enjoyed, on the Elektronite website.

Freelancer Derek Slaton, who I met at the Retro Game Fest in Austin, has written reviews of every U.S.-released Sega Master System and published it as The Sega Master System Encyclopedia. Unlike most self-published books, this one has full color illustrations throughout (though you can order a cheaper black and white version). Derek is a nice guy, and you can order his book through his website

The History of Sonic The Hedgehog is a gorgeous hardcover that does an excellent job giving a certain Sega mascot his due. Every great video game character, from Pac-Man to Mr. Do! to Q*bert, deserves such a book. You can order The History of Sonic The Hedgehog here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Atari Inc.—Business is Fun

Syzygy Company Press
Written by Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel
$39.99, softcover, 796 pgs.
Grade: 4.5 Stars (out of 5)

The publication of AtariInc.—Business is Fun is, among other things, the answer to a question that has been posed to me more than once. When talking about my own Classic Home Video Games book series (McFarland Publishers), which is comprised of Leonard Maltin-type reference guides, people have asked me if I will ever write a full-blown video game history book.

I always answer “no” to this question, explaining that there are others more connected to the industry better suited to write such a book. In fact, several people have, most notably Leonard Herman with Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Video Games and Steven L. Kent with The UltimateHistory of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon--The Story Behind the Craze ThatTouched Our Lives and Changed the World.

And now Mary Goldberg and Curt Vendel with Atari Inc.—Business is Fun, a massive tome weighing in at 796 self-published pages. As with many so-called “vanity press” books, Atari Inc. has its share of typos, along with certain relatively minor structural and flow problems, but these can easily be overlooked because of the sheer detail and scope of the project, which covers the pre-history of Atari—Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell at Ampex—up to Jack Tramiel purchasing the company in 1984. Two subsequent volumes are in the works.

Video game history books (as opposed to buyer’s or reference guides) date back at least as far as Zap:The Rise and Fall of Atari (1984) by Scott Cohen, but Atari Inc. delves much deeper than any other book on the subject. The authors went above and beyond to collect as much data and anecdotal information as humanly possible, pouring over old documents and interviewing numerous luminaries, such as Steve Wozniak, who discusses Steve Jobs’ involvement with the company, and Ted Dabney, who provides one of the book’s four forewords (Ralph Baer provides another). Nolan Bushnell, who is often shown in a negative light in the book (though the authors clearly respective his visionary business sense), was interviewed for the project, but he ignored a request to write a foreword. 

Atari Inc.—Business is Fun devotes a lot of time to clearing up Atari history, including the myths and legends surrounding the fact that thousands of Pac-Man and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial cartridges were buried in a landfill. Countless lesser-known-to-the-general-public topics are covered as well, such as the creation of Atari 2600 Chess (which is more interesting than you might think), the rationale behind the confounding, non-centering Atari 5200 controllers, and the story of how General Computer Corp. became a developer for Atari.

This book is indeed a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes information, which you will feel confident as being accurate thanks to the many former Atari employees quoted, and to the qualifications of the authors. A former site director of IGN/GameSpy's ClassicGaming.Com and a current freelancer for Retro Gamer magazine, Goldberg is the founder of the Electronic Entertainment Museum.

As for Vendel, he’s essentially the Forrest J Ackerman (Famous Monsters of Filmland) of the video game industry, collecting Atari drawings, engineering logs, schematics, and technical materials for years. Similar to Ackerman, who rescued and preserved monster movie lobby cards, one-sheets, and the like long before it was considered cool (or important) to do so, Vendel made “trips to Atari's buildings in California to salvage Atari's valuable history from its dumpsters.”

Atari Inc. lacks an index, which is especially regrettable for a volume of its size, but, on a more positive note, each chapter ends with a photo section featuring advertisements, rare prototypes, multi-machine arcade trailers, inter-office memos, memorabilia, offices, programmers, and other nifty images. The pictures are in black-and-white, but that’s hardly unusual for a self-published book.

Atari Inc.—Business is Fun is a monumental work that reveals newly disclosed stories behind Atari, and it clears up misconceptions regarding the company, its people (who truly did have fun working at Atari), and its arcade, console, handheld, and computer games. The book is highly recommended for anyone even remotely interested in maneuvering onscreen images with a joystick and fire button.