The Sunday Magazine: Pokemon GO

Summer is a time for crazy things to do. Two years ago many of us were dumping buckets of ice over our heads for ALS. This summer it will be less altruistic but still sort of silly. Ten days ago the mobile phone game Pokemon GO was released in the US. Since then it has become a phenomenon with more daily users than Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. It already has more players than Candy Crush Saga. This has become an interesting story of new technology sparking good exercise habits and socialization with new people.

The basics of the game is one you download onto your smartphone. When you open the app the phone’s GPS places you on a map of wherever you are. All of the streets you are familiar with are there. What are also there hidden all over are “pocket monsters” or pokemon for short. Your job as a trainer is to “catch ‘em all”. You have an index which keeps track of which ones you have seen. As you walk around you find blue cubes floating that as you come near to them become pokestops. These are stations where you receive the in-game resources you need to catch pokemon. Once you have some pokemon to train you can go to other sites called gyms and battle with other players. Those are the basics here is what is different.

pokemon go logo

Pokemon GO is what is called an augmented reality game. That means the game itself is overlaid on top of your real life. To play it you have to go outside and walk around. Unlike most games which encourage you to sit in one place this one sends you out into the world. I downloaded is a week ago and on the first day I found out little rural town was rife with all of the things needed to play the game.

I went out for a walk on a beautiful summer Sunday and as I traveled from pokestop to pokestop I found others doing the same. A family of four where the women were taking on the men in who could catch the most pokemon. All of this while probably walking a mile or two. Exercise, family bonding, and fun. A group of teen agers sitting on picnic tables near our town hall battling to control the gym there. Laughing as each team took up their own picnic table. One guy I met later in the week talked about how a night out at a local entertainment complex which was supposed to start in the bar. Instead ended there after they had scoured the lake at the center for pokemon and met some women doing that same thing. They worked together to hunt down a rare one and then they enjoyed the rest of the evening together.

I have enjoyed all of my random interactions as I’ve walked around trying to add to my Pokedex. It is a new world of gaming out there and I like it a lot.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I was talking about the literary genre of cyberpunk recently. Speaking of how visionary it was for what eventually came to pass. When I read Neuromancer by William Gibson in 1984 I expected that this would become one of the most populated shelves in my library. It hasn’t turned out to be the case because I think to write well within this it takes more than writing skills. Nearly all of the best cyberpunk authors are polymaths with ever expanding interests across numerous fields. The best example of this is author Neal Stephenson. In the summer of 1992 when I read his book Snow Crash I realized this was someone who had a visionary perspective. Over the years since that has only been confirmed with each new book he writes. Snow Crash is where it started.

Snowcrash

The story is set in near-future Los Angeles which is no longer part of the United States. The country has been divided into corporate, criminal or entrepreneurial ownership of the major cities and areas. At the beginning of the book we meet Hiro Protagonist who is a pizza delivery boy for the Mafia. Hiro loses his job early on. He pairs up with his new friend Y.T. to mine the virtual reality Metaverse for intelligence and sell it to those interested in the information. During this they discover there is a virus out in the Metaverse called Snow Crash which goes beyond infecting your online avatar it also affects the real-life person behind it. The search for who is behind Snow Crash is what drives the book over the rest of the narrative.

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Neal Stephenson

What is great about Mr. Stepehnson is his ability to combine a futuristic plot and layer it with heavy bands of ancient Sumerian. The language and the mythology of that past civilization are critical pieces to the ultimate resolution of the plot in Snow Crash. This might sound a little silly as I describe it. Within Mr. Stephenson’s written world, it is presented in an entirely engaging manner. It drew me in enough that I would spend some time in the library reading more about ancient Sumeria. In every novel since Snow Crash Mr. Stephenson has found a way to continue this combination of the historical with the future.

Over the past twenty-four years and eight successive novels Mr. Stephenson has provided one of the most interesting voices in all of literature, not just cyberpunk. If you have never experienced his writing Snow Crash is the best place to begin.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Suspense v. Surprise

Last year I saw the documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut. In that movie 30-year old Francois Truffaut interviewed 63-year old Alfred Hitchcock in 1962. If you love movies on the making of film it is a must-see. What stuck with me from the moment I saw the film was the response Mr. Hitchcock gave when asked by M. Truffaut on what differentiated surprise over suspense. It made me think of moviemaking differently. I was very strongly reminded of this quote after the opening 20-minutes of the season 6 finale of Game of Thrones. Here is the quote:

Hitchcock-Truffaut

Francois Truffaut (l.) and Alfred Hitchcock

“There is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise," and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!"

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

From the moment I heard this from Mr. Hitchcock’s mouth I knew it explained my fascination with suspense on the screen. I am a gigantic fan of Quentin Tarantino and he is perhaps the modern-day “Master of Suspense”. In nearly all of his movies the audience has more information than the characters. When they enter into conflict the suspense ratchets up.

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Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in "Inglorious Basterds"

Most of Mr. Tarantino’s movies have this happen later in to the movie and I am not one to spoil the plot. Thankfully one of the best examples comes from the beginning of the 2009 movie “Inglorious Basterds”. The first 15-minutes of the film introduce us to SS officer Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, as he interviews a French farmer on the whereabouts of a Jewish family who also lived nearby. The first eight-minutes or so seems like typical questioning as Herr Landa sets up his eventual end game. At the ten-minute mark the camera tracks downward through the floorboards and we see the family being discussed above hiding in abject terror. As the camera tracks back upward the scene has transformed into a long suspenseful beat as we in the audience want the family to run away before they are discovered. “Inglorious Basterds” is really a masterclass in setting up suspenseful situations which we as the audience are deeply drawn in to. There are five other set pieces leading up to the final act each of them different riffs on suspense.

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Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in "Game of Thrones"

Suspense has always been a part of the big screen experience, it is much harder to maintain on television because of those pesky commercials. Except last week’s season six finale of Game of Thrones spent the first 20-minutes in a suspenseful set piece which might just be the best twenty minutes of this show, ever. Episode director Miguel Sapochnik shows our main players getting ready for a pivotal trial to come. We watch them dress and prepare with pleasure or dread of what is to come. One aspect of building suspense can be the music. In this particular case Ramin Djawadi uses a suite of piano, strings, organ and choir to slowly give the audience an audible clue something is amiss. As Mr. Sapochnik shoots the scene we begin to see what is happening behind the scenes of the trial. We as audience know something is wrong and then we are shown what that is. The final five minutes is that moment, again, where we as audience are yelling at the screen for them to move. Of course, they don’t.

These two scenes are fantastic examples of using suspense to introduce the villain in the case of “Inglorious Basterds” or to payoff years of watching these characters place themselves in the spots they are in when the suspense is released as in “Game of Thrones”.

As soon as I finished watching the episode I was immediately reminded of Mr. Hitchcock’s words to M. Truffaut. They will always allow me to watch movies differently, bless them for doing that.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Green Hat and Monkey 47 Botanical Gins

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We have now hit the part of the summer where the garden is near its peak. When a warm breeze blows across our plot of growing things the smell of botanicals is one of my favorite natural smells. That love of herbal extends to my taste in beverages. I regularly add lavender and basil to my lemonade. Gin is my alcohol of choice especially in the heat. I rotate through my favorite gin cocktails with abandon.

Just like the expansion of independent perfumery there is a similar movement happening with distilled spirits. There are now numerous small batch versions of just about any one you can name. Also similarly to the independent perfume movement these small distillers can use materials that large distillers can’t due to cost and sourcing. Which means they are niche liquors.

When it comes to gin the movement is to use more and more botanicals during distillation. This has the effect of adding a lot of complexity to the typical juniper berry coriander axis of most mainstream gins. I have two examples of this kind of gin to tell you about; Green Hat and Monkey 47.

green hat gin

When I moved to the Washington DC metro area I was introduced to Green Hat gin on one of my earliest visits to a craft cocktail bar. I had this amazing martini with this gin which oozed lush green vibes of the summer garden. I found out later Green Hat is from the New Columbia Distillers founded in 2011 right in DC itself. They currently have two seasonal bottlings to go with their regular version.

The name came from the story of George Casaday who was the supplier to Congress during Prohibition. He was known as “The Man in the Green Hat”. Throughout the dry years our lawmakers were able to partake of Mr. Casaday’s wares. Before the mid-term election in 1930 he would be the star source in a series of Washington Post articles exposing the hypocrisy of the Congressmen voting against repeal while drinking his gin.

My favorite cocktail with Green Hat is a Basil Gimlet:

Take five or six basil leaves and half a lime. cut into quarters. Crush them in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add a shot of Green Hat Gin with a fifth of a shot of simple syrup. Add ice and shake well. Strain into a martini glass. Spoon out some of the mashed up basil leaves and float them right in the center.

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I didn’t think it was possible but I recently discovered an even more botanical gin which also has some perfumed parallels. This new gin is called Monkey 47. The 47 signifies the percentage of alcohol and the number of botanical ingredients added to the distillation. I have been thinking of it as the Le Labo of gin. The absolute fun of this gin is every time I sip some I can discover a new one of the 47. There are a few which stand out more than others and the most unique is the choice of cranberry. You smell it right when you open the bottle and it is a surprisingly charming companion to the more well-known juniper berry.

Monkey 47 also has a colorful origin story. Post World War 2 Royal Air Force Wing Commander Monty Collins was assigned to the Allied half of Berlin. This also contained the badly damaged Berlin Zoo which he made his pet project to restore. During that time, he would sponsor an egret monkey by the name of Max. After he retired from the RAF in 1951 he opened a guesthouse in the Black Forest region of Germany named “The Wild Monkey”. He wanted to serve gin at his establishment but the distillers in that part of Germany mostly made fruit liqueurs. He would ally with one of them to create the trademark gin of his hotel which he called Monkey 47.

Monkey 47 is the first gin I have ever come across I just want to sip slightly chilled with nothing else added. It really is like a perfume for the tongue as there is so much here to experience.

I am planning on using it in a variation on a contemporary gin cocktail called a Blue Bonnet.

Take 10 blueberries and ½ ounce of honey and mash them up in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add one shot of Monkey 47, ¾ ounce of Meyer lemon juice and shake over ice. Strain into a glass containing ice.

The variation is to remove tarragon which is in the original recipe. With the Monkey 47 tarragon probably doesn’t need to be #48.

If you’re looking for a summery twist to your gin recipes try adding either of these excellent botanical gins.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of both of these gins.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Christo and Jean-Claude

I have definitely evolved on the concept of large outdoor installations as something artistic. I know when I first heard of the artist team of Christo and Jean-Claude I thought their idea of art was ridiculous. In 1972 they erected a 24.5-mile fence covered in fabric in California. A fabric covered fence was art? Nonsense I thought. I would soon get a chance to revise that thinking because the artists were coming to my hometown.

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Jean-Claude and Christo

Christo and Jean-Claude wanted to surround eleven small islands in Biscayne Bay with pink fabric. As they started the permitting process in 1981 there was a fierce debate about whether this was environmentally wise. If the money needed was going to drain local arts funding. Finally, was it all just a self-aggrandizing stunt. I can say when this was all being kicked around I was firmly in the camp that this was ego and not art.

surrounded islands

By May of 1983 Christo and Jean-Claude were ready to unfurl their project. Once I actually saw it and experienced it live I was mesmerized. The color of the fabric was an interstitial band between the turquoise water and the green growth on the islands. Each island presented its own unique canvas. The moment which really turned me around was a sunset I was out sailing by one of the wrapped islands. Twilight was falling the lights of the city skyline were turning on as the water was transitioning from turquoise to inky black. In those moments I was treated to a different view of my hometown milieu all because of a few panels of pink fabric. Standing at the tiller of my sailboat my opinion was being transformed as surely as the day was turning into night. I became a fan from then on.

the gates

It would be twenty years before I would once again feel the power of Christo and Jean-Claude in person again. In February of 2005 they set up an installation within New York City’s Central Park called “The Gates”. Running throughout the park were gates which held a panel of saffron colored fabric. I walked all the way through all of the gates. What was magical was Mother Nature helped to change things as a snow storm blanketed the ground in white about midway through the two weeks the exhibit was up. It was just after that when I made my second visit to The Gates, again at sunset. Facing west as the sun began to descend it lit up the fabric making them glow. With the stark white snow as a background it was another reminder how these installations provided me unique perspective on that which I know well.

Floating piers

I am reminded of these two moments because the latest Christo and Jean-Claude project “The Floating Piers” just opened yesterday om Italy’s Lake Iseo. For this project a floating walkway covered in orange fabric provides an opportunity to walk on water from the mainland out to, and around, an island in the lake. The picture I saw of it today almost makes me want to jump on a plane. If I did I would make sure to be out on the walkway at sunset because, at least for me, this is when the artistry of Christo and Jean-Claude is at its most vibrant.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Heavy Metal Revisited

There was a time during the mid-1970’s when everything European was cooler. Punk Rock was cooler in Europe. Clothes were cooler in Europe. I heard there were even amazing perfumes in Europe. My source of this information were the many British tourists who discovered Miami Beach at this time as a bargain beach destination. In these days they were a source on many things I was interested in.

As a comic geek there was always an issue of something on me as I would move among the British chatting them up. During one of these I met a French man my age who told me about these amazing European comic artists/writers. The names were Moebius, Philippe Druillet and others. He promised to send me some examples when he returned. Good to his word he did and I had a small taste of something happening outside of my reach.

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Heavy Metal 1977 Cover by Moebius

I remember walking into my local bookstore in 1977 and glancing at the rack. There was a magazine with a drawing which looked like it had been done by Moebius. I immediately beelined right for it. It was called Heavy Metal. Upon opening it I was delighted to find an American magazine that was going to try and do comics European style. I immediately subscribed and was a reader for twenty years. By the end one of the consistent criticisms was it was more about boobs than brains. Certainly by 1997 I was able to get hardcover collections of all my favorite Europeans. Since then I really haven’t thought much about it.

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Grant Morrison

In March I received a press release announcing a new Editor-in-Chief who would be starting with Issue 280. The new man in charge was going to be Grant Morrison. I became aware of Mr. Morrison through a sort of competitor to Heave Metal called 2000 AD. Published in 1993 it was where his envelope pushing style would begin to be sharpened. In the mid 2000’s DC would hire him to work on a number of their titles. His run on Superman and Justice League are among my favorites of those long-time series. He is a legitimate superstar in the world of comics.

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Heavy Metal #280 Cover Art by Mozchops

His involvement with Heavy Metal got me to go down to my bookstore and pick up his first copy as EIC #280. It starts with Mr. Morrison giving us an idea what his version of Heavy Metal is. Based on what I read I think he is hoping to raise its profile again. As much as things might change; in the second story in the issue there were some boobs on display. Some things change some stay the same. The opening piece by Mr. Morrison felt like something from his 2000 AD days which I liked as a throwback. My only quibble is the presumed twist seems telegraphed.

Throughout the twelve stories I found myself enjoying this return to an old friend. The final story called Salsa Invertebraxa by Mozchops is the one which will get me to purchase #281. I really want to see where this goes. Much in the same way I want to see what a Grant Morrison Heavy Metal looks like. I’m not sure if this is just a dalliance or full-fledged rekindling but for now I’m willing to read and see.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Muhammad Ali

There were two sports that I learned at my father’s side. One was horse racing. The other was boxing. He loved both sports and equally enjoyed having a son to pass his knowledge on to. I was never going to be a jockey. My short-lived boxing foray showed me I didn’t have any aptitude at that either. Like my father I was going to be an armchair aficionado. Because of his love for the sweet science we would go down to the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach to watch the fighters train. On one of our earliest visits Muhammad Ali was training.

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Muhammad Ali at the 5th Street Gym September 27, 1965

I think it was 1965 and he was training for his rematch with Sonny Liston whom he had won the Heavyweight Title from two years previously. Every time we visited 5th Street I would marvel at the hand speed as I watched the boxers train. Even at six years old I could tell Ali was a different kind of fighter. He intently listened to his trainers but he also had this incredible spirit as he went about his training routine. Focused when he needed to be; smiling and talking when he wanted to. The athleticism was one thing but there was also something else a six-year-old was able to learn too.

At that age I spent as much time watching the adults around me as I did anything. I was looking for what the proper cues were. What was it I could act like to be considered a “big boy” which was the goal of any six-year-old boy. The people in the gym watching were probably three to one white to black. The black people clearly adored Ali. He stood for many things. After beating Liston in 1963 he would convert to Islam soon after changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. Many black men were adopting Islam and changing their names but Ali was one of the most prominent to do it. He stood as a representative to his beliefs.

There were also some of those black patrons at the gym that just liked seeing a man of their skin color being as admired as Ali was. He stood for a race without backing down. His fast talking rhyming style made him the street rapper of his day. His people loved that he was bringing that out of the shadows of the urbanized areas of the country.

What I found most interesting was the two reactions I noticed on the white men. On many there was an open disgust. I know if I could read their mind they were hoping Liston would knock him out and a colored man who knew his place would be on top again. That was most of them.

There was also a smaller group who realized we were in the middle of a generational change in America of which Ali was part of. On them I noticed that slight smile as they watched. These were the men who weren’t going to resist the changes coming they were going to figure out how to adapt to them. I am happy to say my father was one of this group.

From that point on I was a Muhammad Ali fan. When he declined to be drafted to fight in Vietnam I didn’t care. My father explained it to me as best that he could. I understood he was standing up for his beliefs and I think that was what my father wanted me to learn from what was happening.

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Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman 1974

As I got older Ali was an enduring star. Throughout the 1970’s as he had his most famous series of fights with Joe Frazier and George Foreman he would shine his brightest. Like too many boxers he went on too long and Father Time finally KO’d him when he retired for good in 1981.

The final phase of Ali’s life was that of ambassador and sportsman for boxing and Parkinson’s Disease which struck him beginning in 1984.He would light the Olympic flame in 1996 in Atlanta. Throughout the next twenty years he stayed as active as his condition allowed.

As I reflect on the man who passed away yesterday I kept thinking about that day in the 5th Street Gym when he taught me about boxing and human nature all by being himself.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Justin Timberlake

There is something within the entertainment industry that I have always had a sort of morbid fascination with. It is watching child stars try and make the transition into long-term mainstream success. This is a process with many more who fail than who succeed. One of the successes is Justin Timberlake.

I was reminded of how he has successfully transitioned as I was listening to his new single “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” The song has become an immediate earworm for me and I suspect it is going to be in the running for the Song of Summer 2016. As I’ve listened it occurred to me that Mr. Timberlake has come full circle. The new song could easily have been sung in five-part harmony when he was part of the boy band NSYNC.

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Justin Timberlake in his NSYNC Days

It was in that group, which debuted in 1995, where most of us heard him for the first time. The mid-1990’s was an era of boy bands all competing for that same pre-teen teenage girl market. It is a lucrative market as has been proven time and again. The drawback is it has a built in shelf life; the age span of their fans who can state their age with the suffix -teen as part of it. Once the fans lose that they also tend to drop what they begin to see as something which was part of their childhood; meant to be grown out of. Every one of these bands has gone through it and none of them has survived the growing up of their fans. Which then usually leaves the members looking around.

NSYNC chose to take a hiatus in 2002 and Mr. Timberlake would release his own solo album “Justified”. It showed someone who maybe had something more going on. It was his take on classic R&B. Where I ignored NSYNC “Justified” made its way on to my iPod. The album was a big success. Mr. Timberlake seemed poised to continue his musical career on his own. Except he made a different choice.

Justin Timberlake 2016

Justin Timberlake 2016

That choice was to take on an acting career; which he was unexpectedly good at. It peaked for me with his portrayal of Sean Parker in 2010’s “The Social Network”. He also showed off he was equally adept at comedy. The apex of that might have been the short he did with SNL Andy Samberg and the rest of the Lonely Island called “Dick in a Box”. From there he would make multiple appearances with some of the best sketch comedians. One thing this conveyed to me was his ability to be at ease with himself enough to be able to laugh about it.

He didn’t give up music for good and he collaborated with many of the biggest stars. His two-part album “The 20/20 Experience” showed a mature adult artist. Produced with Timbaland there was no point where I was reminded of his NSYNC days. Which leads us to this latest single.

I believe Mr. Timberlake is perfectly happy to go back to his pop music roots because he has proven himself over and over to be so much more. Which is good because “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is definitely on my summer 2016 playlist.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s Game of Thrones Season 6

One of my earliest The Sunday Magazine pieces was in praise of the visual adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series in HBO’s Game of Thrones. When I wrote about it back then the television series was using what was on the printed page and putting it on screen with the assistance of Mr. Martin who was writing an episode per season. Through five seasons what I viewed was what I had read but now we have one of the more interesting occurrences with the adaptation of a sprawling high fantasy epic as the current sixth season has passed the books by.

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George R.R. Martin

In every other visual adaptation of a science-fiction or fantasy written series the books have been completed prior to their conversion to the screen. When it was announced that HBO was going to start Game of Thrones before the books were completed I had a selfish thought, “Good it will prod Mr. Martin into writing a bit faster.” I thought that he would do anything to make sure he got to the finish before the television series did. The fifth book “A Dance with Dragons” was released a few months after the end of season 1 in 2011. Since then the next book “The Winds of Winter” has remained unfinished while “Game of Thrones” consumed all of the plot Mr. Martin had written. I thought Mr. Martin would move heaven and earth to get “The Winds of Winter” out before season 6 began showing. That was clearly Mr. Martin’s goal as he posted in his blog on January 2, 2016 when he admitted he would not succeed in achieving it. Which leaves the fans of this series in a fascinating place. The television series is going to finish the story before the author.

game of thrones promo

Mr. Martin, in the same blog post, answered the question will the show spoil the books. “Yes and no” was what he said. He has also said the final destination of both is the same but the path will be different enough.

It has made watching this current season very different for me. In the past I knew what was going to happen and it was fun to know when the big twists were coming. Now we are all learning without foreknowledge together, book reader and viewer. After four of this season’s ten episodes have aired there is a definite feel to the pace being accelerated towards the endgame. In the books there have been assumptions about certain characters coming together but those are not quite there. So far in season 6 those changes are happening at a fairly rapid clip. The chessboard that is Game of Thrones has seemingly swept the board clear of pawns leaving the major pieces in play. Fan theories have been confirmed and dashed as the story moves along.

There are a number of readers of the books who have sworn off watching the series until the books are finished. They feel Mr. Martin should be the one who finishes the story for them. I admire their patience but I am willing to let the showrunners of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, tell me the ending. I am looking forward to going back to this fork in the road and taking Mr. Martin’s route when it is published.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Two of my favorite forms of literature are the hardboiled crime novel exemplified by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. This form shows a corrupt society where a hero needs to function with his own set of rules. The other favorite is cyberpunk. The science-fiction genre which deals with near-future timeframes where it is slightly dystopian and all technological. Our heroes also have to follow their own specific code (pun not intended) to survive cyberspace. The basic foundation should be a perfect match for a clever author to combine the two. It seems like it is easier said than done. The best example is the 2002 book Altered Carbon by author Richard K. Morgan.

altered carbon cover

Mr. Morgan introduces us to a classic locked room mystery set in the morally ambiguous cyberpunk milieu. Our hero and narrator is Takeshi Kovacs. Before the prologue is over we are quickly introduced to a world where physical death is not the end. Everyone has a digital stack at the place where the spinal cord meets the cranium. In that stack is everything that makes you a person. It updates regularly and when you die that data is transferred to a new body. The bodies are referred to as sleeves. The only true death is to hold a gun directly on the stack and destroy that. The richest have lived for hundreds of years this way and are called Meths, short for Methuselah. One of the longest lived Meths is presumed to have committed suicide by putting a gun to his stack; in a locked study. When he wakes up in his new sleeve the last 48 hours are missing. He believes he was murdered and hires Takeshi Kovacs to find out the truth.

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Richard K. Morgan

Mr. Morgan moves effortlessly between the two genres. Mr. Kovacs is the first person narrator with a style that could come from San Francisco of the 1940’s as easily as Bay City of the indeterminate future. The concept of immortality as a function of digitizing our consciousness is a classic cyberpunk theme. Live forever in the digital stream.

The story moves to a satisfying conclusion which lives up to both hardboiled and cyberpunk traditions.

I was very excited to hear that Netflix has ordered a 10-episode series adapting the book.

As we approach the beginning of the beach reading season if you want a well-done combo platter grab a copy of Altered Carbon.

Mark Behnke