Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Taste of Trouble

I thought for fun I'd post the first chapter of my book Trouble (that's the cover off to the left. It's available now Kindle at Amazon). Humorous science fiction with a western flair. It was a lot of fun to write. I love the characters and hope to write a sequel eventually. If you like this, check out the rest at Amazon.

Chapter 1

The Past Comes Calling

Kate dashed down the stairs, two at a time, hoping to stop the pounding before it woke up the entire house. The carillon had been set to sound only in her room, but whoever was outside had given up on that, instead resorting to an insistent banging that thundered throughout the building. The desperate customer must have been out on the plains a long, lonely time.
“Hold on, hold on.” Punching on the foyer light, she pressed a few buttons to fine tune the peep screen. The rain, however, was coming down fast and the men were too saturated and disheveled for identification. Were they Liberty Weekend revelers arriving early? “Hey, listen,” she called through the door, “the kids are sleeping. They need their beauty rest. Come back tomorrow and they’ll be all nice and fresh.”
“Kate, open up!”
That the rumble of a slow tanker on take-off. It was unmistakable.
“Kate, it’s Bear! Open up! It’s an emergency!”
Tapping in the code, she heard the bolts clang open. “Bear?” Throwing open the door she was greeted by the massive hulk of a man she gave up six years ago. Soaking wet, he tumbled into the foyer, dragging something along with him bundled in a cloak. It was a man, by the looks of things, dripping wet as well, but slighter and half dead. Supported by the larger man, the bundle groaned in a half conscious delirium.
Stoic as ever, the huge man flatly asked, “Kate, you have a bed free?”
“Sure. Sure we do.” Noting drops of blood staining the water puddles on the floor, she said, “But he needs to go to the clinic.”
“A doctor, yes, but a clinic is out of the question.”
“Bear, he could die.”
“Kate, please.”
From the stairs behind them, a sleepy, curious voice called out, “Kate, what’s going on?”
“Renny.” She turned and motioned for the young man to join them downstairs. At the sight of the travelers, the young man’s pale eyes widened, but he remained calm. “Renny, listen to me. I want you to run to the clinic and fetch Dr. Naulish. If he’s not there, track him down at his house.” Sensing the need for discretion, she told him, “Tell him that I accidentally shot myself. With a slug, not a tazer. There’s a lot of blood.”
The boy glanced at the two strangers. “But, Kate...”
 “Tell him also that I’d like the accident kept quiet. Remind him that he’s run up quite a tab here.”
The boy nodded and, with a last look at the strangers, sprang upstairs to find his rain gear.
Then Kate took hold of the injured man’s free arm and placed it around her shoulders. As they inched up the stairs, more of her charges peeked over the third floor railing. To their gasped questions, she said, “Never mind. All of you back to bed. Tomorrow’s a big day.”
Bear didn’t like the sound of that. She could tell from his grunt.
They struggled down the east hall, the injured man fighting off waves of pain evident by the way he groaned and squeezed her shoulder. She was right in her guess. This was no tazer attack, judging by the blood trailing after them. It was either a blade or a slug wound, neither boding much promise. She wondered how much of his dampness was rain and how much was fever sweat.
She steered them to a room at the end of the hall that hadn’t been used since her aunt died four years before. It was spacious and bright, done in the healing tones of pink that had helped comfort the woman in her aunt’s painful battle with Paler’s disease. A losing battle. Since the last day, Kate had changed the bed linen regularly, adding fresh shurai blossoms daily. But she never had the heart to let anyone use the room. Customers and personnel were not allowed. There’d be no games played in that room. Too many memories.
Now, watching Bear ease his companion onto the bed, she hoped that the room wouldn’t see another soul pass.
 “Kate, can you help me?”
Bear was trying to undress the man without moving him too much. The wound on his left side oozed red. Hurrying over, an ironic thought struck her. She had certainly undressed many an unconscious man in her time, but they were usually intoxicated and saved her a night’s work, only too ready to believe the convincing lie she gave them the next day. This night was going to be an all-nighter.
As she undid the man’s weapon belt and started on his pants, a door creaking caught her attention. Looking up, she saw pretty little Deeta staring at the scene. The girl’s pale, young eyes, which had already seen so much, still registered shock at the unaccustomed sight of lingering death.
 “Kate,” the girl started softly, “can I help?”
 “Yes, honey. Go to the kitchen. Fetch hot water, some towels, some perox soap and...”
 “Some yskatol,” Bear grumbled.
Kate looked at him. “We don’t need liquor, we have anesthesia.”
“The yskatol is for me.”
She nodded at the girl, who shot out of the room. “I guess I shouldn’t bother with anesthesia till the doctor gets here. Though from what I remember about your constitution, the anesthesia would have more effect on you than the yskatol.”
“The drinking is half the fun.”
Going into the bathroom, she gathered a few towels and returned to press one on the wound, discarding a makeshift bandage soaked with blood. “Here, hold this,” she told him, using the other towel to gently wipe the dirt and sweat from the squirming man’s face. “So, who is he, Bear?” A million questions ran through her mind, but for some reason this seemed most important.
“He’s my brother.”
“Brother? You told me you were an only child.”
He stared at his brother, and for a moment his face softened. “Guess now it looks like I might get my wish.”
Before Kate could reply, Deeta brought in the first-aid and stood over Kate’s shoulder while it was applied.
“Is he gonna die?” the girl asked breathlessly, almost fearful.
Bear shot her a hard look but Kate told her, “We can’t be sure. The doctor should be here soon.” To Bear, she said, “I don’t see an exit wound. That slug in there has to come out. I’m assuming it’s a slug.”
He frowned, nodding.
Deeta seemed at once fascinated and frightened. Fascinated, no doubt, by the looks of this handsome young stranger, Kate figured. At one point, the patient stopped writhing and opened his eyes. The stunning purple gaze grew even brighter with fever and landed upon Deeta. For the first time, he grew peaceful and calm as if looking upon some angelic vision sent to soothe him. He smiled. Then his eyes closed, his smile fading, and he fell into deep unconsciousness.
“I don’t believe it.” Bear looked up at Deeta with a grin. “The shape he’s in and he still has the energy to flirt.”
The young girl turned a color she hadn’t blushed in a long time. At that moment, the carillon rang through the house signaling another visitor. Kate locked eyes with Bear. “That’s the front door.”
“The doctor?” he asked.
“Unless your friends followed to finish the job.”
Standing, Bear positioned himself behind the door, tazer at the ready. “Those friends ain’t the kind to come in through the front door.”
Kate knew what to do. She’d been through the drill many times. Play it cool till whoever was coming, came. She only hoped it was the doctor. Deeta followed her lead and together they waited.
“Katie.” It was the doctor, voice as strong and clipped as normal. “Katie, this better be a matter of life or death to roust me out of bed this hour.”
He entered the room and paused at the sight before him. Then he turned at the sound of Bear’s footsteps.
“It’s life or death, all right, Doc.” Bear held the weapon to his mouth. “Yours, if you don’t save my brother.”
“Oh, for Zalla’s sake, Bear.” Pushing the gun aside, Kate led the doctor to his patient, telling him, “I can’t stop the bleeding.”
“Slug still in him?”
“Seems to be.”
A disgusted sigh escaped the doctor’s lips. “Then, damn it! Why isn’t he at the clinic? Though, I s’pose that question’s as off limits as any others I might have.”
“You s’pose right,” Bear growled.
The doctor prepared the tools from his bag and studied the prone man. “I’ll do what I can, but gun or no gun, I’m not a miracle worker. Deeta, you stay and assist. Kate, you take that massive mautek out of here. He’s making me nervous. If I have to operate, you don’t want me nervous.”
Kate thought of the blood soaking into the linen and wondered if fate would be kinder this time than it had been to the last occupant of the bed. Taking Bear’s arm, she dragged him from the room, noting that his movements seemed both worried and weary. Who knew how far they had ridden? Last she heard of him, he was in Tullik Par, a full week’s ride by express.
“We didn’t go by tech,” he told her, taking a seat on the over-stuffed couch once in the privacy of her room. “We rode in on chiitorahs.”
Face quizzical, she handed him a glass of her smoothest, strongest mox, then returned to the liquor cart for her own. He was an extremely accomplished rider, but... “You hate riding chiitorahs.”
“They’re not as clean and easy as tech travel, but on some terrain, they’re perfect for...”
He gulped at the mox. “For a lot of things.”
“Riding chiitorahs in a major down-pour with an injured man. What terrain did you head in from?”
Bear sighed, rubbing his face, reluctant as ever. “Jeffers City. Rode out about five hours ago.”
“Jeffers City is a twelve hour leisure trot on chiitorahs. What made you cover the distance in nearly half that?”
“As you said, I had an injured man with me.”
Kate settled beside him. “Jeffers has a good clinic. Would have to for all the mining accidents they have.”
“You ain’t gonna let this go, are you?”
Smiling, she licked her lips and stared at him. “Bear, who do you think you’re talking to? I was there when you weren’t just riding chiitorahs, you were stealing them. I’ve seen you outgun a man during a game of chips.”
 “He accused me of cheating.”
 “You were.” This brought a deep chuckle from him that tickled her as well. She grew serious though. “Why’d you leave Jeffers in such a hurry? Why is your brother bleeding to death?”
Rising stiffly, Bear went to pour more mox. Studying the glass, he scratched at his beard, which seemed as full and coppery as his hair. “You know, they say that when my mom was four months along with him, she was struck by lightning. A normal baby still in the stomach might have called it quits and aborted right then. But not that stubborn little...”
 “What’s his name?”
 “Trouble and with good reason.”
 “It’s hard to believe that you’re even related.”
 “Pa worked pirating off planet. Trouble was the product of one of Ma’s many marital indiscretions. We got a sister somewhere, too. Pa was never much good with math, so he just figured that he was the proud father of two sons and a daughter. Ma swore us to secrecy years ago.” Bringing the bottle over to the couch, he filled her glass then topped off his, hissing, “Little son of a Sherber.”
 “Yep. That’s where he gets all his wiriness from.”
 “It doesn’t seem like you’re all that fond of him.”
 “Good, cause I’m not.”
She ignored this. “Then again, things aren’t always what they seem.”
“Well, they are in this case.”
“Oh really?”
He grunted. He growled. He made a variety of noises that he always made during denial. “Okay. I’ll admit, time was when we were kids that a shadow for a younger brother had potential. But that potential never panned out. He’s been a rock in my shoe since the day he was born.  Like that fiasco he pulled me into recently.”
“Oh yeah, that fiasco you were just about to tell me about.”
Sighing, he said, “Okay, first understand something. I’ve gone straight. Been clean for the past six years.”
“I knew that you would.”
She smiled. “Bear, you were remarkable at criminal skills, but there was one thing holding you back. That was your conscience. A person can’t mug someone then worry about how the victim will pay for dinner later that night.”
“I s’pose it don’t surprise you to learn that I was sheriff in Jeffers City.”
“Not really. You had to put that energy and talent to some use. Who better to handle criminals than someone like yourself?”
          Bear conceded this, taking another gulp of mox. “Well, it turns out that Trouble got a bit of 

that conscience as well, only I didn’t know it at the time. He’d been making a name for himself 

on Landrus, outdrawing slowpokes who never should have called him out in the first place. Hadn’t 

seen him in eight years, which was fine by me. Like I said, he’s a problem. When I saw him riding 

in that first day, I had a feeling he’d come looking to join me in the action I’d already given up. 

Either that, or to try to convince me to dive back into my old ways. This time I made a promise to 

myself that I wasn’t going to let him yank me into any of the trouble that traveled with him.”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

And Now the Fun Begins

This year I've ramped up my efforts in promoting that thing I laughingly call my writing career. That is a bit of a problem. Part of having a writing career is self promotion. In fact, self promotion is probably about 85 percent of the game. For me, self promotion has never been easy. It's about as natural to me as flying is to a penguin. We have the wings, they're just not very useful.


I remember when Chicago's Most Wanted came out. I was working in circulation at the Park Ridge Library and when my book...the book I'd put so much effort into producing, was checked out by patrons, coworkers pointed out the connection between it and me more than I did. I was thrilled someone was reading it, proud of what I had produced, but I just sort of shrank away from making my relation to it known. You can't do that when you're trying to make a career out of writing.

On this blog and now my website, I bill myself as "the greatest writer that has ever lived" oh sure, partly cause it just may very well be true. But mainly because of the sheer absurdity of the statement. I like to have fun. I love to laugh. Often the more stressful a situation the more my urge to spout a highly inappropriate observation or just plain laughter (and actually, sometimes I'm told my "inappropriate" comment was far from it). I can't help it. It's a condition. Like my tendency to break into song. I've had people comment, "Well you're in a good mood." To which I reply, "Not necessarily. It could be either."

The fact is that, re: my status as "the greatest writer that ever lived", I've never been someone who bought my own publicity. Or anyone's publicity about me. If the celestial ringmaster came down from up high and told me point blank that, indeed, I was the greatest writer that ever lived, I'd still question its judgement (or its sanity).

I've spent most of my youth trying to avoid attention and now I'm in a position where I must court it. I have to convince people that I have something to offer and the problem is that I'm not completely convinced of it myself.

Some people have no difficulty selling themselves, even when they have precious little to sell. Of course, confidence, misplaced or not, is a key element in that talent. It helps project the sincerity needed to close the sale. Confidence has always alluded me for a number of reasons of which I won't bore you with now (though you can read it in my autobiography, What the Hell Just Happened! The Laura Enright Story to be published in the near future or far distant past, depending on how fast we get the whole "time travel" thing going).

Then you have the other side of the coin. People with incredible talent who fly way below the radar because, whether out of shyness or because they simply don't desire it, they don't make their presence known. Kind of like when Obi Wan Kenobi gave up his Jedi past and became a simple hermit in the hills. 

Or not.

The point is that I'm not sure where I belong really. Am I an extrovert by necessity not by design? Or do I really like to be worshipped and adored? I mean, if that worship and adoration were to ever occur. 

I suspect I'm somewhere in the middle when it comes to the goods. I have more than I think, and less than I'd like to have.

Or perhaps it goes back to that penguin. The penguin looks up into the sky and sees a graceful eagle, swooping and soaring. Then he flaps his wings wildly but no amount of wing-flapping will lift him off the ground. So, he waddles along on the ice.

Until he reaches the ocean. Then, he slips in and moves just as gracefully in the water as the eagle did in the sky. He can, in some respects fly, he just needs to be in the right element. 

Just like the rest of us.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sci Fi And Sitcoms Pt. II

While comedy can be a fun mix with science fiction, not every comedy using it involved a friendly alien visiting earth. Some had fun with the future. The pilot for "Quark," interestingly enough, was broadcast May 7, 1977 a few weeks before "Star Wars" came out in the theaters in what would seem was a spate of growing interest in science fiction space opera (the original "Battlestar Galactica" first premiered in 1978 and "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" a year later). Richard Benjamin played Adam Quark, a dashing and intrepid space captain who none the less commanded a garbage scow. His team, including Betty I and II (a woman and her clone played by Cyb and Tricia Barnstable), Gene/Jean (a humanoid with both sets of gender hormones played by Tim Thomerson) and Ficus Pandorata (a life form from a sentient plant race played by Richard Kelton) picked up the refuse left behind by ships on more important missions. Yet somehow, Quark managed to get into situations where the fate of the universe rested on his shoulders. The show, created by Buck Henry, lasted only eight episodes, the blending of science fiction and comedy at times awkward and the effects a little dicey. Who knows what might have been if the show had been given more of a chance to find an audience and hit its stride. But it seems that that while audiences at the time were willing to watch their space opera spectaculars on the big screen, they were not so willing to do so on the small screen.

A much better version of comedy in space is "Red Dwarf", originally airing on the BBC. Dave Lister, played by Craig Charles, a lowly worker on the Red Dwarf mining ship who was in stasis when a radiation leak courses through the ship and kills everyone else. When he awakes, three million years later, the crew is dead and he's left alone to figure it all out. Well, he's not completely alone. He does have company in the hologram of Arnold Rimmer, immediate superior whose memories were stored on the computer. Trouble is that he never got along with Rimmer when he had a body. Rimmer's digital self isn't exactly an improvement. There is one more unexpected passenger roaring through the halls of the ship. The descendant of the pregnant cat that Rimmer smuggled on board three million years ago. Only this is no little kitty. Rather he's a humanoid (Danny John-Jules) evolved from the cat with a human's body and the crazy vanity and predatory reactions of a cat. The British seem to have a better handle on the sort of absurdity needed to do this right and "Red Dwarf" premiered in 1988 at a time when alternative comedy in Britain had taken on some of the anarchy of the recently emerged punk scene. At the heart of the show is Lister's attempts to beat loneliness while holding tight to his hope of returning to Earth. Like Lister, the show has spanned the decades, with series running from 1988-93, 97-99 and 2009 and 2012. It has a very loyal cult following who often discuss the merits of each "set" of series (and consequently, which is the better set of series).

In the animated, "Futurama," the main character Philip J. Fry, mild mannered pizza delivery boy, winds up being cryogenically frozen and waking up a thousand years later. He finds himself trying to make the best of life as an alien in his own land (of course he wasn't exactly at home in his own time), making friends, making enemies, traveling the galaxy as a delivery boy for an intergalactic shipping firm. Created by "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening, the series premiered in 1999 and had a shaky run on FOX until 2003 when it was finally axed. Like Fry himself, the show was resurrected and ran on Adult Swim from 2003-07 and from there the show jumped around from direct to video to Comedy Central until it's final show which aired recently on Sept. 4, 2013 thus making it one of the longest running, shows continually flirting with cancellation in the history of television. Not a bad record really. And considering its legion of die-hard fans, it just might make another try for it somewhere, sometime.

Another, older, animated sitcom that mined the possibilities of the future for its material eventually became a classic despite a very short run. Meet George Jetson. His boy Elroy...well you probably know the rest. While it's counterpart "The Flintstones" made the most of prehistory, "The Jetsons" found its comedy in the space age future (albeit the space age future to be found in 2026, the possibilities of which must have seemed very space age in 1962). George Jetson has a wife named Jane, A daughter, Judy, his son Elroy and a lovable mutt named Astro who smothers him with kisses when he gets home from his job at Spacely Sprockets (where his four-hour work week was killing him). Looking for a new take on sitcoms featuring the average "American" family, producers Hanna-Barbera decided to set this tale of the average Joe and his family in the future when people flew in cars, lived in houses in the sky, and worked four-hour work weeks. Little did they know that their dream technology, when it came about, would not be quite so fantastic, not quite so helpful, and would actually put many George Jetsons out of their forty-hour work week.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which premiered on Cartoon Network in 1994, is particularly off beat (even considering the genre mash-up), using the actual animation from the old 1960s Space Ghost series and re-editing to fit the format. The show takes the celestial crime fighter Space Ghost from the Hannah-Barbera cartoon superhero series of the same name, ditches his odd, teen-supertwin companions and their pet monkey and puts SG on the set of his own talk show. His arch nemesis and sidekick/bandleader Zoltar provides banter and music (when he's not being blown up by Space's wristband after saying something out of turn). Real live celebrities visit, via a monitor effect, that comes down on the cartoon set (the interviews of the celebrities were filmed separately then superimposed on the monitor. Snippets of the interviews were then collected and patched together to fit the segment of the show). Half the fun of this imaginative and bizarre show was seeing how well the celebrities rolled with the questions being fed to them during their taping. The other half was just the notion that the galaxial crimefighter Space Ghost would have a talk show at all, let alone one featuring three of his fiercest enemies as sidekicks.

Coming back down to earth (so to speak) a favorite animated comedy of mine premiered in 1994 on FOX Kids Saturday morning block of cartoon nonsense that I none the less got up early for just to watch. "The Tick" (based a spoof of comic book superheroes from New England Comics, a Boston area comic book store) chronicled the adventures of the mighty superhero The Tick and his side kick Arthur (dressed as a moth). Together, they patrolled The City looking for chances to fight crime. The problem was that The City was filled with superheroes looking for chances to fight crime (Die Fledermaus, American Maid, Sewer Urchin). The place was swollen with them. So competition was high on the list of things for our interpret heroes to prepare for when coming up against such villains as The Breadmaster, Chairface Chippendale and Dinosaur Neil.

Honorable mentions go to two specials that starred one of my favorite comic actors: Rowan Atksinson. "Blackadder" ran for four series ("The Blackadder", "Blackadder II", "Blackadder the Third" and "Blackadder Goes Forth") and was one of the sharpest comedies ever produced especially considering that each series took place in a different time period. The two constants were Rowan Atkinson, starring as some branch of the Blackadder tree (depending on the time period), and Tony Robinson portraying his faithful, much abused servant Baldrick. Curiously, as the centuries pass, the Edmund Blackadders actually mentally evolved with each series while his standing in society lowered. In the meantime, the intelligence of Baldrick devolved (his social standing pretty much moving laterally). As we hit the Millennium, it was decided that another installment of the Blackadder sage needed to be told so a special was filmed to be shown near the Millennium Dome in the SkyScape Cinema in South London. "Blackadder: Back and Forth" tells the story of the late 20th century answer to Edmund Blackadder who in this incarnation is Lord Blackadder. In a scheme to swindle his friends, Blackadder tells them at a New Year's Eve dinner party that he's managed to build a time machine and betting them that he can bring back proof of his travels through time. The machine is basically a facade but unbeknownst to him, during construction, somehow Baldrick has built a time machine that actually works. As he realizes that he's traveled back in time, Blackadder's plan to swindle his friends becomes a quest to get back to his own time. Guest starring many of the folks who appeared in the previous series, it's a fitting installment in the series.

Also in 1999, Atkinson appeared in a parody of "Doctor Who" that was filmed to be shown at Comic Relief's Red Nose Day in Britian. In "Doctor Who and the Curse of the Fatal Death," Atkinson as the Doctor has asked for a meeting with his arch nemesis The Master played by Jonathan Pryce because he plans to retire and wed his companion, Emma (Julia Sawalha). The Master has his own plans, however and a deadly game of chronological cat and mouse ensues as each goes back in time to one up the other. At some point however, in a showdown with a Dalek, the Doctor is mortally wounded and begins the regeneration process. Continually cut down, he regenerates into a number of surprising (guest star) incarnations lastly Joanna Lumly who is a particularly fun female Doctor (and who proves that the right female actress could indeed play the Doctor). The special has lots of good natured fun with the trappings and tropes of the classic "Doctor Who" universe and actually illustrates that Atkinson himself could have made a good Doctor.

So, the bottom line is, even in the future, there'll always be time for a little laughter.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sci Fi and Sitcoms Pt. I

I've posted about novels mixing humor and science fiction, but television and the movies have also utilized it. Many science fiction TV shows try to have a little humor mixed in to lighten the load, but some are basically comedies with science fiction as a setting. "My Favorite Martian" for example. Classic '60s sitcom right down to the laugh track. And yet it used the late '50s and early '60s preoccupation with aliens as its springoard. It also took full advantage of the willingness of 1960s viewers to suspend disbelief with their comedy when they tuned into shows like "I Dream of Jeannie," "Bewitched," "The Munsters," "The Addams Family," etc.

In "Martian," Ray Walston plays a Martian who crashes on Earth after a newly fired rocket nearly hits his ship. He's found by reporter Tim O'Hara (Bill Bixby) who befriends the being. The Martian is christened Martin O'Hara, is claimed to be Tim's uncle and moves in with the friendly Earthling. who must keep the secret of his "uncle" from being discovered especially by his landlady who begins to develop a bit of a crush on Martin. Martin has the ability to raise his antenna and disappear as well as levitate items with his finger, which helps get him out of trouble (or gets him into trouble, depending on whose around to see it). It's actually a sweet show, the premise sold by the sincerity and charisma of the two leads. Interestingly, Bixby would turn to science fiction for another hit the following decade when he starred in "The Incredible Hulk" based on the comic book character of the same name.

A decade or so later, the premise would be used again to give Robin Williams a vehicle for his improvisational talents. The character of Mork first appeared on a strange episode of "Happy Days" in which Mork, collecting specimens to bring back to Ork, his home planet, chooses Richie Cunningham as part of the collection. He is only stopped by the power of the Fonz! The appearance was so popular that a show was devised with Mork as the lead character and "Mork and Minday" was born. As in "Martian," Mork arrives on Earth in another fact-finding mission only he does so in the late '70s and meets up with Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber) who is also a writer and is also willing to take in strange alien life forms. The two fall in love, marry and even have a son in Mearth played by Jonathan Winters who was one of Robin Williams' comedy influences and able to hold his own during their improv sessions.

In the 1980s, a fuzzy brown puppet alien visited Earth in "Alf" (an acronym for Alien Life Form). This time the alien stayed with a family after a following a ham radio signal to Earth and crashing into their garage. Unlike Uncle Martin and Mork, Alf could make no pretense at being human. He was short, brownish...had a long snout...and then there was the tuft of hair...well its hard to describe what he was outside of loveable yet often insufferable. He was a wise cracking alien. Kind of like your Uncle Bob who stayed too late at the bar. So keeping him under wraps was a bit harder. Also, unlike Martin who was trying to fix his ship to get home, and Ork who was in constant contact with his home planet, Alf's planet, Melmac, was destroyed in a nuclear war. So sadly, this was one alien in the three who couldn't physically blend yet had no place else to go.

"Third Rock From the Sun" took hold of the science fiction genre and slapped it silly. They didn't just offer us one alien, they offered four--an expedition posing as a normal human family. Well, as normal as they could pretend to be in bodies that weren't really theirs and took some getting used to. Tommy Solomon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in particular had his work cut out for him being the oldest of the four in the body of a boy just hitting puberty. With John Lithgow as leader Dick Solomon, Kristen Johnston as the Amazonian-like Sally Solomon, French Stewart as Harry Solomon and Jane Curtain as Mary Albright the uptight and unsuspecting  professor that Dick as fallen in love with and eventually falls in love with him. "3rd Rock" lasted a surprising five seasons. I say surprising because generally, science fiction didn't really work well on network TV after the 1970s. Thankfully this did cause it's one of the funniest shows, sci fi or otherwise, thanks to the cast's ability to take broad characters and make them likable and in an odd way, characters we could relate to.

More on this topic next post.