Friday, April 24, 2015

How I Would Have Done The Last Starfighter (1984)

The last movie I watched for Myopia: Defend Your Childhood was the science fiction film The Last Starfighter. You can find the original podcast here and my review here. I felt that the movie would be better if it were remade with a bigger budget and more modern special effects, although apparently the original writer has the rights and won't allow it. Not even Steven Spielberg could move him. Well, that might change if he suddenly needs money, someone makes him an offer that doesn't offend his creative sensibilities, or he passes from this mortal coil.

So here's how I would have done the film. After all, complaining is easy but being constructive is real work. If I don't describe it, assume I would have left things as they were in the canonical movie. Here there be spoilers, so be ye warned...

In General

*If I were making the movie back then, I'd be a lot more sparing with the CGI and use practical effects as much as possible. Yes, CGI is cheaper than physical props (unless you're using computer-destroying amounts of hyper-realistic effects like Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen, which apparently caused one of the computers to catch fire when rendering), but one of the biggest flaws in the canonical film was how poorly the special effects have aged. In comparison, Hellraiser and Pumpkinhead with their models and puppets have aged far better.

Today is a different story, but the kind of effects the Transformers series had are quite expensive. Using practical effects when possible might be a way to save money rather than the "spend money to make money" it would have been in the early-mid 1980s.

And now onto the storyline...

Act I

*The opening section showing Alex's life in the trailer park, how he gives up an adventure with Maggie and his friends to help the residents, etc. is good as it is. It does a good job explaining his helpful character, the dullness of his small-town life, etc.

*When the hologram of Xur confronts his father, I would given him more motivation for his treason beyond what seem to be megalomania and Daddy issues. In his ranting he can complain about how weak the Star League has gotten, how his "movement" would have revitalized their civilization (and his father's response could imply that this "cult" is more like a Nazi movement), and how the fact the Star League can find only a few dozen warriors to contest the Ko-Dan fleet proves him right. When Enduran tells him his "cult" has been suppressed and scattered, he can just smirk knowingly. This would provide a stronger implication than the canonical film that the saboteur  who cripples Starfighter Command's defenses was a Xur loyalist.

*I liked the canonical arrival of Centauri. However, I'd have used less CGI and more practical effects for the car that turns into a spaceship. Furthermore, Alex seems very...subdued throughout the entire abduction by Centauri. I would have depicted him at various points as being frightened, bewildered, and awestruck depending on where they are in the journey--fear when it turns into a kidnapping and it's revealed Centauri is an alien, bewildered when the car suddenly turns into a spacecraft, and straight up in awe at seeing Saturn and going into hyperspace. He's too calm and nonreactive throughout this entire adventure and that needs to change. If Lance Guest can act to the appropriate level, great, but if not, recast him.

*I would have depicted the Starfighter base being well away from Rylos itself and kept the sabotage of it defenses by (presumably) one of Xur's cultists. Rather than have the carrier launching rocks, I would have the destruction of the base inflicted by the Ko-Dan equivalent of torpedo bombers (fighters armed with heavy missiles) in the vein of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (see the Michael Bay version here from the film Pearl Harbor) or the Cylon attack on Colonial military bases in Battlestar Galactica. It would take a very long time for rocks thrown from a capital ship to arrive at a fixed targets and they'd be tracked and attacked all along the way. A swarm of fighters armed with long-ranged missiles would be a much more flexible, dangerous opponent. One could see the Starfighters massacred as their crews rush out to man them, a few successfully launching and getting shot down before they can orient themselves, and perhaps one or two lucky or skilled ones who can drag a few Ko-Dan into the abyss with them. Then the Ko-Dan fleet leaves the ruined base behind to advance on Rylos, allowing Centauri to flee to Earth in a surviving ship to collect Alex.

Act II

*Although in my review I said that "Beta Alex's" social ineptitude was painful to watch, that might be a personal tic on my part. Given how well Beta Alex can mimic Alex's voice and mannerisms (including his attitude toward his little brother) simply by having touched him before taking on his likeness, it seems inconsistent that he wouldn't know about Maggie's relatively forward sexuality (i.e. sticking her tongue in his ear out of nowhere) or need to eavesdrop on one of Alex's friends in order to whisper sweet nothings into her ear. Maybe when the real Alex gets slapped by Maggie and confronts Beta Alex about the issue, Beta Alex can state that they weren't in contact long enough for him to get the full package of memories or something like that.

*When Alex makes the obvious suggestion that the Star League use the "simuloid" technology to make copies of its pilots Beta Alex-style, Beta Alex said they're not allowed to fight. Given the concerns the Star League might have about aggressive artificial intelligence (think SkyNet from Terminator or the Cylons from the Battlestar Galactica TV series), that might merit a bit of explanation. Maybe Beta Alex can say something like, "The last time they tried that, there was an uprising. We're not allowed to fight anymore" or something like that. If Beta Alex displays obvious hesitation in taking on the alien hit-man later, that could show him overriding anti-violence programming by sheer willpower to protect the Star League.

*The subplot with the pair of alien "hit-beasts" sent to kill Alex and how Maggie and the simuloid foil their plan--at the cost of the simuloid's life--stays. I'd re-do the "I love you Alex Rogan" bit from Maggie to be a bit less goofy though. Once Maggie learned that Beta Alex wasn't actually Alex and there was an alien war on, that subplot got a lot more fun.


*The scene where Alex and Grig are showing one another pictures of their families and Grig's picture of his wife was basically him wearing more feminine clothing was unintentionally hilarious. To a human with little experience of aliens all members of Grig's species might look the same, but that sort of realism damages the quality of the film. The family-pictures sequence is a good thing in general, but it should have been done a bit less goofily.

*I'd keep the general scenario where Alex and Grig's Gunstar powers down to let the Ko-Dan carrier pass, then ambushes it and destroys its communication system. And keep the "death blossom" as well, since that's such a distinctive part of the movie.

*Given Alex's self-sacrificing nature, perhaps the Gunstar is damaged during or after the death blossom and he and Grig try to kamikaze the Ko-Dan carrier? Even with its fighters wiped out, it might still have orbital bombardment weapons or troops to invade Rylos with. Grig is messing around with the circuitry like he did in the canonical film where they were running into power problems and manages to pull out of the terminal dive. Then they unload the last of their weapons into the carrier at point-blank range, inflicting some kind of terminal damage on it (like the destruction of the Executor's bridge in Return of the Jedi perhaps, minus the successful suicide). This would allow for Xur to escape like in the canonical film.

*I would tone down the crash of the Ko-Dan carrier into Rylos' moon. The way it's depicted, the carrier is almost as big as the moon is and the explosion is so ridiculously massive that one would think it would do significant damage to the moon itself. It doesn't--we have the carrier crash, the ludicrous explosion, and the moon surviving unscathed. Rather than seeing the carrier collide with the moon from Alex's point of view, I'd have cut to a closer shot of seeing the carrier crashing into the surface of the (much larger) moon and exploding, albeit in a less over-the-top way. This is where models and practical effects would be particularly useful.

*When the Gunstar lands in the trailer park, I would have depicted the townsfolk as being a lot more anxious, afraid, and (once Grig appears) more aggressive. Alex is able to calm them down and Grig's attempts at friendliness reflect well on him, but I would have toned down the older women's friendliness toward him immediately after they're all calling him "monster." Seriously, it came off as almost romantic on their parts. The movie doesn't need Grig to become the alien player of the trailer park, however amusing that concept might be. The interaction between Alex, Maggie, and Maggie's grandmother is good, so that needs to stay.

*And then ending where Louis starts playing the arcade game after his brother and future sister-in-law leave Earth is perfect. That stays.

However, there's a big enough world depicted in this one that it could easily be adapted into a television show. Think a cross between Star Wars and Game of Thrones

The storyline of the original movie could easily be the first season of a television series, with the battle between the Gunstar and the Ko-Dan Armada being the climax of Season One and Alex returning to the trailer park for Maggie ending the season (along with seeing just where Xur ended up). Season Two could be Alex training the next batch of fighter pilots, Maggie adapting (or not) to this strange new world, the Ko-Dans' next move, and some scheming and shenanigans by Xur and whatever cultists he still has. An expanded television adaptation would allow for more back-story for the Star League, Xur and his treason, and the Ko-Dan. In particular, the Ko-Dan admiral and his staff, who clearly dislike having to deal with Xur and have the courage to face death unflinchingly when the carrier crashes, can be developed as more interesting characters.

Pity the writer is being so stubborn. If I had a great idea that was adapted into a cult classic and someone came to me decades later with the offer to make it into the next Star Wars, I might insist on being involved in the process but I'd let it be done.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: ANGLES OF ATTACK by Marko Kloos (2015)

Last year, an Army relative introduced me to Marko Kloos' military science-fiction FRONTLINES series. The saga follows Andrew Grayson, a young man from a dystopian overpopulated North American Commonwealth (NAC) who enlists to escape the poverty and violence of Boston and finds himself fighting not just the rival Sino-Russian Alliance (SRA) but also the genocidal aliens known as the Lankies. I burned through the previous books Terms of Enlistment and the briefly Hugo-nominated Lines of Departure (both of which I discussed here) as well as the interquel e-stories "Lucky 13" (in which Grayson's girlfriend Halley is the protagonist) and "Measures of Absolution" (following another member of Grayson's squad). In fact, I reread them multiple times (they're good gym and MARTA fodder) as I awaited Angles of Attack

And now it's here. Now it's time for the review...

The Plot

The Lanky assault on the Formalhaut system foiled at the end of Lines of Departure it turns out left an alien invasion force stranded on another world in the system. After NAC and SRA forces extirpate them and evacuate the human survivors, protagonist Andrew Grayson and his new friend Dmitry, a Russian combat controller, have to slip back to the alien-invaded Earth system to find supplies for New Svalbard. They find a very unpleasant reception, both from their own people and the alien invaders.

The Good

*It's a fast read. I got the e-book around 8:30 AM on 4/21 (the release date) and had the first four chapters read in thirty minutes to an hour. I had a fair bit of school and client work to do, so I wasn't able to get back to the book until sometime around 4 or 5 PM. I finished the rest of the book in a lengthy pre-dinner Kindle marathon in probably less than two hours. I read much faster than most people so I imagine you all would need more time, but my point is, it's never boring.

*Many of the scenes, like when the human forces try to breach the Lanky blockade of the solar system, are quite suspenseful. One reason I finished the book so fast is that I simply could not put it down.

*We finally meet an SRA character, a sergeant named Dmitry. And Dmitry is absolutely hilarious. Kloos captures how someone who's a native Russian speaker and not totally well-versed in English would speak--and then he gives him the most delightfully smart-ass dialogue. I recite his words in my fake Russian accent and I always laugh. Four chapters in I tweeted Kloos himself about how good the book was so far and how I liked Dmitry and he said I hadn't seen anything yet. Here's the exchange if you'd like to see it. Kloos replies to my comments on Twitter and his Facebook page and that's awesome.

*A major part of Lines of Departure was a civil war between mutinous Homeworld Defense (they're kind of a National Guard to the regular North American military, fighting Earthside wars while other services fight the SRA and aliens in space) units pretty much exiled to New Svalbard and naval forces. Even though the Lanky invasion and the alliance with the SRA has put a stop to it, there's still a lot of bad blood between all concerned. Outside enemies forcing a new alliance doesn't make everybody friends, and bar fights ensue. And when Grayson and friends return to Earth, the government left behind (such as it is) doesn't forget either.

*Some characters consider making a decision I really, really think would be a bad one (I'll get more into that later), but given some discussion they have after their ship gets destroyed in in Terms of Enlistment, the fact they'd even consider it is foreshadowed.

*The climax of the book ties nicely in with the events of "Measures of Absolution" and ultimately back in with Terms of Enlistment.

*We finally get Halley's first name when all we had before was an initial and her always being referred to by her last name.

*We get a bit more description of the wider world, including the other political bodies on Earth.

The Bad

*The physical description is a little bit sparse. When I write I use more description, but that might be a matter of personal preference. In particular when the characters from the previous book are reintroduced (I'm thinking mainly of Halley), there's not any physical description. In a tight first-person POV you don't have anything but the character's thoughts and realistically the character isn't going to be discussing his fiancee's appearance--especially given the circumstances--but throwing in little things like eye color, hair color, etc. wouldn't be info-dumpy. This also applies to the alien Lankies--in the first chapter, the only description I can recall is that they're big.

*It's not totally clear why a character/warship's sacrifice is effective against an Lanky starship when massive nuclear or kinetic bombardments, kamikaze runs that don't have 40 hours to build up acceleration, etc. aren't. I have an idea about why it works, given what we last heard the character doing before the climactic scene, but it could have been clearer.

*The ending is where I had the biggest problems. It was rather difficult to believe the nearby Territorial Army units would not have gotten involved, given just what was happening. I hope this gets explained in Chains of Command (the fourth book that Kloos is writing now, hopefully slated for the end of the year) pronto, and well. And the fact two characters even consider making a particular decision was another problem, despite the blatant failures of the TA and the NAC government.

One character at least is aware of the importance of what's likely to happen next and how the combined human forces are going to need his help, but the fact one decision will allow him to make a much more significant contribution to the defense of humankind against the Lankies (especially given who is likely to be in charge of the defense of Earth after the events of the climax as well as the Lanky presence in the solar system) and the other really won't is kind of obvious. People don't always make rational decisions, but it would have been better to see more of the gears turning in the character's head so we understand why. Given how the book ends hopefully this issue will end up getting resolved logically in Chains.

(EDIT: Kloos said they will be addressed. Excellent!)

*We learn a little bit about why Halley only goes by her surname--apparently she doesn't like her first name--but it would be better if there was more. I was hoping we might get more of her back-story, considering how we did get some in Lines of Departure.

*In the table of contents, "Epilogue" is misspelled. Hopefully 47North will fix that pronto--it should be easy with an e-book--and that it didn't go out in the print editions.

The Verdict

A good third volume. Definitely looking forward to Chains of Command. 8.75 out of 10.0

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Last Starfighter (1984)

For Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, the first movie I've sat in the defendant's chair for in a long time was 1980s cult science fiction classic The Last Starfighter.This one I remember my grandmother taping for me off the Disney Channel (at least I think it was the Disney Channel--there's some surprisingly adult content in the full film) back when it was new. You can listen to our podcast here. And now for the review...

The Plot

Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), a young man living in a trailer park somewhere in the Southwest, wants more out of life than going to community college with his friends. His main outlet besides spending time with his awesome girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) is playing a video game called The Last Starfighter, in which he has to defend the outer-space Frontier against the villainous Ko-Dan Armada. He earns a record high score with the game, only to learn that he didn't get a loan he needs to go to college elsewhere. He goes back to play the game, only to encounter the mysterious Centauri (Robert Preston), a man who claims to be the game's inventor. It turns out he's an alien and the game was his unorthodox method of finding pilots for the Star League, which is faced with an invasion by a very real Ko-Dan Armada. Alex now must go into battle aboard a prototype Gunstar alongside the alien navigator Grig (Dan O' Herlihy).

The Good

*The concept and world of The Last Starfighter is really interesting. I like the idea of this spacefaring civilization under threat from some interstellar warlord and they're so hard-up for personnel to fight it (according to TVTropes, the novelization depicts the Star League culture as being so ridiculously pacifistic that they can only find a few dozen functional warriors) they've got to resort to unorthodox tactics like the whole video-game thing. The confrontation between the traitor Xur and his father indicates some potentially interesting back-story, especially the references to a cult that has apparently been scattered.

*Writer Jonathan R. Betuel (who was canny enough to hang onto many of the rights associated with the film, unlike many writers) does a good job of showing and not telling just how helpful Alex is to the other residents of the trailer park. Even if that's his actual job (as opposed to him just helping his neighbors out of community spirit), there's a sort of "auditory montage" of everybody thanking him for helping them with various tasks after he has to abandon a trip to the lake with some friends. That's a good bit of characterization (he's helpful) and exposition of his situation (he doesn't get a lot of time to himself).

*I liked Maggie's character. She actively desires Alex--much to his alien robot double's shock--rather than being some blushing shrinking violet. When she learns that Alex has been replaced by an alien robot double while he's fighting a war in space, rather than freak out, she immediately jumps in to help said alien double prevent an alien assassin from warning the Ko-Dan that Alex, the last surviving Star League fighter pilot, isn't actually on Earth. She's honest enough to admit she's scared of leaving the familiar trailer park, responsible enough to want to stay and look after her aging grandmother, and brave enough to go for the gusto when her grandmother tells her to "write or whatever it is they do up there."

(And when the reptilian Grig reveals himself to the townsfolk at the end of the film, it's her grandmother who confronts him with a shotgun. I guess we know where she gets it from.)

*Robert Preston is clearly having a lot of fun playing Centauri, as is O' Herlihy playing Grig. Preston in particular is clearly channeling his part in the 1957 production of The Music Manand is doing a good job. And O' Herlihy puts in the best performance in the movie. Stewart's Maggie rounds out the top three, but she has one misstep (that I'll get to later) that keeps her from rising higher.

*I liked the concept of the Gunstar, which is more like a frigate than a fighter-jet. It's able to take far more damage than the Ko-Dan space fighters and keep on fighting. And the tactic Alex uses to ambush the Ko-Dan carrier is pretty clever--power down and wait for them to pass, then pop up and destroy the carrier's communication array to keep the commander from coordinating his fighters.

*Although the sub-plot involving "beta Alex" (the alien robot double) was generally not that interesting, it had some really good parts. The one I'm thinking of is the robot taking off his head and setting it on the table and the head continuing to talk to and interact with Alex's little brother Louis.

*The Ko-Dan tolerate the obnoxious traitor Xur because they need him to break through the defenses of the Frontier. They don't particularly like him and they get rid of him as soon as possible because they're sick of his arrogance and meddling.

The Bad

*The movie was really rather boring. The whole "beta Alex" story was rather dull--and his social awkwardness was downright painful to watch--until he revealed to Maggie that he was an alien robot and being hunted by Ko-Dan assassins. Then things got more interesting. And the whole "stop the alien assassin" thing was more interesting than most of the space-battle plot, probably because the whole thing looks like, as Nick put it, the first Descent game.

*And speaking of that, the special effects have not aged well. I vaguely remember the effects looking a lot more realistic, possibly involving models and practical effects rather than CGI. After all, this was the mid-1980s. Wrong. The film uses CGI and it's crappy. It looks like something out of a mediocre Playstation One game. I say "mediocre" because my first PS-1 game (Warhawk) had full-motion video. According to the Wikipedia article and TVTropes, this was the biggest deployment of CGI at the time, but it was all done on the equivalent of an 800 MHz Pentium III. I can't really fault them for this the way I did the people who made the film Spawn because they did the best they could, but it still doesn't look good.

*The dominant race of the Star League is ridiculous-looking. They're basically humans with shaved lumpy heads and what one of my fellow reviewers called "Martin Van Buren hair." I mean seriously, look at Xur here:

I get a major Babylon 5 vibe off these people. I'm reminded simultaneously of the Centauri (see Londo Mollari and his hair) and the Minbari, although the latter's appearance is due to a difference bone structure rather than funny haircuts.

*I vaguely remember seeing the Star League fighters getting ravaged by explosions and the like as they line up to launch against the Ko-Dan carrier, but that's not in the movie at all. We see what looks like one fighter preparing to launch as the Ko-Dan throw rocks at their base. Either there's another cut of the film out there somewhere (the 1985 ABC TV broadcast of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khanincluded a scene revealing cadet Peter Preston is Scotty's nephew when the theatrical and most DVD releases didn't) or my imagination is embellishing things. That would have made the whole situation more scary and urgent if we see most of the Starfighters massacred in their hangars, the one or two that manage to launch getting shot down before they can engage the Ko-Dan, etc. Make this Pearl Harbor IN SPAAACE...

*Louis seems strangely precociously sexual. He looks like he's around seven or eight and he's got his own hidden collection of Playboy magazines. The actor would have actually been around 10 years old when the movie was shot, but based on my own experience, I would not have been interested in sex or girls at that age. I could imagine reading a Playboy if I found it out of curiosity, but not collecting them or treasuring particular centerfolds. It seems more realistic that Alex, being 18-ish, would have them, although I doubt the assertive, rather sexual Maggie would want to share him...

*Many of the actors needed to work on their craft. Guest really doesn't seem to emote too terribly much, even when being kidnapped by a stranger who turns out to be an alien, being taken to a faraway planet, seeing somebody get gut-shot by an alien assassin, etc. He seems half-asleep during the flight to Rylos in particular. And although I liked Stewart's portrayal of Maggie, her "I love you Alex Rogan" to the empty sky was delivered very poorly. And when the assembled alien fighter pilots chant "Victory or Death," it's the most unenthusiastic war-chant I have ever seen. Given how (almost) everybody seems to be doing poorly, I'm inclined to think it's the director who's the problem.

*Also, when the Gunstar lands in the trailer park and the townsfolk turn out to see it, nobody seems frightened, shocked, etc. Only the reaction of Maggie's shotgun-wielding grandmother seems remotely realistic. Again, this might be more a judgement on the director than the actors, since it wouldn't be that hard to be more alarmed than the people seem to be--more than likely it seems they just weren't told to act frightened.

*And I would expect the townsfolk to be more leery of Grig no matter how polite he is or how much Alex vouches for him, at least at first. Heck, some of the older women in the trailer park seem awfully friendly toward him, if you get my drift. :)

*In one scene, Grig references how the only power they've got is the life-support power, but then he manages to re-power the Gunstar at a crucial time--without any unpleasant side effects like their air getting bad. That's something that should have happened, to build suspense.

*The reason for Xur's treason should have had more elaboration. From the way it's depicted it seems like a combination of greed for power and Daddy issues. Building on this a little bit would have been possible in the scene where Xur's hologram confronts his father, before the Ko-Dan actually attack--just give him some lines about how weak and decadent the Star League has become (he can point out how few volunteers they've got to become Starfighters, frex).

*When Alex breaks the record, pretty much the entire population of the trailer park turns out to cheer him on. Old men even abandon their checkers game. Even though Alex is apparently quite popular with the residents and it seems like there's not a whole lot going on, it's very difficult to imagine people caring that much about an arcade game.

The Verdict

See it once if you're feeling nostalgic. 6.75 out of 10. It would be much better if it were remade with modern special effects and better actors, although that doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. If you want to see how I would have done the movie, see this post here.

My Andrew Patel Plan...

Lately I've been listening to the Sell More Books Show, a podcast focusing on independent writers/publishers. Podcast member Bryan Cohen has a book series starting with Ted Saves the World and continuing with Mind Over Easy, Portal Combat, and The Light, the Dark, and the Ugly. Mr. Cohen apparently has set the first book for free and that has spurred many sales. I remember hearing that Robert Jordan had done something similar with the Wheel of Time series--the first book, The Eye of the World, was free to pick up at Waldenbooks (anybody remember that wonderful place?) and spurred sales significantly for the second book, The Great Hunt.

So here's how this applies to my Andrew Patel supervillain protagonist series. At some point I'm going to set the first story "Ubermensch" permanently free, remove the second story "Needs Must," and then then post a four-story collection entitled Consequences. The combined tale follows Patel as he deals with the consequences of the events of "Ubermensch" and "Needs Must." Since collections sell better than individual stories, this will hopefully be more economically lucrative as well.

And here's the probable cover, courtesy of Alex Claw.

I'm finishing up coursework for my masters degree right now and I'll need to study for comprehensive exams in June, so this might not be for some time. So get the individual stories while you can. :)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My "Save the GOP" Reading List

Last year I wrote a few thousand words on a political book tentatively entitled A Republican Party That Can Win California. I discussed some of the issues and themes I would touch upon in earlier blog posts on topics like the economic philosophy of distributism, ways conservative-leaning organizations like the National Rifle Association and the Boy Scouts can make themselves useful, and avoiding over-reliance on the Christian Right and religious politics generally.

I'm not sure if this book is going anywhere even though I've written several thousand words on it. I'm more interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror than in being a policy wonk, even though I'd be darn good at the latter. If we're going to go with comparative advantage, I'd be better off focusing on my fictional pursuits.

But on the other hand, I do enjoy reading all these political books. So here are some of the books I've mentioned in previous blog posts and the lessons I've drawn from them.

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution-One of the biggies I've learned from this is that many polluting industries are government-subsidized. If you want more of something, subsidize it, and pollution is something we really don't want. So abolish or drastically limit subsidies to oil, gas, etc. so that their "real" cost impacts the market. This doesn't even necessarily mean imposing unpopular new taxes, if cutting subsidies alone can do the job (and save the deficit-wracked government money too).

Unleashing the Second American Century-This puts a damper on a lot of the gloom-and-doom scenarios about America's future. Yes, this country has problems that need to be solved and sitting around chanting, "We're number one" when in fact we are not isn't going to solve them. However, optimism and a sunny outlook are a good way to win elections (see Ronald Reagan) and there are great strengths in this country, great strengths that proper policies can leverage. For example, spending money on science and research is a worthy investment in terms of productivity, jobs, attracting and sustaining vital industries, etc.

Foreign Policy Begins at Home-Author Richard Haass points out that many potential great-power competitors to the United States are suffering from various long-term problems (for example, until very recently Russia's population was declining), so the United States can safely focus on fixing internal problems without risking a rival state getting in too strong a position. It was probably from this book that I found the idea of stapling a green card on every foreign-born graduate of a U.S. college, a policy supported by none other than 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

The Second Machine Age-This had a lot of interesting ideas. For starters, it points out that technology is going to increasingly automate any job that could be considered "routine." This will have many consequences, including worsening prospects for those who are less skilled. As far as policy implications are concerned, the authors have several based on the idea that one taxes what one wishes to discourage and subsidizes what one wishes to encourage. A negative income tax--first proposed by Richard Nixon and supported by people like Milton Friedman--would ensure that consumption levels are kept up while avoiding the welfare trap. The U.S. already has the earned-income tax credit, which is kinda-sorta one. Meanwhile, there's a Pigovian tax scheme could be used to discourage pollution.

Whistling Past Dixie-This book makes the argument that the Democratic Party can win national elections without the South, including the counterfactual that if the Democrats had spent the resources they'd plowed into South Carolina in Ohio, they'd have won in 2004. The lesson for Republicans is they can't rely on just one region or cultural grouping for victory. Furthermore, given the demographic problems the Republican Party is predicted to have, not trying to bring more people into the tent risks bringing this scenario to pass.

Day of Empire-The book's thesis is that states that are more tolerant of differing ethnicities, religions, etc. tend to be do better economically. Some anecdotal bits include the Spanish expelling Jews and the Ottomans taking them in and thus benefiting from their skills and trading connections and the Nazis kicking out their Jewish scientists, who proceeded to come to America and build the atomic bomb. As far as American politics are concerned, Chua cites instances where so many talented people were abandoning their European homelands for the new United States that European governments attempted to forcibly stop them. If the U.S. had a more open immigration policy, we could continue our time-honored tradition of creaming off other countries' talented people.

The Devil in Dover-Opponents of the theory of evolution are, to be perfectly blunt, a political albatross and potentially dangerous to U.S. science education, which is going to be more and more important in an age of automation.

Game Change-It's been a very long time since I've read the book, but I do remember stuff Republicans can learn from. For starters, the choice of Sarah Palin to be John McCain's running mate. Whatever this might have done to get social conservatives on-board, it was a net loss elsewhere, especially given McCain's advanced age and health problems. The shenanigans on the Democratic side of the aisle can be an object lesson on what not to do--John Edwards' narcissism and refusal to listen to his aides' concerns about his affair, for example. And even remarks not intended to be mean can come off as such--see Harry Reid's comments about Obama.

Double Down-Some examples of what not to do, including the failure of Jon Huntsman--the candidate I supported--to campaign worth a rip. Huntsman was a major missed opportunity for the Republicans that year due to his various qualifications, but he failed to seize it. The fact "the base" would likely to be hostile to him wouldn't have helped things, but the fact he apparently believed it was beneath his dignity to ask people for money or criticize his opponents and his unwillingness to use his family money (when combined with the first issue) was all on him. Rick Perry's campaign collapsing due to some of the strange things he said while on painkillers after surgery is another lesson to learn from.

Pillar to the Sky-Yes, this is fiction, but it's very plausible, science-focused science fiction on how beneficial a space elevator can be. Not only would it make getting things into orbit significantly cheaper and easier, but running solar panels up the entire length of the elevator would make it a massive energy generator. If even a small tax percentage-wise were imposed on the energy generated from such a structure, it would make the government holding jurisdiction incredibly rich and allow for cutting other taxes, investment in worthy projects, etc. This also ties in with my blog post about a "space-industrial complex" to reorient the present military-industrial complex to cheaper, more long-term constructive ends without the political fighting and economic problems that outright axing it would cause.

There're also a lot of newspaper articles, blog posts, etc. that went into the project, but if I listed all of them, this blog post would get entirely too long.