Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My top ten favorite writers of all time

A regular reader of these pages and self-described “Caitlin Star” fan Gene Atkins wrote, “I have been digging your top ten series so far, but was wondering if you could do a list of your top writers of all time?”

Gene has a good point. I have done top ten lists of movies, TV shows, soundtracks, actors, actresses, books, even songs, and have yet to make an official top ten list of writers. And since I am a writer, it is time to correct this oversight. So here it is, a list of my top ten favorite writers of all time. All genres, media, and formats are included.

Robert Silverberg

There is a wonderful article written by Silverberg in the outstanding pulp retrospective book “Sin-O-Rama” where he talks about cranking out a new 50,000 word erotic pulp novel—every two weeks! And you know what? I have read many of them and they are damn good reads.

How good is Silverberg? One of my favorite books ever was this scanner-type science fiction romantic thriller I picked up in the ‘70s. It was a reprint and when he was asked to write a new forward Silverberg confessed it was something he had cranked out just to pay the bills and had forgotten about it. This novel would have been anyone else’s masterpiece, but for him it was just something spit out to pay the heating bill and forgotten about.

Of course, nobody but me even remembers any of these old pulps and today Robert Silverberg is best known for his artful, poetic prose and award-winning, intelligent science fiction and fantasy novels.
"The World Inside" is highly recommended for fans of the recent best-seller "Divergent".

What to check out:

“Lord Valentine’s Castle” and “The World Inside”

Joan Ellis

I am a huge fan of vintage pulp fiction from the early and mid ‘60s known as “the sleazy pulps”, especially those published by a company called Midwood. Most stories were set in Manhattan and have a very “Mad Men” quality to them. Often the characters even worked in advertising.

Joan Ellis was the all-time best at this sub-genre of fiction. Do not let the term sleazy pulps fool you. Her books are rich, expertly crafted, romantic, noir-ish works of wonder. Ellis has a real knack for creating vivid, young female characters dealing with teen angst and blossoming sexuality. Today these books would be called racy “Young Adult”.

What to check out:

Just about anything she wrote at Midwood Publishing. Personal favorites include “In The Shadows” (actually available on Kindle!), “Sooner or Later”, “Gang Girl”, and "Reluctant Nympho".

John Jakes

John Jakes may be the best writer of epic historical fiction ever—certainly of American history. There are many writers—and many of them quite successful—where you can feel the strain of the work the author put into it. As a result these books often do not make for a smooth read. In a John Jakes novel this is never an issue. He is just a gifted storyteller and a natural writer who delivers impeccable craftsmanship and flowing narratives you will get lost in. Most of his historical fiction is truly epic in scope and length—I am talking telephone book thick door stopper novels. Yet, they read fast and smooth.

Like Robert Silverberg, Jakes started out in pulp fiction doing everything from sleazy romance to science fiction to a “Conan” inspired Sword & Sorcery series, “Brak the Barbarian”. All of it is great!

What to check out:

“The Bastard”, “North and South”, and his novelization to “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”.

Robert E. Howard

I recall Harlan Ellison once saying something like, “Howard was better than any of us because he was crazier than a bedbug.”

There is a raw physicality to Howard’s writing style and colorful action sequences that was ingeniously captured by the legendary cover paintings of Frank Frazetta. Although his “Conan” stories are classified as Sword & Sorcery (Howard practically created the genre), Howard creates real, naturalistic worlds and writes stories that feel like they may have actually happened sometime during the mythical lost history “between the years the ocean drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities…”

What to check out:

Almost any “Conan” book (or comic book) but the best collection (because it is contains the fully restored and unedited text of Howard) is “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian” (Conan the Cimmerian #1), as well as part 2 and 3 of this collection.

Harlan Ellison

Speaking of Harlan Ellison…

Harlan Ellison is a writer. And I mean that term in the most profound, artistic sense of the word. Very few authors are writers, nor can they ever hope to be. I know I am not. I am a storyteller, a confident (and hopefully competent) one who strives to get better and deeper and more effective with every piece of work. But Harlan Ellison is a writer. His words sing and soar and shake you to the core and along the way he will tell you one hell of a story.

What to check out:

This list would take forever because Ellison is as prolific as he is brilliant, and has written everything imaginable including scores of television scripts, comics, and sleazy sex pulps and hundreds upon hundreds of short stories.

A good place to start world be his short story collection, “Trouble Makers”, which includes two of the greatest, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” and “Deeper Than the Darkness.”
“Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word” is a glorious collection of his early crime/pulp/noir stuff. And his two classic “Outer Limits” episodes “Demon with a Glass Hand” and “Soldier” are a must see and are available streaming at Hulu and Amazon.

Richard Matheson

Like Harlan Ellison, this guy is the real deal. Richard Matheson is a writer! And one hell of a storyteller too. Also like Ellison, he was wildly prolific, but on an even bigger scale in a sense since his focus was primarily novels (as well as countless feature film screenplays and television scripts).

His influence and imprint are perhaps unequaled among the grand masters of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He literally created both the modern zombie and vampire apocalypse genres with his 1954 classic novel “I am Legend”. His 1975 time travel fantasy masterpiece “Bid Time Return” was adapted into the beloved 1980 cult film “Somewhere in Time”, one of the most heartfelt and romantic movies of all time.

He penned multiple classic “Twilight Zone” episodes, many classic 70s horror telefilms including “Kolchak the Night Stalker” and “Trilogy of Terror”, and wrote “Duel”, the 1971 television movie that propelled a very young Steven Spielberg onto big screen stardom.  Among his many masterpieces are the action-packed nightmare adventure “The Shrinking Man”, the creepy “Stir of Echoes” (made into a 1999 film starring Kevin Bacon), and the deep and moving “What Dreams May Come” (made into a gorgeous looking 1998 movie starring Robin Williams).

Where to start:

“The Shrinking Man” and “Bid Time Return” showcase the action suspense, and the romantic imagination of this master writer.

D.C. Fontana

Okay, I know this one will be unfamiliar to most people. D.C. Fontana (a.k.a Dorothy Fontana) is a television writer who started out as Gene Roddenberry’s secretary then went on to write several of the greatest episodes of classic “Star Trek”. 

She served as story editor for “Star Trek” and several other shows including the Emmy Award winning animated “Star Trek”, “The Sixth Sense”, “The Fantastic Journey” and “Logan’s Run”. The list of outstanding episodes she penned over the last five decades are too numerous to list here but include scripts for “Circle of Fear”, “Land of the Lost”, “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “Kung Fu”, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, “Star Trek: The Nest Generation”, “Babylon 5”, “Deep Space Nine”, and “Earth: The Final Conflict”.

What to check out:

“This Side of Paradise” and “The Enterprise Incident” from classic “Star Trek”.
“Eslewhen” from “Land of the Lost”.

Glen Morgan and James Wong

It is staggering how many outstanding television scripts this writing team delivered in the ‘90s, including the majority of the best stuff from Chis Carter’s brooding tandem of “The X-Files” and “Millennium”.

Everything these guys write is exciting, witty, imaginative, and more often than not, groundbreaking.  In addition to their work for Carter, the duo created, produced, and wrote their own series—a barely seen gem of a show “Space Above and Beyond”.  “Space Above and Beyond” was an addictive, beautifully produced, intelligently written and acted show that should have become the “Battlestar Galactica” of the ‘90’s, but was poorly handled by FOX who kept pre-empting it and barely bothered with any promotion.

What to checkout:

“Space Above and Beyond” and the “X-Files” episodes “Home”, “Ice”, “E.B.E.”, “Squeeze”, “Little Green Men”, “The Field Where I Died” and “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”. Also just about the entire second season of “Millenium”.

James Cameron
He is primarily known as a visionary director who creates revolutionary new technology to bring his vision to the screen. But all of those movies begin with a blank page. James Cameron writes all his own material and he is one hell of writer.

When I was studying screenwriting I read his scripts for “Rambo: First Blood part II”, “Aliens”, and “The Abyss” non-stop. His story-telling instincts are razor sharp, his expertly paced screenplays rich with vivid writing and memorable characters.

What to check out:

Anything with his name on it of course, but from a reading the screenplay point of view, “Aliens” and “The Abyss” read like great science fiction action-adventure novels.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

When your work is still being read, adapted, and inspiring other artists over a century later, that about says it all. The works of ERB had a profound influence on so many, from anthropologist Jane Goodall to filmmaker James Cameron (the director has said “Avatar” was inspired by “Princess of Mars”).

When read today, sometimes the language can be problematic, as can the “God’s eye” omniscient writing style in vogue at the time. But still, Burrough’s rich, imaginative storytelling skills are unparalleled in the world of pulp fiction and his works are full of bold action, riveting action set pieces, and wondrous lost cities.

Where to start:

Book 3 in the Tarzan series “The Beasts of Tarzan” is the best in the entire series and one my all-time favorite books. “Princess of Mars” is an outstanding entry into ERB universe and the sub-genre of “planetary romance”.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ fortieth anniversary review

What a treat it was to see “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” back up where it belongs, on a big screen in the darkened, hallowed hall of a movie theater. The movie is in wide release in theaters right now in honor of its fortieth anniversary. And as an added bonus you get a cool behind the scenes mini-documentary featuring J.J. Abrams, Denis Villeneuve, and clips from Steven Spielberg’s Super 8mm home movies he shot while on the set in 1977.

It is impossible to overstate the impact this film had on myself (and a lot of other people) when it was first released back in November 1977. Although that year is now remembered for “Star Wars” and the way it changed movies forever (in both good and bad ways), “Close Encounters” is something else entirely. Steven Spielberg’s UFO classic is the last gasp of 70’s epic style filmmaking combined with the newly emerging special effects industry. It is method acting and mise en scène auteur directing blended with the fantastic. As in Spielberg’s other trademark masterpiece “E.T.”, his ability to present a vivid and realistic suburban world with strong characters makes the horror and wonder all that more suspenseful and emotionally resonant.

It is also impossible to overstate just how insanely brilliantly the movie is directed. Spielberg pushes the narrative with careful staging and framing, always using the camera to tell his story in a clear, effective visual manner. This is a film that can be (and often is) used to teach and study directing.

And speaking of visuals and insane brilliance, Douglas Trumbull’s special effects are as beautiful and staggering to behold as ever. It is quite a sight, even by today’s jaded standards, to see the alien spacecraft float and zip by, seamlessly interacting with the real world of 1977. Anchored by John William’s masterful score (seriously he composed this score and “Star Wars” in the same year—that is ridiculous talent), all of this builds to a final thirty minutes of transcendental cinema that is as impactful, relevant, and moving as ever.

Bottom line: A brilliantly directed masterpiece that plays as strong ever and one of my top ten films of all time.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

'War for the Planet of the Apes', the novelization review

Sensational novelization of Matt Reeve’s heartbreaking, epic masterpiece “War for the Planet of the Apes”, based on the outstanding screenplay by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves.

There are three things that make a novelization work.

Number one, extra scenes and possibly even plot threads not in the movie. Most novelizations have this because the writer often works from an early draft of the screenplay, or even if it was written late in the process, a very rough cut of the film before the final edit.  Author Greg Cox gives us plenty of these extra goodies, and a few of them are very significant to the plot.

Two, a novelization has to be a novel. And by that I mean it must read like a novel and feel like a novel, not a re-typing of the screenplay in a different format. This book does indeed read like an epic novel, full of wonderful visual descriptions that present a strong sense of time and place.

And finally—and most importantly—a truly great novelization has to give us a lot of strong, insightful, revealing character interior monologues with precise and clear narrative viewpoints. This is where Greg Cox really excels, taking us into the mind of the characters and their thoughts, especially Caesar. All of those harrowing, intense emotions that we felt when watching the film, we feel them here too. On top of that there is a wonderful sense of what came before as characters muse about the people no longer with us such as Will, and we find out what happened to Malcolm.

Bottom line: “War for the Planet of the Apes” is the best film of the year and this novelization does it justice. A must own for any fan. Also recommended are the two prequel novels by Greg Keyes. “War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm”, as well as Alex Irvine’s novelization of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Stuff about me

About the author (updated 08-16-2017)

Published works

Technicolor Dreams 

Battle of the Network Superheroes 
Just Imagine: The Sketchbook of James J. Caterino
Among the Stars
The Last Neanderthal
Steel Phantom
The Selfie
Caitlin Star: The Trilogy
The B Girl
Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians
Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever
Caitlin Star
Sword of the Bull Mongoni
Rise of the Bull Mongoni
Action Figure
Video Noir
All About Amy
Gunner Star


Fight back against evil humans by supporting these wonderful causes

Favorite stuff


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 
E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)
Videodrome (1983)
Falling Down (1993)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
JFK (1991)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Enchanted (2007)
Robocop (1987)
A.I. (2001)
The Age of Adeline (2015)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Exotica (1994)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Love Actually (2003)
The Abyss (1989)
The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
Back to the Future (1985)
The Girl in the Gold Boots (1968)


24 – FOX (2001-2010, 2014)

The X-Files – FOX (1993-2002)
Unsolved Mysteries – NBC (1987-1997)
Mad Men – AMC (2008-2015)
Star Trek – NBC (1966-1969)
Homeland – Showtime (2011-present)
The Simpsons – FOX (1989-present)
The Walking Dead – AMC (2010-present)
Fringe – FOX (2008-2013)
Bewitched – ABC (1964-1972)


Robert E. Howard
John Jakes

Edgar Rice Burroughs
Joan Ellis
D.C Fontana
Harlan Ellison
Kristin Hannah
Sloan Brittain

Richard Matheson
James Wong & Glen Morgan


John Williams
Jerry Goldsmith
James Horner
Michael Giacchino
Hans Zimmer
Charli XCX
Lana Del Rey
Ellie Goulding
Giorgio Moroder


So Close - Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz performed by Jon McLaughlin (2007)
Gods and Monsters – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Viva La Vida - Coldplay (2008)
Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
Push it – Garbage (1998)
Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks (1981)
Love Me like You Do - Ellie Goulding (2015)
Kokomo – The Beach Boys (1988)
American – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Make That Move – Shalimar (1981)
I See You (Theme from Avatar) – James Horner and Kuk Harrell performed by Leona Lewis (2009)
Take On Me – ah-a (1985)
What's Going On – Marvin Gaye (1970)
Temptation Waits – Garbage (1998)
Love Lives On –   Bruce Broughton, Cynthia Weil and Will Jennings, performed by Joe Cocker (1987)
Summertime Sadness – Lana Del Rey (2012)
Love Theme from Flashdance - Giorgio Moroder (1983)
Summer Days - Tony Romeo, David Cassidy, performed by David Cassidy (1971)
Break the Rules – Charli XCX (2014)

Film Scores

Total Recall (1990) - Jerry Goldsmith
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - John Williams
Poltergeist (1982) - Jerry Goldsmith
Deep End of the Ocean (1999) - Elmer Bernstein
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) - John Williams
Obsession (1976) Bernard Hermann
Legends of the Fall (1994) - James Horner
King Kong (1976) John Barry
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Michael Giacchino
Batteries Not Included (1987) James Horner
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) Bruce Broughton 
Friday the 13th (1980) Harry Manfredini

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is a searing, intense, and emotional conclusion to the story of Caesar and the new “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy. With this final chapter, these films have achieved a level of artistic and storytelling brilliance unmatched by any other franchise in the 2000s—or any franchise ever for that matter.

“Rise of the Planet of Apes”, directed by Rupert Wyatt and written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, was a late summer August release in 2011 that took everyone by surprise with its heartfelt “E.T.” meets “Escape From Alcatraz” storyline anchored by a knockout performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar. Director Matt Reeves and his writing partner Mark Bomback took over the franchise for 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of Apes” and created an epic, Shakespearean Godfather-ish drama that stands as one of the all-time great sequels, acclaimed by critics to be in a class with “The Godfather II” and “The Empire Strikes Back”.

Part threes of any series are always are an uphill battle and following “Dawn” seemed to be an impossible task. Reeves and Bomback returned but vowed they would only make the movie if it broke new ground and was even better than its two outstanding predecessors. And guess what? They did it. They brought the Apes trilogy to a visceral, heart-breaking, emotionally rich conclusion, and created a modern cinema masterwork in the process.

As was the case in the previous entries, the movie is a mix of classic films and genres. This time it is the western that Reeves draws upon the most, particularly the revenge western, as well as biblical epics, war movies and the prison camp sub-genre. Reeves has mentioned “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in interviews. The latter being of special note because “Kwai” was directed by the legendary David Lean and “War for the Planet of the Apes” (shot in the sumptuous Arri Alexa 65mm format) looks very much like a David Lean film—almost as if David Lean were directing a spaghetti western.

And then there is the score—that utterly amazing sonic soundscape created by composer Michael Giacchino. It is a soundtrack that is in many ways as avante-guard in today’s super-restrained film scoring environment as Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score was for the original in 1968. And even though much of the score is atonal, and even experimental in parts, it packs an emotional wallop when Giacchino gives us his heart-breaking melodies during the intensely emotional scenes.

But as technically brilliant as this movie is, it is about so much more than knockout cinematography, haunting production design, movie homages, and an instantly classic soundtrack. This film is about Caesar’s long, winding, often painful, journey, and the journey of the people he leads. People he once freed from the captive cruelty of humans—a captive cruelty they once again find themselves facing in this movie at the hands of a sadistic Colonel (a brilliant and disturbing Woody Harrelson). In the face of this new danger and tragedy, we see many of the characters grow, including Maurice, Rocket, Lucca, Lake, and two fantastic new characters—“Bad Ape” played by Steve Zahn, and a Nova, a young human girl who reminded me of a young Dakota Fanning. There is a scene between Nova and Caesar in this film that packs more emotion that a hundred films. It will break your heart, and it will inspire you.

Botttom line: “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a part three that defies the odds and brings the trilogy to an unforgettable, emotional conclusion. A masterpiece and the best film of 2017 by a mile.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The best of James J. Caterino

The essential James J. Caterino

“I was thinking of reading one of your books,” she said. “So which one do you recommend the most?”

This was a question someone asked me on Instagram. It is one I often hesitate to answer unless I know the person’s tastes, passions, likes, and dislikes. But in this particular case I did know from the potential reader’s profile and posts that she loved animals and nature and lived in the Pacific Northwest. So this was a lay-up. I steered her toward “The Last Neanderthal” and she absolutely loved it. Happy reader. Happy author. A win win.

But it occurred to me that I had no such “which one of your books do you recommend most?” strategy in place—in the broader, more general sense. And since I often do top ten and top five lists here on all sorts of things, I thought it was time to turn my critical eye onto myself and choose my top five published works.

Of course, all self-evaluations are extremely subjective.But I like to think I am pretty self-aware and astute at self-analysis. I know when something is good regardless of who wrote it. But just to balance this list out, I also heavily relied upon reader feedback, especially from a few trusted souls whose opinions I respect.

So here it is:

This contemporary, dystopian action adventure is probably the signature James J. Caterino work, and certainly the most ambitious and epic. In an elevator pitch I describe Caitlin Star as “Tomb Raider” meets “Tarzan”. But be warned, it can be a very intense read. If these were made into films, they would be rated R.

This recent short story is clever and creative and a lot of fun. Seriously, this story is a blast. You will like it. If you are a “Supergirl” fan or any kind of athlete you will really, REALLY like it.

“Steel Phantom” is a supernatural horror script I wrote in 2002 and pitched around Hollywood. The screenplay did receive some good coverage, and garnered some interest from several producers and production companies.

Now, this scary, sexy, suspenseful, supernatural story is available for the first time ever as a published book in the screenplay format.

I love this book. Perhaps my personal favorite James J. Caterino book.

This modern day Bigfoot story can be described as "King Kong" meets "Harry and the Hendersons".  A suspenseful and moving coming of age adventure story that you will really enjoy.

Back to the Future meets Somewhere in Time in time travel thriller Technicolor Dreams

Brimming with suspense, heart, and humor, “Technicolor Dreams” is a delightful, entertaining, time travel romantic thriller.