Category Archives: SCI-FI/FANTASY

Dr. Sourpuss, calling Dr. Sourpuss.

Well, quite a few heady posts there lately–but, well, guess that’s what happens when one’s Constitution is torn up before your eyes. Lemme tell you something I found humorous today:

I was getting ready for work and flipping channels I found one showing the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” (A new one is in the works, staring Keanu Reeves…and you know what? I actually think he could pull it off.) Klaatu (who’s a human looking alien, by the way, if you don’t know) has been analyzed by military doctors, and two of them are discussing how Klaatu 78 but looks 38, all dejectedly. One complains that he feels like a “3rd rate witch doctor” (do witch doctors have rates?) Another doctor comes in mystified that a bullet wound in his arm has healed completely after a day of being treated with a salve Klaatu provided. He mutters that he’s going to get it analyzed, and wonders if he should just give up medicine. Then the other two doctors light up inside the office.

I’m thinking any doctor, anybody engaged in the sciences, when faced with such amazing discovery, if they mutter and grumble “oh dear, how advanced this is, woe is me for being primitive,” have no right being a scientist. Or human for that matter. When faced with amazing discovery and mystery, a truly inquisitive and skeptical and science minded person should revel in the opportunity to investigate and learn and experience! Shame on fictional grumbling doctors!

It was amusing to see the doctors smoking, and in their office foyer. Ah, a simpler age. Reminded me of Dr. Cottle  from the new Battlestar Galactica. 🙂

Five Signs the United States Is Withering Away

io9 has an interesting article today speculating on the probable causes for the end of the United States:

I wholeheartedly agree with all except “2. A decadent culture.” At least the way they’re describing it. The essayist is stating that because our formerly impressive, original, massive Hollywood productions has nose-dived into redundancy and banality, this somehow will lead to a withering of the U.S. I don’t buy it.

Yes, our entertainment industry has become drivel in many ways: Our television is crap save for a few rare bright points (Battlestar Galactica is co-produced by the BBC.) Some of the best films lately have been directed by foreign directors–but note that they were produced mainly by U.S. backers and distributed by U.S. studios. Pop radio is generally pretty lame, but hasn’t it always been? It’s probably more accurate to say that the U.S. produces less interesting, risky artists, but we by and large supply a means for those artists from elsewhere to find a bigger audience and better resources. (This is a generality and not an absolute. I’ve seen many many amazing foreign produced films.)

But the point is, the country won’t in any way dissolve or split because of it. The other four reasons given in the article could possibly lead to civil war (either militaristic or purely political), a dissolution and possible take-over of the country by foreign powers. All the cultural decay will lead to is a continued lessened respect and appeal of things American by other cultures. Which may be bad in some respects when it comes to diplomacy and international PR, but there’s quite a few quite successful and economically thriving countries in Europe which aren’t known for huge cultural exportation, save for maybe a couple of “things” they may be specifically known for.

However, I can see wrapped up with the other reasons, that it’s one more sign of the end of the U.S. as empire. We may simply fall back to being just one of the world’s nations and not a super-power. Unfortunately, too many people in politics, the military, and even the general populace, would never ever let that happen without a “good” fight! An essay I read not too long ago pinpointed the symptoms of a crumbling empire, and pointed up that toward the final stages the empire will wage more and more pointless and bloody conflicts as a means of appearing strong and trying to maintain an appearance of dominance. You can bet that if the end of our status as a world empire were to become increasingly evident to those in power, they will start a world war in an attempt to grab power else go out in a blaze of Armageddon-esque fire, rather than be just another nation in the world.

What do they care? They have property and assets in Dubai and the Camen’s!

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears; redux.

I read Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) when it first came out in 1995. I bought and read…no, devoured all of the collections of “modern fairy tales” when I was an undergrad those early 90s–Snow White, Blood Red, Black Thorn, White Rose, etc. Now, the series is being re-released for a new audience and I’d like to take the opportunity to review the third book in the series…in what I’m afraid is a rather mixed review.

The edition I’m reviewing is a reprint–and when I say “reprint,” that’s exactly what it is. The version of the book I received, as the new reprint, has the cover seen here and a publishing date of 1996 under Prime Books. The original mass market paperback I have was from Avon Books and released 1995 (although Barnes and Noble is showing it published in a different year and publisher than I’m looking at right now in the book itself). Amazon shows another cover for Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears also published by Prime, but listed as 2008. There are a couple more covers and ISBNs available through Amazon and B&N. Regardless of this very confusing collection of Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears iterations, one thing I can deduce from my looking and primarily from comparing the two editions in my hands, is that while there may be a multitude of covers the insides are exactly the same. Exactly! From the table of contents and the introduction straight through to the intros for each story and the very page numbering, the contents of the books are identical.

Now, I find this to be a huge disappointment. Partly because it makes the book and the editors seem a bit daft to the reader coming to the book anew. For example, the introduction to Susan Wade’s story mentions “Her first novel, Walking Rain…was recently published by Bantam” (8). Ten years ago.

The other most significant reason for my disappointment comes from the un-updated volume introduction. One of the best parts of this modern fairy tale series are the, well, scholarly essays about fairy tales and their modern versions and descendants–why the tales came into being, their history, their impact, common themes. (Well, at least until their fifth collection, Silver Birch, Blood Moon. By then the introduction becomes a short collection of trivia and recommended reading. While still very interesting, the regular reader may have become spoiled by the breadth and depth of the previous introductions.) The new release of the books have nothing new from the editors on the subject, the genre, past nor present. Not even from an additional introduction author who could have been commissioned to write a supplemental introduction providing new insight or criticism on the subject should Datlow and Windling have been too busy to update their material (which I’m sure they are. After having apparently exhausted their thoughts on the matter pretty obviously by the last installment of the series, perhaps it should also be obvious they’d have nothing new to add to reprinted versions of the series). But, it has been ten years since the series was introduced–there could certainly be new thoughts on the subject by other scholars and essayists since then as surely as there have been new authors and stories.

Which brings me to my third though admittedly least significant disappointment: no new stories. As reprints, one doesn’t expect there to be new fiction content, nor did I really. (Although new or additional introductions or prefaces aren’t that unusual for reprints. But, I think I’ve beat that horse enough. Except to say one more time that new story intros would have been highly advised at the very least.) Though, after really looking at it, the last in this series, Black Heart, Ivory Bones, did come out in only 2000. That’s not terribly long ago. Plus, Datlow and Windling have put out other related anthologies such as A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales (2000), The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (2004) and The Coyote Road (2007). While these may be for a younger audience than the Snow White, Blood Red series, it perhaps proves that Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have not abandoned the subject and new authors but have perhaps redirected their efforts in different directions. If one wants new fairy tales with a modern and possibly an adult twist, you’ll just have to turn to their Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies or Ellen Datlow’s Inferno.

Now, all that being said, let’s get back to the content of the primary book in question: Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears. As with the other books in the series, this one has a mix of stories that range from mediocre to heart-wrenchingly good. Certainly the likability of a story is quite subjective to the person, and the situation! For example, I recall when I first read the opening story of this anthology, Wade’s “Ruby Slippers,” I adored the sardonic and ironic twist put on the Wizard of Oz tale. But now, after reading and viewing a decade of “twists on a familiar tale,” “Ruby Slippers” seems trite and tired. Like something I would have read from undergrad creative writing class.

But this kind of story is rare; most of the stories in this collection, while certainly retellings and often twists on a theme, go far deeper and evoke greater emotion in both range and intensity. And in general, with better writing. But occasionally it’s taken too far, such as Anne Bishop’s “Match Girl.” This story manipulates the pathos in such a way as to become grotesque, in content and manipulativeness. I recall when I first read this story, when I was about 24, the horrific events that the title character encounters made me appropriately angry toward her persecutors and tormentors and rooting for her vengeance or at least her release from torment. I didn’t get the feminist ideology driving the narrative at the time, I simply enjoyed the story. Now, older and hopefully wiser, I reread this story seeing it as a thin allegory for the trials and tribulations the female sex has to endure in a negative, demeaning, abusive patriarchal society. While on the one hand I applaud and support this agenda, I have to say I enjoyed the story much less because of how thin the veil is. I was no longer reading a story, I was reading a blatant polemic. And with this new awareness, what I read as a bitter-sweet ending ten years ago, I see now as a frustratingly antagonistic and arrogant attack against the author’s own gender in general.

As the editors discuss in their wonderful introduction to the book, much of folk, fable, and fairy tale have been “rather subversive,” until the patriarchy of the Victorian Age and Disney reshaped them (3). This is an aspect of the fairy tales of the past, and the modern versions of the present, that I greatly enjoy–no one loves subversiveness more than I. (Go Marxism!) But I dislike when the rage and anger at the hegemonic ideology is mixed with blatantly ephemeral allegory that ends up, in my opinion, doing a disservice to both the narrative and the message.

Fortunately this is also rare. Most of the stories in this anthology find a balance in theme and narrative so that the story can be enjoyed for its own sake, but the subversive message is there if you care to look. A wonderful example of this balance is found in Ellen Steiber’s “The Fox Wife.” Like many of these stories, if you’re not shedding a tear by the end of it, you’re a heartless bastard. This story, while the message of subverting gender roles and tradition and expectations of marriage is evident, the wonderful storytelling enraptures the reader in the all the best ways. It’s a story that leaves you thinking about it for days.

There’s no reason to read editions in the Snow White, Blood Red series in order, even the introductions are nicely self-contained. If you want to pick up Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears and start from there, it’s a good of place as any. Honestly, if you already have an earlier copy, there is no reason to buy the new re-release–there’s nothing new in it for you. But if you’re new to these modern fairy tales for the grown up, this is a must-read!

Little Brother’s watching Big Brother. And, Bush hates literacy.

I’ve been anticipating Cory Doctorow’s latest novel for half a year now, since I first heard of it. It’s a young adult novel in which some innocent kids get picked up by Homeland Security for suspicion of involvement in a terrorist act. After the treatment they receive, the decide it’s time to bring back the Bill of Rights and use home-grown technology to fight the government. The novel is filled with actual tech and counter-tech plans and ideas.

I just listened to an interview with Doctorow on the Adventures in Scifi Publishing podcast:

♦ AISFP 48 – Cory Doctorow

In which they talk about the fascist techniques and outlook of the U.S. and U.K. these days, the new book, and also publishing. It’s interesting to hear how Doctorow supports and defends book publishers as being on the side of the writer and the reader, as opposed to music companies who you would think by the way they treat artists and fans were out to destroy them. Considering how much his book publisher, TOR, supports Doctorow giving away books they sell, for free on his Web site–they must be supportive! Random House has the audiobook rights and are willing to provide it in non-DRMA crippled MP3 format! Book publishers are cool. Anyway, you can listen to all this on the podcast.

Before the interview the hosts discuss Bush’s 2009 budget proposal which would defund the long-running Reading is Fundamental program:

♦ Bush’s ’09 Budget Eliminates RIF Funding

The hosts, bless their naive hearts, seem shocked by this. They don’t seem to understand that to Milton Friedman worshiping corporate-owned capitalist fascists, a literate and educated populace is the enemy. A strong middle-class, a literate masses, can recognize and understand what’s going on around them, and are able to use the system to “fight the power,” and hinder the neo-con (and not a small number of Democrats) attempt to turn the government into a corporate controlled oligarchy. This is why the Bush administration has been trying hard for seven years to get rid of (or at least control using neo-con loyalist lackies) PBS and NPR, have been sabotaging public education system, promoting abstinence-only programs which are proven to be ineffective, have tried to get rid of the public education mandate of NASA. To these people, the purpose of the populace are to be wage-slaves and spend what little free time they have watching mindless garbage and not thinking, especially not critically and not for themselves. Bush’s attempt to get rid of the program which provides books and promotes literacy among the poor and at-risk kids is just another in his long line of attempts to transorm the American people into mindless peasants.

Reading right along. (And Brust/Firefly bright point.)

It’s really sad, and in a way is reflective of how my life has been going.

I used to be a voracious reader. I was introduced to the works of Poe, Bradbury, and Lovecraft around the 3rd grade. I was hooked on scifi and horror ever since.

In jr. and high school I read a novel just about every other day. As an undergrad, it slowed because I actually had school work and theatre to do, but I still constantly read for pleasure. Then, nearly as soon as I graduated and I entered the work-a-day world, that came to a sudden stop. I might have read maybe maybe two fiction novels a year. From no less than one a week to one a year is an astronomical change. And my life was kind of in auto-pilot.

I suppose it’s more complex than that, to be honest. I blame the Internet. 🙂 It was about that time that we (the wife and I) got hooked on Internet chatting, Web browsing, Minesweeper (well, for her. For me it was the latest 1st-person shooter game). As I think about this now that I type (which is often the case–I rarely think about things before I spew the results) it wasn’t an entirely bad thing. The Internet chatting ended up leading toward socializing in real life with more people as well (something which also stopped after I graduated). And socializing is good! For my fiction, there’s a little bit to be had in some computer games, superficially.

Well, then came a couple of years ago. (Too bad I never edit my spewing. I don’t want to reread that last sentence, but I know it was atrocious!) Things started moving and shaking. I came to certain “spiritual” realities which “fit” with what and who I am like a tailored glove. Where before, for years, I was an existential wreck, constantly worrying about the Nature of God and sin and afterlife and trying to make sense of revealed “Truths” of religion with the revealed truths of all other religions–and eventually found what I believe is to be truth that makes complete and utter, perfect sense! And that realization (revelation? *eg*) made it feel like I had a bunch of jumbled pieces inside me that had been rattling around and grinding on each other for years, and then they all suddenly clicked snuggly in place. And I felt internally whole and alive and awake. (To borrow a phrase, but it works.)

Then I realized that I needed to get my education and career back on track. Got into grad school, and immediately, in that first semester, came upon some socio-political concepts that were troubling and weird and disturbing–much like the concepts which lead me to “religious understanding,” It took me a while to play with them and research them and start to understand them, but they eventually brought me to understanding certain socio-political “truths” that I’ve come to embrace as “right.” (The religious understandings took me about…seventeen years to come to where I am, and once the click happened, I knew it was right. These socio-political beliefs are more slippery. There’s a LOT more room for subjectivity and opinion–after all, religious “truths” are or they aren’t. Socio-political “truths” are human-created ideas and so can have all kinds of spectrum of right/wrong, works/fails, etc. I know I will always be a secular-humanist because there’s objective truth in it, but I may not always be an anarcho-socialist as I am now. And even what that means is subject to change.)

And then I also learned in the process what my career goals are right for me. It used to be amorphous and uncertain, based first on just continuing my undergrad studies (which granted, I was interested in! But I kind of fell into it based on what department was willing to give me the most funding). Then I went into grad school this last time with a plan closer to what I felt I wanted–which it was and I did. Literary studies. But then I learned that it was indeed possible to focus on scifi/fantasy (speculative fiction) as a subject, and I gained a HUGE interest in cultural studies that I had no idea that I had a passion for before.

My daughter is now at that wonderful age where she’s bright and creative and full of hope and joy, and not yet hating her parents and hanging out with “wrong” people and doing things to rebel. The wifey-poo and I doing well and unless I decide I have to get my doctorate in Canada (which is increasingly likely), we’ll only get better. So, things are good right now.

Which means I’m reading again! Actually, I have no idea how the two topics relate. That’s the problem with stream-of-consciousness writing. I’m reading more again because of grad school, I would say, except even last year I didn’t read as much for pleasure. Sure, I read non-fiction here and there, and a TON for class work, but I still didn’t read novels except for class. This year: so far in about six weeks, I’ve read:

Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe
Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War
Steven Brust’s My Own Kind of Freedom
halfway through Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End
started David Marusek’s Counting Heads
read some stories out of Rewired

I suppose I’m being a little disingenuous–I’m reading/have read most of the above partly for research on my work in posthumanism–but sort of. If I wanted to, I could skim them, find what I need, read others’ research on them. But I actually primarily read for pleasure, and I’ve missed doing so. I’m also reading again because I’m writing fiction again–something I haven’t done in quite some time. And to be able write colorfully and interestingly, one needs to be reading, especially various genre and styles. And already I can tell getting back into the world of playing with words is improving my own work.

Ah, speaking of Brust’s “Firefly” novel: Remember back in my post Thoughts on this year’s ICFA where I discuss my trepidation about fanfic and fiction written in a pre-existing world developed and made “living” by actors? Well, Brust’s My Own Kind of Freedom continues the method of pulling direct quotes and actions from the show/film to create archtype representations of the characters. Except in, I believe it was chapter 11. Brust suddenly has a burst (heh) of inspiration, and his characters came alive for most of a chapter, without the need of copy-and-pasted lines and actions. Captain Mal was Mal, his dialog fit the character created by Joss Whedon and Nathon Filion without being a copy of the character. It suddenly became like I was watching (reading) a lost episode as opposed to someone trying to create an episode out of bits and pieces. I got excited reading that chapter: “Yes! Here we go. Now we’re cookin’!”

Sadly, the inspiration left, and the rest of the novel lapsed back into auto-pilot. Interesting plot, but utterly 2-dimensional characters.

Which is sad, for me, because one of the reasons Brust is one of my all-time favorite authors is because of his characters. In the early Vlad Taltos books, I completely believed Vlad. When he left his love (or she left him…can’t remember now which), I literally cried. When in book six he switched from 1st-person narration to 3rd and focused on a different set of characters, I literally threw the book across the room because I was so involved with the characters he’d created in 1 through 5, getting rid of them felt the same as their dying. So, it kind of saddens me.

Well, this post was an explosion of pointless drivel. I’m sorry for you having read it. Please email me and I will see if I have some “few minutes out of my life” I can try to give back to you. No promises, however.

Thoughts on this year’s ICFA, pt. 2.

(And still, the weird problem remains with using “from” too many times. I swear, the blog refuses to post unless I change some of the “from”s to “frm”. It must be some kind of bug in the module that tries to detect SQL injections, is the best I can figure.)

Yesterday I posted some of my thoughts on the ICFA after having just returned from it. I left out a lot. I’ll try to go vaguely chronologically and hit highlights.

OK, Wednesday:
I hate flying. But the flight down was fine.
The car rental place had no VW Bugs and I so wanted one! *sigh-pout*
I got a little lost trying to find my hotel, decided to give that up and go right to the conference, and made it to the opening panel at exactly one minute before it began!
Don’t recall much about the opening panel…except Brian Aldiss read an interesting poem of his that seemed to exemplify the idea of “sublime” (the theme for this year’s conference.

Brian Aldiss is an interesting fellow. Long time, well awarded, knighted, writer primarily in science fiction. Wrote the short story that inspired the film A.I.. (I’m sorry, but I absolutely loved that movie! Speaking of Aldiss and the movie, there was a session that included a paper by Andrew M. Gordon, author of (among other books) Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg, in which he defended the ending of the movie. Thank the gods! I’m one of the only persons I know who loved the ending because I see it completely differently than most people, and Mr. Gordon defended it succinctly and effectively: Most people see the ending as a sappy, Spielberg ending, and creepy because of the apparent Oedipal evocation. But that mistaken apprehension of the ending is what makes the ending all the more tragic and sad! It’s a very, ironically, tragic ending in which a fake boy programmed for obsession has his “perfect day” with a fake mommy in a staged environment set up by fake lifeforms who worship the missing human race and believe they will come closer to knowing humanity through this simulacra. And Spielberg intentionally and skillfully crafted this treacherously misleading ending. God, just writing this makes me sad. Gordon of course went into these issues at great length with superb presentation, and I believed he took a room full of people who dismissed A.I. out of scoffing hand, and may have changed some minds, or at least got people thinking. Brava!)

(more after the “fold”…)
Continue reading Thoughts on this year’s ICFA, pt. 2.

Really is “the most magical place on earth!”

My wife, daughter and I returned from Orlando, Florida yesterday after a 5-day vacation. It was simply amazing! It exceeded all my expectations, fulfilled nearly none of my fears or worries, and quite simply–I didn’t want to leave. Even now I feel a mixture of happiness and elation as well as depressed longing as the memories begin to fade and the acceptance of being back in the mundane and troubling “real world” sets in. More on that later.

Now, I’m going to try to describe the experience chronologically:
Arrival and Animal Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Kennedy Space Center, Shuttle Launch, & the Beach
Afterthoughts

(Picture sets, probably Flickr, to come soon.)

(continues below the fold)
Continue reading Really is “the most magical place on earth!”

The universe as virtual reality.

(Insert Keanu Reeves’ “Whoa” here.)
BoingBoing just posted a link to a fascinating paper on the theory that our universe is a giant VR system:

Our universe as virtual reality

…If the universe were a virtual reality, its creation at the big bang would no longer be paradoxical, as every virtual system must be booted up. It is suggested that whether the world is an objective reality or a virtual reality is a matter for science to resolve. Modern information science can suggest how core physical properties like space, time, light, matter and movement could derive from information processing….

The linked PDF has some mind-blowing (and easy to read) info and cosmological theory regarding equating the max data transfer speed in our universe, lightspeed, with max computational processing and similar issues of physics in our time-space with analogs in artificial data processing.

But then, there’s some “reality” checks, so to speak, from some commentors like:

Lord Occam walks in the room “Enough!” snip! “There ya go, kids. You’re objectively real as far as you’ll ever know. Now get back to work on something important.”

The GrogMonkey lives! And pontificates.

The GrogMonkeyOK, so my 3rd blog is up and running now:

The GrogMonkey

Here’s the “About” page on the site:

This blog is designed to feature my work in English/Cultural Studies education.

I’m currently working on my Master’s Degree in English with a focus on Creative Writing. While I don’t plan, at the moment, to put any of my fiction up here, I do plan on publishing my non-fiction works–of which I’ve done more this last year and a half than I would have thought I’d have in me two years ago. After my M.A,, which should be finished in another year and a half, I plan on going on for my Ph.D. with a focus in posthuman fiction and cultural studies. (Over on another page I plan on profiling some of the people in the field that I’m modeling my career path on, such as Slavoj Žižek.)

I plan on submitting some of what I will be placing on this site to journals (both academic peer reviewed and otherwise), and some I wouldn’t normally want anyone to see–but there may be something to it that compels me to put it out there for critique, entertainment, or for some twisted sense of vanity. (Yeah, that’s probably the most likely reason.)

I encourage anyone to read what I’ve put out, comment, and even debate or argue some of the presented points with me. Some of what I’ve written and will write about I’m only scratching the surface of my understanding and would love to better my apprehension of the subjects in the crucible of debate (how’s that for some fancyshmancy grad student prose?)

While this blog is pretty esoteric and comments on general issues: tech, news, politics, etc., The GrogMonkey is going to be only for my scholarly work. Probably mostly reprints of papers, occasional posts on issues and events that deal directly with my studies and education. I anticipate that site will have even a smaller audience (than the 2 or 3 this one gets…) but that’s OK. I’m doing it mainly for my own benefit. (What that benefit is, I don’t quite know yet.)

At the moment there’s only one post up there. I have probably around 10 to 15 papers I can upload, but I don’t want to inundate the site just now–I’ll probably upload a file a week. If you’re interested, check it out.

Do androids dream of rock stardom?

DeckardI’m so lucky to have been born in a wealthy capitalist western society. If I have to be born in a pre-worldwide socialist era, this is where I want to be. (Oh, one day thanks to technology, nano-tech, etc., we’ll be able to advance the world beyond criminal and soul stupefying capitalism and world-wide poverty and suffering, to a state of socio-political harmony and self-actualization. Until then, I’ll enjoy my air conditioning and MP3 player and rail against capitalist ideology like only white privileged college-educated elitists can. But hey, even Marx said capitalism was a necessary step on the path to communism (true communism, by the way, not the f’ed-up fascist Stalinism that Stalin instigated using a perverted and bastardized form of Trotskyism mixed with totalitarian extremism that became the USSR. Soviet Russia is as much a true socialist society as the Connecticut born-and-bred rich kid W. Bush is a good ol’ boy rancher. But I seriously digress….)

So today I got two wonderful boons to my world of entertainment: The special “ultimate” collector’s 5-disk edition of Blade Runner, and a used Guitar Hero guitar controller.

The guitar was an incredible find. It’s that one I just linked to, highly rated, and regularly runs $60 (if you get it without a game.) GameStop gets used ones in very rarely, and when they do, they’re gone like that! I happened to be in a store buying a gift for a nephew, and happened to ask if they had one…and they did for $20! (Insert “Bill & Ted” air-guitar riff here.) I love the Guitar Hero games! They’re fun, even fun to watch someone else play, exciting, don’t require a huge expenditure in time and attention (like RPG’s and strategy games do, which I also LOVE but just can’t devote any time to lately,) and a great way to unwind after work.
Now, I just need to get one of the games! 🙂

The Blade Runner set was also a deal! It normally retails for $80. But after the Barnes & Noble online discount, Member discount, online coupon, and a Christmas gift card, I ended up paying only $8! I’m a huge Blade Runner fan, ever since seeing it at 11 as a wide-eyed kid. It completely changed my entire concept of sci-fi (as it did for a lot of people) and the anticipation of the future itself. Plus it had elements of questioning “what is it to be ‘human'” that even that messed-up theatrical release was able to relate, that really got me at that young age. So perhaps it’s no wonder that now that I’m older, I am absolutely in love with the works of Philip K. Dick (who wrote the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep on which Blade Runner is based) who investigates that theme in much of his work, as well as the question of subjective reality.

What’s so special about this special edition? Well, aside from all the coolio extras like art and prints, models, cool case, and a signed letter from director Ridley Scott, and documentary extras like interviews with P.K. Dick (glee!), but also a true director’s version of the film, the “final cut.” (The misnamed “Director’s Cut” wasn’t. The studio, eager to cash in on the growing demand for extended and director’s cut DVD’s years ago, threw together an altered version of the film, with at least a couple of nods to Scott’s desires: the originally intended ambiguous ending and the lack of the cheesy Harrison Ford voice-over.) This new version has cleaned up some lines that have been muddy and misunderstood for years, fixed a few laugh inducing special effects, cleaned up the print and sound, and restored some elements Scott wanted but the studio didn’t.
I’m giddy with excitement!

Bad animation; terrorists and dragons.

Terror buster pinSeriously? Are they kidding with this? This is the CIA’s Terrorism Buster logo?

OK, to be fair, that image is on a lapel pin and about 5 times the actual size or so. But c’mon. That’s pretty goofy. And by the way, I didn’t realize you could attach an ancient Middle Eastern saber on the end of an AK-47. That’s pretty talented. Because of course, all terrorists are Middle Eastern, donchya know. Like Ted Kaczynski, the guy who set off bombs as the Atlanta Olympics, the people who set black churches on fire, the Phelps congregation who terrorize families of fallen soldiers, Basque separatist rebels–all Middle Eastern. They’re all Middle Eastern Muslims and they’re all over in Iraq, because we’re fighting all the terrorists there so they don’t come here. Yep. We sure are.

Dragonlance captureOK, but this post is about bad animation. And my heart was broken today by it.

The latest Slice of Sci Fi podcast had an interview with Tracy Hickman, promoting the upcoming Dragonlance movie. Now, I read the first two trilogies of the Dragonlance series in a 72 hour period back in highschool, and loved them! Especially the second, Twins, trilogy! I laughed, I cried, I felt empty and sad when I finished them. They’re not Shakespeare, but they were incredible to me. And a huge cadre on die-hard fans.

So, when it was announced the first book was being made into a feature movie, there was much celebration. (yeeaah) Not only a feature (albeit animated) film, but with a superb voice cast, there was greater rejoicing! I mean, there is no one better to voice Raistlin than Kiefer Sutherland, I’m sorry. And I heard some of the full orchestral musical score, and it’s great! Imagine my disappointment (and the disappointment of legions of fans… like the sound of thousands of people crying out…) when I heard of the 1st trailer being released, and saw this drek:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=UHrOfJ8_D0o
It’s like they ran out of money after hiring Sutherland and the orchestra and had to hire animators who were fired by Hanna & Barbera in the 80’s. It looks like old He-Man cartoons spliced together with a little 3D CGI from mediocre 1990’s games. It makes me cry a little.

I’m still hoping that what this is is some modern version of storyboarding, and we’re not seeing any actual film footage yet. I mean, how in 2007 can you possibly make a movie that looks as bad as 1985 Saturday morning cartoons? You have people making entire live-action films on an Apple PC that look high-production value, and the best they could do with this movie is crummy mass-produced 80’s style made incongruous and schitzo with bad CGI thrown in? Sad sad sad.

Plumbing for ghosts.

So, there’s a show on Sci-Fi channel (remember, that’s science FICTION channel *grin*) called Ghost Hunters, in which some plumbers from Rhode Island use a collection of electronic devices designed for all kinds of things except detecting the supernatural to investigate claims of hauntings.

The latest Skepticality podcast has an interview with the founder of The Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society. Alison Smith started out as a believer in ghosts and the supernatural and a fan of Ghost Hunters. but, being a thinking person, she started having questions about the findings and methodology exhibited in the show. She started collecting the same kind of hardware, EMF detectors, temperature detectors, etc, and recreating the same effects shown in the show–but with mundane causes. After asking too many questions on the Ghost Hunter message board, she was eventually banned. She became a prominent skeptic of ghost hunting and proving that not only can all the events and strange phenomenon shown on the show can be easily faked and in fact, prove that video manipulation has been done on the show to make things look supernatural.

The interview on Skepticality is a great, fun example on how important it is use ones mind and think critically.

The show also has a bit of an “interview” (an unplanned recording of astro-physicist and co-host of Astronomycast, Dr. Pamela Gay) discussing a little of the problem we have dealing with Dark Matter.

Golden age of the nefarious hacker.

I’ve been listening to Cory Doctorow reading Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown. It’s a non-fiction work that at its core describes the actions and environment that lead up to the huge crackdown by the Secret Service, FBI, and the telco companies against the “hacker threat” during the early 90’s. The work takes a fascinating look at the entire development of the telephone industry and the mentality that lead up to the weaknesses and flaws that allowed crackers and phreakers to take advantage of the system–and the subsequent draconian crackdown.

Listening to it really reminded me of early computer experience. I’ve been working with computers since the Apple II around the mid-80’s, but I didn’t get a modem until about 1994, when the Golden Age was on its decline. Bulletin Board Services (BBS) were still around and I played around on them quite a bit, bit the commercial interests were exploding: AOL, Compuserve, etc. I was a hacker in the sense I loved to play around with systems, tweaking my system, figuring out how to modify programs and write my own scripts, and find out as much information as I could. So while I never became hardcore, I did find a lot of interesting security info, some things like this:

<> The Legion of Doom/Hackers Technical Journal

Information like these “journals” were passed around FIDO and BITNet and the BBS file archives. I remember scanning UUnet and piecing together binary files, and spending ridiculous hours at night with my computer dialed up to remote systems, downloading text files and programs and other stuffs. Then my wife and I discovered things like IRC and I started Web scripting, and I stopped spending as much time learning about cracking and the computer underground. (Although as late at 2001 I was still keeping tabs on the goings-on of groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and L0pht.

In some ways I wish I had been more hardcore and not just a putterer–I might have a comfy high paying corporate security gig right now. 🙂 But this is OK too, being a bit more eclectic and diversified. But boy, does listening to The Hacker Crackdown bring back some memories.

Countdown to X-files movie begins.

David Duchovny
CNN has an article about David Duchovny’s new Showtime series:
<> Duchovny gets physical — and sexual — in show
I’ll freely admit to having a real man-crush on Duchovny. He’s cool, he’s smart, he’s fun and a little crazy.
But what I’m most interested in is X-Files news! I was a hardcore X-phile back during the first five seasons (before it started going downhill fast.) I mean, HUGE fan. So when I’d heard a few months ago that they finally go the official “go” on a second movie, I was giddy as a school-girl. (I also have a huge crush-crush on Gillian Anderson. She’s on “my list.” *grin*)

Duchovny’s new “X-Files” movie should start shooting later this year, he said, directed by “X-Files” creator Chris Carter.

“I’ve had no compunction about being tied to that character,” Duchovny said of his Agent Mulder alter ego. “I doubt I’ll ever again play a part as popular as he was.”

Pirate Master! Better than expected.

(I’m posting a few things today, so be sure to scroll down and take a look at my other posts today: The existence and morality exist w/o the need for deity, Religion and deteriorating societies, and Steampunk magazine.)

Pirate flagSo last night was the first episode of the new reality show: “Pirate Master“, from the makers of “Survivor.” I’m a huge pirate fan, so of course I had to watch it.

I’m not a “Survivor” fan. I did watch the very first season, back when “reality TV” was new and interesting, and found it fascinating! Then the second season, I stopped watching after a few episodes, and now I don’t watch any “reality show” that throws some random mix of people together into some contrived situation (like “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” and the like.) However, I do occasionally watch the odd reality program that is either pseudo-documentary-like and involves a pre-existing “cast” (such as “Work-Out“) or puts together people who have a shared talent who are in competition to win something that is directly related to their shared skill instead of just a money prize (such as “Project Runway” and my favorite: Food TV’s “The Next Food Network Star“). Granted, these shows are also often plagued with excruciatingly annoying people and embarrassingly stupid personal conflicts and issues which are the reasons I don’t watch “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” and “The Apprentice,” but the context of the competition based on a shared talent and skill (like clothing designer or chef,) makes up for the rest.

In any case, because of this I was very apprehensive about this Survivor-on-a-pirate-ship series. Especially when the first few minutes revealed one of the contestants was a “Scientist/Exotic Dancer” (oh puh-leeze!) with a really whacked-out idea of what makes for a mysterious appearance. Yikes. However, the show ended up to be rather entertaining. The challenge for the first episode was piratey, and had an interesting twist to sabotage the opposing team.
Also surprising was the inclusion of a couple of nods to actual pirate culture. For example, the winning one of the two teams elected the ship’s captain–which was the actual way in which pirate captains (in general) lead their ships. Pirate ships were little bastions of democracy in that they elected in and out their captains. However, in the TV show, they made the captain and his two hand selected “officers” into something of a naval ship’s way of operating. That is, the captain commanded the entire ship and his officers were second in command, and that’s not real pirate tradition. The “captain” on a pirate ship generally was only in charge of the military aspects of the ship–the attacks upon ships and raids upon targets on shore. When it came to the day-to-day operations of a ship, the man in charge was the ship’s pilot. In fact, oftentimes, the pilot outranked (so much as the idea of “rank” was observed on pirate ships) the captain. But in most cases, the captain, pilot, and the ship itself received an equal share of treasure acquired (the “ship’s share” was the funds needed for supplies and repairs.)

Some ships would have “officers” of a sort in the form of sergeant-at-arms who carried out the orders of the captain and/or pilot, and a quartermaster and/or carpenter who were/was in charge of stocking, repairing, and maintaining the ship. They usually received either equal share to the captain and pilot or something in between them and the rest of the men. In the TV show, the captain received half the loot! In actuality it was usually divided as: the men got 1 share, the captain and pilot and “officers” received 2 or 3 shares at most. Although, actually I am OK with their giving the captain half since he’s expected to use it for bribes and payments and other ways which may add to the dramatic element of the show–and that’s cool. Oh, and back to the ship’s democracy, the crew on the TV show can actually, if it’s unanimous, vote the captain off the ship, and that’s cool.

The show is edited in such a way as to make it appear as though the contestants (and the host I guess) are the only people on the ship (which is a real barque class ship.) I was wondering if that was all “magic of TV” and in fact they did no actual work on the ship and a real crew did everything, and in fact if the ship actual sailed at all. However, I’ve found non-CBS affiliated sites that confirm the contestants actually did do a lot of work sailing and maintaining the ship–even though, of course, there was a real crew doing the important work. Like this page written by the real captain of the ship the show was filmed on:Picton Castle
<> The Picton Castle’s Very Own Pirate’s Passage Through the Caribbean
It adds, for me, to the enjoyment of the show knowing the contestants actually did work and perform some of the duties actual pirates would have done.

So, I’m looking forward to this series; I hope it fulfills the promise I see in it so far.

Steampunk magazine

Steampunk MagazineI recently discovered a magazine on the genre of steampunk, which looks really interesting:
<> http://www.steampunkmagazine.com/
I’ve had a vague interest in steampunk for some years–probably when I first read William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which is a mystery that takes place in an alternate history of 1885 when a computer age hits the steam age.
In any case, you can buy a print copy of the magazine for only $3 (one reason I’m sure why it’s called a magazine and not a ‘zine), or download it for free. The introduction to the second edition is really interesting…

… Others referred to how technology, as is currently applied, serves as a buffer between us and wonder: monocropped farms, car culture, omnipresent air-conditioning and heat, etc. The homogenization of technology is indeed a travesty, a pox of our own infliction.
Of course, it is a false claim that technology itself is “unnatural.” We must think only of the lens that allows us to peer into the heavens—or at the chaotic dance of single celled critters—to realize that invention need not be evil. But if technology, as it is applied, has separated the vast majority of us from the natural world, then it is time that we misapply it. Let us be diverse and inefficient! …

BoingBoing often has new articles about people having developed some “new” steampunk item, such as a guitar, a computer, or drawings of Star Wars in a steampunk setting. (One of my favorites.)

QuicksilverA new genre in fiction is emerging called “clockpunk”, and I’m kind of excited about this one. It’s in the setting the Renaissance, specifically from the mind and creations of Leonardo da Vinci’s time and place. That’s a theme I plan on exploring in some of my own writing, especially as I’m reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)

Disturbing art on trial: presumed guilty.

Another story I just discovered regarding a student and his harmless hobby:

Student Arrested for “Suspected Terrorist Activity”

A teen arrested, arrested, for having created a map for a first-person shooter game (think Doom, Quake, Soldier of Fortune, Thief….) based on his high school. As the article above points out, it’s not at all unusual for people to make environments based on what you know. It’s like using “The Sims” to create a house you used to live in.

He has been convicted of no crime but then the school expels him? I guess “innocent until proven guilty” has no merit with the school board. Even with the authorities finding no evidence of gaming-related causes for the Virginia Tech shootings… It seems that we, as gamers, still are targeted as warped killers.

Reminds me of the kid who was arrested and charged with a crime for writing violent prose:

Write an essay in Chicago, go to jail

On the one hand, in this post 9/11, er, I mean, post-VT world, any sign of teen violence is going to make people very scared and paranoid. In that second instance, the stuff the kid wrote was pretty grotesque. But is it a crime? Especially when the assignment was to write whatever you want and don’t censor yourself?

Violent and disturbing imagery is a part of human art. From Stephen King novels and Quentin Tarantino movies to the paintings of 16th century painter and statesman Francis Bacon. If we freaked out and arrested and treated as criminals anyone who explored this side of natural human nature, a significant portion of the population would be arrested, and half the normal teenagers in America. For instance, back circa 1988, in a different world, I actually won 1st place in a writing fair for a very disturbing free-form poem. 20 years ago I won an award, today I probably would have been arrested. I love action filled, violent movies. I love violent action filled games. And yet, I, like most people I know, abhor the idea of hurting another person. And that’s normal. But we’re starting to overreact to such a degree, as a culture, that we’re treating any sign of violence as criminal activity and a precursor to mass slaughter.

The problem is an extension of the concept that there is a single scapegoat that can be blamed for the ills of society. Rock and roll was what had created drug culture and hooligans. Dungeons and Dragons caused suicide. Metal music created murderers. Nothing is that simple (not to mention that entirely wrong. Studies have shown that suicide rates among role-playing gamers are actually lower than the average–completely counter to the fear-mongering scapegoat seeking knee-jerk reactionary claim.) The VT killer wrote horribly disturbing fiction, very true. But, he also was a paranoid schizophrenic. I think that had something more to do with it than anything else. If we want to look for signs and predictions of actual violent behavior, we’re going to have to go beyond the easy, wide-ranging, ever-present signs that we’ll find in probably half the teenage population (if we were to start looking in journals and diaries as well.) We’ll HAVE to wait until a profile can be established. Did the kid write violent stories? Check. Immediately move to arrest him?! No! See if he has any kind of record of violent behavior. The Columbine killers, surprise, had a long history of both school and public incidents. The VT killer as well. Once you have some possible but very ambiguous sign, like writings, check history. You have a violent history, them maybe a good psyche evaluation might be in order.

But, once we start making criminals out of people, straight-A students with no signs of behavior disorder like the kids above, for what they write–where does that end? When do we start, in the name of public safety and security, start arresting anyone for anything they write that might be offensive or potentially violent. We actually have games out now (in prototypes) that use brainwaves to help control the game, not to mention prosthetics that move via brain impulses, it won’t be long until we are able to create implants that can alert The Authorities whenever someone has a thought identified as violent. Do we start arresting people for that? One may say, that’s a ridiculous slippery slope! That would never happen! 20 years ago I would never, ever have imagined that fiction I’d write could have me arrested. That would have been utterly insane to me back then. Or police blowing up Dept. of Transportation traffic counting devices as suspicious devices because they’re painted a different color than normal.

You can pass all this off as, “Well, we live in different times today.” Yes, but how much of these “different times” are of our own creation?

Cory Doctorow, Technology, and the Industry

I read BoingBoing.net a lot, so I see a lot of references to Cory Doctorow (not knowing before today that he was a co-creator of the site.) Cory Doctorow (not to be confused with author E.L. Doctorow) is a popular sci-fi author who also provides his books for free on the Internet (so he has some cred when it comes to his beliefs on the abolishment of copyright.) He also was highly active with the Electronic Freedom Foundation which has fought for years to protect consumers or electronic media from ridiculous corporate extortion, and protect the legal rights of media users and bloggers.

I listened to some of his various interviews today, and found that he has some interesting points regarding the future of technology and ownership and copyright. Here, very loosely paraphrased but honest to the message, are some of what Cory talks about:
NPR interview
KRUU interview

< ♦> What happens to world capital when it’s not needed to start a business? When before, venture capitalists would invest a million dollars the first year, and then ten million the second year, and then get fifteen million back once the IPO is released? Now, you can start a company for ten thousand. What’s happening to all that capital? (He explores this in a story that has smaller companies who exist to use the legal system to wantonly leech capital off the corporate big dogs.)

< ♦> Today it’s as hard to copy bits as it ever will be. It will only become easier. Saying “How do we make copying harder?” is like saying “How do we make gravity suck us harder?” It’s ridiculous. What do we do in 3 years when every song in the world can fit on a hard drive you can buy for $100? In 5 years when every movie? in say 15 years when every image, song, movie, TV show ever made can fit on a hard drive for $100? In say 25 years when all that plus every genome can fit on a drive the size of a sugar cube for $100 and you can give them for Xmas gifts, that you power up by giving it a good shake?
We shouldn’t be trying to figure out how to prevent that world, but how do we live in that world!

< ♦> (In reference to three ancient ax heads he had the opportunity to view–the products of archaeological digs. Each from different eras over a period of 30,000 years and each nearly identical to the other.) 30,000 years of no technological progress. The people of that time may have had a “tomorrow,” but no “future.” Perhaps our first great invention was “the future.”

< ♦> There is no scarcity of human labor. How does that change or effect capital? How does this affect capitalism? When huge products can be created with such collaborative effort with such minute individual effort?
For example, Google ranks sites based on how many links connect back to a site. That is to say, the more links on the ‘net go back to a site makes that site get a better ranking. Google is taking advantage of all our efforts when we make a link to some site. Our minute efforts in aggregate has create the “shape of the Internet.”

< ♦> The “theatre of security” (a concept coined by someone else) where it’s a puppet show, all this security. It’s there to make us afraid, after all, why would we need all this security if there’s not some threat to secure us from; and it makes us feel safe because now we have this security. But it’s all a way to remove our liberties while leaving us not really secure at all. If we’re being asked to trade our liberty for security, then we should be sure we’re actually getting real security. (Although, I don’t think he’s at all advocating giving up liberty for security at all! His point is that it’s impossible to have real security.)

< ♦> DRM, the anti-copying technology, is predicated on the idea that the hardware you own (PC, DVD players, iPod’s, etc,) will now and then take instructions not from you, the owner, but from someone else who provided the media (the MP3 file, movie, PDF, etc.) It’s a harbinger of the world in which the machines control us and not we control the machines.
(This, I can’t really agree with! Because you bought the PC or DVD player, and own the player, doesn’t mean you by default should have total control of the media (you didn’t create yourself anyway) simply because it’s on your hardware. I believe the creator of the media has the right to prevent that media from being used and manipulated in a way the creator did not intend!)
There’s really only one good reason for anyone to create a technology that limits the use of the media. No one wakes up and says “I think instead of stealing music I’m going to buy it today so that I can do less with it.” The only reason for DRM is to lock a user into a proprietary system. Apple wants you to be locked into their product and unable to take your media to another product, and DRM makes that possible.

< ♦> The movie industry was basically begun by pirates. When film was first being made, the Edison Company, Thomas Edison, had a strangle-hold on the way film could be used and distributed with draconian rules. So people who wanted to make movies away from his tyranny moved basically nearly to Mexico: Los Angeles, away from New Jersey and Edison’s patent attorneys. The recording industry began the same way with the creation of piano rolls. Their attitude at the time was “to protect the artist, you must protect the inventor.” Today, the recording industry only wants to protect how they earn their living.
They get around the concept of ownership rights by saying when you “buy music” you’re not buying it, they’re leasing it to you. But the problem is, according to the law, when a record company leases music 50% of the revenue has to go to the artist–but on all these music transactions the companies are claiming them as “sales” to the artists for which they’re only required to pay the artist 8%.
Suing your fans business model is like the underwear stealing gnomes in “South Park” with the sign on the wall: Step 1: Steal all underpants. Step 2:______. Step 3: Profit. “Step 1: Take everyone who was a music fan and sue them into a hole and then treat everyone else like criminals by forcing them to agree to ridiculous terms. Step 2: Something happens. Step 3: A properly chaste and subdued public returns to the malls with credit card in hand to properly buy their music.”

< ♦> Copyright is useless anymore. Once art was created via patronage. Someone had to commission you for your art, usually the pope or royalty. Then copyright was supposed to be a way for art to be subsidized by anyone with money–the industrialists. We don’t need industrialists any longer: anyone can make art now, and share it. The entire purpose for copyright is no longer necessary.