Sunday, February 28, 2010

Will the Last Person to Leave the Fortress of Solitude Please Turn Off the Lights?

Clad in a long dark coat and wide parson's hat, Neil Young sang an end to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics tonight with his classic "Long May You Run" as the flames were extinguished on the tops of the gigantic cauldron pillars above him (well... at least until the Paralympics get under way in a couple of weeks). Now the thing looks even more like a chunk of Superman's Fortress of Solitude.

I found myself waiting for General Zod and his cohorts, bedecked in black disco jumpsuits, to breeze in and dump a whining Gene Hackman on the stage before demanding, with a level of satisfaction bordering on the sexual, for the son of Jor'El to kneel.

Instead we got The Shat.

Canada's very own king of the ridiculous, William Shatner, kicked off a prolonged and playful segment highlighting the jokes and myths about the country and Canadians, like our legendary prowess at coitus in canoes. And it was fitting. Who better than the over-the-top actor who played Captain Kirk, who, despite his enormous ego, can withstand and participate in decades of jokes at his expense, to MC the ultimate self-deprecating in-joke. How utterly, wonderfully Canadian! To put on a glitzy show in front of the whole world, an event where most countries would aim to show themselves in utter flawlessness, and then do so something quintessentially Canadian like make fun of ourselves for half an hour. For that, only the Shat would do to get things started.

There was one ultra-geeky moment during Shatner's performance that had me wondering though... At one point, he referred (and was answered with a roar of approval from the audience) to Canada as "the undiscovered country". Clearly, with this being Captain Kirk at the mic, there's a direct reference to Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country. In it, the members of the Federation and the Klingon Empire, quoting Shakespeare, come to the conclusion that the undiscovered country is the future - and, given the end of the film, a future of hope. In tapping into this, Shatner, or the nerdishly savvy VANOC writers who put his script together, are implying that Canada is the future, and a bright one at that.

Now, I'll be the first to support that sentiment, but there's something not quite right about that reading. Granted, it's been a few years since the last time I reread Hamlet, but from what I remember of that soliloque, the undiscovered country mentioned by the tormented Danish prince refers to death. Granted, it represents peace and an end to struggle, betrayal, fear and doubt, but it's death none-the-less. Something that the Star Trek writers either didn't pick up on or chose to ignore, and, it would seem, the VANOC crew has done the same. Was this then supposed to be the last word in super-subtle in-jokes? A superbly quiet and coy acknowledgement and thus jab at those who would wrongly make fun of Vancouver, Canada, and Canadians as provincial and uninteresting to the point of being boring-to-death? Something to say "we know what you think of us and we're throwing back in your face because we've just proven you wrong, fuck you very much"? I'd like to think the intent was on that level of genius, but admittedly, it probably wasn't. No, it was undoubtedly just a happy-go-lucky straight Trek 6 interpretation.

But you know what? That's good enough.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Malpractice from The Doctor

I've been in pain for the past couple of days, and it's all The Doctor's fault - Doctor Who's fault that is. I've just had the misfortune of watching (part of) Doctor Who: Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150.

This 1966 installment in the franchise stars Peter Cushing (known for playing Grand Moff Tarkan in Star Wars, and for his roles in the Hammer horror films) as the Doctor, though not the Doctor as timelord, merely an old inventor adventuring with his neice and granddaughter. After a policeman (played by Bernard Cribbens - who would come back decades later as a different character - Donna Noble's grandfather) stumbles aboard the TARDIS, the Doctor and co make a trip to London in the year 2150, only to find the city in ruins with the Daleks running the show and a small band of human rebels fighting the odds.

What makes this feature so terrible? Where to begin?! Maybe it's the silly sequence of the lobotomized Robomen having dinner. Or the fact that the Daleks would keep humans alive to use as shocktroops in the first place, when the aliens are otherwise so committed to extermination! How about the Daleks using oh-so-scary fire extinguishers to subdue their human foes? Or the rebel seige of the flying saucer where the humans are able to easily grab the Daleks and spin them around like trashcans playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, or sending them rolling down the boarding ramp to overturn when they hit the soil? But the worst was the Doctor himself, with Cushing playing the character (or being made to play him) as a doddering geezer who seems incapable of doing anything other than wringing his hands and pursing his lips. Say what you want about his figuring out how to pick his cell's magnetic lock aboard the Dalek ship, but most of the time the Doctor was an ineffective, passive, non-entity who rarely made the effort to do anything more than try to summon up the energy to whine.

Now, I started watching Doctor Who as a kid during the Tom Baker years, so I wasn't around to see Cushing's abomination when it first came out, and I'm glad of that. How did hear about this then? My buddy Steve, a fellow fan of the Doctor who was around when this installment came out, decided it was time to expand my Whovian education with an example of when the series didn't work. Spectacularly. I appreciate the sentiment, but it was a hard, hard lesson.

Was it all bad? No. I'm sure if you were doing your own version of MST3K, then DWDIE2150AD would be an excellent choice to heckle.

For the time being though, I think the only way to heal from this visual illness is to get a shot of good Doctor storytelling... maybe something from the 9th or 10th Doctors, like The Parting of the Ways, or Tooth and Claw, or The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, or Gridlock, or The Family of Blood.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Walter Koenig's Son Missing in Vancouver

Actor Walter Koenig's (Star Trek's Chekhov & Babylon 5's Bester) son Andrew Koenig has been reported missing in the Vancouver area. 41-year-old Andrew, who also works in the TV/film industry, was last seen February 14th in the area of Stanley Park. To view a photo and for more information, visit Walter Koenig's website. Anyone who has information on Andrew Koenig's whereabouts is urged to contact the Vancouver Police Department.

Police and the Koenig family have announced that Andrew Koenig's body was found in Stanley Park yesterday. He'd taken his own life.
If you are depressed or suicidal, or if you know someone who might be, you can get help from your local crisis centre/distress line.
If you're worried that a friend may be suicidal, talk to them, and most importantly, listen. You can then assist them with contacting a crisis line or getting other help.
If you're a survivor who's lost someone to suicide, crisis lines are a good source of support for you too.
In Greater Vancouver in BC, contact the Crisis Intervention & Suicide Prevention Centre of BC at 604-872-3311.
Remember, you're not alone.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Geek's Guide to Vancouver During the Olympics

Contrary to popular belief, some geeks enjoy sports. Pull us away from our musings on the impact of the New Wave authors or our Star Trek vs Star Wars feuds, and chances are you'll find more than a few members of the SF community watching football (and if they have taste, it'll be CFL rather than NFL), baseball or hockey, and quite possibly playing a sport or two as well.

To that end, it's quite likely that a few geeks have come to Vancouver for the Olympics. If you're one of those people, by now you've had a week to find the venues, LiveSites and O-Zone and start to get comfortable with the layout of the city(ies). But having gotten your routine down, you're probably also now looking to branch out and see and do other things. And if you're a fanboy or girl, that means gettin' your SF fix on.

To help out-of-towners, I've assembled this list of recommendations:

Books (new)
White Dwarf Books
3715 West 10th Ave, Vancouver
-at 10th & Alma
Be sure you pay a visit to White Dwarf when you're in town. Walter & Jill have been an important fixture on the local SF scene for years with their great little store crammed with books to satisfy every kind of science fiction and fantasy (and to a lesser extent horror) fan. And there's Judd the basset hound to greet you as you come in the door. This place is like a second home to me. (when you're there, you may also want to wander up the street to the Cocoa Nymph for some chocolate)

Books (used)
Characters Fine Books & Coffee Bar
8419 Granville St, Vancouver
I don't buy used books often, but this is one of the stores in Vancouver I have been known to visit occasionally. Some good SF on the back shelves, and it's well organized, so you can actually find stuff. (If you take some time to poke around the neighbourhood [Marpole] and you're hungry, Mr Pickwick's Fish & Chips is a good stop, as is Chica's Latin American restaurant just down a block or two. Avoid Vera's burger shack though - the chain's other outlets are great, but for some reason, the Marpole location can't seem to do anything right.)

Lawrence Books
3591 West 41st Ave, Vancouver
High shelves crammed every which way with books crowding narrow aisles. Again, I don't frequent used stores much, but I do visit the local group from time to time, and Lawrence is one of the ones worth going back to.

Golden Age Collectables
852 Granville St, Vancouver
I practically lived at this place when I was a teen. Fantastic selection of new comics, big stock of back issues, and lots of other stuff to catch the eye. Interesting sports aside: a few years ago when I was still working in radio, I remember one of the sportscasters of the news/talk station I was working at made a bold move one weekend evening when he had to fill in as host of Sportstalk - there was nothing going on in the world of sports, so he brought in a couple of the ladies who worked at Golden Age to do a segment on sports memorabilia, trading cards, and other collectables. The phone lines virtually exploded with sports fans desperate to talk about their treasures. One of the best shows the program ever did. Back to the subject at hand though... if you're an Olympic fan in town looking to pick up the latest issue of your favourite comic, Golden Age is located on the Granville Mall, so it's very easy to get to from yoru Downtown hotel or one of the Downtown activity areas or venues.

The Comicshop
2089 West 4th Ave, Vancouver
While I haven't purchased anything here (haven't purchsed many comics at all in years - the odd graphic novel, but not a lot of individual comics, although I do like to look in the stores from time to time), I have been in this store a few times and have always been impressed with their stock. It's a regular haunt of my comic-lovin' buddy Steve, who does buy frequently there, and that's a very good recommendation in my books. It's in the trendy section of 4th Ave, so lots of eateries and stores of all types in the neighbourhood. Granville Island's close by as well.

There are, of course, plenty of other used book stores and comic dealers across the region, and I'd encourage you to explore them wherever you find them.

As for seeing the sites of your favourite shows and movies around town, there are just too many to list! For years now, shows like X-Files, the Outer Limits, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica and many others, as well as countless movies, have been shot around the Lower Mainland. Stand at the south end of the Granville St Bridge looking north across False Creek, and the city skyline is that of Caprica City from the opening sequence of BSG. The Burrard St Bridge was the site of a battle in the pilot of Highlander. Simon Fraser University's main campus in Burnaby has hosted episodes of BSG (not to mention the beginning of the execrable remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still). And on, and on, and on, and on. Like I said, too many locations used in too many shows and movies. However, if you want to check out some of the locations where Battlestar and Caprica have been shot, I'd encourage you to jump over to a local fan site called The 13th Colony.

In terms of great places to eat, waaaaaaay too many restaurants to mention. If you're looking for restaurant recommendations, reply to this thread and let me know what cuisine you're in the mood for, and I'll make a suggestion or two.

Welcome to Vancouver, fellow SF fans!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Final Issue of IROSF

Sad news in the world of critical studies of SF, this month marks the release of the 20th, and last, issue of the Internet Review of Science Fiction (IROSF).

As collections of essays and reviews, issues of IROSF were always thought-provoking, sometimes entertaining, occasionally annoying, but never dull. Publisher Blunt "Bluejack" Jackson and Editor-in-Chief Stacey Janssen are to be commended for providing a forum where members of the SF community could challenge each other to look at the genre(s) in ways we might not have thought of before. The study of SF is diminished as a result of the loss of this online publication.

Last summer, I signed-on as a volunteer Editor with the site. While various personal commitments prevented me from participating as much as I wanted to, I was able to pitch-in now and then with vetting new submissions and editing accepted works, and I'd like to extend my deepest thanks to Stacey and Blunt for the allowing me the privilege to support their team.

If you haven't checked-out IROSF before, I'd certainly recommend visiting the site and looking through its archives.

Friday, February 12, 2010

An SF Start to the Olympics - Or - Vancouver's Little Piece of Krypton

I don't normally associate the Olympic Games with science fiction, but watching the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on TV tonight, I couldn't help but get a strong SF vibe.

The pageant was full of the expected singing and dancing and other performances, special effects and speechifying. Some, like the light-show orcas and the poetry slam guy, were great. Other stuff... meh. And some, like a bloated KD Lang in a white suit looking scarily like Elvis (or, if that outfit had sequins, maybe Liberace), just downright surreal. But that's to be expected.

What I didn't expect to see was the full-blown in-your-face sci-finess at the lighting of the Olympic Flame. And I'm not talking about the multitude of flame-lighters that included The Great One and The Man In Motion. They weren't remotely SF. No, I'm talking about the appearance of the flame cauldron itself - or, at least once most of the hydraulic problems were corrected (but not all - only 3 of the 4 struts around the centrepiece ended up working) and it lurched into action. A towering centrepiece surrounded by three angled struts, shining like huge ice crystals (before they were set alight).

Did anybody else at that moment join me in saying out loud: Holy shit! That thing looks like the Fortress of Solitude from in Superman: The Movie!

And, if you didn't say it out lout, weren't you at least thinking it? Or getting a weird SFish sense of deja vu?

All you have to do is take a look at some photos or video. Here's a link to the Global BC news site, with Gretzky standing in front of the display. Now, click over to Youtube for a recap of the scene where young Clark tosses the green Kryptonian crystal into the ice. How could you not watch those struts heaving themselves up from the floor of BC Place stadium and not get a flashback to young Supe's new digs erupting from the ice of Canada's North Pole?

The whole time I sat there watching this thing lurch into place I was just waiting for a big giant holograph of Marlon Brado's head to appear and start mumbling: "It is forbidden for you to interefere in the course of human history."

Really? Even just a little? Just for a minute or two to get a gold medal in hockey? No? Well, okay then. Fine.

Let the 2010 Winter Olympic Games on Krypton - er, in Vancouver begin!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Which Book from the TBR Pile Do You Think I Should Read Next?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I' ve somehow managed to accumulate way too many books in my To Be Read pile. The next that I'll be reading will definitely be the newest Wild Cards book - Suicide Kings, because it's an advanced publisher's copy that was given to me by a friend. But what about after that?

Here's the complete list (in no particular order) of what's in my TBR pile. Which of these books do you think I should read next?

  • Old Man's War - by John Scalzi
  • Blind Lake - by Robert Charles Wilson
  • Other Earths - edited by Nick Gevers & Jay Lake
  • The Best of John W Campbell - edited by Lester Del Rey
  • Riverworld and Other Stories - by Philip Jose Farmer
  • Summer of Night - by Dan Simmons
  • Very Bad Deaths - by Spider Robinson
  • Accelerando - by Charles Stross
  • Anathem - by Neal Stephenson
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • The Star Rover - by Jack London
  • Tesseracts 3 - edited by Candas Jane Dorsey & Gerry Truscott
  • Tesseracts 4 - edited by Lorna Toolis & Michael Skeet
  • Tesseracts 5 - edited by Robert Runte & Yves Meynard
  • The Machineries of Joy - by Ray Bradbury
  • The Chrysalids - by John Wyndham
  • Tesseracts 6 - edited by Robert J Sawyer & Carolyn Clink
  • On Spec (spring 1998)
  • On Spec (summer 1998)
  • Neo Opsis (issue 1)
  • On Spec (fall 2000)
  • Transversions 8/9 (spring/summer 1998)
  • Shadows in the Sun - by Chad Oliver
  • Stardust - by Neil Gaiman
  • Claus Effect - by David Nickle & Karl Schroeder
  • Tesseracts 7 - edited by Paula Johanson & Jean-Louis Trudel
  • Emerald Eye, the best Irish Imaginative fiction - edited by Frank Ludlow & Roelof Goudriaan
  • Future Perfect, American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century - edited by H Bruce Franklin
  • Charles Dickens Best Ghost Stories
  • The Best of Neo Opsis - edited by Karl Johanson
  • The Prestige - by Christopher Priest
  • Blindsight - by Peter Watts
  • Starfish - by Peter Watts
  • Far-Seer - by Robert J Sawyer
  • Escape Clause - edited by Clelie Rich
  • Land/Space, an anthology of prairie speculative fiction - edited by Candas Jane Dorsey & Judy McCrosky
  • Future Welcome - edited by Todd Swift
  • Gaslight Grimoire, fantastic stories of Sherlock Holmes - edited by JR Campbell & Charles Prepolec
  • Land of the Headless - by Adam Roberts
  • The Plot to Save Socrates - by Paul Levinson
  • Crossing the Boundaries, French fantasy from Bragelonne
  • Science Fiction, the best of the year 2006 - edited by Rich Horton
  • North of Infinity, Futurity Visions - edited by Michael Magnini
  • The Public Works Trilogy - by Matt Ruff
  • Philip K Dick, Four Novels of the 1960's - edited by Jonathan Lethem
  • The Sword and the Stone - TH White
  • The Space Opera Renaissance - edited by David G Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
  • Harm - by Brian W Aldiss
  • Enclave - by Kit Reed
  • The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, volume two B - edited by Ben Bova
  • The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun - by JRR Tolkien
  • Hodd - by Adam Thorpe
  • The Fortress of Solitude - by Jonathan Lethem
  • Makers - by Cory Doctorow

How Do You Choose the Next Book You'll Read?

Not too long ago, SF Signal asked for its Mind Meld feature: What SF/F/H books are on the top of your "To-Be-Read" pile? That got me (and, from the looks of the 'meld, a few other people) thinking about a problem that plagues me often: How do you decide which of the books in your TBR pile (or In-box, or New Acquisitions stack, or Timmy, or whatever you call it) to read next?

If you're like me, this can actually be a problem.

I'll confess, I'm an SF book-buying addict. It's damn near impossible for me to go into my local SF specialty store, White Dwarf, and not leave without purchasing at least one book. While I'm not in there every week, the fact that I am in there every 4 to 6 weeks, and that it's not uncommon for me to buy 2 or more, the TBR pile can pile up pretty quickly. This really became an issue during the back half of 2009, when I was pushing to meet my 365 short stories quota and putting aside reading novels until I was done.

Now, there are some people who only buy or check-out from their library one book at a time and read it before they bother picking up another. If you're one of these people, that's fine, but you're from a different universe than I am, and this post ain't for you.

So the pile seems to keep getting bigger - at last count, there were 55. And when it's time to choose something to read, I'm confronted with the dilemma of whether to choose something old versus a more recent buy, whether to go with an author I've read before and know I'll enjoy or try someone new, a novel or short story anthology, etc.

Sometimes I've been waiting for a particular author to come out with a new book for a while, so when it finally hits the shelves, I'll buy it, make it the priority, and move it to the top of the pile. The latest Wheel of Time book is one example. Once I was done the 365 short story challenge, diving into Brandon Sanderson's continuation of Robert Jordan's series was non-negotiable. Similarly, when Patrick Rothfuss' new book comes out, or by some miracle George RR Martin's latest Song of Ice and Fire installment is released, those will take priority.

In the absence of that kind of clear leader of the pack, it can be a tough choice. Sometimes it's a random urge to read one type of genre or sub-genre over another, maybe because I'm looking for some diversity, like finishing SF and moving over to Fantasy for a change of pace. Or I might read a review of some author's latest work and realize I've got another of his/her books in the pile and be tempted to pick it up. But ultimately, I have to admit, it's pretty arbitrary.

So if you've got a big To-Be-Read pile, how do you decide what to read next?