Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Passing Of The Tower Guardian

“All that is visible must grow beyond itself and extend into the realm of the invisible.” With those words, Dumont the Tower Guardian allows the video game hero Tron, in the Disney movie of the same name, to pass and interface with his user.
Sad news in reading the daily update on the Hypaspace page today: page host Jonathan Llyr quotes Moviehole in reporting that Barnard Hughes, the actor who played Dumont, has died.
Hughes deserves credit for being a character actor who could play his part well. Admittedly, many of his parts may have ultimately been the same – the crusty old wizard/hermit/scientist who’d be just as likely to smack you upside the head for asking a stupid question as he would be to impart some pearl of wisdom. It probably helped that he looked the part too: short but firm, grey whiskers, glittering eyes, a defiantly thrust chin. But rather than sleepwalking through his gigs like many character actors do, you could see Hughes focusing on each role with vigour. Whether he was playing Dumont and his alter ego - a company founder being squeezed-out by an ambitious executive, or whether he was the timeless magician in “Mr. Merlin” taking a 20th century boy under his wing, the crotchety, vampire-hating grandfather in “Lost Boys”, or the old town physician in “Doc Hollywood” (okay, okay, I know, it’s not SF, but the character type fits the pattern) Hughes applied himself to his craft.
Barnard Hughes passed away in a New York hospital after a brief illness. He was 90.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Nod To The Neighbours South Of The Border

Seeing as how it’s the Fourth of July (at least when I started writing this entry), I figure it’s only fair to give a tip of the hat to our neighbours south of the 49th Parallel.
To be sure, I’m admittedly one of many Canadians who are somewhat suspicious of the Americans. That whole business where we had to drive them off in 1812 leaves a bit of a bad taste, especially when they deny the facts and claim they came out on top. And let’s not even talk about that “Manifest Destiny” crap written into their Constitution. Then there’s the current administration’s foreign policy madness, willful violation of NAFTA and WTO rules, unwillingness to acknowledge our relief efforts for disasters in the US over the past 5-and-a-half years, and a bullying attitude to try to force Canada to change its social and legal policies. There’s the disturbing rise in religious zealotry. The persistence of a frightening gun culture. The lack of adequate funding for education or a workable health care system. The paranoid armed camp that’s being created along what we all used to brag was the “World’s Longest Undefended Border” (now stalked by trigger-happy “Minutemen”), as if Canadians jacked up on maple syrup and Newfoundland Screech, with mighty blizzards from the Arctic roaring at their backs, might suddenly come storming across on snowmobiles, armed with hockey sticks and leashed polar bears, bent on forcing Americans to start using “eh” at the end of every sentence. The rest of the world is coming together into political and economic trading blocks and the US wants to build walls at its northern and southern borders. Real foresight there. There’s an inscription on the Peace Arch border crossing between White Rock and Blaine that reads something to the effect of “children of the same mother”. Well, we’re nowhere near as bad as Romulus and Remus, but one of the kids here has a tendency to throw tantrums like a spoiled brat and it’s getting stale.
BUT don’t get me wrong… I’m NOT saying that all Americans are bad. On the contrary, I’ve known many Americans over the years who are/were great folks – warm, intelligent and open-minded.
And the people of the US should be applauded for their many positive contributions to the world. One of the tops on my list is barbeque. Many cultures around the world have engaged in that finest mode of cooking meat using similar, yet often regionally unique techniques for thousands of years. But there’s just something about good old fashioned, down-home American barbeque, in all of its regional styles that just grabs you way down deep inside and makes you feel good. Let’s hear it for the pit masters!
And of course, for a speculative fiction-obsessed site like this, there must also be a hearty shout out for all the American contributions to science fiction, fantasy and all genres in between over the years.
Three cheers for Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) for his wry chestnuts like “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, “3,000 Years Among the Microbes” or “The Secret History of Eddypus, the World-Empire”.
Kudos to Edgar Allan Poe for “Some Words with a Mummy” and “Mellonta Tauta”.
A hearty handshake to Isaac Asimov for building a “Foundation” and for casting off the shackles of Frankenstein and showing us that his robots with their Three Laws (four, if you count the Zeroth from “Robots and Empire”) could grow beyond their human masters while still caring for them.
And bravo to Ray Bradbury for putting us aboard rockets to Mars where the journey was as much into the soul as across space, and for taking us on a lark back in time with “The F. Scott/Tolstoy/Ahab Accumulator” to comfort dying authors, or to hang a jack o’ lantern on the “Hallowe’en Tree”.
How about a high-five for George R.R. Martin for dealing out the “Wildcards”, but most especially for singing us “A Song of Ice and Fire”?
Let’s give a hand to Kim Stanley Robinson for his breadth of vision for a world that might have been if the plague had been just a bit nastier in the middle ages in “The Years of Rice and Salt”.
And then there’s Dan Simmons, who’s “Hyperion” should be ranked as one of the most intelligent, one of the most gripping, one of the most touching – one of the best novels in the English language.
On the big screen, let’s acknowledge the mastery of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and yes, even some of the crews at the Disney factory over the decades.
On the small screen, a nod to the geniuses (both behind the scenes and on the screen) involved with the new “Battlestar Galactica”, and an honourable mention for Gene Roddenberry, who’s “Star Trek” franchise may have been the height of cheese at times, but also provided us with solid entertainment, a social conscience that gave us some long-overdue television firsts, and a vision that’s inspired many people to get into science with the dream of taking us to the stars.
Thank you, America for your great contributions to SF. Happy birthday this July 4th!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day, everyone! 139 years since Confederation and we’re still going strong. In fact, as more people from more cultures around the world have come here over the years to live side by side and make this place their home, the great buffet of Canadian society (as opposed to the bland melting pot culture of our neighbours to the south) has become more complex and delicious. Whether we chomp on burgers on the patio at sunset, partake of smoked salmon at a potlatch, quaff beer and scarf down bratwurst at Octoberfest, savour samosas and sweets on South Main Street, dive into some chicken with hoisin and a box of dragon’s beard candy at the Richmond Public Night Market, slurp on buttered corn fresh from the field, tuck into some jerk at Caribana, nosh on smoked meat in Montreal, hunker over a kettle of lobster and clams on a beach along the Bay of Fundy, or indulge in a box of Laura Secord’s finest, we’re all serving up a society our children can be proud of. Is that to say that things here in the Great White North are perfect? No. Far from it. But at least we can agree to engage in that fundamental aspect of Canadian culture that unites us all, regardless of background: debate, without resorting to blowing each other up.
A-propos, but entirely by coincidence, I find myself reading a new anthology of Canadian speculative fiction this long weekend: “Mythspring – From the Lyrics & Legends of Canada”, edited by Julie E. Czerneda and Genevieve Kierans. It’s something of a patriotic duty to buy a copy of these anthologies as they crop up once in a blue moon and support the growing Canadian speculative fiction establishment. But I’ve never really seen it as a duty since most of the fare within the pages of books like this one, or the periodic “Tesseracts” series, is really good. It’s not hard to find talented Canucks like Minister Faust, Corey Doctorow, Robert J. Sawyer, Nalo Hopkinson, Jack Whyte or dozens of others featured prominently on the shelves of your local bookstore. As many have remarked, Canada is the new frontier of speculative fiction.
As for “Mythspring”, so far, I’ve quite enjoyed submissions like Kierans’ own “Mirror, Mirror”, “All the Cool Monsters at Once” by James Alan Gardner, “Walking with Wolves” by Alison Baird and “This Is the Ice Age” by Claude Lalumiere. What a wonderful display of home-grown talent.
I even have to give a grudging nod of respect to Lorne Kates for his attempt to reinvigorate the tired, old plot device of following a protagonist through a story only to discover at the end that he’s a ghost in “Over Lunar White”.
Of course, not every tale was a hit. Lynda Williams’ “The Harpy” was predictable and Daniel Archambault needed an editor to tell him to leave well enough alone and cut two unnecessary pages off of the end of “The Ghost of Watson’s Mill Is Online”. I’ve also got a bit of a problem with Kierans being a co-editor and having not one, but two of her own stories in the collection. No matter how good they are, that’s an editorial abuse of power. Don’t tell me there weren’t good submissions by other authors, or more authors who could have been approached for submissions in order to fill a few extra pages. If they couldn’t dig anyone up on their own, the editors could’ve put in a call to On Spec or Neo Opsis or any of the other SF magazines for suggestions or contacts. I also wonder why Czerneda and Kierans couldn’t settle on either myths or songs as the theme. There are so many of both in this country, and so many good Canadian authors who could breathe new life into them, that the editors didn’t have to have both themes in one volume.
That being said, “Mythspring” is an anthology worth adding to your collection, especially during this holiday.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to head off to the barbeque and find out what kind of celebration is in the works.