Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Prisoners of Gravity" Released - Kind of

In 1989, a man converted his car into a rocket, shot himself into space, crashed into a satellite and began broadcasting his own SF show. No, that wasn’t an early draft for “Mystery Science Theatre 3,000”. It was the backstory to Canada’s legendary “Prisoners of Gravity”, a half-hour, weekly program focusing on science fiction, fantasy and comics. The show ran for 5 seasons and 139 episodes. Host Rick Green, a.k.a. “Commander Rick” interviewed a galaxy of guests such as authors Douglas Adams, Robert J. Sawyer and Ray Bradbury about issues including fandom, the impact of technology, ecology, sexism and feminism, and population growth. PoG garnered numerous awards and has become a cult classic.
Some may have looked at the cheap sets, Green’s deliberately campy performance, or the opening montage of the broadcast of an old nature show being interrupted by a storyline delivered through comics as being kind of hokey, but the show was worth watching. The authors and other guests gave fascinating insights into their own works as well as those of others and how these reflected our changing world. The show may not have taken itself seriously in a material sense, but it certainly did with its subject matter. That’s what took it beyond being charming into something that had a lasting value for those interested in the thoughts behind SF.
But, despite the quality of the show and its loyal following, TV Ontario, the station that produced the program, eventually cancelled “Prisoners of Gravity”.
But the Prisoners have broken out again – sort of.
Someone has started posting a couple of the episodes of “Prisoners of Gravity” on YouTube in multiple parts. Since this posting strays beyond nostalgia, perilously close to fanboy gushing, here’s a link to the first part of the episode examining fandom.
Thanks to Robert J. Sawyer (PoG’s most frequent guest) for spreading the news about the YouTube posting on his blog.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find some duct tape and a claw hammer to turn my wife’s Saturn into a booster rocket for my car/wannabe spaceship.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Just Wild About Harry

No, this is not a review of the new Harry Potter movie. It’s too hot to sleep, so I figured I’d do a little blogging since it’s been too long (or, some might say not long enough by far) since my last posting. Trouble is, despite the blast furnace night, I’ve gotta at least try to get some sleep to keep me on my feet at work tomorrow. Solution: a Harry Potter mish-mash.
The timing is certainly appropriate. As one reviewer noted over at Sci Fi Weekly, with the “Order of the Phoenix” movie making its debut this week and the next (and last) installment in the series of novels, “The Deathly Hallows” coming out next week, this could be known as The Summer of Harry Potter.
I have already been TOLD we are going to see the movie Friday night. No ifs, ands or buts. My wife is quite serious when it comes to getting her Potter fix. And she didn’t need to persuade much. I enjoy the books and movies myself. Rowling has done a great job of characterization and world-building and the series itself is a kind of bildungsroman (Hey, it’s been a while, I can be forgiven for using pretentious literary criticism terms once in a blue moon. Gotta justify that dusty English degree hanging on the wall at some point.) – a novel of growth.
And, as far as the novel goes, I have, as well, been ordered to obtain one on the release day next week. No early ordering for us. Nope. We take our chances (I know, life on the edge of book-buying, we’re a wild couple). And why not? Despite all the hype, every year that a Potter book has been released, we’ve always been able to buy one on the first day just by walking into a bookstore. Usually we’ll buy it from Canada’s big box book retailer Chapters because their membership card allows for a tiny discount off the cover price. This time, however, I think I’m going to take a stand against the impersonal giant and buy the novel at Greater Vancouver’s local sci-fi specialty bookseller White Dwarf. Sure, they’re too small to afford to give buyers 10% off the cover price, but supporting your local genre store is more important than saving a couple of bucks. I give White Dwarf my business because I know that despite their small square footage they’ve got a ton of stock (including books that have been out of print for years) and it’s a rare occasion that either through directed looking or simple browsing that I can’t find something I like, and most importantly, they know their books and their customers. You can ask them anything and they’ll have the answer or be able to make a trustworthy referral. And, of course, they get bonus points for having an easy-going old bloodhound whiling away the afternoon slumbering under a table in the middle of the shop. The Hogwarts kids have got cats and rats and owls for their familiars; the folks at White Dwarf have got the hound. There’s something fitting about that.
Over at SF Signal, the gang started working on a Potter-inspired list a couple of months ago that bears mentioning. With input from regulars (including me) they’ve constructed “The Harry Potter Outreach”: a list of books designed as a referral tool to help convince non-SF readers who enjoy Potter to start reading other quality speculative fiction. A beginner’s guide or introductory course in SF if you will. The list has two primary categories: science fiction and fantasy. Each of those is sub-divided into age groups (under 12, young adult, adult) with appropriate book recommendations. There are, of course, many venerable old standards like “The Hobbit”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, “Dune” and “Mote in God’s Eye”. But there are a fair number of new or books from the last two decades suggestions as well, including “The Iron Giant”, “Ilium”, “Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad” and “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Check this list out. Keep it handy. Sweet-talk your local librarian to make use of it. Pull it out whenever you’re talking to a Potterite who might be willing to explore the genre further if only given some quality guidance.
That’s it for this ramble. Must head for bed and hope for some spell of sleep to take hold. Instead of counting sheep, how many more days until Potter 7 is due out?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Watching The Stars On Canada Day

A belated Happy Canada Day to everyone out there! The sun finally made an appearance here on the Wet Coast this long weekend, so rather than post like a responsible blogger, I dragged my pasty Canuck self outside to blearily blink up at the big bright yellow thing and get a dose of summer. Walked along the dike road beside the Fraser River to the village of Steveston for its annual Salmon Fest. Got there too late – most of the display tents had packed up and left – including the gang from VCon32/Canvention27 who not only were at a table trying to encourage closet SF fans at the event to come out to this year’s con, but who also took part in the festival’s parade. Great to hear that they’re taking SF into the general community, just wish I could’ve seen their costumes amidst the standard parade fare.
Anyhow, to celebrate the nation’s 140th birthday, I took a break from reading the new biography of Einstein by Isaacson and pulled an old favourite off the shelf: “Northern Stars”, edited by David G. Hartwell and Glenn Grant. This hardcover collection of Canadian SF was released in 1994 to coincide with Winnipeg’s hosting of the Worldcon (my first con). Overall, it’s an excellent sampling of Canadian contributions to the genre, with short stories by Robert J. Sawyer, Phyllis Gotlieb, William Gibson, Robert Charles Wilson and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, to name just a few of the heavy hitters within. In addition to the fiction, there’s also a pair of thoughtful essays from the late Judith Merril and Candas Jane Dorsey on some of the things that make Canadian SF unique – an ambitious undertaking given that a nation’s literature in a greater sense mirrors a people’s perception of what it means to be of that nation, and in the case of Canada, an inherent part of our culture is that we’re still debating about and searching for exactly what it means to be Canadian. Which, as many have said, makes speculative fiction an appropriate medium to engage in this kind of head-scratching, naval-gazing and mining of the national psyche.