Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year's Resolution - The 365 Short Stories Challenge

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope all of you had a safe and happy holiday season in 2008, whatever holiday you celebrated. And here's to a fantastic 2009 filled with lots of SF goodness! (I'm already rubbing my hands in anticipation of this summer's Worldcon in Montreal, as well as VCon in the fall, and all the new books, movies and TV shows that'll be released over the course of the year.)

I'm not normally one to make New Year's resolutions. The tradition never had much appeal to me. If I want to do something, or if I want to set a goal for myself, I do it. No need to wait for a specific time of year to highlight and launch it and then proceed to procrastinate. Moreover, the stereotypical resolutions have always been inapplicable or uninteresting to me.

But this year's a little different. This year I've decided to give myself an SF-related challenge. My New Year's resolution is to read 365 SF short stories by December 31st 2009. I'll set up a gadget here on the blog on the bottom left, below the other widgets, to track my progress over the year, and I'll try to do a quick review of each one as I go.

Sure, others have done short story challenges, but then again, how many New Year's resolutions (losing weight, finding a soulmate, etc) are really that original?

With my quarterly subscription to On Spec and the piles of anthologies on my bookshelves, I'll certainly have enough short stories close at hand to fill my quota. The challenge, of course, is finding the time to read 365 of them. Some of you may think it isn't that hard to read one short story a day, or enough short stories in a year to average out to one a day. And maybe that's true if you've got a lot of time to read what you want. For my part, things are a little more complicated... there's the job, of course (gotta earn a few bucks to satisfy my strange addiction to food and shelter), with its obligatory commute (no, I'm not going to get into audio books to fill the quota during the drive), as well as the need to spend quality time with my wife, cat, friends and family. Somewhere in there I'll probably want to squeeze in a little TV time or take in a flick. And there are way too many novels I want to read (not to mention the odd re-read) this year to stick to short stories alone. And then there's blogging here on bloginhood or over on Not A Planet Anymore once in a while. So making time to make the magic 365 may not be quite that easy. Therein lies the challenge.

I hope that by this time next year I'll have read 365 great short stories, or, at least, to have read 365 short stories, the majority of which were great. I hope that in following my bizarre literary odyssey you'll find a few titles and authors worth pursuing, and if you've read some of the stuff that I have, you'll share your opinions.

And so, with that, let's get started! Story number one, from the Fall 2008 issue of On Spec: "Too Long to Forgive" by Brittany McCartney...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

To Boldly Go Where No Hairpiece Has Gone Before

I was watching some of the Trek films earlier this evening as Space began its "Trek-mas" holiday Star Trek movie marathon. When these flicks are seen back-to-back, you start to notice how Shatner's hairpieces change through the years. In fact, inadvertantly tracking his toupees becomes one hell of a distraction. How much of the special effects budgets were sunk into those things?

This, of course, got me wondering what happened to the rugs in question when shooting was done? Were they left to gather dust in some Hollywood warehouse? Were they used as dusters in some Hollywood warehouse? Were they donated to some charity for balding trekkies who want to look like their hero (a question which causes me to flash back to a few scenes from the hilarious "Trekkies" documentaries with Denise Crosby)? Or did they suck up enough of Shatner's larger-than-life personality through his scalp to take on lives of their own and participate in wig races like the one from Muppet Sports? Truly, a disturbing thought, and not the kind I want to have on Christmas Eve as I head to bed. I think I'll concentrate on visions of sugar plums or something else pleasant - then again, pretty much anything's more pleasant than the hair of the Shat.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Majel Barrett Roddenberry Dies

Majel Barrett Roddenberry has died on Thursday at the age of 76 after a battle with leukemia.

Barrett was known for her roles in the classic "Star Trek" as Nurse Chapel, and, in the original pilot, as the ship's first officer under Captain Pike. She made appearances in Next Generation and DS9 as Betazed official Lwaxana Troi and was the voice of the various Starfleet computers in the franchise. She married Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in 1969 and continued to carry on his legacy after his death.

While Barrett was probably best known for playing Chapel (and for playing her well as a steady-as-she-goes, intelligent Starfleet officer as capable as any of her male cohorts), in some ways I think it was her short-lived performance as the ship's first officer in the pilot that was more important. I can't say definitively, but I doubt there were many science fiction shows or movies (if any at all) back then that had women as senior officers aboard military/exploration space vessels - and most especially, a woman who was professional and effective in her job as part of the crew, rather than one of the screaming rescue bunnies of the day.

But I think I got the most enjoyment (and I always got the sense that she probably enjoyed) out of her over-the-top, brassy character of Lwaxana Troi in Next Generation and DS9. Most of her appearances were geared towards getting laughs, usually at the expense of one of the other characters like Picard or Worf who writhed in embarassment at her eccentric pronouncements or vulger accusations. And yet I think her best performance as the character was in an episode of DS9 where she's trapped (in a damaged elevator, I think) with Chief Constable Odo the shapeshifter. Here we saw her real dramatic capabilities as she stripped away Lwaxana's bold facade and showed us the fears of a woman feeling her age and feeling alone. We also saw her capacity to care as she made Odo feel comfortable enough to show his true self when he needed to revert to his gelatinous form to rest/regenerate.

Beyond Trek, let's not forget Barrett's role as the Centauri emperor's widow (perhaps an SF/Hollywood inside allusion to her real-life status as Roddenberry's widow and legacy bearer?) in Babylon 5. After seeing so many posturing, scheming, fan-haired courtiers throughout the seasons, at last she gave us a glimpse of what was needed to keep a fading empire together - no-nonsense strength tempered by compassion and loyalty for honest good deeds. Londo seems more of a nuisance to her, while Vir, in showing courage during a riot, wins her respect. And when it comes time to get down to the business of prophecy, she doesn't pull any punches about the fate that awaits the two.

In the end, respect is probably what it boils down to. Majel Barrett Roddenberry wasn't one of those actresses that frequently came to mind as most memorable in SF, but when she did get mentioned, you had to give her respect for a lifetime of solid performances as straight-forward characters.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

South Park and Heroes on the Sun's Naughty List

In honour of Santa's famous naughty and nice list, today's issue of the Vancouver Sun included a rundown of which TV shows deserved either presents or a lump of coal.

On the naughty list: South Park for an episode entitled "The China Problem"; and Heroes for, well, just sucking in general.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mind Melded over on SF Signal

I received a nice surprise the other day, an invitation from the guys over at SF Signal to take part in this week's Mind Meld.

The Mind Meld is a regular feature where they pose a question to various people in the SF community, from writers to critics, editors and commentators, then once the participants have weighed-in, the floor is open to comments.

This week's question was: "What were the best genre-related books, movies and/or shows you consumed in 2008?" Participants were allowed to list not just the new stuff released this past year, but also anything old that they happened to encounter this year that really stuck out in their memories. The subject garnered such a big response from the participants that they had to break it into two seperate posts. Here's the link to Part 1, and here's the link to Part 2.

It was a real honour to participate in this discussion and get to stand in the shadows of giants like Mike Resnick and Kit Reed. But even if I hadn't been involved, this topic still would have been a treat - think about it, a huge list of bests to consider - it's the ultimate holiday gift buying guide for geeks!

But, most importantly, be sure to check out SF Signal for all of their other great content - the Mind Melds are just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, December 08, 2008

New Show "Testees" Gets an F

A week or two ago I was flipping through the channels one night and stumbled upon "Testees", the newest offering from Showcase. This was indeed a stumble, but unlike a smart man, I didn't get up and walk away. No, figuring I'd support a new Canuck show and one that had the potential for SF overtones through its wacky inventions, I stuck around for about half of it. 15 minutes of my life I won't be getting back, and not a mistake I'm going to make twice.

Created by Kenny Hotz of "Kenny vs Spenny" fame, the story concerns 2 losers who get paid to be lab rats for a facility working with experimental drugs and products. Hilarity is supposed to ensue. Allegedly.

The episode I saw part of had the pair testing out a supercharged pheromone perfume that was supposed to attract members of the opposite sex. The substance backfires, however, in that it fails to attract pretty young women, instead, driving older women (and we're not talking about cougars here, we're talking late 50's and up and not easy on the eyes) mad. Worse, it turns them into mindless zombies (not literally undead, but obviously zombie-like) bent on screwing the protagonists at all costs. The show descends into a mock zombie apocalypse. That's the point where I turned it off.

Now, I'm not going to go off on a tangent about how awful the show is because it's demeaning to older women. I'm sure others have done that, and rightly so.

I don't have a problem with shows that indulge in politically incorrect humour. When it's well done, and when its wit is actually smart and making a point about something the audience is supposed to give some thought to, it can work quite well. "Southpark" is a prime example of how a TV show can revel in politically incorrect humour for years on end and just get better and better - not because of its raunchiness or nastiness, but in spite of it - because it's smart.

There was nothing smart about this episode of "Testees". The show itself was a zombie, shuffling along, mindlessly flailing about in an effort to sink its teeth into an unsuspecting audience and hopefully strike a funny bone. Didn't work though. Its attempts at humour fell flat and crumpled in upon themselves in a rotting, stinking heap best avoided.

The other crime committed by Hotz's abomination is that it's unoriginal (at least this episode was). Perfumes that drive the opposite sex wild, causing a stampede of human flesh forcing the wearer to flee for his/her life? Didn't they do that in "Love Potion #9" with Sandra Bullock? Now that's scraping the bottom of the barrel! And the notion of making a zombie apocalypse funny is nothing new either. "The Simpsons" has done it on at least one of their Hallowe'en episodes, "Sean of the Dead" raked in a lot of praise a few years ago, there are a lot of fans of the "Evil Dead" movies, and the list goes on. The only reason for "Testees" to tread on this already well-worn ground would be to put a new spin on the zombie attack or to pay homage to that form of movie. Neither was the case.

Because it wasn't original or smart, "Testees" ended up failing in its attempt to be funny.

Sure, some of you may argue that I should have stuck it out for the last 15 minutes to see if it redeemed itself, and maybe you're right. But I doubt it. You don't get halfway through a train wreck like that only to have Superman come swooping in to save the day at the last minute. And certainly you could argue that it's unfair to judge a series based on one bad show. But first impressions do count, and it seems to me that even sitting around contemplating my own bellybutton lint would be a better use of time than giving "Testees" a second chance. Or giving it more time on this blog, for that matter.