Thursday, December 31, 2009
The last story of the tally: Oliver Morton's "The Albian Message" in Futures from Nature, edited by Henry Gee.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: FFN was my ace in the hole when time was getting tight (meaning just a day or two left). If you're taking on a 365 challenge yourself and the clock is running out, make sure you have this collection of 3 page stories as your backup. Lots of submissions in it from heavy-hitters like Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Robert Charles Wilson make for some good reading. Sure those gems are balanced out by a fair number of dry submissions that made me wonder why they would run 1 page, let alone 3, but on the balance it's a solid collection.
FFN was one of the few anthologies I'd read before that I included in this year's challenge (the holiday collections Christmas Stars, edited by David G Hartwell, And there were a couple of one-off stories that I re-read along the way to help write some piece or other. But the rest were new - or, new to me, at least. The Hugo Awards were helpful, making the nominated stories available to voters online, there was my quarterly subscription to On Spec (which I need to renew - d'oh!), and a ton of anthologies I've picked up this year and previously along the way.
Some of my favourite anthologies of the year's challenge included Ray Bradbury's We'll Always Have Paris - admittedly not Bradbury's best collection, but hey, it's Bradbury, so on the balance it was a treat to read. Peter S Beagle's We Never Talk About My Brother was also enjoyable. And I was really glad I picked up the Wildcards series from George RR Martin et al again with Inside Straight, which picked things up a year or two ago after a hiatus of more than a decade, I think. Lots of fun to see how they brought that world forward. Nick Gevers' steampunk compilation Extraordinary Engines was cool. But probably the anthology that'll stand out most in my mind from this year was The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories from Tom Shippey. I was going through it round about the time of Anticipation, the World Con in Montreal this summer. I remember reading Larry Niven's brilliant "Not Long Before the End" one morning before heading over to the con, then seeing the man himself a few seats away from me in the back of a room where a panel was discussing...something (can't remember on what). I thought about asking him for his autograph on his story, but decided not to - he was sleeping through the session and I didn't want to wake him.
Anyhow, it's New Year's Eve and while I'm still not feeling very well (lucky me, I caught bronchitus while on vacation in Hawaii over Christmas), it's a time for celebrating, not blogging.
Thanks to all of you for being with me in 2009, and all the best to all of you in 2010 - The Year We Make Contact (I'll bet ya Peter Hyams has been waiting years for that joke to ripen).
Monday, December 14, 2009
But can I clear 99 stories in so little time? Well, I think I've got a good shot at it.
The two anthologies I like to read around the holidays, Christmas Stars and Christmas Ghosts will be good for a couple of dozen to get a good pace going.
After that, it's a choice of whether to dive into a new anthology or two, or make the safe bet and read a few old anthologies that I know contain stories that are fairly short. Seeing as how some of the older collections like Asimov & Greenberg's "The Great SF Stories" series are ones that I haven't read (at least not cover-to-cover) in 10 to 25 years, I don't fee guilty about including them in the challenge over a newer book or two. Nothing wrong at all with getting reacquainted with old friends.
Then there's the travel time that'll work in my favour. We'll be out of town for a week over the holidays, and while airtravel these days is lacking in so very many ways, one of the benefits it does offer is plenty of time for reading. There's nothing like a 5-hour flight to chew through a book. Sure I won't get much reading done when we're actually at our destination, but the flights will more than make up for it.
And when we get home, I've got another week off of work, which should give me enough time to finish things off.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
There is one thing I will openly admit that SPACE excels at - promos. They may be making all the wrong moves in programming these days, but ever since the station's inception back in the 90's - right from the start - SPACE has done station ID's and special programming event promos that are smart, guaranteed to grab the attention of any geek, and will have you falling on your ass laughing.
Their latest work of genius: the promo for SPACE-mas - the channel's holiday-season 12-day marathon of movie marathons (Trek movies one day, the Star Wars franchise another, you get the drift). The theme for this nerdtacular presentation: what not to get a Star Wars badguy for Christmas.
I will say this one time only: Bravo, ladies and gentlemen of SPACE. Bravo.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Eccleston played the 9th incarnation of Doctor Who, relaunching the series in 2005. Too bad he couldn't have done another season or two on the show. While I enjoy Tennant's performance as the 10th Doctor just a little bit more, there's no doubt Eccleston gave a powerful and entertaining performance as the Timelord. Anyway, it would have been a lot better than being associated with the train wreck known as Heroes.
According to a local news station, the group raised more than $132,000 for Child's Play (which buys video games and toys for hospitals) by enduring the Penn & Teller-designed bus driving simulator for more than five days.
The game, simulating a real-time bus trip between Tucson and Las Vegas, is said to be the most boring video game ever made.
This is the third year the group has done the fundraiser.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I shouldn't have read this in the mall foodcourt today at lunch - I was smirking away doing my damndest to prevent myself from roaring with laughter when I was going through the updates from Luke and from Wes Janson.
True, it reminded me a lot of the dialogue from Family Guy: Blue Harvest, but it was very, very funny.
Many thanks to Nicole Yamanaka (aka Cole The Post-Apocalyptic Adventurer) for passing this along.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
(spoilage factor: not as bad as leaving a burger in the sun all day to try to cook it)
We went to see The Men Who Stare at Goats this past weekend. Not necessarily SF per se, but containing enough in the way of SF-related jokes and references, not to mention characters who take the paranormal to be perfectly normal, to merit a mention on this site (unlike, say, Pirate Radio, which was really good, but had nothing to do with SF, so sadly it couldn't fit into the focus hereabouts).
The story follows the misadventures of Bob Wilton (played by Ewan McGregor), a college-town journalist who gets dumped by his wife and sets off for Iraq - to prove himself to his wife and maybe win her back, and to try to land a good story. Stuck in Kuwait and wishing he could run with the big time war correspondants, Bob falls-in with the intense Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who claims to be heading into Iraq to sign a deal to provide garbage cans. That all changes on the road when Lyn tells Bob he's actually a secret operative, trained by the military to use paranormal powers, and on a mission to find his old commanding officer, Bill Django (played by Jeff Bridges as a version of The Dude spiced with Tron's Kevin Flynn and Dr. Mark Powell from K-Pax). As the pair get deeper into trouble, eventually running afoul of Lyn's nemesis, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), a failed SF writer (in what has to be slap against Hubbard) who gets off on mind control and power, Bob begins to belive that Lyn might not be entirely full of crap.
The Men Who Stare at Goats was deeply weird and, while not consistantly fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious, was funny enough to be worth watching. In fact, hearing a wide-eyed McGregor ask Clooney "What's a Jedi warrior?" was worth the price of admission. Other touches like the editor with the prosthetic arm who betrays him were nice little half-allusions to Star Wars and other SF. It's a film that has its points of menace and, in the hands of a cynic, could have become a very dark and disturbing tale about an unprepared journalist heading into a war zone, or about the lengths military and spy agencies will go to create new assets or to surpress opposition, but the tone is kept, appropriately, I think, light and it ends on a kind of fairy-tale note.
While I certainly didn't regret paying full price to see it, I think in terms of recommendations that the best value for staring at the screen for The Men Who Stare at Goats is to rent it.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Thank-you to all of you who have visited this page over the years.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
(spoilage factor: about the same as rinsing a shiny new carrot in water from a Martian glacier)
The rain's bulleting against BC in the third night of a windstorm that's pretty much determined to put the smackdown on life in these parts. A night of wild elements like this is perfect for watching The Doctor square off against some decidedly hostile H2O. A perfect night for The Waters of Mars.
This latest Doctor Who installment has the Timelord fall in with the crew of the first human colony on Mars right around the time when they fall prey to something in the water. The tension cranks to the breaking point as the lifeform takes over one crew member after another and the station is brought down around their ears. As things get utterly hopeless, the last-minute rescue shows there might be something more terrible than water monsters - the Doctor's ego.
As with any of the 10th Doctor episodes, the characters do so much running around that you're left breathless and experiencing chest pains just watching them. A couple of good jokes about this too add enough of a gear-shift every now and then to remind us it's a Doctor Who episode rather than a James Cameron film.
It was deeply absorbing to watch the Doctor struggle with his conscience throughout the episode, but especially to see the scenes where the colony's leader, Captain Adelaide, holds him to account.
Certainly a fine addition to the series as the clock winds down for the 10th Doctor.
Thanks to Steve for passing this one along.
I never gave the absence of the 'readers much thought though... always figured they were late in entering the Canadian market (even in Vancouver, new toys can be delayed) or that if they had, no one cared (and rightly so, in my books).
But this was a first. And not only that, it was someone putting it to what's probably one of its ideal uses - as something to ease the long commute to and from work without the weight of a book.
I didn't have time to ask her how the thing handled, so I don't have an owner's perspective, but as an observer, I've gotta say I wasn't terribly impressed. Not sure what model it was, but even though it was nearly the same height and width as a paperback, it was thicker than my Apple iPhone, and the screen wasn't much larger than an iPhone's either.
It begged the question: if the hardware is larger but the screen isn't significantly larger, why bother? I can download all kinds of ebooks (both free and for fee) for the iPhone, and the phone is infinitely more flexible in terms of its abilities than an e-book reader. Why spend the money on the extra toy when the phone can do the job just as well?
Makes me think the e-readers may be an evolutionary dead-end in technology. After all, if there are models of 'readers with larger screens, you're losing out on the portability factor, and if you're at home you can just read off of your normal computer screen. On holiday? I suspect it won't be long before you'll be able to load a book onto your phone and plut it into or beam it onto your hotel room screen.
And that's all beside the point anyway. I'm a die-hard fan of real paper. Reading off the phone (or any other device) is an option of last resort. Nothing equals the comforting weight and smell of a good book in your hands, and the sound of its pages turning. And aside from some of the more gigantic series installments these days, most books are already pretty portable and don't require a power source. Will economics or environmentalism put the kybosh on paper-printed books eventually? Possibly, but for now, the fact that they're around and they're cheap means there's no reason to waste money on an e-reader.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I used to enjoy watching Woodward as The Equalizer back in the 80's (forget the A-Team or MacGyver, this old character could handle any challenge by himself and had something they didn't: that signature British combination of cutting wit and class), but he had a number of genre roles to his credit over his long career.
My favourite was his appearance as Alwyn the technomage (not to be confused with Brother Alwyn MacComber the Ranger/monk from the far-future lookahead episode at the end of B5's fourth season) from one episode of the short-lived Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade. Must have been a treat for him to star opposite his son, Peter, who played Excalibur's occasionally resident technomage, Galen. Woodward (the elder) gave the character the perfect combination of brusque crotchetiness, wold-weariness and humour. And who doesn't love a character that can conjur up a 500-foot-long golden dragon?
Edward Woodward was 79.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
It's too bad. I wasn't able to watch more than two episodes because the hours of my new job require that I turn in a little earlier and I kept forgetting to tape it, but from what I saw it was a well-built show. Paul Gross revelled in his devilry, but gave us a different small town prince of darkness than Jack Nicholson did back in the 80's in the cinematic version, and made it work. And the rest of the cast, including Rebecca Romijn, did a great job too.
I was hoping to be able to catch this one in reruns between seasons, but I guess it's bad luck all around.
Take some time to reflect on the sacrifices of those who fought in the wars and the peacekeeping actions to preserve our freedom. Be thankful for their efforts.
Lest we forget.
And if you're looking for some good SF reads set against the backdrop of the wars and peacekeeping actions, check out the short list I included near the end of a post a couple of years ago...
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
When I was a little guy back in the mid-late 70's, Sesame Street was a major part of the day. In fact, here in Canada, we got a double dose of it - I remember you could watch it on CBC and it had some animated sketches in French... then change the channel over to PBS when it was done, and you'd get the original American version (sometimes the same episode, sometimes a different one) with some animation voiceovers in Spanish instead.
Aside from those early second/third language lessons (which were a heck of a lot more entertaining and did a better job of sticking with me than that annoying and vaguely grotesque live action show with the hobo clown that TV Ontario used to run as a means of inflicting French on us little Anglophones), I'll credit to Sesame Street for helping to teach me (or at least positively reinforce) my letters and numbers and various factoids.
Over the years, the show's taken a lot of heat from people claiming that its short sketches have created a couple of generations of kids with the attention spans of fruit flies. But anyone who's ever watched a child become utterly absorbed in something they love or that's new knows this theory is bullshit. I wasn't effected by Sesame Street in this way in the least during my formative years, nor were any of the other kids I grew up with. The flashiness and rapid-fire pace of Sesame Street was offset by more sedate programs like Mr Dressup and Mr Rogers' Neighbourhood, not to mention life in general beyond the tube which included books. If there's a finger to be pointed for an alleged generational short attention span, it should be pointed squarely at parents who didn't make time to give their kids a little more variety in terms of viewing material or life experiences, or who didn't take time to bring home a couple of Richard Scarry or Doctor Seuss books from the library.
But getting back to the magic of Sesame Street, part of the attraction was the assortment of weird and colourful characters. My favourites were Kermit the Frog and Oscar the Grouch. Kermit had the personality, and as for Oscar, sure he was a bitch, but my imagination exploded whenever that green monster was doing a sketch as I tried to figure out what his secret home within the garbage can looked like. Mr Snuffleupagus was okay too, but I was always trying to figure out if he was some kind of freaky wooly mammoth with a tail, and any enjoyment I got at watching him heave his bulk around while wearing a top hat and singing was subdued a bit by the annoyance factor of Big Bird.
I'll tip my hat to the show's creators for their selection of human characters too. Sesame Street presented a neighbourhood full of people of different ethnic backgrounds and walks of life. I enjoyed watching Mr Hooper and Gordon and Maria interacting with the muppet characters. Others, like Bob (and I'll give him credit for being the frontman for the Children's Charity Lottery here in BC) were okay, but for some reason don't stand out in my memory as well.
And, of course, there were the special guests who would join certain episodes. Again, many of these are a blur (it's been a while since the 70's) but I do remember Buffy Sainte-Marie coming to the Sesame Street neighbourhood once, and appearing in the episode where they went to Hawaii.
I have to admit though, it wasn't the full episodes that really made a big impression on me so much as some of the individual sketches or songs. "C" is for "Cookie" by Cookie Monster is, of course a classic. Anything with Kermit was cool. I still remember the Ladybugs 12 song very distinctly. And an obscure one that has always stayed with me, especially because of its SF element, was The Lonely n Song.
Ultimately, the biggest role of Sesame Street, in my opinion, was that it laid much of the groundwork (in addition to the sketches on SNL that caught the eye of the adult audience) for Jim Henson to launch his work of genius, The Muppet Show. But November 10th is about Sesame Street, so rather than getting off track, I'll stick to giving the original program its due.
Happy 40th Anniversary, Sesame Street!
Monday, November 09, 2009
Not sure if this out-does her Dalek from last year, but it certainly kicks ass. Now how is she going to top herself next year?
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Now, I like Tennant, but does anyone actually think this show has more than a snowball's chance in hell at lasting a full season?
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
(spoilage factor: about the same as the hamster in the original TV movie)
The remake of V was one of the TV shows I was eagerly anticipating over the summer months. Another SF show to shake up the cop-heavy evening TV roster these days (although one of the lead characters is an FBI agent! Ugh.) is a good thing. And while I remember the original V being reasonably good when it hit the air back in the 80's, sometimes, as BSG has shown us (although it's inspiration was a crap-fest, so there was nowhere to go but up in that case), a remake with a new twist or two on the storyline can be a breath of fresh air in the world of entertainment (aside from The Bionic Woman, that is).
The new version that aired tonight was reasonably entertaining and has the potential to fill a season or two. But it was far from perfect.
My biggest beef was the TV interview scene where journalist Chad Decker (played by Scott Wolf) folds like a cheap deck chair when alien commander Anna (Firefly's Morena Baccarin) gives him the "only ask the nice questions or the show's over" routine. Ah, no. It would be believable for a cub fresh out of journalism school to be intimidated and fall for that, but not a seasoned reporter who's been around long enough and done enough to earn a spot on a major TV station, especially one who's news director trusted with the assignment of covering the arrival of the aliens. Oh sure, the scene makes an attempt to be credible by having Decker say something to the effect of "that's not how we do things around here", and after it's over he grouses about it, but the bottom line is no self-respecting journalist would fall for that kind of blackmail. I've been a reporter and I can tell you that in reality, that scene would have played out in just the opposite way: seconds to air and Anna bats her big brown eyes and gives the my-way-or-the-highway schtick. One of three things would then happen: 1) the reporter would shrug and say something like "let's see where the conversation takes us" or "let's see what happens" and then proceed to ask whatever he'd intended to all along, including the tough questions (very likely); 2) the reporter might lie and say "okay" and then ambush the alien with the rough stuff mid-interview (less likely, but plausible); or 3) the reporter sticks to his guns and insists he's asking whatever questions he wants to, and the story -rightly so - goes from "polite sit-down interview with Commanderette Zircon" to "what are the aliens trying to hide?" - and he might even tell her quite bluntly that this would be what would happen if she didn't agree to sit down and answer all the questions, the good and the bad, as he asked them. Scenario 3 is also very, very likely.
I was also somewhat annoyed at universal healthcare being used as a tool of the Visitors to win over the unsuspecting human population and put the Earth one step closer to the shadow of their nefarious schemes. Fact is, this offer would utterly fail to influence most of the developed world. Most industrialized nations have some form of universal healthcare. The Americans are among the few holdouts. Most of the rest of the world that doesn't have it wants it, and the clumsy attempt by the writers to imply that it might be sinister, or, heavens to betsy, an alien notion, will probably be lost or laughable to audiences outside the US. This is cheap theatrics at its worst. At a time when Americans are debating whether to do the smart thing and adopt some form of universal healthcare to ensure people get the help they need, this sort of snide association with bad guys cheapens the discussion. Makes me glad to be in Canada where if Visitors tried to entice us with that offer we'd probably reply: "Oh. That's nice. Not a bad idea. We already have it though. Tommy Douglas and all that."
Then of course there's the whole "they've been here conspiring against us in secret for a long time now!" sub-plot that's been done to death and is completely unnecessary. Simplicity, guys! Simplicity! This really doesn't have to be the X-Files to work! Although, since they do seem to be determined ot make this a major crutch of the plot, I did like Morris Chestnut's Visitor-in-disguise character, Ryan, and the choices he has to make. In a way he reminded me of the Simon aboard the fleet in the recent BSG movie The Plan, however the advantage of the Cylon is that his plot was able to explore this dilemma succinctly and effectively in occasional scenes during a 2-hour feature, while the Visitor may have to hash his issues out over an entire season or two, which runs the risk of becoming tiresome.
Lastly, killing-off Alan Tudyk in the pilot was lame. I don't say this as an irate Firefly fanboy (although, while not a Browncoat, I do quite enjoy the exploits of Serenity's crew). The fact is that the man's a good enough actor that it would have been a treat to see him play an alien double-agent.
On the up side, Baccarin's (I hate to say it) serenity is very effective at making her character intensely creepy (especially since we know pretty much what these planet-leapin' lizards are up to). And I'm interested to see how the series plays out and what sort of deviations they'll make from the original.
Of course, the real question is, when will Marc Singer and Michael Ironside make an appearance and start kickin' ass and taking names?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The story opens with a UFO dumping some sort of goo onto a pumpkin patch just before Hallowe'en. Ginormica, BOB, Dr. Cockroach, Link and Insectosaurus (or whatever the big guy's called now that he's fluttering around on wings, Heimlich-style) are called in to save the day when the gourds sprout limbs, attitudes, and a hunger for junk food and go on the rampage. Hilarity ensues.
Or, at least it's supposed to. Mutant Pumpkins was cute, and it certainly tried hard to bring the movie's style of humour into this half-hour production, but most of the jokes fell a little flat.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad follow-up. The bit about the slight against BOB's mother had me howling. It's just that there weren't quite enough jokes that worked.
This installment did keep with the tradition of referencing plenty of other films. Most were pretty obvious, but, without giving anything away, I have to wonder if the final scene was a deliberate allusion to the execrable 50's flick Invasion of the Star Creatures for those of us who really know our cinematic cheese, or perhaps to The Thing from Another World if they were trying for something more well known and vastly more watchable.
As you would expect, the special also delivers on a good fight scene, and the animation is top-notch.
In the end, Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space was enough of a treat to make it worth watching next year.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Each fires volley after volley of propaganda at the other (sometimes back-to-back) for weeks on end as each tries to convince the public that their side is right. It's like watching the Vorlons and Shadows tear into each other. Cable companies keep gouging consumers. Meanwhile, the broadcast companies don't give a shit about viewers and, contrary to what they claim, have been killing off local programming and automating or closing local stations for years (the supper hour news doesn't really count as "local" when only 10-15 minutes of content are local news; these stations haven't produced other local programming for a long time: you sure as hell won't find them producing their own kids shows like The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, or Buckley 'n Beave, or The Uncle Bobby Show anymore). The reality is, neither of them really gives a damn about what the consumers want - they just want our money.
Makes me feel like barking "Now get the hell out of our galaxy! Both of you!"
Sunday, October 18, 2009
But this year they got back on track. The opener was weird enough to work, and while Dial "M" for Murder - Hit # for the Operator was a little weak, the second segment that took a whack at 28 Days and I Am Legend was brilliant, and the closer with the Sweeny Todd-esque play in Moe's Tavern had its moments.
Let's hope the Simpsons can continue to serve up the Hallowe'en treats in the years to come.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
It's my own damn fault, of course. My initial thought was that I could make it through by alternating short story anthologies and novels - I'd gorge myself on a bunch of the small stuff and jack up my total for the challenge, then take a break with a long-form work for a bit, and back to an anthology again afterward, topping it up every quarter with an extra short story boost from the latest issue of On Spec or the odd copy of Neo Opsis. What could go wrong?
Well... me, of course. I'd hit a patch where I just couldn't resist reading a couple or more novels back to back without those crucial anthologies in between. Lost time.
But then I'd give myself a kick and figure I could double up: read one short story a day and then let myself spend the rest of the day's reading time with a novel. It ain't that simple though. Different anthologies have different ideas about what constitutes shortness in their collected works. Some are consistently brisk, with a whole bunch of stories that don't exceed a dozen pages. Easy to toss back one or two a day. Then you've got the ones that are all over the map - including items that are just a page or two alongside gigantor works that are up around 30 or 40 pages - novelettes or novellas or however they're classified. Big ass stories at any rate that can easily consume limited reading time in a day and not infrequently push over into the next day.
'Cause that's an important factor too - the time available to read each day. Some people may be militant about budgeting their reading time. As much as I love to read though, I'm not one of them. How much time I allocate fluctuates greatly depending on dinner, conversations or outings with my wife, quality time with the cat (and you cat owners out there all know that cats are very particular about getting every second they feel they're entitled to), plans with friends, TV time, blogging, work, yadda yadda yadda. Some Saturdays, I may spend hours with my nose in a book. Other times, there just ain't no time to read more than a page or two. When you run into a 30 page not-so-short story, a scheduling issue will set the short story tally back a pace.
Now, you might just be laughing right now and saying "Read faster, pokey!" But I like to enjoy my books. No point in reading if you're going to whip through so fast that you can't remember anything that you read along the way.
You might also suggest that if I really want to hit the magic 365 then I ought to play it smart and skip the big ones - say, set an arbitrary limit of however many pages and if a story exceeds that then pay no attention and move on to the next. But I don't like the idea of that either. If I'm reading an anthology, I want to read the whole thing, unless I've encountered one of the stories elsewhere recently and am indifferent to it. Those are the stories I'll skip. Otherwise, I've got to take on the whole thing.
Then I hit the summer and threw back a bunch of novels without many short stories in between. Lost a lot of time there. So, for the past three months or so, I've devoted myself entirely to anthologies and will stick to a diet of short stories only until I'm done this thing. (unless I see a new novel from one of my favourite authors, in which case I might feel the uncontrollable need to put off the short stories for a while so I can read it right away - but I can't let myself go down that road... must stay in control) At approximately 220 now, I figure I can down another 145 before the end of the year. I hope.
Even within this short-story only strategy, there are tactics I could employ to get through it faster. Sure, I won't skip a longer story if I come across it in an anthology, but I could choose anthologies specifically for the length of their content, setting aside ones with tales that are too long. In fact, I could hunt for anthologies that are specifically geared towards super short submissions, like Futures from Nature, where no story is longer than three pages. I could make up a lot of volume blasting through that one! Problem is, I read that book last year, so it's too soon to go through it again - at least, not without a vague feeling of cheating or running the risk of over-exposure to its stories, and I wouldn't want to get bored by them. I guess I'll stick to the straight-forward approach of picking up the next anthology on the pile, regardless of story lenghts inside, and power through cover to cover.
I've got more than enough anthologies to do the job - old ones that I haven't read for several years and new ones I haven't touched yet. Now it's just a matter of getting through the next 145 stories in a little over two months. So what am I doing here writing about the reading I should be doing when I could be doing it?
Monday, October 12, 2009
For me, The Cask of Amontillado was the first Poe story that I read as a kid, and still has the power to make me squirm a bit with the thought of the helpless terror of a person being walled-up. Because it's one of my favourites, I always get a bit of a smile when I rewatch the episode of Babylon 5 where Bester the psicop quotes it. The Raven, of course, is another one that ranks fairly high up, and I loved the Simpsons' rendition of it in their first Hallowe'en special - still have that one on tape after all these years. Other favourites of mine include The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether and Some Words with a Mummy.
But as Poe is regarded as a master of horror, I have to say that of his works, the story that I've always found most frightening is The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. I won't give any spoilers for this one, just the recommendation. If you haven't read it yet, find it and experience it for yourself.
Monday, October 05, 2009
I'm willing to give this one a shot, but I'm not getting my hopes up. We all remember what happened when Emeril Lagasse tried his hand at a sitcom a few years ago. Besides, if you're looking for a fictional show about a cook with a ferocious personality (albeit live action, rather than animated), why not just watch Lenny Henry's hillarious show Chef! which came out of the UK back in the 90's? But even that show, as good as it was, ran its course. I enjoy Ramsay's shows from time to time, and I'm certainly a fan of animation, but there's only so many servings of this kind of personality one can take. I hope this isn't overkill and that Ramsay doesn't end up having reached too far and getting served humble pie.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Then it was over to the art room to pick up the little golden glass dragon (done by Kristina Gray) that I'd purchased yesterday as an anniversary present for my wife. Chatted briefly with the chief art room volunteer. Sounds like this year was a tough year for the art room: lots of great pieces, but very little buying - people liked the work but, due to the economy, just didn't have the money to buy.
After that I put my sanity in harm's way and went to the Turkey Readings. To the uninitiated, the Turkey Readings are a tradition at VCon, where a panel reads pages from a selection of the worst SF ever published (usually from the 1970's) mind you - while volunteers from the audience act out the story at the front. The rest of the audience can bid money to have a particular reading stopped. Another person might then pay even more money to have it continue. The money collected goes to the Canadian Unity Fan Fund (CUFF), which every year pays to bring one fan from another part of the country to whatever city is hosting the annual CanVention (the national SF con, which rotates between the regular regional cons like VCon or KeyCon or TorCon, etc). Depending on how terrible a story is, you could see bids of up to $15 or $20 to end the damn thing before people have had enough. The readings are so completely awful that you can't help but laugh (because the alternative is for your brain to cave in with the horror of what you're listening to), and this year was no exception. One truly painful inclusion in this year's roster was a tale by Conan creator Robert E Howard about French highway robbers. In order to save all of you from the suffering we in the audience had to endure, I won't bother to describe it.
This session was followed by a bit of a break before the Closing Ceremonies and the Elron Awards took place. Like the Opening Ceremonies, the Closing was short and to the point, something I very much appreciated. Then came the Elrons. The Elron Awards are VCon's tradition for the close of the event, where spoof awards are given for stupidities that have occurred over the course of the year. This year's Elrons went to:
NASA for staging a contest to build a robot probe that could walk on the Moon - but only requiring the entries to walk on Earth.
Stephen Colbert for having a treadmill named after him when NASA refused to name the new space station module in his honour, even though he won the agency's naming contest by a landslide.
The wife of Japan's new Prime Minister, who claims that while sleeping she was taken to Venus by a UFO.
The Syfy channel in the US for, well, rebranding itself as Syfy.
The late Forrest J Ackerman for inspiring legions of SF fans. Now, before you get all up in arms, understand that in this case the award was given out of gentle humour and respect. The folks running VCon had actually been set to give Ackerman an Elron a number of years ago, and he was happy to come in person to accept, but he had to cancel at the last minute due to illness. Thus, because Forry would have quite happily gone along with it, this award is in good taste.
Dan Brown for continuing to write bad novels using the same formula he always does.
And lastly, John Norman for inflicting yet another Gor novel (it was released last November, about a month after last year's VCon) on the world. It should be noted that it's tradition for Norman to get an Elron every year for some reason or other.
And that was VCon 34. Felt smaller than last year, but it was fun and I can't say enough how much I enjoyed the choice of venue. Thanks to the organizers, the guests/panelists, artists, dealers, and volunteers for putting on a great event. See ya next year!
Saturday, October 03, 2009
After taking care of my purchase, I got out of there and headed over to the 2-hour Advance Previews session. Nothing as grand as Comicon in San Diego where they actually get movie teasers - in this case we had a movie critic who comes up for the con every year from Hollywood to give us the scoop on movies coming up in the next two years. It was one of those 50-50 type of sessions - about half of the news I'd heard before from other sources, but the other half was new, and the guy was entertaining enough with some of his insider gossip. All in all, the session was worth while.
From there, I went on to the Pacific Northwest as a Setting session which ended up being a disappointment (for the short time I put up with it). The first 15 minutes or so were bogged down with the host and a bunch of people in the room rattling off names of movies or TV shows that have been or are being produced on BC's Lower Mainland. Okay - fair enough for a minute or two, but not that long. Sure, they diverted once or twice in the direction of a worthwhile discussion, touching on the darkness of the area during winter being key in setting mood - but they didn't really expand on this; then they asked why so few stories are set in this neck of the woods (with rare exceptions like Spider Robinson's Very Bad Deaths and Very Hard Choices). Problem is, instead of flushing-out these topics, they kept drifting back to the whole what's filmed here nonsense (made worse by late arrivers who repeated what had been said earlier). So I bailed in fairly short order.
At that point, I headed up the street for dinner at Vera's burger shack on Denman. Had to get there via Robson Street - realm of the hipsters, fashionphiles, the rich, the famous (we've seen Robin Williams there, as well as Nathan Fillion a couple of times), the gawkers, the tourists, the showoffs, and the wannabes. The Scene. Along the way I passed something of a sight. A group of people in their 50s-60s was standing around talking - two of them normal enough, but the other two... She was wearing makeup so heavy and badly applied that it looked like she'd tried to put on kabuki makeup while drunk. Her hair was a gigantic frizzy triangle. And her coat was a puffy fur jacket (don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those hippies that have a problem with fur - I've lived in places so cold people respect the wearing of fur) that looked a little too similar to the mink coat in Ghostbusters 2 that came alive. For his part, her gentleman was sporting a puffy white pirate shirt (where's Seinfeld when we need him?), black leather pants, and a black ankle-length coat like a Catholic priest, or Neo in The Matrix, might wear. Now, if they'd been at the con hotel, I wouldn't have given them a second glance. Costumers. Not my thing, but I've got no problem with it if they want to do it. But this wasn't the con hotel. And they weren't costumers. Nope. They figured they were the cutting edge of fashion. And people say geeks are weird.
Back to the con for the informative Where Are They session with a UBC astronomer giving an update about the search for Earth-like planets.
I finished the evening at the Worst SF Movies & TV of All Time session. Pretty entertaining for the most part, but they left out a couple of productions that I think rank among the worst ever made: Invasion of the Star Creatures (Amazon women from space with giant carrot men facing off against two half-assed Abbott & Costello rip-offs are never a formula for success) and Babylon 5 - The Legend of the Rangers: To Live & Die in Starlight. If only I could forget them.
One day left.
Friday, October 02, 2009
In my last post, I was complaining about the ongoing absence of the con program on the VCon site. During a brief period a couple of days ago when I managed to get my thrice-damned PC at home to get online (Windows is, in fact, the spawn of the devil) I noticed that they'd gotten around to putting a draft up. Sure, its incompleteness was such that you could have piloted a star destroyer through the holes, but I appreciated the effort of at least having something there.
At any rate, the con got under way this afternoon and I was able to get there in fairly short order after work. As venues go, the Marriot Pinnacle downtown isn't anything to write home about (so why am I writing about it in this blog?), but it's an adequate hotel and a hell of a lot better (both as a facility and in terms of the neighbourhood) than last year's joint in Surrey. I didn't get a chance to pre-register this year, but I lucked into a pre-registered rate at the desk because a couple of people weren't able to make it and had to have the con sell their memberships for them.
Something that struck me right off the bat about this year's con is that the schedule looks smaller. I don't have the programs from any of the previous year's cons, but it seems like there are fewer sessions per hour. A cursory glance also left me feeling that a lot of the session topics aren't that interesting. One of the things I have to give VCon credit for in the past is that the schedules had enough of a variety of interesting topics that for any given hour I was frequently having to choose between two sessions that had potential. This year, not so much. In fact, there are a lot of hours (too many) with sessions I couldn't care less about. Looks like I'll have plenty of time to head out for meals, take reading breaks, surf the net on my phone, or whatever. And that's unfortunate. I'd like to be in the position again of having so many interesting choices that there wasn't time enough for everything.
The dealers' room had a lot of the usual suspects - the costume dealers, game shops and book publishers that come out every year. But there were a couple of new merchants, including a guy with a stand guaranteed to pull in every steampunk fan in the building: lots of boxes of old Victorian and Edwardian era cogs and other machine parts - perfect to use in assembling your own steampunk gizmos. And for the non-do-it-yourselfers, he had a few sets of goggles for sale, and what steampunk afficianado doesn't want the latest in leather and brass adventure eyeware? In addition he had a few antiques that would have fit in at any weekend flea market. I had my eye on an old travel typewriter, but with two cons this year plus vacation plans, my budget just can't hack it. He was also hawking some Dr. Who-inspired wood carvings.
The art room was another usual suspects scene. This included more proof to back up my theory that there's some law of the universe at work that dictates every SF con art room must have at least three paintings of cats or lions/tigers/other oversized felines - sometimes with wings - submitted by female artists. Don't get me wrong, I like cats too - we have one that thinks he's the boss of the house - but just once I'd like to go to a con art room that doesn't have paintings of cats - winged or not.
At this point I dropped into the Monster Craze session about mid way through. It was basically a description of monsters from old movies and TV - how the costumes were made, who some of the actors inside the costumes were, stories behind the production, etc. Nothing wrong with that if you're a media monster history buff, but not something I want to sit through a half hour of. I left to get some supper and went from a gathering of geeks to a pub full of downtown big business powerbrokers and wannabes. Ate quickly and got back to my nerdy world.
Got back in time to catch the last few minutes of the presentation by artist guest of honour Miles Teves. Art sessions aren't usually my thing, but I'm glad I was able to see some of his stuff. Very cool concept art for some films, including a version of Medusa he created for the updated Clash of the Titans (currently in production, though there's no indication if they went with his design) and a take on the Lady of the Lake for a planned remake of Excalibur.
From there it was on to the opening ceremonies. I'll give the organizers credit: it was short and sweet. They had an hour but only used about 10 or 15 minutes - a welcome to everyone and the intros for the guests of honour. No need for anything else. Loved it.
I finished the day at the Preparing for the Upcoming Zombie Apocalypse session. Normally zombies aren't subject matter I enjoy, but this panel was so tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top I couldn't resist. The timing of this session couldn't have been more perfect either: the CBC site had an article today about the University of Florida cutting a zombie outbreak scenario from its disaster plan exercises (I'd actually heard previously that law enforcement and other agencies have been known from time to time to incorporate paranormal elements into exercises to test member ability to adapt). Getting back to the session, there were lots of fun solutions to zombie problems, like preying on their tendency to congregate at shopping malls and other large stores by luring them into Ikea outlets where they won't be able to find their way out. Comics guest of honour Lar DeSouza had the best take on how to meet the menace if it just wasn't going to be possible to go away: go to the liquor store, get some bottles of Jack Daniels, head on over to the comic store and wait for the end. Aside from a few moments where everyone was wishing an inebriated over-enthusiastic fanboy would shut up, this was a really fun session. In fact I'd go as far as saying this session alone was probably worth the price of registration at the con.
Must sleep now. Not getting up for any early sessions, but it's been a long day of work and con attendance. The challenge for tomorrow is to figure out what, of the small selection of sessions available, is worth going to.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
(spoilage factor: about the same as an orange left on the highway after the flashforward)
I'm trying to remain positive about Flash Forward, but after tonight's hit-and-miss debut that's gonna be hard.
Admittedly, I've got a bit of a bias here. The novel that inspired this new TV series is one of my favourite Robert J Sawyer books and I think that story certainly has what it takes to translate to the screen (though it would work better as a one-off movie or miniseries rather than a full season/multiple season series). That being said, I admit it's probably more intellectual than what the average TV exec thinks the audience is willing or capable of following. I also try not to fall victim to comparing a TV show or movie with the novel on which it's based - they need to be treated as seperate entities and evaluated on their own merits. While I haven't been deliberately avoiding advanced reviews for the show, I haven't made an effort to hunt them down either, so I came into the show cold.
The show begins with the disasterous aftermath of the flashforward - where the entire population of the Earth has suddenly and simultaneously experienced a strange phenomenon where their minds have jumped 6 months into the future for a span of just over 2 minutes. This causes their bodies to collapse, with terrible results as people are injured or killed through falls or accidents involving cars, planes, etc. FBI agents Mark Benford (played by Joseph Fiennes) and Demetri Noh (John Cho) try to figure out what caused it to happen, as they and the people around them try to pick up the pieces of their lives and cope with the implications of what they've seen (or not) during their flashforwards.
On the up side, the show started with a frighteningly impressive depiction of the disaster caused by the flashforward - an unflinching vista of highways littered with wrecked vehicles, bodies and the injured, and skylines of wrecked buildings as uncontrolled aircraft tumble from the sky.
As childish as it sounds, amidst all the angst-ridden flashforwards of the cast, I also enjoyed the touch of the banal when the FBI boss recalled (but didn't cop to) his own future memory of sitting on the can reading the sports section of the paper.
But the best moment of the show was Brain F O'Byrne's gripping performance as Aaron Stark, Benford's friend and fellow an alcoholic, when he confides to the FBI agent that his flashforward is a burden because after struggling to deal with the supposed death of his daughter, his experience has indicated that she's still alive and he has to find a way to cope with the storm of emotions and readjustment that this causes.
The weaknesses of the show, however, were strongly evident from the beginning. The scene with Benford's slo-mo run through the disaster has been done so many times by Hollywood it's become corny. Speaking of scenes, the 4-hours-before cutaway was vaguely creepy because the shot of the LA suburb reminded me too much of the neighbourhood in Poltergeist. Incidental and unintentional, I know, but it took away from the story for me, so points lost from the show's overall score. Deal with it.
Then there was Sonya Walger's completely awful excuse for a performance in the role of Dr Olivia Benford. An unprecidented, bizarre and deadly incident has just rocked humanity - never mind the sheer scope of what's happened, it's also given her character a glimpse into an unsettling near future. But Walger downplayed her character's reaction to the point that she seemed disinterested and bored. I realize she's going for the portrayal of a seasoned doctor staying professional amidst a crisis, but there's a definite line between acting cool and calm, and just plain bad acting, and Walger was on the wrong side of that line.
The little details were jarring too (and again, I realize the show's different than the book and needs to be evaluated on its own merits - or lack there of). Lloyd Simcoe now has an English accent? Where did that come from? He's supposed to be a good Canadian guy. I won't even get into the weirdness being hinted at in the previews.
But what seemed like the biggest change for the worse was the combination of making the flashforward a short hop of just 6 months into the future rather than the 20 year leap of the book, and the emphasis on ratcheting up the tension of an FBI investigation with hints at mysterious figures that could be involved. Admittedly, a story about a Canadian scientist working at CERN and trying to come to grips with the philosophical implications of what's happened as well as the practical ramifications of knowing waht's in store for him 2 decades in the future might not seem like exciting prime time fare for Joe and Sally Sixpack. But with the set-up we've been given, FlashForward looks like it's going to be a knockoff of 24 seasoned by SF. Just what TV needs, another cop show.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not writing off FlashForward yet. If I stuck with the steaming pile known as Dollhouse for 4 episodes, I can certainly give this show the benefit of the doubt for a little while yet.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Ah well, the full price of admission is pretty reasonable, especially given that this year's choice of venue is the Marriott in Downtown Vancouver. Never been in that hotel before, but it's in the upscale part of Downtown, and let's face it, anything's worth the price compared to last year's event in the squalid depths of Newton in Surrey (the neighbourhood was something out of a B-budget post-apocalyptic adventure movie from the 70's - as were many of the locals!) This hotel should be quick and easy to access too - just a couple of blocks west of the new Canada Line station at Waterfront.
No sign of the schedule on the con website yet. That being said, they've done a reasonably good job in the past of slotting in interesting topics (though some of last year's did seem to be a tad repetitious when compared to the previous year) and bringing in good panelists.
WorldCon just last month... VCon just a couple of weeks ahead... by Hallowe'en I'll be absolutely twitchy with residual geek overload!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Over on boingboing, Cory Doctorow has recently weighed-in on the dire situation facing Philadelphia's Free Library system (thanks to Christine Rondeau for passing this along). Then in today's Vancouver Sun, Shelley Fralic writes about the tough times our libraries are having here in BC as government funding is put on thin ice by the economy: while Vancouver's library system will probably remain intact, some smaller communities may not be so lucky.
If you don't go into a library on a regular basis - and I admit, in recent years I haven't ('cause I'm a book hoarder rather than a short-term borrower) - then the system becomes a service you take for granted until you come across stories like these. But the fact is that libraries (both public and school) were important to the development of my love of books and to the deepening of my appreciation for speculative fiction.
As a kid back east, one of the highlights of every summer was going to the Cambridge Public Library. By all rights, my favourite branch should have been the one in the Preston neighbourhood where my grandmother worked, but my true love was the Galt branch (situated near the huge old churches that ringed the public square, there's something metaphorically appropriate about having a library - a temple of knowledge and literature, on an equal footing with more common places of worship). It was vast, silent and dark - a catacomb of nooks and crannies filled with books and all kinds of other cool stuff. We'd go every couple of weeks to stock up on books, and amidst the lighter kids' fare like the Choose Your Own Adventure titles, that's where I picked up the real treasures like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This was extremely important to my development given that SF is pretty much alien to my parents, so I wasn't going to be finding anything to read that suited my interests at home.
And there were other enticements for young geeky minds in addition to the books: they had summer programming in the auditorium that included presentations for kids on all kinds of fun topics like wild animals and dinosaurs. But the best, the absolute best, was the seminar on robots! I still remember going up the stairs to the auditorium entrance on the second floor and seeing a huge metal mechanoid (or at least the shell of one) leaning on the doorframe. The presentation was from a guy who worked in robotics (can't remember which university or company though) who talked about how robots were built and what they were used for in the real world. Then came the moment that I'll never forget: as he started talking about robots in the movies and which were his favourites, he pulled out a remote control and brought a replica of R2D2 rolling out onto the stage. Somewhere around a hundred 5-10 year olds proceeded to go bonkers and you could tell that even though it was his robot, the guy onstage still thought seeing R2 up close was as cool as we did. After showing off some of R2's moves, the guy opened the floor for questions. Great guy - he took all of our questions seriously. I remember very clearly that I asked him how much wire it took to make R2, and he smiled and said "Miles and miles of it."
As if that wasn't enough, I also remember in either the summer of 83 or 84, the library set aside a very large display case to show off someone's extensive collection of Star Wars toys. No surprise, Mom nearly had to use a crowbar to pry us away from that thing to get us to go home.
I always plan to pay a visit to that library when I go back home for visits, but scheduling never allows it. I think I owe it to the old place to schedule some of the sit-downs with relatives around a trip to the library for once.
Later in my childhood, when the family moved out to BC, I made a point of acquainting myself with the local library. The Tsawwassen branch of the South Delta Library was a heck of a lot smaller than the one in Galt, but there were SF books to be had that kept me interested once I'd ploughed through the stock in the school library. Years later, as an adult, even though I don't live there anymore, I've still been known to drop in and spend a few hours reading from time to time if I've left my car with the mechanic just down the road for a little work.
As I've mentioned before, I tend to be a hoarder when it comes to books, so I don't visit the library that often anymore. That being said, because I do appreciate how important it was to my development, I know that in a couple of years when my wife and I have kids of our own, we'll definitely be regulars at our local library.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Thanks to the guys over at SF Signal for catching this one and sharing it with the rest of us on their Twitter feed.
This time, the man behind Captain Kirk is lobbying the mayor of Edmonton, Alberta in an effort to get the city's Valley Zoo to send its aging elephant, Lucy, to a sanctuary.
Not too long ago, the Shat was urging officials in BC to put an end to fish farms that might threaten the health of wild salmon stocks.
For his next act, he'll be travelling back in time to rescue a pair of humpback whales. He already did that? Oh. Um... how about his ability to act?
Monday, September 07, 2009
(spoilage factor: about the same as a Cobra soldier from the undersea base bobbing up through a hole in the ice to be polar bear chow)
You can't go in to a movie based on a toy line (okay, a toy line that spawned a comic and a long-running cartoon) with high expectations, so the lack of quality in G.I. Joe wasn't a total surprise or disappointment. That being said, it definitely missed the opportunity to be something better.
The special effects and fight scenes were all top notch. I also have to admit there were a couple of scenes that made me chuckle. I like the backstory that was constructed for McCullen's/Destro's (played by Christopher Eccleston) family, but his transformation at the end to have the liquid metal face was pretty lame. As much as it would have been inanimate, I think it would have been better if he would have donned his ancestor's steel mask. It would have had more meaning than nanobots giving him a T-1000 look.
On the downside, the flick had plot holes big enough to drive an entire armoured column through. One of the worst offences was after the disaster in Paris where the Joes get arrested by French authorities. While Hawk is eventually able to get them released, they're told their forbidden from ever returning to France. Huh? This is supposed to be an international team dispatched by the UN, right? So while I can understand your run-of-the-mill gendarmes and bureaucrats not knowing who these characters are, how is it that high-level French officials are in the dark and have to have their arms twisted to release the Joes? If this is an international force, wouldn't there be a couple of French members? Wouldn't the French government at least be in the loop?
And then there were the Joes themselves. Snake Eyes is white?! Huh? Granted, I only read a couple of issues of the comic back when I was a kid and borrowed them from a friend, so I don't know if the comic had anything to say about his ethnicity, but at least in the cartoon there was never any indication that the Joes' resident ninja was white. He was just a ninja. Most ninjas as Japanese, right? Now sure, you may say that doesn't mean that he can't be white, maybe there are white ninjas. Fine. But if this is supposed to be an international team, why not keep things simple and say he's Japanese like most ninjas probably are? This just felt like the producers were trying to pander to the American audience's dim memories from the 80's of American Ninja, which, for all its attempt to be a serious ninja movie, was equally as lame as another white ninja movie years later: Beverly Hills Ninja.
But the worst offence this movie committed was the absence of Shipwreck Delgado from the G.I. Joe team. Shipwreck was the man! The lack of Shipwreck and his bird was truly unforgiveable.
Save G.I. Joe for a rental night if there's nothing else available at the store.
On one hand, it's probably a good thing for Marvel, because as part of the Disney empire they'll have steady access to a lot more capital to develop movies and avenues like stores and themeparks to hawk merchandise. This is, of course, a good thing, most especially from a business perspective.
For Disney, it's another property to put bums in the seats of its themepark rides. It's not hard to imagine the mouse taking some of the big Marvel names and flushing them out into Indiana Jones-style show rollercoasters or Star Tours-esque puke theatres. And it would work. Hell, I'd go.
On the other hand, with Mickey at the helm, I worry that it's only a matter of time before comic fans see the Disneyfication of the Marvel lines. Oh sure, it wouldn't be right away and it wouldn't be all in one fell swoop. It would probably start subtly because the Disney guys are smart and won't want to damage the revenue from their new property, but over time I wonder if you might start to see a softening of some of the violence or a gentling of character personalities to be more in line with the wholesome image of the mouse's company (granted, American pop culture rarely has a problem with violence - it's sex and swearing they're really afraid of - but you have to admit that at least in recent years, Disney's something of a soft touch when it comes to slugfests). This is not to say that Marvel's titles are the homes of over-the-top gore or phsychological violence. They're still ultimately (for the most part) written with the understanding that kids and youth will be buying them (as opposed to other comic publishers which lean towards the adult audience specifically and are markedly different in the depth of content). But I can just imagine a boardroom meeting some day with execs talking about developing, say, X-Men into a ride for the themeparks and getting into a discussion about whether Wolverine's gonna have to tone down the attitude in order for the concept to be a more palatable for parents; this in turn could affect the comic months, if not years in advance of ride construction. Just a thought, but one that's certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
But beyond that, there's just a general uneasy feeling that I have when I think of these two entertainment powers joining forces. It's the same feeling of wrongness slithering just through the fringes of conciousness that I had way back at the end of the 80's or beginning of the 90's when Disney bought out the Muppets. Sure it probably gave the Henson factory the backing it needed for the Muppet movies (like their versions of A Christmas Carol and Treasure Island) that they put out in the 90's, but when I saw the news footage back then, I just had this feeling that the Muppets were losing something special about their identity by coming under the Disney umbrella. Even now, years later, if you go to the Disney California theme park across the lane from Disneyland, they've got a replica of the Muppet Theater with a funny little show, but it somehow seems faded and half real. Admittedly, part of the problem there is that this show is half-empty most of the time is because its real draw is for the adults who remember watching the Muppets as kids. They bring their own kids there, and the little ones generally enjoy themselves, but the Muppets aren't that big a part of pop culture for kids anymore, so it's not what the kids want to see. That's not Disney's fault per se. But is probably is why the Muppet Theater there feels like it's been half-forgotten and tucked in a corner of the park more out of obligation than any real desire to push it as a destination product - Disney's too focused on promoting its core properties, rather than the add-ons from a bygone era. While Marvel is certainly current, I worry that it may become somewhat marginalized because it isn't a core Disney property. And beyond that, I just can't shake that same feeling that maybe, like the Muppets, some of the magic has gone out of Marvel because of the Disney deal - that it's become the sidekick where it used to be the superhero.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
One of the local newspapers here in Little China, The Richmond Review, recently ran a story about how Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer has taken the local cat sanctuary under her wing. Helfer (now based out of Los Angeles) was located on the Lower Mainland during the years when BSG was filming and also has a sister who lives in Greater Vancouver. She's visited the Richmond Animal Protection Society a few times and has helped fund the operation with proceeds from a photo shoot as well as the sale of merchandise from her website.
The article goes on to mention that Helfer currently has nine cats. Six has nine cats? I know it's her business how many pets she has, but doesn't nine boost a person up into strange old cat-lady territory, or at least very near to it?
Monday, August 24, 2009
Lucky me, it was IDW's 3-issue comic version of "Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan". Anyone who lets me talk Trek more than 10 seconds knows that TWOK is my favourite installment in the franchise.
While I haven't read through them in full yet, I've skimmed each from cover to cover and the art looks like it kicks ass. Looking forward to sitting down with them this weekend, possibly muttering: "To the last, I will grapple with thee..."
Last week we went with some friends to a steakhouse in Richmond called "Chop". Good food and service, but what was noteworthy from a geeky perspective was the round tunnel with alternating rings of light and dark that they'd built to connect the bar to the restaurant. Seeing someone walk through it reminds me of the old 60's TV series "The Time Tunnel" (which I saw in reruns as a kid in the late 70's) - or, for the younger crowd, Doctor Evil's time machine in the Austin Powers movies.
I had to get a picture of it, so my wife snapped a shot of me doing the classic Time Tunnel off-kilter leap. Sadly, with it being relatively dark, and with the iPhone's onboard camera being of dubious quality, the photo wasn't as good as I'd hoped. The real kick in the butt is that the shot is reasonably clear on the phone's gallery screen - it just sucks when posted to the blog here.
Ah well. That's what I get for trying to show the world the secret location of the Time Tunnel.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
yesterday I decided to relax on the train and take in the scenery.
After meeting-up with my wife and parents in Ottawa, it was off to
dinner and then turning in early to get some much-needed rest. But
back to the con...
Monday was the last day of Anticipation/WorldCon 67, and for once, I
got off to an early start (relatively). I was at the convention centre
by 11 (mainly because I was up early to check out of the hotel) and
began the day with the session on the Drake Equation and the Fermi
Failure. The room was packed solid. The panel covered all of the usual
possibilities for why, if there are aliens, we aren't detecting them
and how we can do a better job of looking for them. And it was a
fairly entertaining discussion. But the best part was when one of the
audience took it upon himself to find another, bigger room. This gave
rise to some great jokes touching back on the subject of the
session... First the panel wanted to be sure if the larger room had a
mic&speaker system to ensure they'd be heard at the back of the room -
much like the concerns of finding a way to get coherent signals to
other civilizations over great interstellar distances in a reasonable
amount of time. Then, as we all got up and were crossing the hall to
the other room, it occurred to me that we were illustrating how an
advanced species should be observable in its efforts to expand outward
from a home world (room) with inadequate resources to a new space
better suited to its needs. Then, once we were settled in to the new
room, someone in the audience observed that others/latecomers might go
to the old room looking for the session, and finding no trace of it
and no clue that it had left or where it was gone, might then conclude
that it had never existed at all - just like astronomers who might
look at part of the sky where another civilization might once have
lived but vacated, and having missed their signals, might assume it
had always been empty. Ah, geek humour.
Then it was on to the session on genetic engineering our offspring. It
was interesting enough.
After grabbing a quick lunch at Subway, I hit the Dealers' Room one
last time. Good thing too - one of the booksellers had managed to
score a single extra copy of Distant Early Warnings (a new anthology
of Canadian SF edited by Robert J Sawyer - they'd sold out a few days
ago and didn't expect to have any more). I bought it and then ran into
Nalo Hopkinson across the room and she was kind enough to sign her
short story in it.
At that point, I headed to my last session of the day: Dealing with
Disasters. Lots of spirited discussion in this one - especially when
Hurricane Katrina and the tragic failures of the US government during
it were brought up in example. Ultimately, the consensus was that
individuals need to prepare themselves to deal with natural disasters
like ice storms, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc and that having
the right frame of mind is as important as being well-supplied. What
was interesting though was when the panelists noted there are some
mega disasters - like a massive asteroid impact or the eventual super
volcano eruption under Yellowstone park - where there's just no point
in spending much time or effort worrying about it because there's
nothing you (or the government) can do and they're not survivable
anyway. To sum up the message of the panel for when disaster comes, in
the words of Douglas Adams: Don't Panic.
And that was the end. Sure, I would have liked to have stayed around
for George RR Martin's reading, and it might have been nice to be
there for the closing ceremonies, but I had a train to catch, and by
that time of the afternoon, you could feel it in the air: regardless
of how much was left, the con had wound down and was more or less
over. It was like being at a party at the end of the night: sure you
can hang around for one last drink and a final weary laugh, but you
know when it's over. Time to go.
So that was WorldCon 67. Thanks for putting on a great con, Montreal!
(now for a couple of days of non-geek-related vacation back east
before heading home)
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Monday, August 10, 2009
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Today started with a punch to the gut when I made the mistake of
following the recommendation of a friend (who's a Montrealer) and some
other locals who suggested I try a fast food chain unique to Quebec
called La Belle Province. I was told their hotdogs were the best and
that their fries, though greasy, were the best. The only virtue of the
gut bomb that ensued was that it was cheap - which about sums up the
quality of their excuse for food. The dogs were small and tasteless
and the fries weren't potatoes fried in oil so much as oil garnished
with some potato slices. Hell, the chips weren't even cooked all the
way through - that might have interfered with them being a delivery
mechanism for the month-old grease. Usually it's a good idea to listen
to the locals when it comes to finding a place to eat, but this dive
represents a cultural divide that just cannot be crossed.
With that glob sourly sloshing around in my stomach, I fled for the
nerdish safety of the convention centre and went straight to the first
session I'd put on my list for the day. Or so I thought. I got to the
room, grabbed a seat and waited for the panel to get under way. But
rather than launching into an examination of a possible "peak metal"
crisis, the bunch at the front started muttering about teaching SF (or
not) in universities. I knew I had the right room, so peak metal must
have been moved to another location/time or cancelled. Sometimes it
helps to check the schedule update board at the info desk before
starting the day.
Didn't have much interest in hanging around listening to a panel
rehash the obvious (SF is not taught or respected in nearly enough
post-secondary institutions, although it should be), so I decided to
bail. There was no point in trying to track down Peak Metal because by
the time I got back to the front of the centre and down to the level
with the info desk (the place reminds me of Scroob's line in
Spaceballs about the ship being too big to walk or the movie will be
over - the Palais de Congres is that big), figured out what was going
on and got to the new room (if there even was one), I would have
missed too much.
So I went to the Dealers' Room instead. Which was a good thing because
the handout/freebie table at the back had issues of "Emerald Eye",
anthology of Irish SF, up for grabs. Not one to turn my back on a free
SF anthology, I snagged one and browsed for a bit before heading to a
This time it worked out! I went to the panel on alternate histories.
The first part of the discussion looked at why most alternate
histories these days tend to be about WWII or the US Civil War (and to
some extent the Roman Empire). Reasons offered included that's what
publishers want to buy, and that's what fans want to read (because
these wars offer clearly-defined battles of right vs wrong, and
because - in the case of WWII - readers' parents or grandparents might
have been involved). This was followed with an extended discussion of
why not WWI, which had massive pacts on our existence. The rest of the
session involved thoughts about other turning points in history that
could be fodder for good alternate histories, and some stories that
did cover other historic ground.
From there it was on to a session about the economics of interstellar
trade. It was split between non-FTL possibilities and (to a much
lesser extent) trade between FTL-enabled civilizations. Basically, in
the most likely scenario of no FTL, there's not much use for
physically travelling and trading. Information might be the only
reasonable commodity - if the other civilization even put a value on
our knowledge. Art and rare, difficult to reproduce commodities were
other possibilities mentioned. They also hashed over the "why bother"
scenario of civilizations that could invest enough resouces and
technology into making a reasonable interstellar voyage wouldn't need
to - they could make anything our civilization has themselves. And
they raised the spectre that having been broadcasting for so many
decades, we might have already given our info away for free.
The Landscape in Fantasy session afterwards had interesting subject
matter (comparing physical and social landscapes and their effects on
storytelling, culture and sense of self) and most of the panelists
were worth while. My only issue was that one of the panelists (and I
won't name any names) had a way of over-emphasizing every word that
came out of her mouth that was gigantically pretentious - especially
because she wasn't saying anything especially worth while.
From there it was the search for supper. My first attempt was a miss
when I discovered the diner I'd seen a few blocks away was closed. In
fact, downtown Montreal is pretty quiet around supper on Sunday. The
second attempt involved a pasta joint in the convention centre. Might
have been okay if they were properly staffed and taking care of
customers properly, but when the line was 40 people long and not
moving at all, I realized there was no point in hanging around. At
last I settled for St Hubert, a rotisserie chicken place that is
another one of those local legacies. Basically, the food's Swiss
Chalet quality in an atmosphere that's trying to be a bit more hip.
The food was okay and let me get back to the convention centre in
I arrived about half an hour after the Hugo ceremony had started, so I
knew I wouldn't be tweeting the results like with the Auroras. I
considered blowing off the Hugos for a session on cross-genre hard SF,
but I discovered that had been cancelled. None of the other sessions
were of much interest, so I figured better late than never for the
awards ceremony. It moved along reasonably quickly and had some funny
moments. No big surprises though.
One more day left - or at least part of one - before things wrap up
and I catch a train to Ottawa to start the non-SF portion of my
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