Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blogging Battlestar: Taking a Bullet, Taking Control, and Taking a Cut

It's been a little while, but the BSG rewatch is back. Tonight's review includes "Sacrifice", "The Captain's Hand", and "Razor".

We've seen terrorist groups in Battlestar Galactica before - the first bunch was bound and determined to force Adama and Roslin to make peace with the Cylons. In "Sacrifice", it's the other end of the spectrum kicking in, with a gang led by a high-strung, determined widow (hats off to Dana Delaney for doing a supremely convincing job in this role as a person who's lost a loved-one and is desparate to find someone to blame because that gives meaning to their life - I've known people like this, though not quite as violent, and with her portrayal, Delaney could have been one of them) taking over the bar aboard Cloud Nine. The terrorists get more than they bargained for though, as Ellen Tigh is among the crowd, along with the tragic love triangle of Apollo, Dee, and Billy. The ransome demand is simple: the hostages get to live if Adama hands over Sharon. The widow wants the Cylon dead, and wants to do the job herself. Things get ugly when Adama sends in Starbuck and the marines, and when he's eventually forced to comply, his solution of sending in the body of Boomer, rather than the live Sharon, forces a shootout that leaves Billy dead.

This is an episode that gives great dramatic moments to the secondary characters as well as the regular leads. Tigh worries over Ellen, Ellen does her usual postering and simpering combo, Starbuck is wracked with guilt over shooting Apollo, Adama has some good quiet moments where he tries to come to terms with his feelings about Sharon and their relation to Boomer's betrayal, and Roslin has a really touching moment when she comes to visit Billy's body, showing us how much he meant to her, like he was a son. I've levelled some tough criticism against Roslin before, but the scene in the morgue shows what a well-rounded character she is, and how, in some circumstances, she's likeable and vulnerable. But the real performances to watch are those of Dee and Billy. In the love triangle, Apollo isn't really that interesting. He's vaguely embarassed when Billy shows up, but apart from that, he's pretty self-absorbed. It's clear that Dee is a pleasant diversion to Apollo, someone who lets him take his mind off of the huge pile of angst he nurses on a regular basis. But Dee is clearly in love with him - or at least, in love with what he represents to him: the wounded hero who she'll bring back to wellness and happiness and in doing so get him to fall in love with her. Or, at least, that's the plan. But there's Billy to contend with. Dee doesn't mean him any harm - you can see she still likes him. It's just that she doesn't love him. And when she looks at him, there's just pity. And you can see that Billy sees that. For him, this is the worst kind of closure you could ask for. Sure, she's already told him it's not going to work out, but this is one hell of a way to drive home the point. And you can tell that Billy knows that because it's Apollo, he's got no chance of winning Dee back. And yet... and yet... as the hostage situation heats up, Billy starts coming up with a plan. Dee knows what Billy's thinking and tries to warn him off, but Billy stays focussed and waits to make his move. Part of it, and this is what Dee's picking up on, is Billy thinking that if he can pull off the toughguy routine and help put down the terrorists, he'll show Dee that he's as macho as Apollo and maybe win her back - 'cause it's toughguys that get the chicks, not the niceguys, right? At least, that's what's going through his hurt mind. But it's also a "well, fuck it." state of mind for Billy. He's lost the girl he loves, been fucked over in a messy kinda way in fact, and he's kind of distantly aware of the danger, but just doesn't care any more. He's a survivor of a genocide, he's had to put up with ten kinds of political shit every day, he does all the backbreaking work for the president and there's no end in sight, and now he's lost his woman to a superhero. Billy is a man who just doesn't give a damn anymore, and he's figuring that he'll take his chances trying to do something to stop the badguys, rather than taking his chances just sitting doing nothing. You know that with these two states of mind possessing him, nothing good can happen. And that's exactly what happens. When the hostage situation comes to its explosive close and Billy gets killed, we see Dee take her first step towards a really dark place. Clearly she's instantly feeling guilty, thinking that if she hadn't dumped him, or at the very least, if she hadn't been caught with Apollo, maybe the nice guy would be alive. She still wouldn't be with him, but maybe he'd be alive. You can see that she'll blame herself for this for the rest of her life. Which is why she clings to Apollo even harder. Sure, she was enfatuated with Apollo before, but now she absolutely needs him with every fibre of her being, because if she doesn't have him, then she'll be alone with only her guilt over Billy's death for company. The tragedy is that if Billy had not died, my bet is that Dee would eventually have gotten over Apollo. I don't think she would have gone back to Billy either. But I do get the sense that she would eventually have snapped out of her crush on Apollo, made the mature realization that her patient love would not be the cure for his angst, and would have realized that there's no way she could compete with his conflicted desire for Starbuck. It would have been painful, but like Martha Jones taking a deep breath and strengthening her resolve and walking away from Doctor Who, Dee would have moved on. But Billy's death prevents that from happening. It puts Dee on a course to be a hanger-on for Apollo for far too long, having way too much crap and way too little genuine love heaped on her shoulders, driving her deeper into depression and contributing significantly to her eventual suicide. Even when this episode originally aired and we didn't know about everything that Dee would have to put up with over the course of the series, we could tell that this evening, where she inadvertantly hurt him before his death - where she thinks she sent him to his grave hurting - would deeply wound Dee in ways that would probably have a profound effect. This is an episode that lets us see how real the lives are of the little people in Battlestar Galactica.

"The Captain's Hand" is about taking control of people's lives. We're introduced to Commander Garner, the former chief engineer aboard the Pegasus who Adama has promoted and given Apollo as second-in-command and Starbuck as CAG. While Garner may be someone who could give Scotty a run for his money in the engine room, he's a terrible commander. Garner is a micro-manager, is resentful of pilots and combat officers, believes in isolating non-Pegasus crew, has no battle command experience, and thinks people ought to behave like machines. It's a combination that chafes Starbuck and Apollo, and puts his ship in danger when he unwisely sets off to rescue a pair of missing raptors. What's significant about the Pegasus end of the plot is that it's the first time Apollo steps into command of an entire battlestar (rather than the air group or only worrying about himself in his own viper) and begins his short career in the captain's chair.

Meanwhile, Roslin's faced with a tough dilemma having to decide who has control over the life of an unborn child - the mother or the state. Roslin's strongly in favour of a woman's right to choose what happens with her own body, but is confronted with mounting political pressure from the Gemenon contingent (people from a devoutly religious colony that backed her for being the leader mentioned in the Pithian prophecies) and the stark reality that the population needs to start increasing in order to prevent the extinction of the human race. It's a hard as hell position to be in, and while I've been tough on Roslin in the past, I really felt for her in this situation. She's clearly putting a lot of thought into what has to be done and the price she'll pay for either decision. In the end, she eliminates a woman's right to choose (not a decision I'd agree with) and is then politically ambushed by Baltar at the press conference announcing her decision. Masterfully played by Baltar, who may or may not believe what he's saying, but is really jamming the knife in her back in retribution for her attempt to squeeze him out of office when she decided she didn't need him anymore, and most especially for her condescending letter she left for him when she was dying. The real question is whether Roslin realizes that this is coming as payback, or if she tries to ascribe some deeper, more sinister ulterior motive to his manouever (given that during her delirium she remembered seeing Baltar with Six at the Caprica market).

This episode is also significant for introducing Tory - Roslin's new hard-as-nails assistant and someone who's eventually revealed to be one of The Final Five. Nothing much to say about her at this point as she's simply presented as a super-efficient, keen, cunning political player. No tortured moping or split personality treachery like previous sleeper Cylons.

And that takes us to "Razor". Nothing really to add at this point - it's a great installment in the series, and my analysis can be read in a piece I wrote a few years ago called Distorted Reflections in a Razor.

More episodes of BSG to come.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Top 5 Rock'n'Roll Adventure Movies of SF

The recent release of Scott Pilgrim vs The World has got me thinking about other SF films that rocked hard. I'm talking about flicks that not only featured good soundtracks, but had musicians as the major characters facing the odds, and ideally with some kind of performance amidst all the science fictional or fantasy-related action.

Now, some of you may already be formulating your own suggestions, so let's get something straight: this is a rock-related list, so if you're thinking of a movie with another kind of music, it won't make it. The Devil and Daniel Mouse? Disco and folk. No way. Macross? Minmei's teenybopper pop is totally inadmissable. Strange Days? Well, yes, there was rock, but this flick gets disqualified on the basis of having Juliette Lewis as part of the cast. My list, my rules.

Here we go:

The Top 5 Rock'n'Roll Adventure Movies of SF:

5) Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Two moronic garage-band wannabes are sent on a journey through time to gather people from history to help them pass their history final, ensuring that they'll remain together and go on to form a band that will change he world. Great soundtrack backing up the film, and some of the characters are musicians (Beethoven rocks the mall until the rentacops arrive, and Rufus, the boys' benefactor from the future, shows his shredding skills at the end), but B&TEE isn't headlining this list because when it comes to musical ability, the frontmen Bill and Ted suck.

4) The Crow
A dead musician tears free of the grave to take revenge against the thugs who raped and murdered his fiancee and killed him on Devil's Night the year before. Pounding 90's rock perfectly underscores the dark moodiness of this film and Brandon Lee (at least in the scenes that he was in before his unfortunate on-set demise) certainly looks the part of a lanky lead singer, and he even sits down and plays once or twice. From a musical perspective, The Crow works well. But in terms of its other elements... throwing in the relationship with the kid as a mechanism of innocence redeemed was pretty hackneyed; and while the rocker is justified in being melancholy about losing his girlfriend and being, well, dead, the film has always felt to me as though it's going over the top in this respect, mopey to the point of self-indulgence - almost enough to be a run-of-the-mill vampire movie. But the rest of the film makes up for the weak elements, making it worth watching - and worth listening to.

3) Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
The mediocre metal-heads are back and this time the stakes are higher: they've been killed by evil robot replacements and have to find a way to come back from the dead, defeat the cybernetic impersonators, win the hearts of their princess girlfriends back, and win a battle of the bands, thereby getting exposure for their music and beginning their transformation of human society. Like the first movie, the soundtrack to B&TBJ rocks pretty hard, and while the jokes and characters aren't quite as good as the first time around, it's still a reasonably funny flick in its brainless way (you've gotta give them credit for their gaunchpull/wedgie/melvin manouever to escape from Death's clutches). But if B&TBJ isn't as good as B&TEE, why does it rank higher on the list? Because this time, when the movie closes, the boys and their sidekicks actually know how to play. Unfortunately, B&TBJ can't rate any higher on the list because Bill and Ted are responsible for creating a future where everyone wears really ugly, pastel-coloured, giant, foam boots.

2) Rock and Rule
In a post-apocalyptic future, an evil musician/magician kidnaps a beautiful singer to use her voice as the final component in his experiment to summon a demon from another dimension, and her band-mates have to come to the rescue. Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Cheap Trick, and Earth Wind & Fire - this animated movie's musical street-cred is undeniable. The story is solid, I've always been a fan of 80's style animation, and the background artistry has that run-down tech moodiness of Blade Runner. Bonus points too for the movie being produced entirely in Canada (hey, I make no appologies for being a proud Canuck - besides, we needed a good production like Rock and Rule to redeem our national ability to produce SF after the craptastic Starlost of a decade earlier). There are two reasons why this film can't take centre stage on the list though: 1) Omar, the musician who sets out to rescue his girlfriend Angela from the Faustian badguy, is a complete douchebag. Seriously, the movie would have been better if Angela would have defeated the demon by herself and then either set off on her own, or maybe if she had hooked up with one of the niceguy bandmembers. Omar is thoroughly annoying to watch and unconvincing in his change of heart at the end. 2) I've always found something disturbing about the anthropomorphized rats that are the film's main characters. There's just something creepy about human bodies (and in the case of the singer Angela, a very attractive body) topped by a weird, pointy-nosed quasi rat head.

1) Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Most of my opinions about this great flick have already been expressed in a recent post, so I won't belabour the point. Really, as rock'n'roll adventures go, this movie has the perfect balance of a musician on a quest, performing as he goes, with entertaining music in the background. Go enjoy it on a big screen with big sound.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is the Bob-omb

We finally got around to seeing Scott Pilgrim vs The World all the way through last Sunday, and it passed the ultimate test: it was as good the second time around.

The story is about the misadventures of Scott Pilgrim (an awkward, super-passive, out-of-work, wannabe rock star played by Michael Cera) who meets Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams (wonderful performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and is forced to fight her seven evil exes. All the is occurs as Scott and the members of his band, Sex Bob-omb, try to prepare for a huge battle of the bands in the "mystical land of Toronto" that could win them a contract with a major record label.

As a movie, SPVTW follows videogame plot structure - think of a character advancing through the levels of Mortal Kombat or any other fighting game (my personal favourite was always Virtua Fighter 2), merged the feel of Rock Band when Scott and his buddies need to give the occasional performance. This translates, in some respects, into a similar feel to Mortal Kombat, a movie literally adapted from a video game. But at the same time, SPVTW has much greater depth. The film allows itself to take a breath and develop character. Even the action sequences go beyond pure fighting and standard action movie one-liners - they too are full of character moments (especially the final battle). Ultimately, the action isn't the centre or the purpose of the movie, it's the moments between Scott and Ramona that are what the story is all about. The fights are so much window-dressing next to the story of Scott reaching up for Ramona and having to grow as a person to keep her, and Ramona letting down her guard and trusting that with Scott she can have something good.

In addition to being a smart film about the growth of a relationship, SPVTW is also very, very funny. Even though we'd seen most of it just days before, the parts we'd already seen were still a riot. Lots of great socially-awkward moments and geeky in-jokes, and Kieran Culkin's character, Wallace Wells, armed with his faster-than-consciousness gossip-spreading cell phone and the rotating cast of his bed, stole the show anytime he was onscreen.

The sound and visual effects were masterfully done as well, from the obvious stuff like the 8-bit sound for the the Universal theme at the opening (accompanied by the logo rendered like something out of an old Atari game cartridge) and the huge dual-stage face-off against exes 5&6, to the subtle stuff like the the little blings of sound underscoring movements or when characters realize something, and the footprints in the snow or motion streaks in the air.

Of course, while the centre of the movie is the story of two people, the fight scenes were undeniably cool. Hard to pick favourites, but the face-off against 5&6 was huge in visuals and sound - without giving too much away, think of Egg-Shen vs Loh-Pan in Big Trouble in Little China - on special effects steroids. For all of that though, the best combination of fighting, dialogue and character development undoubtedly goes to Scott's battle against the final ex (keep an eye out for Ramona's fight in the background - the look of that ashtray she's wielding, and the way she whips it around, reminds me very much of a Vulcan lirpa - makes me wonder if this is a deliberate ultra-geeky inside joke or if I'm just reading too much into the visuals).

If there's a problem with the movie, it's the character of Scott Pilgrim himself, at least for the first third of the story. He's so weak, so awkward, that he borders on being unlikeable. Granted, part of the point of the movie is that having to actively engage Ramona rather than just kind of drift along beside her - oh yeah, and beat-up a shit-load of obsessive, super-powered assholes - helps him grow into someone a bit more direct, decisive, and assertive, while still being a nice guy. But it's overdone. Scott's too pathetic. He's someone I almost just wanted to smack. Maybe it's the fact that Michael Cera has perfected this kind of character and wanted to take him a bit farther, maybe it was the script and directing overemphasizing the initial powerlessness of the character. I haven't read the original graphic novels, so I don't know how his performance and the scriptwriting compares to the template. Luckily, once Ramona enters the scene and things get rolling, Scott gradually becomes less annoying.

Having already seen it 1.5 times, I wouldn't rush out and see Scott Pilgrim vs The World again right away. But it was a great film and I do look forward to seeing it again in a while. If you haven't seen it yet and you're looking for a rollicking good time, be sure and see this great rock'n'roll adventure.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Being Entertained enough to keep Watching Being Human

Space started airing the British series Being Human tonight, and while I've taken pains to avoid the glut of supernatural-themed shows on the tube lately, this one looks promising.

The series centres on the friendship between a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost living together in the same flat. Mitch, the 100+ year old bloodsucker (played by Aidan Turner), and his buddy George (Russell Tovey, from the Doctor Who Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned"), a 20-something who's been infected by the lycanthropic curse for two years, are doing everything they can to control their supernatural tendencies and live normal lives. They work as orderlies in a hospital and have rented a house in a normal working class neighbourhood. Enter Annie (another face from the Doctor Who crowd, Lenora Chrichlow, who appeared in "Gridlock"), a former resident of the house who died and stuck around. She's balancing her desire to be able to interact with the rest of the world (beyond her supernatural companions), and the feeling that she ought to find out more about the circumstances of her death so that she can "move on". Meanwhile, Mitch is harassed by an obsessive undead ex, and there are rumours from the vampire community of something terrible in the works.

In terms of tone, this show is a strange mix. Think of Forever Knight, with about 50% less angst and 70% fewer flashbacks, and set in a hospital half the time instead of a cop shop; then add a hefty chunk of Friends with half the cast; and season with the awkwardness and ridiculous humour you'd find in Extras. That would give you Being Human. Sort of.

Admittedly, there are times where the story gets a little schmaltzy and hackneyed, but unexpectedly it's entertaining enough to stick with, at least for another episode or two. We'll see if it's able to get its claws into me for the long haul.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rockin the Undergrads Reruns

I was flipping through the channels earlier this evening and lucked onto Teletoon just as they were starting an Undergrads marathon. Haven't watched this animated series in years, so I've parked myself on the couch for the night to relive the first six episodes (the back half will be aired next Saturday).

It's primarily a parody of college life and the character stereotypes you inevitably run into on campus, but the show's also a geek's dream, with SF references flying like smoke off a reefer at an ultimate match. Our cast of freshmen adventurers includes Nitz, the more-or-less normal - if slightly clueless and down on his luck - guy; Cal, the chick-magnet with the IQ of a chicken mcnugget; Rocko, the brawny, drunken idiot; and Gimpy: leader of nerds, dorm room shut-in, and Star Wars obsessive.

While I love the entire series (which lasted only one season, focussing on the the boys' first year at their respective post-secondaries), for sheer geeky goodness, my favourite installment is episode 4: New Friends, where Gimpy is forced to defend his status as boss nerd against a rival who tries overthrow his cult of Star Wars and steer the students towards the Star Trek way.

If you missed Undergrads when it originally aired around 2001, and you can't pick up a copy of the DVD, be sure to look for it on YouTube - it looks like someone's uploaded all of the episodes (each broken into 2 parts).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Top 10 Pirates of SF

Terrors of the high seas, the space lanes, and occasionally the electronic frontier, pirates have always had a place in science fiction and fantasy. Some are memorable for their ruthlessness, others for the merry style of their swashbuckling, and others for the size of their treasure hauls and greatness of their victories.

So grab your eye patch and sword, and hoist the jolly roger as we unfurl our treasure map in search of the Top 10 Pirates of SF:

10) Captain Shakespeare and the lightning pirates - Stardust
This band of marauders seems to spend more time poaching lightning bolts than attacking shipping or pillaging ports (at least, in the movie - I confess I haven't read Gaiman's original novel yet). But they're always up for a fight - especially if anyone intrudes upon their captain during his crossdressing private time.

9) Admiral Helena Cain and the crew of the battlestar Pegasus - Battlestar Galactica (new series)
I've said it many times before, when Admiral Cain pillaged a civilian refugee fleet for parts and personnel, executing some of the families and abandoning the rest to wait for the Cylons and death in their stripped-down ships, she went from being a Colonial soldier (or even a guerilla freedom fighter) to being a pirate. Her gift for daring tactics makes her worthy of standing among the pirates on this list, but I won't give her a higher place in it because I find her so completely detestable.

8) Commander Cain and the crew of the battlestar Pegasus - Battlestar Galactica (old series)
The earlier BSG version of Cain shares two things in common with the previous nominee on the list: he's a tactical genius and he's been living the life of a pirate. But there are certain important differences: Commander Cain's career as a buccanneer actually began before the fall of the 12 Colonies - Pegasus went missing during one of the many later battles of the Thousand Yahren War after getting into a battle against overwhelming Cylon forces. Some thought the battlestar was destroyed, others believed a legend that Cain had somehow fought his way clear and headed out into deep space. The latter proved to be true, and it was Cain's choice to continue fighting the Cylons on his own, without having to deal with the restrictions and politics that came with being part of the fleet, that transformed him into a pirate. The other difference is that Commander Cain is a likeable person. Sure he's got an ego, but he's more of the Errol Flynn style of merry pirate, than the cruel killer that Admiral Cain is in the new series. Because he's a better person, Commander Cain rates higher on the list. He also gets bonus points for possibly (we don't know for sure) surviving the final battle against the two Cylon basestars at the end of "The Living Legend - Part II".

7) The Dread Pirate Roberts/Wesley - The Princess Bride
He can fence better than Inigo Montoya, outfight Fezzik the giant, and outfox Vizzini, never mind scale the Cliffs of Insanity, escape lightning sand, battle Rodents of Unusual Size, and even recover from being mostly dead. The Dread Pirate Roberts is certainly one of, if not the, toughest pirates on the board today. Advantages of being the latest in a line of Dread Pirates Roberts and having benefitted from their accumulated experience and training. But I can't put him higher on the list because he's missing one very important coursair accoutrement: his ship. We hear his ship, the Revenge, mentioned in passing, but it's never seen in the ship or the book.

6) Captain Gavin Capacitor, a.k.a. The Crimson Binome, and the crew of the Saucy Mare - ReBoot
It may have been a show for kids, but ReBoot grew into something pretty entertaining for adults as well, and some of the most entertaining supporting characters were the Crimson Binome and his crew of electronic raiders. They may have been funny swashbucklers, but they never shied away from a fight and the Saucy Mare was a cool ship and tough in battle, ultimately dealing a crushing blow to Megabyte's forces in the battle to retake the Mainframe.

5) Captain Barbossa and the crew of the Black Pearl - Pirates of the Caribbean
What's worse than vicious pirates? Walking dead vicious pirates. That should be enough to put them at the top of the list, but despite years of successful pillaging, they ultimately were brought down when their curse ended and they became living men again and were either killed or captured. You have to give Barbossa credit though - alive or dead, that man knew how to wear a hat.

4) Captain Jason and his crew - The Ice Pirates
When it comes to stealing the most precious substance in the galaxy - water - the ice pirates are pretty good at their job. Well... sort of. They can get aboard the government's ice freighters (which actually look like flying ice cube trays) fairly easily and make off with the goods, it's just that they're not always so skilled at escaping. That being said, when push comes to shove, they're usually able to out-fight the government soldiers whether they're using swords or guns, or building black ninja robots to do their fighting for them. So if they have a tendency to get captured, why put them so high on the list? Because in they end, they're able to find the biggest score ever, a legendary water planet, beat the badguys, and keep it for themselves. And all without falling victim to space herpies.

3) Emeraldas and the crew of the Queen Emeraldas - Queen Emeraldas/the Harlock Saga/Galaxy Express 999
She's a bad-ass pirate who takes time to protect the innocent, she's intelligent and beautiful, and she's got a kick-ass ship. What more could you ask for?

2) Captain Harlock and the crew of the Arcadia - the Harlock Saga/Galaxy Express 999
Another bad-ass pirate who protects the innocent from time to time, with a kick-ass ship to boot. Why does Harlock edge-out Emeraldas? He's known to fly Arcadia into battle steering her from up on the deck - which is supremely fearless and thus ultra-badass, or really, really stupid - and somehow manages to survive; and he's rockin' the eyepatch, which is the ultimate in pirate fashion.

1) Han Solo - Star Wars
Was there ever any doubt? He's got the Millenium Falcon, which may not be pretty, but she can get Han out of any scrape. As for the nerf-herder himself, Solo may be more of a smuggler in practice, but he has been known to engage in piracy from time to time - attacking an Imperial ship full of Wookiee slaves at one point and freeing Chewbacca. And like any true pirate, Han's not afraid to be ruthless. Regardless of Lucas' modern revisions, we all know Han shot first when confronted by Greedo. And ultimately, as far as pirate-makes-good stories go, Han's pretty much at the top of the heap, what with hooking-up with a princess, helping to save the galaxy from the evil Empire and earning a position with a fair amount of influence and respect in the New Republic government. As far as I'm concerned, Han Solo is the best pirate out there.

So what pirate do you think should steal the title in the Top 10?

Funny Video from Someone Who REALLY Likes Bradbury

If you're a regular on this site, you know I'm a big fan of Ray Bradbury's works. But here's someone who's taken their appreciation to a whole new level... Check out this hilarious (if a tad disturbing) video called "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury".

(thanks to SF Signal for catching this and passing it along)

Keep an eye out for the scene with the Vonnegut fan.

Need to Make some Progress with Pilgrim

I'd love to be reviewing Scott Pilgrim vs The World right now, but even though I went to see the movie yesterday, I can't.

We got to the Cineplex-Odeon Silver City Riverport just fine, got the tickets, managed to get some good seats, and had a good crowd in the theatre. The problem was with the cinema's attempt to project the movie itself. Things were moving along well enough for the first half of the film when the sound suddenly cut out for about a minute. A real pain in the ass for any flick, but nothing that can't be put aside if the rest of the movie runs smoothly. The problem is, it didn't. The sound cut out again - permanently! - right as the final battle got under way. Howls of frustration from the audience turned into a march on the ticketing desk in the lobby involving pretty much everyone in the theatre. Of course, in true Canadian style, we were a polite angry mob. Firm in our desire to get restitution for our cinematic frustration, but polite when speaking to the staff, and orderly in lining up.

I'll give the theatre managers credit though. They were happy to provide two free passes to each person in the audience. So, some other night this week, my wife and I will be heading back to the theatre to rewatch Scott Pilgrim - hopefully this time all the way through without interruption (no decisions yet though on which film we'll see with the second spare tickets each of us have).

And I guess that's the real test of how good a movie it is. With only a week's turnaround time, we're prepared to go and sit through the bulk of the movie again just to see the ending we missed. So, wiithout doing a formal review, I can say: so far, so good.

The question that nags me about this whole experience though, is of all the movies we've seen at this particular theatre, why do they only have technical problems like this with SF flicks? In addition to yesterday's experience, there was a sound drop-out for about a minute or so during Ironman 2 earlier this summer (resulting in 1 free pass each - used to see Predators), and several years ago, a fault that totally prevented the first matinee screening of LOTR The Return of the King. The LOTR incident was really FUBAR because they'd managed to screen all the static-shot trivia bits and advertisements, then all of the opening commercials and previews, and then the projector died when it was time for LOTR to begin, and management refused to move us to another theatre in the complex to see it (although they eventually offered a single free pass to everyone, and I was able to zip across town to a smaller theatre that was just about to screen its first showing). I've never seen nerds so close to rioting (no BS, the place was turning into a powderkeg) like I did that day. Ah well, law of averages, I guess: see enough movies with no glitches, sooner or later something'll go wrong. At least the management usually does the right thing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cool New Steampunk Poster for VCon

Check out this awesome new poster by artist James Beveridge for VCon 35, the annual Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy and Gaming Convention. This year, the con's going for a steampunk theme: Alchemy to Zeppelins - The Art, Science & Fashion of Wild Invention

If you're on the Lower Mainland from October 1-3, be sure to come to VCon. If you aren't in the area, come on out here anyway!

Blogging Battlestar - Selling Revelations and Wounds

It's been a while since the last installment in my Battlestar Galactica rewatch - not quite as long as a BSG mid-season break, but it's certainly time to get back on the trail to Earth. Tonight, we'll be discussing "Epiphanies", "Black Market", and "Scar".

In "Epiphanies", Roslin's long battle with cancer appears to be over. She lies dying in Galactica's medical bay with Adama, Billy already grieving her imminent loss and not enjoying the prospect of having to usher Vice-President Baltar into power. But Roslin isn't handing over the presidency yet. When she's lucid, she's focussing her attention on Sharon and her baby; when she's drifting in and out of dreams and delirium, she mentally replays a walk in Caprica City's marketplace where she now realizes she saw Baltar with Six.

As much as the new memory of Baltar and Six bodes ill for the scientist down the road, it's actually very trivial compared to Roslin's waking determination to kill Sharon's unborn baby. There's something just plain mean and vindictive about Roslin on her deathbed looking at the prospect of something new and strange coming to life and deciding that she has to drag it into the darkness with her. Implaccable in her hatred of the Cylons, she claims she's worried about the threat the hybrid child will pose to the future of humanity. They have no idea what it will act like or where its loyalties will lie, and on top of that, the ship's doctor says there's something weird about the baby's blood. On the surface, for just an instant, removing the potential threat of the hybrid by aborting it sounds reasonable, if harsh. But that's a red herring. At this stage of the game, we can see through Roslin's pretense and see it for the spite that it is. Fact is, there's nothing new about the presence or potential threat of this baby - Roslin and the others have known about it for weeks (or is it months) since Starbuck and Helo returned to the fleet with Sharon (and her baby). When the President first sees Sharon, she orders the Cylon blown out an airlock, baby or no. The only thing that stops her is Sharon's offer of information. If Roslin would have ordered Sharon's execution (and thus the baby's death) then, or immediately after the fleet left Kobol to continue searching for Earth, the decision would have been harsh, but she could have fairly justified the move as protecting humanity. But she didn't kill the child then. Nope. Roslin not only let Sharon survive, but allowed her to keep her baby over the ensuing weeks or months. Obviously during all that time, she didn't see the baby as enough of a threat to the survival of humanity to order its abortion. And so changing her mind on her deathbed is entirely arbitrary. It is jealous. It is vindictive. And it is massively short-sighted.

As a teacher, Roslin should know only to well the malleability of young minds. Roslin, more than anyone, should be exptected to understand that there is an opportunity to ensure that the child is raised to align itself with its human side. If later in life it turned on humanity, then it could be dealt with like any other traitor or criminal. It's strange that she doesn't recognize that in this respect, the hybrid poses no greater threat than any human child who could grow up to conciously choose to collaborate with the Cylons, or become an extremist committing acts of terrorism against the government for not doing enough to root-out the Cylons. She won't allow that like any human child, the hybrid could choose to become a productive and happy member of human society. And for someone to rule as President to not recognize that positive potential in a child is simply tragic. For a human being to make their last act in life the arbitrary order of a child's death, this is a sad waste of a last choice and final action.

What's also unpleasant to witness is that Adama goes along with it. Is it grief over Roslin's impending death and a desire to comfort her by giving her anything she wants that makes him go along with the order? Is it his own hatred of the Cylons, or his continued distrust of the Eight model? In any case, going along with the decision to end Sharon's pregnancy is something that's troubling to see in Adama for a couple of reasons. First, it ignores the loyalty Sharon has demonstrated, leading them to the Tomb of Athena on Kobol, giving information about the Cylons, helping to purge the Cylon virus from Galactica's computers and turn it back on an overwhelming fleet of raiders, etc. It's curious that Adama can't see that by killing Sharon's baby, he'll not only be setting a precident that loyalty is worthless, he'll be losing Sharon as a tactical asset. He's also ignoring the hybrid baby's potential to be an asset as well. Granted, no-one knows anything about how the baby will turn out, except that it has unusual blood, but certainly there's an opportunity to cultivate the hybrid child as a military asset if it proves to have any abilities beyond that of normal humans, if only it is raised right. And if it turns out to be hostile, Adama's people have proven quite capable of subduing and imprisoning Cylons, so a renegade hybrid would be no exception.

But worse still for Adama, his decision to go along with Roslin's order, his statement that Helo will have to sit back and allow his unborn child to be killed, is grotesquely hypocritical given the fact that the Admiral is a father. Adama is asking Helo to accept something that he sure as hell wouldn't accept himself. He proved that quite pointedly back in season 1 in "Act of Contrition" and "You Can't Go Home Again" when he prolonged the search for Starbuck well beyond the point of reason because he cares for her like a daughter. In fact, at the end of YCGHA, Adama even says that if Apollo had been the one missing, he would never have given up the search. In short, Adama, as a father, will do anything to protect his children. And yet, somehow, he's trying to tell Helo to do otherwise. Does Adama actually believe that this is even reasonable? If not, why the pretense? Why not just give Helo a pitying look and slap him in irons right away instead of going through the show? And yet he does. And he should know better.

Luckily for Sharon, Helo and their unborn baby, the ever-maligned and increasingly twitchy (as the prospect of having to shoulder the responsibilities of leadership of the fleet with a disrespectful admiral in tow grows nearer) Baltar discovers that there's something about the baby's blood that aggressively kills cancer cells and turns this into a treatment that saves Roslin's life (for the time being, anyway).

Roslin then puts off the execution order for the baby. How convenient. It gets a second chance because it gave her a second chance. You really have to wonder if the baby's blood was a cure for some other disease but not cancer, if it could cure someone else in the fleet who was dying rather than Roslin, if the President would have given the reppeal. Somehow I doubt it. When it comes to what's good for other people, for realizing potential benefits to others, Roslin doesn't have the best track record. It would certainly be good for Helo, who everyone recognizes as a good man, to keep his baby and raise it to be a good person. It would be good to let Sharon keep her baby, thus keeping her as a valuable tactical asset to increase the fleet's chances of survival. But that doesn't matter one whit to Roslin. Keeping the Cylon raider as a military asset for the fleet would have been a good thing, but instead Roslin incites Starbuck to mutiny and theft (putting Starbuck's life and career at incredible risk) to have her chase back to Caprica on the basis of a drug-induced vision. Yeah, Roslin sure cares a lot about what's good for other people. It's pretty clear that as petty as her deathbed death order for the hybrid was, her decision to allow it to live is just as much a matter of self-interest rather than a consideration of others or the greater good of humanity, or simply of what's right.

But amidst all of this, it's important to remember that these deep character flaws are what makes BSG so well-written. These are, in general, likeable people, and yet, like everyone, they are in some ways, to varying degrees, dislikable (to the extent that this was the point in the series when my wife decided - on her own, no help from me - that she really dislike Roslin and found watching her scenes unpleasant), and as such are complex and believable human beings. This ain't your shiny, plastic, one-dimensional, hand-holding Colonial fleet of 1979, kids!

What's also really noteable about this episode is the scene near the end where Baltar opens the letter that Roslin left for him in the event he had to take over as President. Is it hateful or especially vicious? No. Is it condescending? Yes. But it is well-intentioned. I'll give Roslin this: she's trying to give Baltar helpful advice that will hopefully give him the opportunity of being a better leader than he would be left to his own devices. She's just ham-fisted about it. The problem is, Roslin's self-righteousness has just made an enemy of Baltar. It's worth noting that early in season 1, Baltar emphatically told imaginary-Six that he was on no-one's side. Now he's taken sides. Maybe not anything formal or with allies, but he's certainly now firmly against Roslin, and this will become full-blown in the next couple of episodes when Roslin openly tells him she wants him to step down, with Baltar responding that he'd never cared for the VP's job before, but he does now. If Roslin had handled things with more diplomacy, with more finesse, with better timing, she might have been able to ease Baltar out of the picture, rather than creating the monster that would eventually defeat her in the election and tie the Colonials, to their regret, to New Caprica and Cylon rule.

"Black Market" is a change in tone for BSG story-telling that gives the series some nice variety. Rather than a science fiction action series, or political drama, or survival story, it now turns to film noire mystery: Who killed Commander Fisk? It spreads into a larger investigation into the black market and criminal element within the fleet. In the course of his investigation, Apollo discovers something more horrible, it isn't just murder, theft, smuggling and an underground economy afoot, the gangs (headed by a mob boss played, in a truly great, mellow performance, by Bill Duke) are selling children into sex slavery. Apollo immediately puts a stop to the human trafficing, but allows the black market to continue (with some restrictions), recognizing that the fleet needs its services.

But like any good film noir, this episode is also an investigation into the mysteries of the protagonist. In this case, we're able to peer a short way through the grey fog of malaise that Apollo's been living through lately. We see that in addition to being subject to compounding stress as a fighter pilot, being disillusioned about some of the decisions that have been made by his superiors and the glimpses he's had into parts of these people (including his father) he'd rather not have seen, and pining because he can't have Starbuck, he's also carrying around a heft amount of guilt for childishly running away in the past from a relationship with a beautiful, nice woman who was carrying his child. It's clear this relationship has come back to haunt him when, seeking solace for not having a relationship with Starbuck, Apollo started seeing a prostitute who has a child. Worse, it seems likely that Apollo's "relationship" with the prostitute, his transferring of his past relationship onto his current business transaction, is adding to his guilt - on some level, though he denies it at the end, he probably does realize that all he's doing by seeing the prostitute is substituting for something he gave up. No wonder he seems to be sleep-walking through the season, and especially this episode. And as we'll come to find out, it will be a long, long time before Apollo is fully happy.

Lastly, "Scar" is a story of duels between aces.

Galactica's pilots, specifically Starbuck and Kat, pit themselves against Scar, the Cylon's raider version of the Red Baron.

Starbuck and Kat in turn fence with each other, as Kat disrespects and undermines Kara's leadership and declares that she's the best pilot and will be the one to take down Scar. The thing that bugged me about this angle of the episode is that normally, I don't like Kat as a character (she's realistically written, it's just that I don't like her attitude and probably wouldn't like her if I were to meet someone like her for real), moreover, I don't like how she goes about trying to take down Starbuck, 'cause it's bad for the squadron, but at the end of the day, she's right: Starbuck has gotten sloppy and perhaps shouldn't be in charge.

And it's also a duel of Starbuck against her self. Mounting stress, guilt over leaving the survivors on Caprica behind, disillusionment with the fleet's leadership, being emotionally torn between Anders and Apollo, and a host of other crises are wearing Kara down and driving her continually towards self-destructive behaviour. Indeed, at the end of the episode, there's a moment where Kara is quite prepared to allow herself to be killed. She abruptly pulls away from that, but by no means is the last time she's in this emotional pit of despair. There won't be a resolution to Starbuck's duel against herself for a long time.

Finally, one very brief part of the episode that was also interesting in its own way was when Sharon was telling Starbuck about Scar. What a chilling glimpse into the Cylon mindset to learn that death and resurrection to them are learning opportunities. The ultimate in pain-avoidance training, knowledge and experience preservation, and skills improvement. We learn that this is a significant factor in the hate that's been burned into Scar, but it also raises questions about how the experience affects other Cylons, especially the human models.

Stay tuned for more of the BSG rewatch in the days ahead.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Top 10 Nerds of SF

As geeks, we love to compile lists of what we consider to be the best in any number of catagories of science fiction, fantasy and all points in between. But how often do we highlight the cream of the crop from our own ranks in the worlds of SF? They're smart, talented, a bit weird, sometimes exploited, often overlooked and occasionally picked on, they are:

The Top 10 Nerds of SF

10) Felix Gaeta - Battlestar Galactica
During the Colonial fleet's life on the run in the more than four years since human civilization was destroyed by the Cylons, Felix Gaeta was a fixture in the CIC of Galactica. Always dependable and dedicated to doing the right thing (well, at least until his mutiny with Zarek), Gaeta was the quietly brainy officer who kept Adama's ship running, found the evidence that damning footage of Baltar had been forged, kept Baltar's floundering administration limping along on New Caprica, and even supplied vital intelligence to the resistance. In short, the fleet couldn't have lasted as long as it did without him. And yet, because of his catastrophically stupid, tragically human decision to align himself with Zarek and lead a mutiny when he became disillusioned, he's locked back here in last place on the list.

9) Night Owl 2 - Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
He may be a gadget-wielding, ass-kicking costumed vigilante, but when he's not making the streets of New York safer, Dan Dreiberg is just a smart, sensitive, slightly chubby, middle-aged guy who leads a quiet life, hanging out with an aged friend sharing stories about the good old days and quietly pining away for the girl of his dreams that he thinks he'll never get. But he does get the girl, and renews his purpose, returning to crimefighting. The problem is that while Night Owl is very effective at keeping the streets safe, he's completely unable to save his city from Ozymandias' insanity, and unwilling to speak out about Veidt's plan after it has been carried out.

8) Tyrion Lannister - A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
Because of his dwarfism, Tyrion is mocked by many in the great houses of Westeros, including his own. An embarassment to his power-hungry and appearance-obsessed father, Tyrion is constantly bullied by his family and denied any opportunities to have a relationship. But he isn't just a whipping boy; Tyrion is extremely intelligent and cunning. He proves to be a brilliant general in the battle to defend the capital, and almost wins and still manages to escape when things turn sour. He also studies everyone around him, knowing their weaknesses, which he uses to take revenge on his father before he eventually leaves. Tyrion would rate higher on the list, except that all of his talents have, for the most part, been wasted on serving the underseving interests of his family.

7) Hiro Protagonist - Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Virtual world builder and swordsman, Hiro's got the makings of a real, well, hero. Except that in the real world, he's not much of anything - a failed pizza delivery guy who lives in a storage locker. None-the-less, Hiro finds himself embroiled in an adventure where he's got to use all of his skills to stop an ancient meme from taking over the minds of everyone in the world.

6) Commander Data - Star Trek The Next Generation
Even if he isn't a carbon-based lifeform, Data is still a nerd by anyone's standards: smart and friendly but socially awkward. But he's well-liked and great at his job, and because of his efforts, the Enterprise is able to save the Earth and the entire Federation time and again. I'd rate Data higher, but he's trained for this sort of thing, and being an android, he's got physical abilities and a psychological equilibrium that allows him to deal with weirdness better than most people on the list - one hell of an unfair advantage. More credit to those who have to do without.

5) Hamza Senesert - The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
A master of comic lore and Battle of the Planets videotapes, and a poet suffering from writers' block, Hamza's also a dishwasher drifting along through life, until he meets a mysterious woman and is pulled into a quest to save an ancient, mystical jar from a group of badguys (including a trio of evil nerds), thereby saving the world. Granted, he had help from his roommate, a fellow geek who invented his own power armor, but still, saving the world's pretty good for a dishwasher who was kicked out of university.

4) Chuck Bartowski - Chuck
Computer repairman by day, data and combat-enhanced super spy by night, Chuck was yet another run-of-the-mill geek thrown into a deadly world beyond his understanding who was able to not only survive but thrive in it. Over three seasons, Chuck's battled evil spy rings, mercenaries and assorted other baddies, saving his country and perhaps the world on multiple occasions. Mega bonus points for having a Tron poster on his wall. However, he can't rate any higher on this list because in season two he bought into the idea that Rush is the music of the universe. Rush sucks. Anyone who gives Rush that much credibility, even if only to get the proper rhythm to beat a videogame and disarm a nuclear bomb, deserves pity rather than applause.

3) Neo - The Matrix
A hacker lacking direction in life, feeling like he doesn't belong and that there's something wrong he just can't put his finger on, Neo works an unsatisfying desk job by day and raids data by night. Until he meets Trinity and Morpheus and finds out it's all a lie. In short order, Neo goes from being a downtrodden nerd to the saviour of humanity, not a bad promotion. Problem is, he's played by Keanu, so as much as we're shown a kung-fu-fightin' techno superhero, it's still, after all these years, hard not to see Ted trying to make it big on the metal scene.

2) Kevin Flynn - Tron
Another hacker makes it high on the list. Flynn is also a small businessman and former videogame designer who's looking for some payback for having his software stolen and being kicked out of EnCom. Getting sucked into the computer world and forced to fight for his life only gives him more incentive. Why does Flynn rate so high on the list? Like everyone else on this list, he's got resolve: kick him and he uses his nerdy brain to fight back and hit the badguys where they least expect it. He's also a god in the computer world, which is something no-one else here has going for them. And most importantly, he saves not just one, but two worlds: the computer world and the real world (cause the MCP's pretty open with Dillenger about his plans to run the show for humanity as well as the programs). But in the end, it's a numbers game: saving two worlds is pretty awesome, but...

1) The Doctor - Doctor Who
Is The Doctor a nerd? You betcha. He's brainy. He's got a sense of fashion that would frequently make a university professor cringe, his mannerisms, while friendly, range from strangely detached to eccentric to downright twitchy. He gets excited over gadgets, and yet his TARDIS ain't exactly the nicest ride on the intergalactic highways. And in the old days, he wasn't the most popular Timelord at all the best Gallifreyan parties. And his claim to the first place rests on the fact that he's saved not just the Earth, but pretty much the whole galaxy, if not the universe, from everything from Daleks to the devil. The Doctor is not merely a Timelord, he is the nerd lord.

What other nerds of note have I missed?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Top 5 Feasts of SF

Yesterday we were up in Whistler for the Canadian National Barbeque Championships that are held there every year over the August long weekend. With most of the teams giving out samples to the spectators after each meat was turned in to the judges, we were able to gorge ourselves on a seemingly endless parade of pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, and ribs, and even a little bit of bison. A feast of meat that had us staggering back to the car wondering if things called vegetables that we seemed to recall were merely figments of our imaginations. At any point, once the smoked meat-induced fugue wore off, I got to thinking about some of the best feasts depicted in science fiction and fantasy books, tv and movies, and decided that this would make a pretty good list topic for last week (even though it's a tad late). So, without futher ado, allow me to serve to you:

The Top 5 Feasts of SF:

5) The Great Feast on Rigel IV - The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror I - "Hungry Are the Damned"
When aliens Kang and Kodos - and let's not forget Serak The Preparer - come to Springfield for the first time, it's to take the Simpson family to a celebration where not only will they be fed well (and stuffed to bursting on the trip out as well), but they'll be treated like gods. Sounds like the ultimate feast - except that we never actually get to see it. Clearly, it's not the case that Lisa was right - the aliens were not planning to serve the Simpson family up as the main course, otherwise, they wouldn't have returned them to Earth (unless there's something especially tasty imparted in them by abrupt suprise when they're wheeled into the kitchen to be prepped, something that would be terribly lacking if they already knew the truth). But because we haven't actually seen the Great Feast, there's no way to know how great it actually is, if it's even great at all, in human terms. Sure, the Rigelians know how to feed humans, but their entire concept of a climatic great feast could amount to a tablespoon-sized portion of something entirely unappatizing like spinach and tofu. The Great Feast on Rigel IV sounds pretty awesome, but without having seen the event in question, it's impossible to say whether it actually lives up to all the hype. That's why it's at the bottom of the list.

4) the kids' dessert feast - Jurassic Park
After a long day of being chased around a tropical park by re-engineered dinosaurs run amok, young Lex and Tim Murphy think they've hit the jackpot when they make it back to the resort and find every cake, pie and tub of ice cream in the joint laid out on the table in the dining hall. This kind of spread would pretty much be heaven to any kid, and let's face it, most of the adults I know (especially me). Of course, their indulgence in unrestricted junkfood gluttony is spoiled when the 'raptors show up with dining ideas of their own. You may wonder why this dessert feast gets the nod, instead of the one in Pan's Labyrinth. But the difference is that the setting for the table of goodies in PL was intensely creepy in and of itself, with waaaaay too much red in the room and in the food, and then there was the downright terrifying thing with eyes on its hands seated at the head of the table. The dining hall in JP has nothing on the scare factor in PL, until the dinos show up, and really, wouldn't you rather take your chances with a couple of raptors than with Mr Hand-Eye Coordination? Vicious critters or monsters aside, the dessert feast in JP looked absolutely delicious.

3) The Centauri celebration of life - Babylon 5 - "Parliament of Dreams"
The Centauri are a people who really know how to throw a party (except weddings), and for the residents of their republic, no party is greater than their annual celebration of life, when they feast and drink to excess. It's a party with its roots in an ancient war against another intelligent species, the Xon, which co-evolved on their world. At year's end, the Centauri would count the number of their people who survived and celebrate their good fortune. Anyone who's watched this episode has to admit, this looks like the feast to end all feasts. But I can't rank it higher on the list because, ultimately, the Centauri, at the point in their history when the epi takes place, are celebrating not just their survival, but their total victory over the Xon, and a feast that rejoices in the total destruction of an entire race is enough to turn the stomach.

2) The feasts of mourning/feasts for the ghosts - "Closing Time" by Matthew Johnson
In this magnificent short story, a young restaurant owner in a fictional version of ancient China has a problem on his hands: his elderly father has just died, but his stubborn ghost just doesn't want to move on. This is bad for business because our protagonist can't get on with things until the honours and formalities are concluded when the old fellow leaves, and in the meantime, every day, at increasing expense, he has to cook elaborate feasts for the ghost - and the old man's crowd of still-living friends who show up without fail to continue to enjoy the old man's company and, most of all, the free meals. To make matters worse, his culinary mastery comes to the attention of the Emperor himself, who's dealing with his own ghost problem. Not only is this a great story, but it's one that never fails to make me hungry. As someone who's married to a Chinese lady, and who lives in a primarily Chinese part of the Lower Mainland and has visited Hong Kong and Beijing, I can say recognize a number of the dishes Johnson describes as authentic. Those that I don't recognize might still be authentic, or at least are very much in the spirit (pun intended) of the real thing. This feasts in this story could only be better if their original intent was for the enjoyment of the living, rather than to placate the dead. It's a close call, but this feast is going to have to have to take second place.

1) Bilbo's birthday party feast - The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
When you're celebrating your eleventieth birthday - that's 111 as non-hobbits count years - it pays to pull out all the stops, and old Bilbo Baggins does just that. No expense is spared as Bilbo brings in food, drink and pipeweed from everywhere to entertain most of the Shire. For human beings, this would be a big feast, but considering that hobbits live to eat to the point where they've invented addtional meals to create opportunities to indulge their gluttony, this is a truly staggering amount of food. And there's no ulterior motive here - Bilbo's hosting this party to show his fellow hobbits a good time, to celebrate his birthday, and to say goodbye. Sure, he gets a little drunk and flubs his speech, and yeah, he pulls a disappearing act (literally) and bails on the party, but there's no arguing with the fact that Bilbo knows how to host the feast to end all feasts.

Now, what's your opinion? Should I have included every meal magically set upon the tables at Hogwarts in JK Rowling's Harry Potter books? Do you think that Bilbo's meal with the dwarves before leaving on his quest to steal from Smaug somehow outrated his birthday dinner? Was there an exercise in Harkonen gluttony before their downfall on Dune that I missed? Or a raucus night at Hrothgar's meadboard prior to Grendel's depredations should have ranked somewhere on this list? I'm not talking a nice dinner at Treetops in the Hyperion universe, or a meal around the table aboard Serenity, or even a bit of a splurge at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I'm talking about full-on, enough food to sink a space battleship, no-holds-barred feasts. What feasts of SF have whetted your appetite in the past?