Monday, October 29, 2007
The Catholic blogosphere is buzzing with the holiday this year. WardWideWeb has an interesting article on what Halloween means and how Catholics can celebrate it. Catholic Update has an article on "How Halloween Can Be Redeemed." The B-Movie Catechism, meanwhile, has costume recommendations. And for the dissenting view, you have the entire Archdiocese of Mexico, which based on this single article appears to object more to Halloween's American roots than its pagan ones.
The Sci Fi Catholic, as you might expect, takes a line similar to that of WardWideWeb and Catholic Update, only more radical. We believe Halloween is not in need of redemption any more than, say, Christmas is in need of redemption, because Halloween is a Christian holiday. The culture may need a redeeming of the way it celebrates the holiday, but the holiday itself is fine. The fact that All Saint's Day (and thus, All Saint's Eve or Halloween) was planted where it is to usurp a pagan holiday is not the scandal some would have it to be. Days are not eternally cursed because pagans have used them, and the reason so many of our holidays stand where pagan holidays once stood is simply because we won and they lost, the sad-sacks who want to resurrect paganism notwithstanding. Christianity inherited the pagan world; naturally, we took what we liked from it. That is why I have so little patience, much less than I should have, with Christians who get nervous at every quirky holiday ritual that has some pagan descent.
It is interesting that Catholic Update and WardWideWeb approach the subject from such different angles. Catholic Update suggests the practice of dressing up can be used to honor saints or to remind us of our mortality with images of martyrdom and death. WardWideWeb, in contrast, suggests it can be used to mock devils.
While Catholic Update is talking about using Halloween to honor saints and WardWideWeb is talking about using Halloween to make fun of devils, The Sci Fi Catholic is wondering why nobody is talking about fairies. I think we're neglecting something important here, and the fay folk are not the sort of people you want to tick off. As Eddie Lenihan will tell you in Meeting the Other Crowd, these are the sort of creatures who might skin you alive for messing with their domains. So, I recommend dressing your kids as fairies for Halloween; after all, as Archbishop Richard Corbett points out in the poem "The Fairies' Farewell," which Fuinseoig once printed in its entirety in a comment, the fairies all sing "'Ave Maria." Of course, in the short story "The Corpse," Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, indicates to the contrary that you can threaten fairies with "'Ave Maria," and it's well known they don't like church bells, but that's probably just because they're descendants of Cain, as explained in Beowulf. At any rate, whether the fairies sing "'Ave Maria" or run from it, they can't ignore it, and that proves they're Catholic, just as crucifix-shunning vampires are Catholic.
Some Christian writers have suggested it's okay to dress children up for Halloween as long as we don't dress them as something macabre. This sometimes puts kids at odds with parents, but I believe a compromise can be reached. If your children want to dress as something gruesome and you want them to dress as something Christian, trying making them gargoyle costumes. We have plenty of horrifying and sinister gargoyle designs available. In particular, I recommend the image of a defecating man that appears on the exterior of Freiburg im Breisgau Cathedral. Or if you want to design a costume that will give every parent on your block nightmares, trying hunting up some tomb artwork from the time of the Black Death (where do we get this silly idea that Christian stuff is never grisly?). And while you're at it, reflect on the fact that Richard Matheson in the novel I Am Legend speculates that the Black Death was not Bubonic Plague but a plague of vampires, and then reflect on the fact that a film version of I Am Legend is coming out soon, starring Will Smith.
Just give me a little time, okay!
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
In case you're not up on your inexplicably world-rocking literature news, J. K. Rowling mentioned at Carnegie Hall that she regarded the character Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, as a homosexual. Kind readers have provided me with links, so for the complete story, see this article at The Leaky Cauldron. Catholic blog The Blue Boar has an interesting statement and link. For a level-headed Catholic essay on the subject, Mark Shea's post is a good place to go. For a good example of Catholics Behaving Badly, you might try enduring the lengthy and vitriolic arguments in the comments on that post, which at the time of this writing number 310, thereby making me insanely jealous.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Rowling's statement has no effect on the actual novels, which contain no references to homosexuality or even hints.
- Comments on Shea's blog make it painfully obvious that many Catholics are in need of a reiteration of the Church's teaching on homosexuality. Homosexuality is a "disorder" in the sense that a person in that condition has his passions ordered to an object other than that to which they properly belong. This is not a sin. When a person acts out in response to the disorder, that is a sin. We have no evidence whatsoever that Dumbledore has ever been an active homosexual. His merely being homosexual is not the terrible thing some Christian readers are making it out to be.
- It is not a sin to use homosexual characters in a work of fiction or to depict them as intelligent and likable people, contra one of the commenters on Shea's blog. As I know from experience, some homosexuals are in fact intelligent and likable people.
- The media nonsense is going to die down in a few weeks. The novels will remain unaffected in content.
- An encyclopedia of the Potterverse is slated for release sometime in the future and may contain this detail on Dumbledore even though the novels do not. Parents will want to consider that before buying the encyclopedia for their children.
I have three great fears regarding what will happen as a result of Rowling's comment. The first is that members of the homosexual subculture will see this as some kind of triumph, even though the books contain not the faintest hint of homosexuality. My other fear is that conservative Catholics will overreact and end up looking like a bunch of homophobic bigots. Both these fears have already become reality.
My third fear is that the Christian boosters of Harry Potter will unjustly feel betrayed even though Rowling made them no promises in the first place. The books use Christian themes, but they have never given us reason to believe Rowling was writing them as an orthodox Christian. Nor should that be a matter of concern; a great many good books, for children or otherwise, are not explicitly orthodox Christian. Nonetheless, because so many feel disillusioned, I fear they will end up in the camp of Michael O'Brien and his ilk, who long to strap iron chains over Christians' imaginations and subject them to arbitrary and contradictory rules that would reduce fantasy writing to mindless, artistically inferior rehashings of The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. Rowling's comment does not bode well for the future of Christian fantasy, which has already earned a reputation for producing soft-soaping knock-offs of its betters. It also does not bode well for the future of fantasy readers who are Christian, who as a result of this will become more cynical regarding fantasy literature. I predict Rowling's statement will widen the rift of the Culture Wars, produce a further atrophying of the Christian imagination, and increase the exodus from the Church of young people who will not tolerate the oppression of their imaginations by the likes of O'Brien.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's an ongoing daily comic about a college boy who finds his way back into the rich dream universe he knew in his sleep as a child and has to save it from rogue nightmares and an evil dragon. Fantastic landscapes, creative character design, a fun story, and plenty of interesting lighting and cinematic effects. Plus, it manages some musings on the nature of reality and the relationship of science and religion. A definite recommend.
And best of all, it has pretty shiny floaty things.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
And this month's blog tour goes out to The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers, a retelling of the story of David and Goliath as a fantasy for children. It's the first volume in the Wilderking Trilogy.
You can see Rogers's website here. The interactive map on the website is kind of cool, and according to Rogers's bio, the swamps in the novel are based on real swamps in Georgia, sort of like in Pogo, and being like Pogo is sweet, right?
Elsewhere on this tour de blog, as they say in the French, you'll find a brief, snappy review on QuestWriter.
Tour it like you blog it! ...rrr, something.
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Daniel I. Weaver
Monday, October 22, 2007
James Pawlak of Crusader Knight sent me Raymond J. Keating's article "Faith, or Lack Thereof, in Star Trek," which appears at OrthodoxyToday.org. Most people are probably aware that Gene Roddenberry was an atheist, and it is reflected in his most famous creation, as Keating explains. However, I object to Keating's insistence that a similar rejection or ignorance of religion exists in most sf or even most TV sf. Though I don't see much television, I specifically remember a Babylon 5 episode celebrating the diversity of human religion, and it seems the remake of Battlestar Galactica, though I didn't particularly like what I saw of it, also has religion on its mind.
Several conservatives writing on NR seemed to wrestle with being fans of this rather liberal television show. It's an interesting point, including for this self-confessed conservative Trekker. Perhaps it's as straightforward as a combination of interesting characters, compelling stories that often involve some big issues to debate and discuss, cool space stuff, and general sci-fi geekiness. [more...]
Here at The Sci Fi Catholic where we don't believe everything has to match our worldview to be good fiction, we'll just say, "Stop wrestling, Ray."
Another reader has kindly presented me with a news item. As it turns out (drum-roll), Albus Dumbledore is a homosexual, as J. K. Rowling has revealed and the BBC has reported. I imagine slash writers everywhere are either thrilled or disappointed depending on how they view their *cough cough* artform. If I'm allowed a little back-patting, I'm once again relieved I never got on either the Harry-Potter-is-Satan-incarnate or the Harry-Potter-is-a-perfect-Christian-allegory bandwagons.
She made her revelation to a packed house in New York's Carnegie Hall on Friday, as part of her US book tour.
She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found "true love".
"Dumbledore is gay," she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago. [more..]
It is of course the business of a writer to know everything about her characters, including things that never make it into the final draft. Nonetheless, I find myself asking the question, why is Dumbledore homosexual? Such a detail is hardly necessary to explain his relationship with Grindelwald. I'm inclined, perhaps too cynically, to view this as another example of our tendecy today to sexualize everything, rendering platonic friendship nearly impossible, even in fiction. On the other hand, it may just be another bit of proof that Rowling is not exactly the master of subtlety. After all, homosexual attraction is the most obvious explanation for one man's great love for another man.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Good stories from new authors.
L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of Future Vol 23, edited by Algis Budrys. Galaxy Press (Hollywood): 2007. 562 pages. $7.99. ISBN-10: 1592123988; ISBN-15: 978-1592123988.
The Writers of the Future Contest publishes an annual anthology of each year's winners. Each of the winners is previously unpublished, but the standard of the contest is high, guaranteeing that the new stories are of good quality. This is regarded as a very important annual anthology, and many of the new authors go on to become top sellers in the science fiction and fantasy field. Each volume also includes brief essays by top authors and illustrators, offering writing and publishing advice. Included with the stories are illustrations by the winners of the Illustrators of the Future contest, each of whom, after winning, is assigned a story to illustrate. Altogether, that makes this an important annual collection for the serious sf fan.
Readers of this blog will be pleased to know that religious themes are apparent in a number of the stories, indicating that religious issues will remain strongly present in the genre. Each of the stories addressing religion does so intelligently without foolish caricature or rancor, marking these new writers as more thoughtful than some of their established elders.
I cannot discuss each story in any great depth, so I will prejudice my remarks to the stories in which religion is most obviously at the forefront.
For starters, we have Andrea Kail's "The Sun God at Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom." More than once in science fiction I have encountered the concept of bringing famous people from the past into the present so we can meet them personally; the notion forms part of the background of Isaac Asimov's "The Ugly Little Boy," for example. Kail has given the idea a fresh face: in the future, museums make living displays of famous people reconstructed from their DNA. The story takes the form of several letters from Pharaoh Tutankhamen, who lives in the Cairo Museum, to Abraham Lincoln, who lives in a museum somewhere in the U.S. Islamist politics and religion stew in the story's backdrop, and Tutankhamen becomes aware of them only gradually as the story builds to a shocking and very satisfying conclusion.
Tony Pi's "The Stone Cipher" has a new and brilliant idea: all the statues in the world simultaneously begin speaking, and the story surrounds a linguist, Pierre, and his wife, Marie-Claire, who are trying to figure out what the statues are saying. Marie-Claire, a Catholic, is inclined to believe the speaking statues are a miracle, whereas Pierre, a fallen-away Catholic, wants a scientific explanation.
Pi's story has a fantastic central premise, and his attempts to address religious matters are what I would call a good try. However, he leaves a little to be desired. Supposedly, Pierre left the Catholic faith because he couldn't reconcile it with science--but then to explain the Stone Cipher, he leaps immediately to the Gaea Hypothesis without any evidence whatsoever. If science conflicts with religion, it also conflicts with the notion that the Earth is a superintelligent collective organism with magic powers. Perhaps the story would have worked better if Pierre arrived at his conclusion through a scientific process rather than through blind intuition.
Aliette de Bodard's "Obsidian Shards" prefers to remain in the comfortable atmosphere of extinct religion. A true high-concept tale, it is in essence an Aztec fantasy murder mystery involving magic rites, taboos, and angry gods. How cool is that?
Damon Kaswell's "Our Last Words" is something like The Time Machine Reloaded. It isn't especially original, but it is competent. The story surrounds a man who has lost all family and friends and who agrees to take part in an experiment in which he is disconnected from time and enabled to travel into the future at a rapid rate in order to report through a com link on whether or not our side will win the big war. However, he can never travel backwards in time nor exit his small living capsule. As you might expect (spoiler alert), he makes it to the end of the universe and along the way rediscovers his connectedness to all things. The religious overtones cause this to remind me of Ian Watson's "The Very Slow Time Machine," and anything that reminds me of that story is a good thing.
In a sense, however, Kaswell is behind the times. With the threat of nuclear Armageddon looming in the early pages, this is basically a Cold War story, but because of the absence of a Soviet Empire, Kaswell improbably imagines a nuclear tension with a Middle Eastern Islamist bloc. Also, the depiction of the end of the universe, though evocative, supposes a collapse and rebirth, a concept I thought was exploded by the discovery of Dark Energy, though perhaps I'm mistaken.
Stephen Gaskell's "By the Waters of the Ganga" brings us India-centered science fiction, which may become a distinct trend in the future thanks to Ian McDonald's River of Gods. Gaskell's work might particularly interest members of our monthly Blog Tour as it could be described as evangelistic Hindu sf. The story's narrator is an extraterrestrial reincarnated as a human in Benares for the purpose of reaching enlightenment and gaining immortality. The story as it develops has a vaguely similar outline to Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. Perhaps more surprising than the openly religious nature of the story is the anthropocentrism: the narrator has to be reborn as a human in order to reach enlightenment. Christian-centered stories in which missionaries experience trouble while trying to convert aliens have been around in sf for a while; in particular, I point the reader to Ken MacLeod's "A Case of Consilience," which is reprinted in Year's Best SF 11. However, a story of an alien who must actually become human in order to be part of a religion is unique in my experience. This idea deserves further exploration.
Cory Brown's alternate history, "The Phlogiston Age," imagines a world somewhere around the turn of the century in which William Jennings Bryan is president and the discovery of phlogiston has America preparing its first space mission. The mission is controversial, however: the point-of-view character is a newspaper editor who believes the millions of dollars spent on the rocket could have been better spent improving conditions for the poor. Consistently throughout the story, belief in spaceflight is analogous to religious faith. Those who believe in it are sometimes willing to do underhanded things to get others to believe, and those who don't believe in it are sometimes willing to resort to terrorism and murder to put a stop to it. This is a fine story with a fast pace and a unique setting for a tale of spaceflight.
Finally, John Burridge's "Mask Glass Magic" presents a down-on-her-luck glass artist who ends up apprenticed to a powerful alchemist. The research on this story must have been significant, as Burridge shows a good deal of knowledge about glass-working, and the hocus-pocus appears to be informed by genuine alchemical knowledge as well. A mostly hapless, largely confused New-Ager makes frequent appearances in the story, tries to explain what's going on, and gets everything about half-right. The ending is rushed and the conclusion a little flat, but this is on the whole a strong tale.
Also in the collection are Douglas Texter's "Primetime," a story of reality TV gone really, really bad; Jeff Carlson's "The Frozen Sky," a brutal hard sf adventure capable of leaving the reader almost as exhausted at the end as the protagonist; Kim Zimring's "Ripping Carovella," a cyberpunky tale of street-wise brain surgeons who steal talent from artists and sell it to wealthy patrons; Stephen Kotowych's "Saturn in G Minor," a predictable yet original story of a maestro determined to make a planet his orchestra; Karl Bunker's "Pilgrimage," an Enemy Mine-like story suggesting the Technological Singularity isn't all it's cracked up to be; and Edward Sevcik's "The Gas Drinkers," a simultaneously nostalgic and original tale of out-of-control metal-eating fungus.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
When Mech Girl activates her blink suit, where does her big hair go?
Battle Girlz, written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2004. 160 pages. $9.99. ISBN: 1-932453-45-8.
Let me begin by denying the vicious rumor that I actually read this book. Clearly, the rumor is false. Look at the evidence: it has a pink spine and the word "girlz" in the title, so obviously I didn't read it, and I certainly didn't read it twice, nor enjoy it both times, nor look for a second volume on the Internet after I finished it.
I have on two previous occasions reviewed Rod Espinosa's work on this blog (here, where I reviewed Neotopia, and here, where I reviewed The Courageous Princess). In all three of these works, he shows the same interest in sprawling worlds, fantasy creatures, endearing characters, large-scale battles, and grrrl power. In Battle Girlz, he delivers all of these in spades.
Espinosa has taken superhero concepts and blown them up to giant size. Rather than defending one city or planet, the heroes defend a universe. Rather than taking over countries and destroying buildings, the villains take over multiple planets and nuke entire continents, giving this comic one of the highest body counts I've ever seen.
The story takes place in the universe of Jalto Shrept. Constantly threatened by enemies from other universes or demons from Hell, the United Empires Government, a federation of 126 galaxies, relies for protection on a large league of supermen known as the Celebrity Power Heroes--or so it seems. In reality, the Celebrity Power Heroes are pushovers. The real protective force in this universe is an obscure organization stationed at the universe's rim, an organization called Special Imperial Security or SIS for short, more popularly known as the Battle Girls.
The Battle Girls are a walking collection of comic book clichés, and Espinosa apparently doesn't care if you know it. They are Mech Girl, a mecha pilot with a troubled past; Mighty Girl, a super-strong girl expelled from school for thrashing bullies; Temptress, a femme fatale with the power to make men do anything she wants; Priestess, a half-elf who casts magic and wields a mace; and Gadgeteer, a genius inventor who holds 65,987 patents and spends the battles sitting in a control room from which she babysits Mech Girl. Leading them all is the enigmatic and creepy Saintly Perfect Goddess, of whom Temptress says, "She's so gorgeous...even I'm in love with her!" (p. 49). And when the Battle Girls aren't defeating evildoers or saving the universe, they're usually eating ice cream or shopping at the mall.
Mech Girl is the point-of-view character; shortly after she fails her last mission, the United Empires Government replaces its mech pilots with robots. Mech Girl then receives an invitation from Saintly Perfect Goddess to join the Battle Girls team on the edge of the universe. Introductions and shopping trips are repeatedly interrupted by supervillains with names like Toy Trip, Gamemaster, and Crolack, Jr. It soon becomes clear that behind the attacks is the evil and ugly Supertyrant Geneszorr, who has a grudge against the goddess and a nefarious plan to take over a planet, and who with his name, appearance, and superpowers probably had few options in life besides evil overlord. You can tell he's especially evil because we sometimes view him at dramatic angles.
One of the best characters, who doesn't get nearly enough time on the page, is Elvar Threckan, a young man who pickets outside the Battle Girls' front gate, "protesting the gender inequality which clearly exists within your ranks" (p. 65). Elvar wants to join the team, apparently so he can hit on Mech Girl, and without invitation follows the Battle Girls on their missions. Espinosa probably intends him to be a recurring comical figure.
Certain elements suggest Espinosa had his tongue in his cheek as he wrote this, and in some senses Battle Girlz looks like a big joke on comics. Besides the stereotypical central characters, there are the Celebrity Power Heroes, who show up near the climax. Many of them look suspiciously like Marvel and DC characters. As the Celebrity Power Heroes approach, the villains ridicule them, saying things like, "They have a guy with metal claws! Like he'll even get close to us to use those things!" (p. 87). And indeed, the villains quickly and easily wipe the Celebrity Power Heroes out. In addition to taking pot shots at superhero comics, Espinosa takes aim at Japanese mecha. With the Power Heroes is a battalion of "Gunrom" units that look like the mechs in Mobile Suit Gundam. As they approach, Geneszorr merely sneers and says, "Rule number nine: NEVER USE MECHS IN URBAN WARFARE. Like tanks, they're just walking targets to a foot soldier with ANTI-ARMOR CANNONS" (p. 92). Shortly after that, his troops annihilate the Gunrom mechs. If this is all an elaborate joke, however, Espinosa tells it with a poker face.
Dominatrix costumes and Mighty Girl's habit of getting her outer clothing blown or shredded off make Battle Girlz less family-friendly than some of Espinosa's other work. In particular, Temptress wears disappearing underwear and metal bikinis and interprets everything anyone says as a sexual innuendo. The other Battle Girls find her disgusting: Priestess yells at her for everything while Gadgeteer just acts grossed out, and this forms one of the comic's running gags.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Battle Girls is how they treat their villains. These are not your grandma's superheroines; they have no qualms about killing bad guys. Only at the climax do we finally see Saintly Perfect Goddess herself in action, and she is brutal, making people's heads implode merely by pointing at them, slashing them open with mech arms, turning them to stone with her magic hair ribbons, or sucking out their auras with her life-stealing blade. (She even bi-locates.) And at the grand finale (minor spoiler alert), she arranges the total destruction of a prison and all its inmates--and this isn't just any prison, mind you, but an entire parallel universe full of supervillains. That's some serious mass execution.
Little hints in the comic suggest that even in the midst of the brainless fun, Espinosa is inviting us to form our own opinions of the Battle Girls' methods. In particular, he spends time on Mighty Girl's backstory. While at school, she was not content merely to defend the innocent and beat up bullies, but regularly broke limbs and gave massive internal injuries. As she tells her father in one panel, "He said the 'F' word in my face and called me the 'S' word.... So I broke his fibula, collarbone and both shins" (p. 59). Running through the comic is a faint hint that superheroes tend to dole out punishment disproportionate to the crime.
Even so, much of what the Battle Girls do is legitimate. They are not vigilante superheroes but a government-sanctioned organization. Their fight with Geneszorr is an actual war, and considering that Geneszorr is wiping out an entire planet, a just war. However, some of their methods are questionable. Though Priestess takes prisoners, Saintly Perfect Goddess kills casually even when she could potentially capture instead. The only ones she does not kill are female villains she can turn into new Battle Girls with her mind-control skills. And at the end, she makes it plain that the only good supervillain is a dead supervillain, even if he's tucked away in a parallel universe prison.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about execution:
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offence incapable of doing harm--without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself--the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent'. [par. 2267]
Geneszorr himself is so powerful--being able to shape-shift, absorb energy, and meld with mechs--that long-term imprisonment or even capture is likely impossible. Killing him on the battlefield is probably the only sure way to "defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor." However, when prisoners are already locked away in a super-prison so secure it exists in an alternate reality, execution can hardly be considered legitimate, especially when carried out on an individual warrior's initiative rather than by a legitimate judicial body. Perhaps Saintly Perfect Goddess should leave off her first adjective.
And then there's the mind control issue....
The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Battle Girlz:
Myth Level: Medium (classic pulp fare with all its themes)
Quality: Medium-High (a great deal of fun; Espinosa's excellent art with some poor writing and too much clutter)
Ethics/Religion: Medium (some sexual references and art, frequent action violence)
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
In this article, Mark Shea writes about an interesting blog called Paleo-Future, which chronicles ways people in the past thought about the future. Many of the predictions, of course, were wrong. Paleo-Future is a blog about what we here might call outdated science fiction, including such novelties as domed cities, flying cars, rocket packs, and other ultimately impractical inventions.
Such outdated science fiction sometimes appears in modern science fiction as a form of nostalgia or as an elaborate joke. For example, Victorian projections of the future form much of the background scenery for Alan Moore's comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and an alternate Victorian-like present in which blimps won out over airplanes forms the basis of Kenneth Oppel's highly recommended novel, Airborn. Depictions of alternate history high-tech Victorian periods are now so common that some have even bestowed upon them their own subgenre called "Steampunk."
Science fiction has at least since the 1960s struggled to keep up with changing technology and culture. Our futures are constantly becoming outdated. In the 1980s, William Gibson complained that science fiction writers were still producing projected futures of the 1950s, and he made a bold move to rectify this by inventing Cyberpunk and producing his novel, Neuromancer. As rapidly as science is advancing now, and as weird, off-putting, and dehumanizing as post-Cyberpunk, post-human, and post-Acceleration sf can sometimes be, it's no surprise so many writers and readers are taking refuge in fantasy or nostalgic sf.
Shea, with a bold segue both I and the B-Movie Catechist would have to approve, moves the conversation in his article away from outdated sf to the real world. He argues that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century notions of inevitable progress--and the often incorrect predictions of the future they produced--were a form of unprecedented hubris.
I think we are living in the period of reaction to that hubris. Extreme relativism is a reaction to scientistic hubris. The New Age worship of nature is a reaction -- not to Christianity, but to the attitude that says of Creation, "There it is, boys! Take as much as you want! She's yours to rape!" It is, I think, sacramentality without God. For the New Age is driven, in part, by an instinct to see Creation -- and that piece of Creation called the Self -- as a holy thing and not a mere source of raw materials. Like all human reactions, it is an overreaction. So now we live in a time where there is uncertainty that there is any Plan at all, just as we live in a time when people whipsaw between seeing themselves as gods and goddesses and being uncertain whether they are any higher in nature than chimps.
I have to ask, though: is this whipsawing or just two different opinions from two different groups? Anyway, it's an interesting article, and I recommend you read it.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
If Catholixploitation comics are your thing, you can head over to the blog Holy Heroes!!! where I have posted a review of the first collected volume of Ben Dunn's Warrior Nun Areala.
The Warrior Nuns work in standard, goofy comic book ways. To prepare for battle, Sister Shannon recites a Hail Mary (incorrectly), and then a magic sword appears in her hands while her regular habit is replaced by--*ahem*--a less restricting outfit. If you're annoyed that the nuns in your area wear pantsuits, you can at least be glad they don't dress like this. [more...]
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
The Seeker, directed by David L. Cunningham. Screenplay by John Hodge. Produced by Marc Platt. Starring Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, and Ian McShane. Marc Platt Productions, 2007. Rated PG. USCCB Rating is A-I--general patronage.
Read other reviews here. Official movie website is here.
I read Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence in sixth grade. My memories of the novels are sketchy and probably inaccurate; I remember some Arthurian legend, some Vikings, a kid who's really an Old One, and a series of artifacts necessary to defeat the Dark, which is trying to take over the world. I also recall being annoyed by the underwater Wild Magic in the third book in the series, Greenwitch, because the first book, The Dark is Rising, indicates that water can neutralize magic. The fourth book, The Grey King, is a Newberry winner and easily the best in the series.
The world of The Dark Is Rising is one in which an eternal war exists between opposing forces of Light and Dark. They are the ultimate forces in the universe with the exception of the High Magic, which stands above them. I would draw a Christian allegory from this, but Cooper is explicit that the Christian God, and all gods, are subordinate to these cosmic powers. The protagonist of these books is eleven-year-old British kid Will Stanton, who learns he is an Old One, an immortal servant of the Light, who must travel time, find important objects, and deal with various figures out of legend in a race to beat back the Dark before it can rise and overwhelm the world. I have just told you more about the novels than this movie will.
In the movie, Will (Alexander Ludwig) is no longer eleven but fourteen and American, though the story fortunately still takes place in an English setting (I'm guessing all the teenage actors with English accents were unavailable). As Christmas break begins, Will is accosted by a collection of hard-bitten eccentrics led by Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane), who tells Will he is an Old One with superpowers including super-strength, pyrokinesis, and time-travel. As in the novels, his presence also disrupts electronic equipment, as indicated by a malfunctioning television, though no one ever explains this detail.
Will must seek six signs, which look like collectible cross-shaped talismans, and bring them together within five days to stop the Dark from rising. Opposed to him is a servant of the Dark called the Rider (Christopher Eccleston), who, as in the novels, is slightly effeminate, but unlike in the novels, really annoying. A flock of violent crows on loan from Alfred Hitchcock and some menacing interrogators on loan from The Matrix get cameos.
Distracting Will from his quest are family troubles, pubescent angst, a crush on a girl who must be twice his age at least, and indecipherable cinematography.
The film's shortcomings and mistakes are legion. The camera work is excessively creative, making many scenes difficult to follow. The movie opens with a montage of cell phones and iPods, which are hardly good images to introduce what is supposed to be an exploration of European folklore. The script is stilted, consisting mostly of a few characters saying over and over, "You are the Seeker" or "Give me the signs!" depending on whether they're heroes or villains. The time-travel scenes are unconvincing: Will runs into a Viking who speaks by grunting noncommittally and runs into some seventeenth-century Brits who speak in unaccented modern English. The Dark, supposedly a cosmic menace, has been reduced to a vague physics problem manifesting as a geek on a horse and a black dust cloud. Will does not so much quest for the signs as randomly stumble upon them; not once does he find a sign by solving a puzzle or doing serious hunting. Will makes little use of his superpowers, though he does blow up a windmill when the girl he likes doesn't like him back (I'd say this is overreacting, but I might have done the same thing when I was fourteen if I had superpowers).
Will's younger sister Gwen (Emma Lockhart) steals every scene she's in and makes me wish she were starring in this movie instead of Ludwig. Given the violence already done to the story, making the protagonist female wouldn't have hurt.
That's it. I'm done picking on the movie. It is just another generic fantasy, the sort of thing we have to deal with in the wake of the successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies. We can put this one in the trash along with the likes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Eragon, and The Covenant, though we should mention along the way that it isn't as bad as Eragon or as exploitative as The Covenant. It is yet another wide-release film that looks as if it were meant to be a made-for-television Sci Fi Channel special.
So no more picking on the movie. Now I intend to pick on a few critics.
After justly criticizing the film, Frank Lovece points out that director David L. Cunningham "is the son of the founder of the evangelical Youth with a Mission group and the unaccredited University of the Nations," as if Cunningham's family history is any of Lovece's business. Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat go a step further in underhanded criticism, comparing the movie to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in an apparent attempt to give it a Christian link and then add, "Naturally, a female is one of the main temptations Will must overcome." Because you know how much Christians hate women and that nasty S-E-X!
I understand trashing the film, but that's no excuse for seeking out an ideology it doesn't have and then trashing the ideology. That's the job of amateurs like me, not professional reviewers.
However, the Brussats may have a point. Maybe we Christians are a bunch of prudes. If we skip over to John Mulderig's review at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we will see that, though the film is rated A-I for general patronage, Mulderig has dutifully listed the movie's potential moral problems, including "passing references to puberty." Since when is that a moral problem?
This film is a coming-of-age, and that may be the one thing it gets right. Puberty--that is, adolescence--features in so many stories because it is by definition a dynamic time of transition. Many modern tales of adolescence are bad precisely because none of the characters actually adolesce--that is, become adults. Right now, though I'm about to call a halt to it, Snuffles is making me watch numerous episodes of the anime series Ranma 1/2, which begins as a promising if crass coming-of-age cum romantic comedy but swiftly gets stuck in one gear, coasting on its built-up momentum by recycling its own plots ad infinitum, preventing the central characters from maturing and marrying as they ought. Comings-of-age are supposed to end when the characters are mature, so such stories have built-in time limits. They cannot run for multiple seasons. In real life, adolescents who never successfully adolesce become single twenty-somethings who mooch off their parents and spend all their money on fancy electronics. In fiction, adolescents who never successfully adolesce become annoying.
Adolescence is not something that merely happens to a person, but is something, like death, that a person must do whether he likes it or not and that he can do either well or badly. At least part of a child's training must include the information and inspiration he needs to adolesce well. Though the script for The Seeker reeks, it at least gets the coming-of-age right: Will begins the movie as a boy and ends it as a man, and no one should complain about that. So for the love of all that is good in this world, passing references to puberty are not morally problematic!
Update: I rolled the dice and decided to comment on reviews (a risky endeavor) with the risk of reading too much into them. See the comments for a thoughtful rebuttal from one of the reviewers I mentioned.
The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Seeker: The Dark is Rising:
Myth Level: Medium-Low (it seems to have been intentionally stripped of its mythology)
Quality: Low (bad, generic, forgettable fantasy flick)
Ethics/Religion: High (positive though simplistic with no objectionable elements)
Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.
After the success of movies like Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Hollywood has apparently decided that successful kid-friendly fantasy films should have lengthy, awkward titles and colorless, formulaic plots. I admit I already hate this movie; it's been years since I read Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence, but I don't recall it containing stupid lines like "Even the smallest light shines in the darkness" or being about an American teen with girl troubles.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Here in the field, we've encountered some interesting gnats. They're enormous, they apparently like cool fall weather, and they have some sort of tragic love affair with human mucus membranes. I'm trying to work and these little bugs are following me; I shout at them, "You're cute and all but I'm just not into that!" And they shout back, "But I have a proboscis and you have an eyeball! We were meant to be together!" Then they fly up my nose.
Where did these swarms of gnats come from so late in the year? I can only conclude along with Jannes and Jambres that this is the finger of God.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
And I should add that my present project has absolutely nothing to do with NASA faking the Apollo missions in a Hollywood studio or with Stonehenge being a diagram for a graviton drive or with the Sphinx being an ancient alien artifact telling us we need to get in touch with our feminine sides. (I think SOV2 is starting to have a bad influence on me....)
So while I'm doing whatever I'm doing, I'll point you somewhere else. Personally, I try to avoid hyped-up stuff for the most part, at least until the controversy has faded. I never saw The Passion until it had been out for about a year, and I have never seen The Da Vinci Code nor read the book on which it's based. However, I did sometime back find an interesting review at Intuitor's Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, which does a fine job of dismantling the movie. Be sure to read the footnotes. I may come back with more comments later.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
D.G.D.: It began when a guy calling himself Che' Lovell decided to write his own version of The Grapes of Wrath, entitled The Bananas of Revenge, a play in two acts. It continued when he challenged me and EegahInc of The B-Movie Catechism to review it. Well, EegahInc wrote a clever and hilarious review, though he doesn't seem to understand what the play is about: I mean, it's supposed to be The Grapes of Wrath and he treats it as if it's supposed to be Attack of the Fifty-foot Banana. Oh, he also has a cool photograph accompanying his review, so I figured I better get one of those, too. Here's what I got:
Yeah. Pretty sad, huh? Well, EegahInc may have all the movie knowledge, but I have...the dragon!
Snuffles the Dragon: Enter the dragon.
D.G.D.: I know you've been waiting years to say that.
Snuffles: I have. Thank you.
D.G.D.: Would you like to review Che''s play?
Snuffles: Would you stop using two apostrophes to make his name plural? That's really ticking me off.
D.G.D.: Sorry. Would you like to review Che's play?
Snuffles: No. Absolutely not. And I'm not going to let you review it, either.
D.G.D.: Wha...? W-why?
Snuffles: Because I refuse to do anything for the Spirit of Vatican 2 "Catholic" Faith Community until they agree to hold the Dragons' Rights Protest!
D.G.D.: But Snuffles....
Snuffles: Aren't I a persun? Don't I got rights? Aren't I hurting inside? Don't I need luv?
D.G.D.: Aww, Snuffles, I never knew. C'mere, big guy--
Snuffles: Auggh!! Hands off!!!
D.G.D.: Ow! For a stuffed animal, you've got a lot of hard and pointy parts!
Snuffles: Listen up, Deej: if that Che' guy wants his play reviewed on this blog and not just parodied, the SOV2 will have to get its butt in gear for the sake of disenfranchised dragons everywhere. But in the meantime, I will allow a meme.
D.G.D.: You don't mean....?
Snuffles: No, I meme. What are you, deaf? Here's the deal, and I won't forget EegahInc suggested it: it's called the Bananas of Revenge Catholic Geek Crossover Meme. Those who participate will have to visit Che's play and read either act or both (you can read Act I here and Act II here) and review it, comment on it, or make fun of it. The play is not very long but very funny.
D.G.D.: Who ya gonna meme?
Snuffles: Catholic geeks, of course. Let's see...I choose Peter of With a Grain of Salt, Keith Strohm of From the Shattered Drum, and because he's a Nerd God, Father Erik Richtsteig of Orthometer.
D.G.D.: Good choices.
Photo by Accordion Chick.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Also, Eegahinc of The B-Movie Catechism has already reviewed the play. Because Che' uses real movie stars for all his characters, this is probably more up Eegahinc's alley than it is up mine. Eegahinc is rattling off filmographies while I'm asking, "Who the heck is Sean Penn?" Che''s pop culture references aren't quite fringe enough for me.
For that reason, I have recasted Che''s script so I can be more comfortable with it. Here is the new cast with its equivalency to the old cast:
John Travolta is now Charles Stross
Tom Cruise is now John C. Wright
Sean Penn is now Robert Heinlein
Danny Glover is now Ray Bradbury
Charles Curran is now H. P. Lovecraft
And the new script, abbreviated, goes something like this:
CHARLES STROSS runs an evil banana plantation. JOHN C. WRIGHT is one of his oppressed workers, who CHARLES STROSS is now in the middle of taunting.
CHARLES STROSS: Buahahaha! I'm too lazy to actually learn how you *^%$#% think or what you *^%$#% do, so I'll just use a lot of big *^%$#% words from my studies in pharmacy and computer science and call you names, you *&^#%#!
JOHN C. WRIGHT: Oh, you want big words do you? How about anagnorisis???
CHARLES STROSS: How about mecha battlecorpse???
JOHN C. WRIGHT: Wait, what?
The door dilates and ROBERT HEINLEIN enters.
ROBERT HEINLEIN: Evil Mr. Stross, sir, we have caught one of the harvesters of synthetic futuristic bananas doing things he oughtn't.
CHARLES STROSS: What the *^%$#% did he do?
ROBERT HEINLEIN: He used excessively lengthy metaphors, sir.
ROBERT HEINLEIN drags in RAY BRADBURY, whose hands are tied behind his back.
RAY BRADBURY: This banana, long and sleek and yellow, reminds me of the old time, the new time, the summertime when I as a child, always named Douglas, played in Illinois and cast magic from my summer bedroom, awakening the whole town like a brilliant festival of active light. And then came the long, hot days of ammonia and ice cream when we would all beneath a glowing moon eaten up bit by bit await the coming of the Big Black-and-White Game.
CHARLES STROSS: What the *^%$#%?
JOHN C. WRIGHT: I cannot permit you to oppress this man, evil banana-growing Charles Stross! Surely he is a haunting poet even if his depictions of alien cultures generally suck.
ROBERT HEINLEIN (snorting, to JOHN C. WRIGHT): You, sir, are clearly a man with opinions different from my own. I must conclude therefore that you are nothing but an ignorant yeoman with dung on his boots.
JOHN C. WRIGHT: Ignorant yeoman? Ignorant yeoman??? I will have you know, sir, that I am a lawyer and a scholar! I read Greek! I have read the classics! I have memorized Nine Princes In Amber! I play City of Heroes! I will never permit you to call me ignorant or a yeoman, and I have wiped off my boots! You, sir, are nothing but a smokestack that stinks!
CHARLES STROSS: What the *^%$#%?
Havoc ensues. Several characters are punched in the nose. Bananas are squashed. At the end, most everybody is dead. H. P. LOVECRAFT enters and picks up a banana.
H. P. LOVECRAFT: This banana is clearly of a degenerate line because it has been grown in the forests of New England. It is moving backwards along the evolutionary scale; now soon, mulattoes and half-breeds will harvest it and offer it to their dark, eldritch, blasphemous, putrescent alien gods. Like a dark, bloated corpse festering in a dank and eldritch cellar, these unspeakably blasphemous rituals will be full of vileness and rot and horror to drive a man mad by the mere thought of them. All nature will cringe as the Old Gods arise from their dark and eldritch graves, and soon terrible eldritch powers will reach up from the dark and eldritch sea, reaching forth with unspeakably blasphemous and terribly eldritch tentacles to grasp us all and break our minds. We will all perish under the onslaught of superior eldritch gods and inferior degenerate bananas! And all because we didn't listen to Nietzsche!
Okay. That's, um, actually nothing like Che''s play, but I don't see why that should matter. I'll, uh, let you all digest that...and I'll be back with an honest review a little later.
So watch out, Che'! Snuffles and I are ready to tag-team you on your little play. Hope you're ready, because no CBA author has suffered at my hands the way you're going to suffer!
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
In a word, yuck.
Legends From Darkwood #1: The Unicorn Hunters, written by Christopher Reid and illustrated by John Kantz. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2004. 129 pages. $9.99. ISBN: 1-932453-49-0.
Deej is out of town doing his archaeologist thing. That means nobody is looking over my shoulder as I post to this blog. That means nobody is rewriting my posts after I've finished them. That means no one is "editing for content." That means I have no obligation to use that stupid rating scale. That means I can get revenge for when Deej called me a freeloader.
Okay, so the other day, the Deej goes and reviews children's Amerimanga and flaunts it in my face. So I think, hah, two can play at that game. And then I remember, oh yeah, he's right, I do hate Amerimanga. And Legends From Darkwood reminds me why.
So, let's break this down. This appears to be an attempt to take fairy tale and fantasy conventions and render them cynical and slightly raunchy. The story opens in Unicorn Town where a woman named Raynd uses her virginity to--shock and horror!--hunt unicorns because people find unicorn meat really tasty. Out to save the unicorns is young Rose, the spoiled daughter of the town's greedy mayor. When Rose decides the unicorn-hunting has to stop, she does the logical thing and tries to hire a hitman to have Raynd offed. When that doesn't work, she attacks Raynd with a surefire aphrodisiac bomb instead (apparently available at any pharmacy, even to minors). Rose's timing is poor, however, because a fed-up unicorn has just fed on human flesh, sold his soul to the devil, gained the ability to breathe fire, and prepared an attack on the town.
Unicorns, as most people know, are attracted to, or at least feel safe around, virgins. Christopher Reid, author of this comic, clearly believes in all sincerity that using virginity to kill unicorns is a novel idea. Unicorns trust virgins, right? So why not just kill the unicorn when it comes to her? Hah! They'll never see that coming!
Okay, it's no secret that I, a dragon, hate unicorns, and so the opening slaughter scene in this comic is kind of pleasant. (Unicorns are just so smarmy and so uppity, and besides, they hog all the good virgins.) But this isn't a new idea: people have been hunting unicorns with virgins for a long time (hasn't Reid heard of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries?). Probably the only remotely unique idea in this comic is in having the virgin do all the hunting and killing herself rather than acting merely as bait.
If Reid really wants this to be dark, edgy, and slightly raunchy, he wouldn't have to dig far into unicorn lore to find his material. It is a standard part of the lore that a virgin lures the unicorn to his doom and that the trusting beast rests his head in the virgin's lap. Medieval illustrations sometimes depict a unicorn in such a pose with a naked woman, a suggestive image sure to give a Freudian a spasm of joy. And according to Medieval Folklore, "an early Syrian [bestiary] is quite explicit: The unicorn approaches the virgin, 'throwing himself upon her. Then the girl offers him her breasts, and the animal begins to suck the breasts of the maiden and to conduct himself familiarly with her'" (vol 2, p. 1011).
What I'm saying here is that this comic is making a big error in thinking that by being "dark" it is doing something to fairy tales that has never been done before. An ad for Legends from Darkwood describes it as a "truly grim fairy tale." Did the author of that ad ever actually read any of The Brothers Grimm? How about the story of "The Goose Girl," in which the villain is at the end thrown in a barrel studded with nails and dragged around town until dead? Is that not "grim" enough for you? Plenty of fairy tales are already gruesome, sexual, or otherwise "edgy" without any help from the likes of Christopher Reid.
I'm also annoyed that Reid could think of nothing better to do with a unicorn than eat him, what with all the interesting uses for unicorn horn. If you make a cup of unicorn horn, it will sweat in the presence of poison, for example. Selling such cups could be a profitable business in a universe like Darkwood where casual murder is an accepted practice. Unicorn horn can also be ground up for an aphrodisiac; had Reid wanted, he could have made unicorn horn the aphrodisiac Rose uses on Raynd. That would have been ironic.
What I'm saying is, you better get up pretty early if you want to impress Snuffles the Dragon with an ironic, "fractured," or otherwise unusual take on fairy tales. I have watched numerous episodes of Rocky and Bullwinkle. I have seen Into the Woods. Both of those do a fine job of sending up fairy tales.
Speaking of Into the Woods, that musical arguably has the same moral as Darkwood, a moral which may be summed up as "Life isn't a fairy tale." The difference is that Into the Woods presents the moral cleverly, first mashing together a number of fairy tales, telling them in a straightforward though humorous way, and then deconstructing them, mostly by killing off characters (they even kill the narrator, and that's no easy feat). The musical still manages something like a happy ending, though not a happily-ever-after ending. Darkwood, on the other hand, is so impressed with itself for being dark, it overdoes it. Here's the last word from the character Raynd at the end of this first volume: "For starters, this isn't a storybook. No one ever learns their lesson, no one ever saves the day, and no one will ever hesitate to take advantage of you. We just screw up worse and worse everyday--and finally we die" (p. 130). My only recent screwup was buying this comic--but oh yeah, I did it with Deej's money.
The Sci Fi Catholic apologizes for the cynical and slightly raunchy content of this book review. Please direct all complaints to email@example.com. Or, you know, you could get off the computer and get a life instead.