Sunday, September 30, 2007

Father Frank Pavone in Ogden, Utah

Today, I had the pleasure of hearing Fr. Frank Pavone at St. James Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah. Fr. Pavone is head of the organization Priests for Life. I've previously read some of his literature, but have never before heard him speak. He is a powerful homilist.

While there, I also had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Erik Richtsteig, popular in the Catholic blogosphere for his blog Orthometer. Fr. Richtsteig and I sometimes read each others' posts. He actually recognized my name when I introduced myself.

Anyway, with the bulletin came a brochure for Priest for Life. The brochure asks to be distributed and posted, and so I offer the following excerpts:

Any woman who is pregnant and in need can turn for help to the pro-life movement. She never has to feel that abortion is the only option. People anywhere in the country can find assistance at the following numbers:

Carenet/Heartbeat: 1-800-395-HELP
Crisis Pregnancy Helpline: 1-888-4-OPTIONS
Birthright: 1-800-550-4900
National Life Center: 1-800-848-LOVE
Bethany Christian Services: 1-800-238-4269

We who reject abortion do not reject those who have had abortions. Counseling, forgiveness, and healing can be found after abortion, and the following numbers can lead you to assistance:

Abortion Recovery Help: 1-877-HOPE-4-ME or 1-800-5-WE-CARE

Our website, receiving over 35,000 visitors a day, has become one of the leading resources for information. Visit http://www.priestsforlife.org/.

Free pro-life literature! 1-888-735-3448 x237

For full-time pro-life ministry as a priest, deacon, or lay person, visit http://www.priestsforlife.org/vocations/

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Your Sci Fi Catholic on the Nerd Scale


NerdTests.com says I'm a Kinda Dorky Nerd King.  What are you?  Click here!


Whew! According to this, my sci-fi/comic book nerdiness and history/literature nerdiness are high. I'd be really embarrassed to be running this blog if it were otherwise. I could have been extra nerdy if the questions had only been right: it asks if I'm in the middle of a 300+ page book, but what if I'm in the middle of six of them? Don't I get a higher score?

Hey, sorry for the slim pickins on posts lately. We'll see if we can give you more to read and waste time with in the near future. I know Snuffles is currently in one of my folkore books because he's planning a review for the near future, and I still want him to talk about Susan Napier, but he insists he isn't comfortable with that.

Now, to make sure my nerdiness is secure, let's talk about what's wrong with my title, "Kinda Dorky Nerd King." Last time I checked my Nerd Parlance, a dork was not a true nerd, but rather a hanger-on, a nerd fanboy if you will. Dorks, in my experience, are girls in tight T-shirts that read, "Talk nerdy to me" or "I [heart] nerds." And in my experience, such girls either a) already have boyfriends or b) don't live in my area or c) "don't mean that kind of nerd." Being a literary type, I understand myself to be a "geek," as opposed to a true nerd, who is a virtuoso with math or technology. Virtuosos with outdated technology are known as "technoweenies."

And for a final question regarding this nerd rating thing, if all the anime you own is actually your roommate's but is bought with your money because your roommate is both your brother by adoption and a freeloader, does it still count as being yours?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Review: The Courageous Princess



Tuck yourself in and let Rod Espinosa tell you a story.

The Courageous Princess, written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa. Dark Horse Books: 2007. 238 pages. $14.95. ISBN-10: 1-59307-719-X, ISBN-13: 978-1-59307-719-5.

Rod Espinosa is one of those people. He's not a great writer, but he's such a good storyteller it hardly matters. I have previously written about his epic comic book series, Neotopia, and today I shall discuss one of his earlier, probably better-known, comics. The Courageous Princess is less ambitious than Neotopia and in some ways less refined, but it shows that Espinosa's interests haven't changed: in both works, he's fond of anthropomorphic animals, fantasyscapes, quests, epic battles, and strong heroines. And in both, his artwork is top-notch.

The Courageous Princess opens like an especially pleasant illustrated children's book, depicting the idyllic childhood of Princess Mabelrose, whose parents, King Jeryk and Queen Helena of New Tinsley, are paragons of virtue and good child-rearing:

Queen Helena taught her her how to plant flowers in the royal garden. She also taught her her little daughter how to sew and mend. When night came the queen told her many bedtime stories of faraway lands and daring heroes. Mabelrose loved her mother very much. King Keryk would take her along when he visited their subjects.... To King Jeryk, everyone was important. The king and queen taught their daughter to be humble, kind, and generous. But most important of all, they taught her always to pray. [pp. 9-10]

After the picture-book introduction, the narration ceases and the story moves to a more conventional comic book format in which we meet Mabelrose as an adolescent. She's excited because she's been invited to her first ball in another, more powerful kingdom. But when Mabelrose arrives at the ball, none of the princes will dance with her and all the other princesses make fun of her shabby clothes and her freckles.

Soon after, Mabelrose is kidnapped by a dragon with an unpronounceable name worthy of Lovecraft (Shalathrumnostrium, if you must know), who lives in a gigantic castle surrounded by impenetrable thorns and guarded by trolls. Convinced no prince will come for her because she's neither the fairest nor the richest in the land, Mabelrose orchestrates her own escape, taking with her some of the dragon's favorite items: a bottomless handbag, a magic rope, a camouflaging cloak, a magic ring, and some seven-league boots (or maybe 1/2-league; they don't actually seem to carry her anywhere).

As you can probably guess, Mabelrose soon meets a companion. His name is Spiky, and he happens to be a gregarious talking porcupine who soon becomes Mabelrose's close and faithful friend (and through the rest of the book, I was distracted by the question, "How can it be physically possible to cuddle with a porcupine?"). Mabelrose spends most of the book escaping trolls, meeting interesting magical characters, making friends, freeing people from tyranny, and heading inexorably toward her distant home.

The Courageous Princess makes open references to other works of fantasy. The magic cloak and rope clearly pay homage to the elvish cloaks and rope in The Lord of the Rings and a lionine king is reminiscent of Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz receives a more explicit reference, as do a few fairy tales, including "Rapunzel" and "Snow White." A map appearing every once in a while reveals this to be one of those fantasies set in a land surrounded by the settings of other fairy tales, similar to but less manic than Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. On the map are such places as The Pea Kingdom in which can be found the Town of Mattress Makers, for example.

This is not-so-subtly a coming-of-age story. As already described, the introduction zips through Mabelrose's childhood. Her kidnapping, which occurs when she is an adolescent, is her first prolonged separation from her parents, during which she swiftly learns to rely on her own resources. And near the end, Spiky observes, "Well, you have grown up, you know" (p. 216). This sudden realization of adulthood reminds me of another coming-of-age story, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen;" in that story, the characters leave on an adventure as children, and when they return, they apprehend that they had grown up during their journey.

The religious references are more explicit than in Neotopia: Mabelrose always remembers to pray before meals and bedtime, and her prayers are simple and hardy ones, appropriate for the young audience at which the comic is presumably aimed: "Please bless my father and mother... Please tell them not to worry. I wish I could tell them that I am alive and well. Please bless all my friends back home especially Bess and Kim. Lastly, may a noble prince rescue me soon" (p. 51). Espinosa never beats us over the head with it, but we are probably to understand that prayer is a major source of Mabelrose's strong character. Although the religion is never described, it is apparently monotheistic, though as in Neotopia, Espinosa hints that multiple religions peacefully coexist: a few characters are clearly polytheistic, and Spiky at one point thanks "the briar spirits," perhaps indicating the animals are animists, which seems to me logical for a fairy tale world.

Though I've only read two of his comic series so far, I'm impressed by Rod Espinosa's fantastic and carefully detailed artwork, his highly imaginative worlds, his lovable characters, his good sense of fun, and his wholesomeness. This is one parents will want to sneak away from the kids to read themselves.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Courageous Princess:

Myth Level: High (fairy tales, coming-of-age, universal themes, quest)

Quality: High (excellent artwork, a great story, likable characters)

Ethics/Religion: High (positive depiction of prayer, no objectionable content)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Sacred & the Profane Part 2, Christian Tragedy?


Tragedy for Christians...or not?

Here we have a subject we hope will start a reader discussion.

The sacred & the profane, which I discussed yesterday, is a collected comic book series with an impressive total of three forewords, or excuse me, a "foreward [sic]," a "preface," and an "introduction." That's a lot of introducing.

Eric McLuhan is author of the preface, which asks the intriguing question, "Is a Christian tragedy possible?" Here is his answer:

But is a Christian tragedy possible? From a doctrinal point of view, no. Christianity offers salvation, ultimate reunion, external [sic] life; tragedy portrays loss, separation, death. (It is no new observation that all tragedies end with a death, all comedies end with a wedding.) Is, then, tragedy a dramatic form with any relevance to our present or future condition? Probably not. Except, perhaps, as a means of affording a pleasant nostalgia.

A couple of years back, I was at the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought. One of the professors there (I believe it was Dr. Robert K. Carlson, but I'm sure he'll forgive me if I'm misquoting him) stated that a Christian could never write tragedy. After the lecture, I ran up to him and contended that he was wrong, that Christians can indeed write tragedy; I personally found tragedy cathartic, and I was not about to give it up. I entered the fray armed with examples, namely the story of King Saul in the Bible and John Milton's Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. After Dr. Carlson calmed me down, he asked me what I meant by tragedy exactly. I replied, paraphrasing the Cliffs Notes to Paradise Lost, that tragedies were stories of noble people who destroy themselves.

He responded that I had a good understanding of tragedy. He then told me that many people today think of tragedies not as stories of self-destruction but as stories of people arbitrarily singled out by God for wrath or abuse. That is the kind of tragedy a Christian can't write.

Dr. Carlson continued by noting that the universe as a whole is a comedy, but that individual tragedies within that comedy are still possible because of free will, which leaves open the possibility of self-destruction and damnation, as we discussed in our essay on the film The Burning Hell. (And I recommend the further discussion on that film now up at The B-Movie Catechism.)

In other words, McLuhan is wrong. Christian tragedy is possible, even necessary. After all, a comedy could not be a comedy if it were not in danger of becoming a tragedy. The characters in the wedding at the comedy's end are there because they have escaped real danger. Had there been no danger, there would be no story and the happy ending would be hollow.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Sacred & the Profane



Catholics...in Space! ...Again!

The sacred & the profane written by Dean Motter and illustrated by Ken Steacy. Eclipse Graphic Album Edition (hardcover). Eclipse Books (Guerneville, California): 1987. n. pag. $24.95. ISBN: 0-913035-18-1.

Let me see if I can get the complicated history of this thing right. Originally, Dean Motter and Ken Steacy published the comic The Sacred and the Profane in five parts from 1977 to 1978 in Star+Reach. In the early 1980s, Motter and Steacy rewrote, re-drew, and colored their work and printed the new version in Epic Illustrated. In 1987, Eclipse Comics collected the Epic version into a single volume, which I recently discovered languishing on a shelf in That Shady Book Store Down the Street where Snuffles and I both do a lot of shopping. The cover art (to your left) was more than enough to convince me to take it home.

The comic's subject is one which, for whatever reason, is of perennial interest in science fiction: Catholics in space. See A Case of Conscience, The Sparrow and Ray Bradbury's 1951 short, "The Fire Balloons," for the classic examples.

The Sacred and the Profane depicts a future in which the discovery of life on another world has swelled religious interest around the globe so that the Catholic Church and numerous other religions are flourishing. Readers will probably recognize this as a sharp contrast with numerous other science fiction works in which the discovery of extraterrestrial life is a challenge to religious faith or even the source of its extinction.

Because of the heightened interest in religion and a set of improbable circumstances, the Catholic Church has convinced the United States to launch three Catholic space missions, known collectively as the Catholic Interstellar Crusade, to colonize distant worlds and evangelize the natives. The Sacred and the Profane chronicles the ill-fated first mission, Saint Catherine's.

Saint Catherine's is essentially a flying cathedral, and Steacy's intriguing Gothic church-cum-spaceship design is one of The Sacred and the Profane's numerous delights. Crewed by 215 people, most of them clergy, the ship comes complete with a sizable chapel, including an organ loft, where much of the action takes place. The story is told largely through the eyes of Sister Marianna, one of the nuns of the ship's convent, who as the story opens is losing her faith due partly to the monotony of space travel and due partly to a possibly inappropriate attraction to one of Saint Catherine's warrior monks, Brother Joshua, who she sees as a paragon of faith and virtue.

She won't have much time for brooding, however, as Saint Catherine's soon approaches a mysterious alien object that opens fire on the ship. Though the clergy commanding the mission hope to turn this unpromising beginning into a peaceful encounter, Brother Joshua, who soon turns out to be a crazed fanatic, returns fire and launches Saint Catherine's small regiment of fighter craft. The attack is a disaster; a number of the warrior monks are killed, and vine-like extraterrestrial entities invade the ship. Able to crawl anywhere and hide, and capable of combining together into creepy humanoid forms, the extraterrestrials begin killing the human crew as Saint Catherine's becomes trapped in a decaying orbit around the alien object. Though at first the aliens are apparently murderous, their motives are ultimately ambiguous, as is much of the story.

The Sacred and the Profane, though overall a fine work, suffers from character glut. Too many people are presented to the reader in too short a space. It becomes difficult to keep track of them and their sometimes convoluted and often less-than-holy relationships. A few of these relationships never have much relevance to the story as a whole.

Though it has has some eccentricities suggesting Motter and Steacy are not entirely familiar with their subject matter, such as a toga-clad archbishop addressed as "Your Holiness," the work is sophisticated in its depiction of religion and religious people: for example, in regards to the order of warrior monks who are supposed to protect the ship and crew, Motter is careful to tell us that the Vatican disapproved the creation of such an order but at last capitulated at the insistence of Archbishop Franklin, who spearheaded the space missions and commands Saint Catherine's. At the same time, it is Archbishop Franklin who confronts Brother Joshua and tries to rein in his violence.

Also impressively nuanced are Sister Marianna's attempts to assess her feelings for Brother Joshua. She admires what she perceives to be his faith and holiness, but fears her admiration has become inappropriate. As she envisions him as a gold-clad crusader knight astride a unicorn, she wonders, "Do I desire his passionate commitment, or do I desire him? Am I losing my ability to distinguish the spiritual from the sensual?" These musings are psychologically believable. Of course, the reader soon learns her admiration is misplaced, and eventually, so does she.

Thematic complexity and boldness prevent The Sacred and the Profane from falling prey to inherent weaknesses such as its excess of underdeveloped characters and a number of science fiction clichés, including but not limited to cabin fever on a space mission, an edgy guy who goes completely insane by the end, and a spaceship with a self-destruct sequence (why would a Catholic missionary ship have a self-destruct sequence?). In the afterword to the Eclipse Volume, Dean Motter discusses his intentions for the comic. His comments are intriguing enough, I wish to quote them at length:


The story is intended to be an allegorical satire, however ridiculing neither Catholicism nor interstellar exploration. It is, in fact, an attack on a civilization that no longer has the spiritual disposition to deal with its own mysticism--the technological alchemy that can produce such miracles as manned space flight, atomic power, instantaneous global communications, and genetic engineering.

A culture must maintain a clear understanding of the relationships between Heaven and Earth; between God and Man; and between man and his church. Such matters, when reduced from belief to mere opinion are left to squirm in the shadow of scientific method.

Religious thought was at one time a very powerful and sophisticated force within our culture. Scientific thought, though infantile and restless, eventually outgrew and overshadowed its secular counterparts. Now a prematurely senile technology and a retarded spiritualism noisily ignore one and other.

The Sacred and the Profane is about the reunion of these two now disparate governments.

I confess I didn't understand all that (does he really mean secular counterparts, or does he mean to say religious counterparts?) , but Motter's statements make clear why The Sacred and the Profane is a good read in spite of itself. If I understand him rightly, he is saying that a culture without a clear philosophical or religious foundation is a culture in trouble. He is saying that the separation of church and state and the separation of science and religion are balderdash. He is saying that a culture that cannot state clearly what it believes and what it stands for is a decadent culture, perhaps a doomed culture. Whether or not the reader is inclined to agree, and whether or not Motter is correct, it is undeniable that this is a good position from which to write a work of religiously themed science fiction: he has no anti-religious chip on his shoulder, but he isn't trying to evangelize, either. Motter states, "It is difficult to approach a story that deals with religion without appearing to either attack or defend it," but in The Sacred and the Profane he succeeds, and that is the comic's great strength.

Many religious readers may ask first if a book with religious themes is positive in its depiction of religion, but I suggest that question is less important than these:



  1. Is it sophisticated in its depiction of religion? Does it avoid depicting religious people either as uniformly evil fanatics or perfect do-gooders?
  2. Does it discuss religious matters in such a way as to encourage the reader to think about the subject further?
  3. Is it good art?
  4. By mentioning it, could I potentially impress women at a science fiction/comic book convention or club?

In the case of The Sacred and the Profane, the answer to all these questions is yes.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Sacred and the Profane:

Myth Level: Medium-High (universal themes)

Quality: Medium-High (some serious bumps, but excellent nonetheless; complex musing expertly encased in a brief science fiction story)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (a great try, but a little more research was in order)


Update: Read Part 2 on the subject of Christian tragedy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Dragon's Mailbag



More mail than you can shake a stick at!

Recently, I received what has to be the best e-mail yet. A dedicated reader from the United Nations writes the following:


How are you today? Hope all is well with you and family? You may not understand why this mail came to you.We have been having a meeting for the passed 7 months which ended 2 days ago with the secretary to the UNITED NATION.

This email is to all the people that have been scammed in any part of the world, the UNITED NATION have agreed to compensate them with the sum of US$ 100,000. This includes every foriegn contractors that may have not received their contract sum, and people that have had an
unfinished transaction or international businesses that failed due to Government probelms etc.

We found your name in our list and that is why we are contacting you, this have been agreed upon and have been signed.You are advised to
contact Mr. Jim Ovia of ZENITH BANK NIGERIA PLC, as he is our representative in Nigeria, contact him immediately for your Cheque/ International Bank Draft of USD$ 100,000.This funds are in a Bank Draft for security purpose ok? so he will send it to you and you can clear it in any bank of your choice.

Therefore, you should send him your full Name and telephone number/your correct mailing address where you want him to send the Draft to you. Conatact Mr. Jim Ovia immediately for your Cheque:

Person to Contact Mr. Jim Ovia

Email: jimovia6851fh@yahoo.com
Phone: 234 1 7439877

Thanks and God bless you and your family.Hoping to hear from you as soon as you cash your Bank Draft.

Making the world a better place
Regards,

Mr. Kofi Anan
Former Secretary (UNITED NATIONS).

I like this one. It has gall. Note the way it tells me it found me on a list of people who have been scammed even though I haven't been because I'm not quite that stupid. It's like a little extra dose of acid in the face--you've been fooled once? Well, I'm here to fool you twice.

Okay, let's look at the problems here: 1) it's supposed to be from the U.N. but has numerous typos and no official-looking letterhead, and 2) it's sending me to a bank in Nigeria for crying out loud. Hey spammers, you're giving Nigeria a bad name! But anyway, thanks for trying to fix my "Government probelms." I have been having a lot of those lately, mainly because dragons in apartments violate some kind of zoning ordinance.

Look, I don't do bank drafts, checks, or money orders. All my investments are in precious metals, and all my precious metals are in a spacious cave where they are scrupulously guarded by fourteen lovely and innocent-looking young ladies who can show a surprising talent for brutal forms of martial arts if anyone tries to touch my stash (and Natasha can also whip you up a killer soufflé). Convert the US$ 100,000 to gold and then we'll talk.

Sincerely,

Snuffles the Dragon, Esq.


Do you have a question or comment or something funny you'd like Snuffles to discuss on the blog? Don't forget you can contact him at snufflesthedragon@hotmail.com.

Monday, September 17, 2007

September Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 1 and the Banning of the Blog



And the blog tour begins.

This month's tour goes out to The Return, book 3 of the Mars Hill Classified series by Austin Boyd.


In other news, the Spirit of Vatican 2 "Catholic" Faith Community has weighed The Sci Fi Catholic in the scales and found it wanting. As a result, it has officially and unceremoniously banned this blog forever, for the following reasons:

Phariseeism, Funny Languages, Intolerance, Republicanism, and Offensiveness. I was hoping for a Neocatholic (NC) rating and a Bells and Smells (BS), but apparently I didn't quite squeak by. Not sure what the "Republicanism" thing is about.



You will find me caught beneath the landslide of a Blog Tour Supernova (I'm running out of these things!):

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Lisa Cromwell
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Rachel Marks
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Cheryl Russel
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Movie Review: Dragon Wars (alias D-War)

A Sci Fi Channel Original Movie mysteriously sneaks into theaters!

Dragon Wars: D-War, written and directed by Hyung Rae Shim. Produced by James Kang. Starring Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, and Craig Robinson. Runtime 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.

See other reviews here. See humorously translated movie website here.

D.G.D.: Hi, everybody. Snuffles the Dragon and I saw Dragon Wars last night. I took him because this movie has dragons in it and because, um, I sort of thought it came from Japan when it actually came from South Korea. On that note, Snuffles would like to start out with a personal comment--

Snuffles: Curse you, Deej! That's an hour and a half of my life I will never have back! I could have been watching Ranma 1/2 episodes and instead you force me to watch this...this...this insult to my entire species! And you know how I hate to go to the theater! I have to get three seats to sit in and an extra three for my tail, which means I need movable armrests, but the theater with the movable armrests doesn't sell pickles or have ketchup for their popcorn! And of course, the usher always comes down to where I'm sitting halfway through the movie and demands to know why I'm smoking. I tell him, "It's called 'breathing,' you moron," but that doesn't help: he always orders me to leave, and then he learns the hard way the truth of the proverb that says when a dragon comes to visit he sits anywhere he wants. Going to the theater just isn't worth the hassle!

D.G.D.: Ahem. Yes. Well, one of the reasons we're writing this review with two reviewers is because, quite frankly, this movie has schizophrenia. Snuffles?

Snuffles: It's the biggest-budget South Korean film of all time, but it's trying to imitate brainless American big-budget summer flicks. It's got Korean mythology, but the setting is contemporary L.A. It has two languages, so the unbelievably confusing infodump at the movie's beginning is mostly in subtitles even though the rest of the film is in English. It even has two titles: is it Dragon Wars or D-War? I don't even know what to call it!

D.G.D.: I thought Dragon Wars was a sequel to The Bard's Tale.

Snuffles: I neither know nor understand what you're talking about, Deej.

D.G.D.: Anyway, when you boil it down, it looks like a made-for-TV movie that somehow got into theaters. Snuffles, why don't you give the summary?

Snuffles: Gladly, if I can possibly remember it. Let's see: I knew we were in for trouble when the movie began by announcing, "Every five hundred years, a young woman is born." I clapped my hand to my snout and muttered, "Babies are born, man. Young women grow. Who wrote this?" Things go downhill from there as the movie, without introducing characters or giving us any reason to care, throws a steaming pile of infodump in our laps. Apparently, the young woman born every five hundred years is a Yu-Gi-Oh! or maybe a Juh Yi Joo or something, and she's got something inside her, indicated by a birthmark on her shoulder, that enables her to turn a giant snake called a Jujyfruit or maybe an Imoogi into a dragon and send it to Heaven. Well, there's a good Jujyfruit and a bad Jujyfruit who both want to eat the Yu-Gi-Oh! The bad Jujyfruit is named Barack Obama.

D.G.D.: Buraki.

Snuffles: What?

D.G.D.: His name is Buraki.

Snuffles: Whatever! Are you giving this summary or me?

D.G.D.: Sorry. Continue.

Snuffles: For no discernible reason, Buraki has a giant army wearing left-over armor from The Lord of the Rings and a lot of bad CGI dinosaurs carrying rocket launchers.

D.G.D.: The only discernible reason is that they want to blow up L.A. in a bunch of big-budget action sequences while the National Guard tries unsuccessfully to fight them off.

Snuffles: Because you know how machine guns and tanks are no match for medieval armor.

D.G.D.: You might call this Transformers Lite. Come to think of it, the tagline for this movie, "They have chosen our world for their battlefield," sounds like the tagline for Transformers translated into Korean and then back into English.

Snuffles: What's really great is how you've got a bad-acting reporter (Jason Behr) who's supposed to be protecting the girl (Amanda Brooks) but never actually does anything except stare vacantly as a snake the size of a skyscraper crawls all over L.A.

D.G.D.: Better still is how nobody notices the snake the size of a sky-scraper crawling all over L.A. until halfway through the movie.

Snuffles: No, no! Better than that is how the vacant-eyed reporter defeats the bad guys at the movie's end by getting tied to a stake and standing there all vacant-eyed while the magic amulet he's wearing does magic for him!

D.G.D.: No, no! Better than that are the lame attempts at humor such as the homeless person who shouts, "You lousy bum!"

Snuffles: Okay, okay. That's enough about the movie's lack of plot. I did the summary, so would you like to do the rant?

D.G.D.: Thanks, Snuffs, that's very kind of you. I know how you like to rant.

Snuffles: Get on with it.

D.G.D.: Okay, here goes-- This is the worst movie I have seen since The Covenant. No, no, it's worse than that: this is the worst movie I have seen since The Adventures of Pluto Nash. The script is terrible: it heaves out convoluted information at the very beginning, spews hackneyed lines, and never even attempts to develop the characters. The actors look like they're not even trying. The editing is hideous. The special effects are third-rate. Even the moderately entertaining action sequences with helicopters fighting dragons in Los Angeles is lackluster. This movie makes every possible bad move from villains roaring, "You incompetent fools!" to a girl going to a hypno-therapist to uncover repressed memories to a couple having dinner together when they're supposed to be running from a giant snake to a romance based on absolutely zip. It's so...so....

Snuffles: American?

D.G.D.: Uh, yeah. Can't South Korea do better than this?

Snuffles: And I've got another question. Why are dragon movies so consistently lousy?

D.G.D.: Who knows? I ranted. Do you want to do the moral?

Snuffles: Huh? Oh yeah. The moral of the story is, "Don't get born with a dragon-shaped tattoo on your shoulder."

D.G.D.: What? No, that's not what I meant!

Snuffles: Okay, okay. Morally, what have we got? Plenty of explosions, some stage fighting with no blood, and some really bad kung fu. Action is loud, but it's not gruesome or graphic. About Star Wars-level in intensity if not quality. Was there any language?

D.G.D.: Well, this reviewer says so. I don't remember it, but I think my brain is in the process of suppressing this movie.

Snuffles: Okay, so there might be some language. Nothing else is objectionable.

D.G.D.: Wait, wait, you forgot the really objectionable part: the good guys in this movie do nothing. The "hero" stands around or runs away. And the good Imoogi doesn't show up until the very end--he's let everyone else do his fighting for him!

Snuffles: What are you saying?

D.G.D.: You know the proverb: if good people do nothing, evil wins.

Snuffles: I see. So you're saying this movie is so artistically bad it becomes morally objectionable.

D.G.D.: Well, not really. But this film suffers from seriously passive heroes, among other things.

Snuffles: Okay. Well, there you have it, folks. Deej, next time you want to go to the theater, I'm staying home.

D.G.D.: Right. So you can watch your nudie cartoons.

Snuffles: Hey! Ranma 1/2 is not a "nudie cartoon!" Its, um, intentional boundary transgressions actually transmit conservative themes!

D.G.D.: I'm not letting you read any more feminist anime scholarship.

Snuffles: You are such a moron.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Dragon Wars: D-War:

Myth Level: Medium (it really tried!)

Quality: Low (almost but not quite so bad it's good)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (little is objectionable)

Movie Review: The Cat Returns



Oh, the cat came back! It just wouldn't stay awaaaaay!

The Cat Returns, directed by Hiroyuki Morita. Screenplay by Reiko Yoshida. Produced by Toshio Suzuki. Studio Ghibli. Starring Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamad, and Aki Maeda. Distributed in U.S. by Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Sooner or later we'll figure out how to be consistent in how we present movie credits. Runtime 75 minutes. Rated G.

Read other reviews here.

Deej can have his dumb little Dragon Wars. I'm gonna go watch some family-friendly anime.

Okay, first of all, this is not a Miyazaki film, strictly speaking, though Miyazaki had a hand in it. This is from his protégé, Hiroyuki Morita. It's not brilliant and it's not riveting, but it is funny and it is enjoyable and it is short. It's a dessert, not a feast, but dessert is fun to eat, after all.

The story centers around a high school (?) girl named Haru, one of those likable klutz types who's always disorganized and tripping over everything. She saves a cat from getting run over by a truck, but then it turns out this cat is prince of the Cat Kingdom. Pretty soon, Haru is receiving tons of gifts from cats who won't leave her alone--and they're even planning to cart her off to the Cat Kingdom and marry her to the prince. Desperate to extricate herself from the situation, she ends up at the "Cat Bureau" where she gets help from Baron, a living porcelain cat figurine with refined manners, a Puss-'n'-Boots-style of omnicompetence, and a couple of goofball sidekicks. From there, the movie goes surreal with a number of wacky situations and visual gags as Haru tries to escape the machinations of the Cat King and Baron tries to save her.

The movie's moral isn't hard to figure out since it beats you over the head with it. "Believe in yourself," we are told dozens of times. It's a wimpy moral, really, but not a bad one. Across the room, Deej is commenting that he grew up with "believe in yourself" children's books and thinks they did him neither harm nor help.

"Believe in yourself" sounds kind of dumb, but it means "have self-confidence," which is one half of a Christian teaching, which can be expressed in different ways: Martin Luther's "sin boldly" is blasphemous, though he may have meant it well; "have self-confidence" is better; and St. Augustine's "love God and do as you will" is better still because it captures the other half of the teaching: a person ought to act according to what he thinks is right, which is what The Cat Returns is saying, but he must also form what he thinks is right through appropriate teaching, relationship with God, and cultivation of virtue. In the film, Haru performs two charitable acts; because the consequences at first appear negative, she questions her own decisions, but by the end of the film she is confident her charity was indeed right. This is a good teaching: if a person has a right understanding of good and bad, then he should do the good with confidence in spite of its unpopularity or seemingly negative consequences. The trick, of course, is knowing good from bad, but that's a matter The Cat Returns doesn't address.

The only questionable element that might give pause is the extremely mild representation of romance between humans and cats. Some Christians, such as C. S. Lewis if he were around, might be uncomfortable with that. Around here, however, we're soft on that issue, partly because the "animal paramour" motif is such a common element of folklore. Besides, it's fantasy: this is the story of a girl unwillingly engaged to a man she doesn't like; the fact that the man is a cat is neither here nor there.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Cat Returns:

Myth Level: Medium-High (talking animals, alternate world, coming-of-age, fairy tale references, etc.)

Quality: Medium-High (neither as well written nor well animated as Miyazaki's own work, but excellent nonetheless)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (reasonably wholesome, decent moral)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dragon Wars Review Coming

And for my next act of self-torture....

(P.S. I'm forcing Snuffles to come to the theater and watch it with me even though he takes up six seats and has to listen to constant calls of "Down in front!" So this will be a duo-review.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special

Is this real? I mean, I have heard that the Star Wars Holiday Special was unspeakably awful, but I have a hard time believing it was this bad. I want to believe this is some kind of elaborate trick by a YouTuber, as evidenced by the fact that the supposed "Mark Hammill" looks like a woman in drag. Yet, that really looks like Harrison Ford. I'm forced to conclude that this video contains excerpts from the real deal.

Ugh, I can hardly watch! I bet Ford crawls under the covers and cries for an hour every time this video is mentioned.

Did it really run for two hours? That's the length of a full movie! Two hours of this stuff? Star Wars fans must have been ready to commit harakiri after seeing this!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Burning Hell

Are you 100% to go to Heaven if you died today?

He doesn't know I'm doing this, but Eegahinc over at The B-Movie Catechism once suggested I cross swords with him, as it were, over a B-movie. Seeing as how his double feature review of Evil Behind You and The Burning Hell is temporarily delayed, I thought I would get in a post ahead of time before he could cover the subject so thoroughly and wittily that there would be no point in my following up.

One of the two movies he's reviewing in the near future, The Burning Hell, an evangelical film by Estus Pirkle, is available on YouTube, where I watched all eight painful segments in order to bring you this post. Though a little hard to watch, the video gets high marks from me because it opens with a picture of a spaceship. I'm not sure why it opens with a picture of a spaceship, but it's cool that it does. Maybe Pirkle is a Sci Fi Baptist.

It's not really a movie so much as a sermon with lurid illustrations. Estus Pirkle lectures for an hour on Hell while characters in costumes either act out Bible stories or writhe in flames. The acting is some of the worst I've ever seen, though there are a few exceptions: a character with an early death scene is convincing, and the guy playing Satan, though he has a minuscule role, is clearly enjoying himself. Through it all, Pirkle makes it clear that Hell is bad, that you don't want to go there, and that you definitely are going there unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. It's something like a mild video version of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which we'll get to in a minute.

Near the video's beginning, a couple of young men (I don't remember if they even have names) come to Mr. Pirkle in the office at the church where's he's about to preach a sermon, though somehow they don't realize he's a preacher. They want to talk to Pirkle about religion and quickly grow irritated with Pirkle's teaching about Hell. One of them, the film's only convincing actor, says, "I got some livin' ta do, you dig?" The two young men leave and then--you just know this is coming--the convincing actor has a motorcycle accident and transforms into what appears to be about six pounds of ground beef. His nameless buddy is bummed out and shakes his head sadly before returning to the church to hear Pirkle finish his sermon (reporting the accident can wait, apparently).

The man tells Pirkle about his friend's accident. Pirkle pats him on the back, tells him his friend's in Hell, and then goes on with his sermon, making sure to single out the young man every once in a while and threaten him with the same damnation his bike-riding buddy got. Pirkle illustrates his lecture with videos of actors in ultra-low-budget "period" costumes acting out Bible stories, though the modern instruments and wine glasses and other anachronisms produce an unintended comical effect.

Pirkle misunderstands a few biblical passages, though his misunderstandings are not severe. His first dramatization is of the story of Korah's rebellion from Numbers 16; in the biblical passage, the earth opens up and swallows Korah and his followers, and they go "down alive into Sheol" (16.30, NRSV). Pirkle insists this is the first biblical depiction of Hell, and in his dramatization flames shoot out of the ground when the earth opens. Pirkle apparently doesn't realize that early Judaism had no developed concept of Hell; rather, sheol is the shadowy region of the dead under the earth.

The longest dramatization in the film is of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Here we see Pirkle's theology most clearly: he takes Fundamentalism to a new level, insisting that this story is a literal historical event and not merely an illustrative fable, though whether he believes this about all of Jesus' parables or only this one is unclear. He gives a nod to tradition, naming the rich man Dives, and allows plenty of scenes of Dives living it up before finally keeling over, dying, and going to Hell. He also depicts Lazarus going to Heaven, and considering the low budget, it looks pretty good. Perhaps most interesting is Pirkle's twisting of the parable: in the passage in Luke, the only sin Dives commits is ignoring the poor beggar Lazarus at his gate; when Dives is in Hades and Lazarus is in the Bosom of Abraham, Abraham says to Dives, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony" (16.25, NRSV). In Pirkle's version, however, Lazarus accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior whereas Dives refuses; Dives's callous treatment of Lazarus is more-or-less incidental.

The viewer comments on the YouTube video aren't particularly nice. It's clear a lot of people don't like this movie, and it isn't hard to see why. For one thing, the bad acting and script-writing lend it a certain callousness: not only does a man skip off to church and leave the dead body of his buddy by the side of the road, but Pirkle singles him out during his sermon and tells him in front of a crowded room that his pal is damned forever and that he likely is, too. All of that may or may not need to be said at some point, but this is hardly the time or the place.

Theologically, the film's errors are two, and the two are directly related. On the one hand, Estus Pirkle feels fit to say exactly--by name--who is in Hell. He even gives a statistical estimate of how many go there each day and minute. The video also has an unintentional smugness: he makes it clear that you are in danger of Hell, but Estus Pirkle certainly isn't. Long-time readers may remember that I addressed that attitude in the short story "The Soul Chamber."

In response to the first error, the Catechism states, "although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offence, we must entrust judgement of persons to the justice and mercy of God" (par. 1861). To some, this may sound like we're softening up, and indeed, there's something comfortably edgy and hard about Pirkle's you're-going-to-Hell style of preaching, but that doesn't change the fact that it is God, and not we, who ultimately judges. To warn people of Hell is our business, but to name people in Hell is pure hubris. Had Pirkle realized this, he could have eliminated much of the film's callousness.

The second error is the Calvinist doctrine of Eternal Security boiled down to its barest basics, that form of Christianity most often chosen for contempt and parody: the teaching that those who use Jesus' name like a magic password will rise to Heaven while everyone else will fall headlong into eternal flames. So firm is Pirkle in this doctrine that, as already mentioned, he uses it to twist Christ's parables. Such a teaching certainly has no historical authority; you can read the lurid martyr stories in Eusebius, for example, who makes clear, as Jesus does, that those who deny Christ under pressure can lose their fellowship with him. Being a Christian does not abrogate a person's free will; he still has the capacity to make the terrible choice to separate himself permanently from God. St. Paul certainly understands this: in Galatians 5.21, after he's finished a standard vice list including such things as quarrels, envy, and drunkenness, he tells his Christian audience, "I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (NRSV). He isn't speaking about outsiders. He's speaking to his readers.

And then there's the most famous sermon ever preached in North America, Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Many Reformed Protestants consider Edwards the best theologian North America has ever produced. He has some real accomplishments, and so it is regrettable that he is most famous--or perhaps infamous--for this sermon. Many people hate it. Probably fewer have actually read it. Even if we criticize it, we should remember its merits, for it is, after all, a rhetorical masterpiece:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.
The deficiency in Edwards's sermon is that he presents an arbitrary God without any real love or mercy. Edwards's God does not love sinners and want them to be saved but "abhors" them. In Edwards's view, damnation is an exercise of God's wrath, which is correct so far as it goes, but Edwards forgets that damnation is also an exercise of man's free will. To Edwards it is not so much man who has turned away from God as it is God who enjoys dangling man's feet over the fire. This is the greatest problem with Calvinism's more extreme forms. There's a hint of similar thinking in Pirkle.

Besides what I have mentioned, I have no real objections to Pirkle's film. Although its imagery is cheesy, meditations on death and Hell are old and venerable parts of our religion. Certainly the earliest Church, as the New Testament makes clear, was full of apocalyptic expectations: believers are to keep awake and keep alert because Christ is returning soon to render to all the things done in the body, both good and bad. Later saints would encourage people to meditate on death for the same reason--it can come at any moment, and so we must be prepared. Though in a world of moderate safety and long life spans and generally soft living it's easy to mock the Billy Grahams who warn us that we could walk out of the sermon and step in front of a cement truck, the fact is we could. Life really is uncertain. Death or the Second Coming really can come at any moment. Though Pirkle's mode of delivery may be questionable, his basic message that death and possibly damnation are looming is an important one. Any homilist who fails to address this is shirking his duty.

And though Pirkle's pictures of Hell with people in funny makeup covered in maggots and writhing in flames are perhaps in low taste, depicting Hell and even meditating on it are not new. The most famous literary depictions of Hell come to us of course from The Divine Comedy, which draws heavily on The Aeneid, and from Paradise Lost. Dante depicts Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven with successive, organized layers, whereas Milton depicts Hell and Heaven as landscapes. Personally, I prefer Milton's vision; though Dante captures the sense of progression necessary for his poem, Milton's sense of exploration is more evocative, and the reader will note that it is Milton's vision that more closely informs C. S. Lewis's image of Heaven and Hell in his own version of Paradiso, The Great Divorce.

On the meditative side of things, just to show that meditating on Hell isn't merely a Christian eccentricity, I have Geshe Rabten's The Essential Nectar, a Buddhist commentary on Yeshe Tsöndrü's The Essential Nectar of the Holy Doctrine, a guide to the Tibetan Lam rim. It includes some nicely lurid meditations on Buddhist Hell, including gems like this:
While you are burning, hell guardians come and inflict other types of suffering. They may pull your tongue out of your mouth, stretch it enormously, and plough it up like a field. Several of them may stand around you and open your mouth with pincers and other tools, pull it out so that it is very big, then put in red-hot iron balls, or boiling molten metal, which burns your stomach and all your entrails. [par. 219]
The Christian concept of meditating on Hell is a means of arousing a life of virtue. G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy notes that it is a bad idea to think of sin in terms of disease; we cure disease largely through rest, but we cure sin through vigorous action, by buffeting the body and making it our slave. Remembering Hell or death or the Second Coming makes the need for such vigorous action appear urgent, and without urgency, we quickly sink into lethargy.

And now I invite you to peruse the meditations on Hell from St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. I also invite you to anticipate with me the upcoming discussion at The B-Movie Catechism.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Holy Heroes!! Blog Gets Facelift

The group religion-in-comics blog on which I sometimes co-author, Holy Heroes!!, has recently had a facelift, giving it a brand new look. Also, Elliot has posted a blurb on the book Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero by Simcha Weinstein. Looks mighty interesting!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Madeline L'Engle has Died

Madeleine L'Engle, the author best known for A Wrinkle in Time, but who I will remember best for her simple yet strangely compelling antediluvian time travel novel Many Waters, has passed away at age 88.

Adam Bernstein with the Washington Post reports:

Madeleine L'Engle, 88, a prolific author whose best-known novel, "A Wrinkle in Time," won the top prize for children's literature and was considered among the most enigmatic works of fiction ever created, died Sept. 6 at Rose Haven nursing home in Litchfield, Conn. [more...]

Friday, September 7, 2007

Movie Review: Akira



Sooner or later we have to mention this one.

Akira, directed by Katsushiro Atomo. Screenplay by Katsushiro Otomo and Izo Hashimoto. Starring Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, and Mami Koyama. Executive Producer Sawako Noma. Produced by Ryohei Suzuki and Shunzo Kato. Akira Committee, 1987. Runtime 124 minutes. Rated R.

I have at last figured out D. G. D.'s winning streak in the weekly movie-deciding wrestling contest. I was focusing too much on style and was forgetting that my opponent is a science fiction geek: he's 5'11" and only weighs about 160. I gave up my specialty moves and went for old-fashioned throwing-him-over, so while he was reciting badly translated lines from kung fu films like "I'm going to torture you slowly until I want you to go to Hell," I was bending him in half.

The choice this week is the brilliant classic Akira, which D. G. D. describes as "124 minutes of clunky pacing, incompetent sci-fi storytelling, and intentionally jarring violence almost painful to watch." I called him a Philistine, and then he said, "Although they've garnered a reputation to the contrary, archaeological evidence shows the Philistines were more sophisticated in art and technology than were their neighbors ." After Phenny and Frederick assisted me in stuffing an entire couch pillow in the Human Encyclopedia's mouth, we could enjoy the movie.

But okay, let's be perfectly honest. Akira is stylish, and it is jarring, but it is also hiding a lack of originality under a veneer of incomprehensibility. If we push our way through this cloak, we'll find the film's premise, plot, and play-out are quite familiar.

Akira has at its heart a plot the average sci-fi junky will have an easy time understanding. It takes all-too-common (because it's intriguing) path of ignoring real evolutionary theory or the Law of Conservation of Energy and posits that human evolution is a continuous upward progression leading from single-cell organisms to some sort of god-like state. So in spite of the strangeness, you're really in the same territory as Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question" or Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. Come to think of it, the film's final imagery may be dependent on Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In the world of Akira, this upward evolution can go in fits and starts, a sort of fantasy version of the Punctuated Equilibrium concept. According to Akira's underlying ideas, a potential energy for god-likeness is locked inside organisms or perhaps inside matter itself. Something (it's unclear what) can release that energy ahead of schedule, giving certain humans powerful psychic abilities they are not intellectually and morally advanced enough to control or properly use. One such human, a boy named Akira, apparently blows up most of Tokyo in 1988 and starts World War III. After the war is over and Neo-Tokyo has been built on the ruins, a secret government project is studying children with psychic abilities. One of them escapes and comes in contact with Tetsuo, a member of a biker gang, and somehow releases Tetsuo's own potential. Tetsuo goes on a violent rampage with his psychic powers while the military, an anti-government terrorist group, the psychic kids, and Kaneda--the leader of the biker gang--all do various things to try to stop him. In the background, a fringe religion that worships Akira as a god believes Tetsuo is their messiah.

I confess I have a little trouble taking seriously any work of science fiction that depicts the following: vehicles that explode on impact, computer screens that explode when something short-circuits, and people who go through windows without getting shredded. Akira pulls all three of these no-nos, but it's visually impressive enough and thematically interesting enough I'm willing to forgive it.

I'll have to give a spoiler alert so I can discuss the ending. The movie's climax is a prolonged orgy of city-wide destruction and a psychic battle of the sort that has appeared in other movies (Dark City is a more recent example). It finally ends Clarke-style with the metamorphosis of Tetsuo and his rebirth as a powerful god with his own universe. Though causing a lot of mayhem on the way, that rebirth conveniently removes him from our own universe. The movie's final image is of the Big Bang, with galaxies spreading out from a central point while a voice-over announces, "I am Tetsuo." It may be fair to say that by the standards of Western sf, Akira is thematically traditional, perhaps even behind the times, though it does give visual nods to Blade Runner and Mad Max, which were still moderately fresh in 1987.

I won't bother discussing the film's philosophical underpinnings at any length, as they are common in science fiction. It should be evident anyway that evolution by its very nature is no path to godhood, as any serious evolutionary scientist will stress that evolution does not imply upward progression. The notion of forthcoming godhood is a religious and spiritual notion. Tacking that notion onto the concept of biological evolution, common though it may be in science fiction, is ludicrous precisely because biological evolution is biological and must bend to the limits of physical matter. The philosophical or religious errors of a movie like Akira should therefore pose no problem for viewers simply because they cannot be taken seriously. The movie does have a number of surprises, however, for anyone who expect it to be low-key because it is a cartoon. The violence is genuinely gruesome, there is some brief nudity, and there is some strong language. It earns its R-rating.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Akira:

Myth Level: Medium-High (D. G. D. invented this scale and I hate it because it's completely subjective, not to mention stupid)

Quality: High (this movie is an animation landmark and set a few records)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-Low (a modestly redemptive ending, an almost voyeuristic preoccupation with blood and guts, strong language, kind of dumb premise)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Writers of the Future Volume XXIII Received



This blogging thing still has perks. Today in the mail came my reviewer's copy of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of Future Vol 23, the anthology of the annual Writers of the Future Awards. The authors inside are all new and unless the contest's high standards have inexplicably gone south, which I don't anticipate, all really good.

This yearly anthology is a significant text in the sff field, and the authors inside it often go on to successful careers. Each volume also contains an essay on writing by an already famous author. It's worth looking at for anyone interested in writing or interested in sf and fantasy in general.

I'm obligated to review this, having a reviewer's copy and all, so I'm afraid other projects promised on this blog are briefly delayed. Briefly. I mean, how long can it take me to read a short story collection?

Oh, and Snuffles, get over here and write that post you promised!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Hugo Award Winners Announced

The winners of the Hugo Award have been posted over at the SFWA website, and you can get to the list here.

Some of the winners are:


Best novel: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (Tor, 2006)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford

Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu

[more...]

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sunday Update

Can't talk now. Response to Michael O'Brien's "The Problem of Harry Potter" is currently in composition. I'll probably break it up into installments when I'm ready to post, which won't be for some time yet.

In the meantime, I think Snuffles is just about done with Anime from Akira To Princess Mononoke and will probably have some intriguing comments soon. What I've heard of the book and what I've read is quite thought-provoking.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Leave It to Chance



When things go bump in the night, you can try to deal with it yourself...or you can Leave It To Chance! See my discussion of this wonderful but ill-fated comic over at the Holy Heroes!! blog.

And then there is Chance herself. She has a boyish haircut, thick eyebrows, and a decidedly androgynous body she usually covers with overalls and a bulky trench coat. Again, this appears to be a reaction against the stereotypes of comics in which crime-fighting women are typically voluptuous and underdressed. The reader may get the sense that Robinson and Smith have carefully and consciously de-sexualized their heroine. [more...]