Friday, November 30, 2007

News from the Fish Bowl: Breaking News

This is Lucky the Goldfish. I just want to tell everybody that when I say "breaking news," I mean news that's important and that I just got, not that my goldfish bowl has broken and that I'm drowning, just in case anybody was worried. I'm not drowning, not really, except I do have to hold my breath to jump out of the bowl and flop on the keyboard to type these posts, but that's how I get my workout and because I do that I can hold my breath for a longer time than most goldfish and I've got really strong fins, too.

BRUCE MASSE TO CHRIS TURNEY: MY MYTH IS BIGGER THAN YOUR MYTH

Some researchers want to know if real-life events lie behind the Flood story of the Bible and the flood stories of other cultures.

Some of you may already know one theory holds that Near Eastern flood stories originate from a rise in sea levels that broke down a barrier between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. According to Michael Kahn in this Reuters article from Yahoo! News, this event has been successfully dated. Evidence also indicates that the rising Black Sea resulted in a diaspora. Farmers displaced from the region moved across Europe, bringing their agricultural knowledge with them, according to researcher Chris Turney.

But that's not good enough according to Bruce Masse. He has proposed that flood myths from around the world originate with a comet strike that wiped out eighty percent of the world's population approximately 5,000 years ago, as Scott Carney writes for Discover. Masse's sensational theory of course has its critics, and we can safely expect that no definite answers will be forthcoming in the future, but to bolster his theory, Masse so far has a possible crater off the coast of Madagascar and some shore features that may suggest a cataclysmic impact.

Update from D. G. D.: Thanks for the new item, Lucky. I hope you don't mind if I post a brief addendum. The Discover article makes a generalization about most cultures having flood myths. Personally, I have no idea how many known flood stories there are or how many cultures have them. Greg Laden's irritated but nonetheless notable post on the subject is worth reading. He claims only a "small percentage" of cultures have flood myths, though he doesn't cite research to back it up. I have no idea if his generalization is any more accurate than the generalization in Discover. All I can say at the moment is that some cultures have flood myths and others don't. I thought this worth mentioning since Christians are often guilty of the "every culture has a flood myth" generalization, though we're hardly the only ones guilty of it.

Even if Masse's theory is a wash, I hope he publishes a book of comparative mythology on the flood stories he's been researching. It would be a shame if all that work went to waste. Perhaps such a work could clear up the question of just how many cultures have these flood myths.

I must also mention this: the Discover article treats Genesis and The Epic of Gilgamesh as if they are two independent sources, but they are almost certainly related. Myths have a habit of moving around and getting modified. I suspect Masse isn't taking that into account.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Dragon's Mailbag



Here we go again. It's Snuffles, and it's time to open the mail. The spam has gotten out of hand, so let me repeat, in case you missed it the first time: No, I will not hold a little extra cash the Bank of Nigeria has lying around. I mean, really, I may look like a stuffed toy to you, but that doesn't mean I'm stupid.

Okay, so I open up the mailbag and guess what? Real mail. Really. This might even be a first. So here we go:

Catholig draconi optumo Snuffles salutem plurimam dicit.

Volui scribere epistulam tibi, quia vere tu es solus animalis inanimatus in figura draconis repletus tomento qui scripsit commentaria et recessiones apud blogspot. Etiam manifestus est ut scribas commentaria tua festivitate. Spero quod potes latine legere.

Vale

Oh, wait. Maybe that is spam.

Oh, I get it! It's Latin. Yeah, Latin. Let me guess...homeschooled?

Look, I know what Ciruelo told you in his little "encyclopedia," but dragons do not have an innate knowledge of Latin. We usually grow up speaking Draconic and then pick up other languages the same way you do. When I incarnated into your universe, I incarnated as an infant dragon and learned to speak in the regular way.

So, let's see here. I'll just grab my English-Latin dictionary...oh, darn. I misplaced it. Okay, let's see what I can figure out on my own.


...tu es solus animalis inanimatus in figura draconis...

That probably says, "You are only an inanimate...." What the--?!?! Hey, look, buddy, first you send me a letter in a dead language and then you turn around and insult me. Do I write you letters calling you an inanimate object? I don't think so. How about you and I meet in person--all 97 pounds of you and all six tons of me--and let's hear you call me inanimate to my face.

Hmm. Frederick the Annoying Unicorn is currently at my shoulder, saying something about being able to see why I don't get much mail. I don't know what he's talking about.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 3



Yeah, it's Snuffles again. Deej calls me up again and we have the following bizarre conversation:

D.G.D.: Man, this project's really takin' it outta me. I feel like I've been dancin' with Mr. Brownstone.

Snuffles: Knowing you, you're probably unaware that that phrase refers to shooting up heroine.

D.G.D.: I've always liked stories with strong heroines. Maybe you can blog something about that.

Snuffles: You want me to blog something about what you like?

D.G.D.: Would you? I'd really appreciate it. Catch ya later.

And then he hangs up on me. So I'm sitting here with vague instructions and no new content. All I can say is, don't use strong heroine or you'll end up like Deej.

Anyway, I figure we might as well take a mosy around this so-called "blog tour." That way, instead of coming up with my own content, I'll just borrow other people's. In case you forgot, the tour has to do with this book called Scarlet by this guy named Stephen R. Lawhead.


To start out, we have Mirtika, who I assume is named after Mitaka, the hunky tennis coach in Maison Ikkoku. She's got a post that definitely meets our approval: it's an extrapolation of the origins of the Robin Hood mythology and a discussion of Robin Hood's religious roots and the way Lawhead has used religion in his novel.

Second, we have Grasping for the Wind, which presents an excellent interview with Lawhead. Lawhead says something in the interview I hope everyone will note: he does not write novels to present Christianity. His novels contain Christian themes, rather, because he is a Christian.

And then Hanna's Life is Cool has a handy review of the prequel.

And then there's the rest of the blog tour:

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Wayne Thomas Batson
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Karen McSpadden
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Jason Waguespac
Daniel I. Weaver
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 2



Snuffles the Dragon here. Deej calls me up from some motel room, tells me he's real tired and doesn't want to post today, and then asks me if I'll say something nice about some book called Scarlet by some guy named Stephen R. Lawhead. So anyway, here's the second day of the blog tour--Snuffles Style.

Now, I'm pretty sure Lawhead doesn't draw comics and doesn't hail from Japan, so I don't know why anyone thinks I'd know anything about his book. Though I think I once saw Deej with a copy of Search for Fierra, I haven't read any of Lawhead's work. My first thought was of course that Scarlet must be a sequel to Gone with the Wind, but it turns out it's actually a sequel to Hood, the first volume of the Raven King trilogy, which draws on the legends of Robin Hood, among other things.

Though I don't know very much about Lawhead, I do know that Michael O'Brien in his A Landscape With Dragons considers Lawhead's writing morally questionable because Lawhead's characters sometimes commit adultery. It's easy to see where O'Brien is coming from on this one, since adultery isn't the sort of thing that happens in real life. (And in the same book, O'Brien recommends reading a lot of Arthurian romance, which is often about...well, you know. Don't ask me to explain this.)

Now, though I don't read many books without pictures, I did once read Frank Peretti's excellent novel The Oath, which is about a dragon--and which has a couple of characters who commit adultery. Therefore, Lawhead has this in common with Peretti: he's a Christian speculative fiction author, and his characters commit adultery. Could I possibly offer a higher recommendation than that? I think not. So get your butt off the couch and get it a copy of Scarlet. I don't know what your butt would want with a book, but maybe it could sit on it or something.

This is the blog tour:

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Wayne Thomas Batson
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Karen McSpadden
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Jason Waguespac
Daniel I. Weaver
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Sci Fi Catholic Featured on Illusion TV

I just found out that The Sci Fi Catholic is a featured site over at the website for the Illusion Television Network. After all the reviews I've written on here, it's interesting to see a brief review of, well, me.

So check out Illusion TV's website. You'll find a variety of interesting science fiction-related resources, articles, and so forth, as well as news on what they're showing.

November Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour

I'm headed for the door to go to the field, so I can't give this the post it deserves at the moment (but will later if I have the chance). This months' blog tour goes out to Stephen R. Lawhead's Scarlet, book 2 in the Raven King trilogy.

Here are this month's tour participants:

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Wayne Thomas Batson
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Karen McSpadden
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Jason Waguespac
Daniel I. Weaver
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Up In the Air...with Santa

I'm headed to the field tomorrow, so that means the blog may get dicey for a little while. I'm not sure what the situation is this time around, but I'll post when I can.

In the meanwhile, because I don't know what my near future plans are, I invite you to check out Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a classic of bad science fiction and our theme for this upcoming holiday season. I'm unveiling it early because I don't know my schedule for the immediate future, but I'll talk about it when I get the chance.

The movie is public domain, so you can watch it on Google Video here.

And don't forget the quirky and highly enjoyable novelization, coincidentally entitled Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, by Lou Harry. The novel comes with a DVD of the movie so you can share the badness with the whole family. Looooong-time readers of the blog will remember that I reviewed the novel back when the blog was still ugly and had a different title, and Lou Harry even dropped by to comment!

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is also one of the most famous episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. We'll be discussing this send-up and talking about the dreamy possibilities of a remake of this great film.

And as always, don't forget to--

Keep Mass in Christmas!

Friday, November 23, 2007

News from the Fish Bowl

Here's the latest roundup of news.

OVERREACTION TO PULLMAN MIRRORS OVERREACTION TO ROWLING

An Ontario Catholic School Board has pulled Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy from its shelves because of a parental complaint, according to this article from Associated Press, printed in the Herald Tribune. What was the complaint that led the pulling of the books? Was it the sexual encounter between two twelve-year-olds at the climax of the series? No, apparently the complaint was that Philip Pullman is an atheist. Note to concerned parents: This doesn't help anything.

PULLMAN TO TEACH LITERATURE

Speaking of Philip Pullman, he'll be teaching classes on narrative structures to students at Bangor University, according to the BBC. Hopefully, he's learned something about narrative structures since writing the His Dark Materials Trilogy. Note to Philip Pullman: An underage sex scene is not a satisfying way to end a fantasy epic.

SLATE ON KID LIT

Slate has a new slide show on how children's literature evolved from morality tales to imaginative romps. See it here. Maybe next they can do a slide show on how Philip Pullman turned children's literature into an excuse for describing pedophilic fantasies.

AMAZON WANTS TO DO TO BOOKS WHAT iPODS DID TO MUSIC

And the big news is Amazon's new Kindle, a portable book-reader that can download whole books off the Internet. (The price of the new gadget is very high, so don't pull an iPhone mistake and buy one before the massive price drop in a couple of months.) This column from The Age has an interesting commentary on the e-Book and on reading in general, including the unsurprising news that many Americans don't read but watch a lot of television. The writer doesn't mention people like Snuffles who like to read but only if there are pictures.

For another, rather pessimistic look at e-Books, see John Cleary's column from the Star Gazette.

MONSTER ALERT

And in other news, National Geographic reports discovery of a fossil scorpion the size of a crocodile. To this, we at The Sci Fi Catholic can only say, "Aaah! It's Them!"

SCI FI CATHOLIC TO CATHOLIC CARDINALS: DUH.

I have to get off the computer and let Deej write this one--

According to Nicole Winfield with the Associated Press, Cardinal Walter Kasper told a meeting of cardinals that it's time for the Church to examine herself and find out what's she's doing wrong in areas like Latin America and Africa where Evangelical churches are growing while the Catholic Church is shrinking. I think we can find a clue to the problem in this little quote from Cardinal Walter Kasper: "Ecumenism is not an option but an obligation."

As this self-examination process begins, Cardinal Kasper should note that the Pentecostals and other Evangelicals who are disturbing him are not known for their ecumenical concerns, but for their determined evangelism. Believing themselves to be right and members of other sects to be wrong, they actively and aggressively seek converts, and so, naturally enough, they get them.

Duh.

I'm in favor of this so-called "ecumenism," as long as it is properly understood. Proper ecumenism means that people of differing opinions can sit down together like adults and discuss their differences intelligently. But if we allow "ecumenism" to become a code word for "You do your thing and I do mine," we're in trouble. A religion that takes this tack is committing slow suicide.

Almost all of the world's major religions (Shinto and Hinduism being the only exceptions I can think of) believe themselves to have some important truth that others are lacking. Proselytism flows naturally out of such a belief; it is a form of courtesy and an expression of charity. I get quite annoyed with some of my fellow Catholics who are impatient when Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, or others show up on their doorsteps with literature. Those Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses believe themselves to have truth. Not to share it would be rude. Rather than getting angry at them, you should ask yourself, "Why am I not knocking on their doors?" And you should also take their arrival on your doorstep as an opportunity to share your own beliefs.

The article switches to Catholic relations with the Orthodox churches. Here's another telling quote: "Tensions between the two churches have been strained over Orthodox accusations that the Vatican is seeking converts on traditionally Orthodox territories, particularly in eastern Europe — charges that Rome denies."

No wonder we're losing people! If someone accuses us of trying to win converts, the answer should always be, "Damn straight." I don't remember Jesus saying anything about foregoing evangelism in order to maintain good relations with schismatics.

Now for just a moment I'm gonna go all freaky apocalyptic on you:

Religions that thrive and grow are robust ones that lay it out hard. Watering things down to get along with others may look like a good idea at the time, but in the end it proves devastating. Sometime in the near future, Western Civilization is going to collapse (it's happened before), and when it does, religions that survive will be strong ones. If the Catholic Church cannot be strong now, when things get bad, she will shrink and become marginalized, and that means the strong Evangelical groups that do survive will have no guiding light. Take a look at what happened with the Iraq invasion: Evangelicals who can keep cool heads in most circumstances were suddenly gung-ho about an immoral war because they have no sound moral or theological anchor. When stresses hit, they resort to situational ethics. If the Catholic Church cannot stand as a rock and try to guide its delinquent younger siblings, then following the imminent collapse of civilization, much of the world will be consumed in a mutual Evangelical-Islamist holy war that could potentially last centuries. The current attitude of get-alongism that plagues the Church, evidence of a profound decadence, is not a good sign for the future.

Okay, I'm done being freaky. I promise not to do that very often.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Movie Review: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium



Kid movies without fart jokes. Yes, it is possible.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, written and directed by Zach Helm. Starring Ted Ludzik, Natalie Portman, and Zach Mills. Mandate Pictures, 2007. Runtime 94 minutes. Rated G. USCCB Rating is A-I--General Patronage.

See other reviews here.

Snuffles: Okay, it's not really that good. Not really. But after much debate here last night, I agreed to go soft on it because, mediocre though it is, it means well, and I would like to see other, better movies follow its lead.

D.G.D.: Snuffles and I are having a disagreement. Personally, I think it's a great movie.

Snuffles: Only because Natalie Portman is in it.

D.G.D.: Wha--hey, what are you implying?

Snuffles: Nothing at all. Now step aside and let the mature adult review the movie. To sum it up, Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) runs a magic toy store and has apparently been doing so for well over a century. He also, we are told, designs toys, though most of the toys we see are existing products, which in the world of Magorium's store are able to move on their own.

Magorium, for no compelling reason (he's run out of shoes), decides he's about to die and wishes to bequeath the store to his manager, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), who doesn't feel magical enough to run the place. In order to do this, he hires an accountant, Henry Weston (Jason Bateman) to assess the store. Weston has the sort of stuffy personality you expect of a math whiz in a kid movie, and he can't see any of the store's magical activity. In the midst of this is a socially awkward boy, Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills), who narrates and has trouble making friends. Many of the little subplots never reach a conclusion, and as usual, Dustin Hoffman is excellent but Natalie Portman can't act.

D.G.D.: I thought she did great.

Snuffles: Whatever.

D.G.D.: And the short haircut was quite fetching.

Snuffles: Don't you have something better to do? Anyway, the movie does manage a few moderately emotional moments, particularly surrounding Magorium's approaching death, and it features a wholesome message, too. Best of all--and this is why I'm willing to go light on it--it doesn't try to keep the kiddies entertained through either ADD-inducing action or crude jokes. It aims for a simpler kind of entertainment and a cleaner brand of humor. Problem is, the jokes aren't funny and the magic store isn't that spectacular.

D.G.D.: I thought--

Snuffles: Shut up. While checking the professional reviewers, I found that many of them make the same complaint: the movie is seriously lacking in "wonder." They do, however, feel the movie has plenty of "whimsy." Whether or not the individual critic considers whimsy enough to carry the movie appears to determine whether the review is good or bad. Personally, I thought whimsy was enough--at first. After about an hour, I knew exactly where the story was going and I was impatient for it to get there. In other words, this hour-and-a-half movie is half an hour too long.

D.G.D.: I enjoyed the last half hour.

Snuffles: That's because you were staring at Natalie Portman. Anyway, if you for some strange reason want to take the kids to a family-friendly movie this Thanksgiving weekend, you could do a lot worse. Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium is like whole wheat bread: it's bland, but it's wholesome and with its positive messages about the afterlife and believing in yourself and recognizing that there's more to the world than meets the eye, it's even fortifying.

D.G.D.: I love whole wheat bread.

Snuffles: You are really getting on my nerves.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium:

Myth Level: Low. No, high. You've gotta be kidding me.

Quality: Medium. High. Medium! High! Look, she was in
Episode I, too! Are you gonna call that a good movie!?

Ethics/Religion: High. Yeah, okay, I'll give you that one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Schadenfreude Interactive

Before you do anything else, I seriously suggest you check out this odd little parody website called Schadenfreude Interactive, which features very funny advertisements and press releases for video games that don't exist but should.

For example, they are the creators of the great classics Accordion Hero and Grand Theft Ottoman. I think my favorite, though, is The Teutonic Ten, an action game that allows you to play as such famed German superheroes as Der Lederhosen and Steinmaiden. It promises fully destructible alpine environments and an all-Oompah soundtrack!

If you want to know what the website is about, this quote might give a hint:

Dead Men Rising is an exciting zombie U-boat simulator that has caused a great deal of controversy here in Germany in regarding to the violence and sensitive subject matter. In America, this should pass unnoticed as you have a higher tolerance for violence and gore in computer games. Also you do not teach world history in your public schools as the little children are too busy stabbing one another and hitting each other in the head with their Desperate Housewives lunchboxes.

Hat tip: Calls for Cthulhu

And as for that movie review, look for it tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium Review Coming

D.G.D.: Seems we haven't had many kid flick reviews around here, and Snuffles wants to see this one.

Snuffles: I'm mildly interested.

D.G.D.: I don't really want to go because I feel funny walking up to the ticket window and saying, "One grown adult and one stuffed animal for the kid movie, please," but because of Utah's speciesist dragon leash law, I have to go with Snuffles, so this will be another dual review.

Snuffles: Also known as The Double Deuce

D.G.D.: No. No, it isn't. But anyway, if you wondered why we didn't post yesterday, we'll just claim it's because we were gearing up for this review.

Snuffles: And because you wanted to play video games instead.

D.G.D.: Well, hey, aren't I supposed to have a news lady who posts on Monday anyway?

Snuffles: Yes, but she's busy crying her eyes out because of all the mean stuff you've said about her on the blog lately.

D.G.D.: How can you tell she's crying?

Snuffles: Haven't you noticed how her bowl keeps overflowing?

D.G.D.: Oh...I just thought, you know, her cup runneth over.

Snuffles: You thought...? Deej, have I called you a moron today?

D.G.D.: Today? I don't recall--

Snuffles: Good. You're a moron!!!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quote of Note

After staying up day and night for four days, subsisting on diets of liquid stimulants and junk food, and continuously watching three channels of animation simultaneously--while also reading manga--it is a miracle that most convention-goers remained functional.

--Frederick L. Schodt, Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga:331

Yeah, baby! That's what I call the good life!

Movie Review: Beowulf



Bad movies usually only disappoint or bore me, but this one actually ticked me off.

Beowulf, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. Starring Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and John Malkovich. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007. Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AIII--Adults.

Read other reviews here.

It doesn't bother me so much that the movie revels in violence to the point of sadism. It doesn't bother me so much that the movie is sexually exploitative. It doesn't bother me so much that the movie takes brainless cheap shots at Christianity. But it bothers me immensely that the movie shows such utter disdain for its source material.

Zemeckis, Gaiman, and Avary apparently dislike something about Beowulf. Perhaps they dislike Beowulf's simple hero-worship, which they've replaced with a moderately engaging tale of human weakness and personal tragedy. Or perhaps they dislike Beowulf's Christian piety, which they've replaced with insults and snickers--in the movie's first half, the only explicitly Christian character is a weak coward who beats his servant, and after Beowulf becomes a Christian himself, he also becomes a pedophile (I'm not kidding!).

This computer-generated movie follows more-or-less the outline of the poem, but with added material and less political sidetracking. Danish king Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) builds a new mead hall called Heurot, which quickly becomes a site of joyous debauchery, much of which we get to witness. The revelry is short-lived, however, for the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) shows up and kills people in graphic fashion. Grendel, incidentally, is one of those whiny, sympathetic Grendels of the sort that show up in modern literature.

Beowulf the Geat (Ray Winstone), whose greatest skill is masculine posturing, soon arrives to slay the monster. Determined to battle Grendel in fair combat, he not only goes into Heurot unarmed but nekkid, thereby exposing us to the full glory of digitally rendered male rear nudity. Graphic fighting with plenty of dismemberments follows.

After Beowulf kills Grendel, Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) comes for revenge and slaughters Beowulf's remaining men. Beowulf goes after Grendel's mother and, instead of a monstrous hag, finds a beautiful (according to some tastes) temptress. It is at this point that the film diverges from the poem and simultaneously reaches the grandest heights of silliness. Not only does Grendel's mother have a tail and high-heeled feet (I'm not kidding!), but the movie insists on exposing us to the full glory of digitally rendered full-frontal female nudity...sort of. Grendel's mother, it turns out, has all the anatomical accuracy of a Barbie doll. "Give me a son," she purrs, and I want to hear Beowulf reply, "I would, Ma'am, but I'm not sure how that would be physically possible in this case."

Somehow or other, Beowulf does manage to sire a kid on Grendel's mother, and this kid, rather than a hapless, skinless Crispin Glover, is a dragon who shows up in the twilight of Beowulf's life, and you probably know the story from there. A few extraneous details are thrown in, such as the Geats' conversion to Christianity and the elderly Beowulf's cheating on his wife with a teenage girl.

The poem Beowulf is a pious poem, yet this is plainly an impious movie. I understand why filmmakers would feel the need to add some depth to the simple plot and characters, yet they do so here only at the expense of those same characters. Beowulf comes across as a loudmouth and, in spite of his success against Grendel, a weakling who boasts too much, lies, and lacks self-control. His religion, a source of his strength in the poem, is here in the film a symbol of his weakness. References to the poem appear throughout as characters tell Beowulf his name will live forever in song, yet the movie presents itself smugly as the true story of what really happened.

I dislike this film adaptation of Beowulf for the same reason I dislike 300. Besides displaying violence, sex, and masculine posturing for their own sake, it wants to score philosophical points, yet is consistently dumb. Religion is obviously bad, 300 tells us, because Spartan priests are ugly and stupid and like to have kinky sex with a teenager. Christianity is obviously bad, Beowulf tells us, because Christians are ugly and stupid and Beowulf likes to have kinky sex with a teenager. Someone should remind Zemeckis, Gaiman, and Avary that not all religious people are ugly or stupid and that Christianity doesn't approve of kinky sex with a teenager unless you happen to be married to her, in which case you would, preferably, also be a teenager.

On another note, I am increasingly convinced that the Motion Picture Association of America has an ethnic bias. If an animated film with this much gore, nudity, and sexual innuendo came from Japan, it would be rated R. How can Beowulf get a PG-13 rating if Appleseed, which has moderate action violence and no sex, gets an R rating? Beowulf has destroyed my faith in MPAA ratings. I must now concede to the alarmists that these ratings have indeed become effectively worthless.

Furthermore, how does an animated film with this much gore, nudity, and sexual innuendo, not to mention snide attacks on Christianity, get only an A-III rating from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops? This movie deserves the big O for Morally Offensive or at least the A-IV for Limited Adult Audience. Beowulf has seriously wounded my faith in USCCB ratings.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Beowulf:

Myth Level: High (reasonable rendering of a hero epic with tragic elements)

Quality: High (technical virtuosity, reasonably good writing, high production quality)

Ethics/Religion: Low (sadistic violence, gratuitous sex and nudity, empty-headed attacks on Christianity)

Friday, November 16, 2007

B-Movie Catechist's Monthly Film Club: Creature from the Haunted Sea



And two thirds of the way through the movie, the monster shows up.

I'm nearly speechless. For a monthly film club, The B-Movie Catechism has caused a number of people to watch Roger Corman's Creature from the Haunted Sea, available at Google Video. Sadly, this is not the worst movie I've seen recently.

To make a longer-than necessary story short, it's Cuba and Castro has come to power. Counter-revolutionaries, dreaming of recapturing their country, have made off with the Cuban treasury and have cooked up a scheme that sounds like one of those Nigerian e-mail scams: they promise an American gangster that if he'll take half the Cuban treasury out of the country on his yacht, they'll let him keep a tenth of it.

The gangster, of course, wants the whole thing. To keep it, he'll have to find a way to off all the bumbling Cuban soldiers who are traveling on his yacht with him. To do that, he cooks up a scheme with his oddball cronies to create a fake sea monster that will kill the Cuban soldiers one at a time--only problem is, there's a real sea monster, and it's wearing one of those fake rubber suits the B-Movie Catechist loves so much.

An inept American spy has managed to work his way into the gangster's crew. He doesn't do much besides narrate the movie and hit on the gangster's girlfriend. Eventually, to escape the monster, this group lands the yacht somewhere near Puerto Rico and then a whole bunch of women show up for no reason as the Cubans and the gangster's crew all try to get their hands on the money.

This movie does have some memorable and very funny lines, including, "As an American gambler and gangster, you're above suspicion," "We'll jump overboard and swim for it--through shark-infested water, of course, so no one will follow us," "No matter where you go or what you do or who you kill--I'll love you til the day I die," and ,"Well, she was living in a sort of sorority house down by the docks--she's awful friendly."

At the end of the film, the monster dispenses monster judgment. Everyone guilty of being a gangster, being a murderer, being an adulterer, being a thief, or being a Cuban is dead and the only characters left alive are the American spy and his reformed-prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriend.

I'm supposed to find a religious message or something in here as a member of the Film Club. Only problem is, this movie is a load of cinematic cotton candy--you bite into it and find there's nothing there. The monsteresque Last Judgment at the end is kind of nice, however. There is always something satisfying--not necessarily healthy, but satisfying--in watching villains come to a sticky end, as they usually do in comic books, boys' adventure novels, and some other fare I'm known to read from time to time.

I think the reason we like to see the villains Get Theirs is because we do have built into us a sense of justice. Movies like Creature from the Haunted Sea take a certain reality for granted, that negative actions have negative consequences. So the movie could be viewed as a morality tale: thou shalt not steal gold from Cuba and murder people to cover thy tracks. All in all, I'd have to say that's a sound moral message.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Beowulf Review Coming

I suppose I should amdit my bias up front: I have low hopes for this movie for three reasons:

1. It appears to have next to nothing to do with Beowulf, not that Beowulf would make a particularly good movie anyway.

2. If Beowulf is to be animated, it ought to be hand-drawn. I dislike CGI and hyperrealistic CGI is even worse.

3. Angelina Jolie. Somebody apparently thinks she's sexy, but somebody isn't me. That excessively sultry voice she's always doing is the vocal equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Critters

No, not the movie (which I really liked when I was twelve), but the on-line writers' workshop.

It's a ginormous group of people interested in publishing science fiction, fantasy, and horror. They submit their own work and critique each others' and a rather ingenious system keeps it running smooth. I can't tell you about what I'm critiquing or submitting because there's a strict privacy policy (as this is all unpublished work), but I can say I'm impressed with the whole thing and how it's run, and it has recommendations from good sources. Some members are even professionals.

If you need a good writers' group that focuses on critiquing work and making it better, you might want to sign up. The main page is here, and from there you can find all the information you need. I warn you this: it's a serious time commitment as members are expected to produce regular, lengthy, thoughtful critiques of others' work. It's intended for people really bent on publishing, and it has several important policies in place to keep everything running smoothly, so make sure you read all the FAQs before signing up to avoid later hassles or embarrassments because the time commitment begins immediately when you become a member.

It's only for science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but short stories, novels, and apparently other formats in those genres are all welcome. If you want to be a writer (or want to be a better writer), it's worth taking a look at.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Scandal Rocks The Sci Fi Catholic

Critics ask: Can the blog survive?

Public outcry reached fever pitch after I introduced a new blogger, Lucky the Goldfish (we got, like, two comments, which I think is a record). One outraged reader has even threatened to kill me for "gross misconduct," "utter lack of chivalry," "inconsiderateness and appalling behavior," and "acting in a manner unbefitting a blogger." I feel justified in replying as follows: these comments do not reflect reality; they are a distortion and an exaggeration and betray ignorance of the facts; and finally, I can take you anytime, buddy, so name the place.

First, I know many of your are disappointed to learn I am currently cohabiting with a female. However, I will point out that the female is now, and has been as long as I have known her, a goldfish. Anyone who finds this inappropriate is backwards-thinking and out of touch with the situation of today. Besides that, Frederick the Unicorn is chaperoning, and he is seriously the Chaperon from Hell. Nothing gets by this guy.

Second, I feel it is time to restate my so-called "origin story," comic book-fashion. As I told you in the first place even though I never told you before, my life has gone something like this. My mother was impregnated by an incubus. Because the superstitious villagers believed me to be a "devil baby" and wanted to kill me, she hid me in a basket in the Enchanted Forest in the hope that the good fairies would find me and raise me as one of their own. Instead, a couple of dragons happened by. They would have devoured me immediately had they not recently feasted on roast knight, so instead they decided to take me home and make me the pet of their adopted son, Snuffles.

Snuffles was in reality a superintelligent nebula from a parallel universe, but he had transformed into a dragon in order to visit our universe and had become trapped in that form, adopted by this dragon couple who had no children. Upon receiving me as his new pet, he made it a regular habit to pinch, poke, hit, and otherwise vex me for his own amusement. I grew up with this constant abuse.

I grew up believing myself to be the only human in the world, knowing nothing of human society or the existence of others like myself. When I was about thirteen, however, my fairy godmother, who had blessed me in my basket in the woods before the dragons found me, appeared and told me it was time to take a long and arduous journey, and that I would soon meet a companion who would help me on the way. This companion came when I was drinking at a brook: a beautiful white unicorn marched out of the trees and announced himself as Frederick. We two set off on a series of disconnected rambling quests, during which I slowly reintegrated into human society, though not before Snuffles showed up and insisted on going with us because he and I had been pair-bonded by a blood oath some years back, rendering us unable to part company for more than a few days at a time without experiencing severe stomach cramps.

Throughout our long journey, during which I grew into a man, Frederick the Unicorn told me that I had the burden of a great destiny upon me, and that I would accomplish wondrous things if only I heeded the call of fate. I felt my destiny upon my shoulders as a heavy burden throughout our adventures. Eventually, our travels brought us to a fair where a carnie was offering goldfish to anyone who could throw three rings around a stick. I managed the heroic deed and won the goldfish, which I learned could speak. It told me that it was in reality a beautiful princess cursed by a jealous wizard and that she had the power to grant me one wish.

Frederick looked straight into my eyes and whispered, "Your moment has come."

I had to agree. Nobody had ever offered me a wish before. I thought about it and realized there was nothing I really wanted. But it was a hot day and I could use some refreshment, so I requested an orange dreamsicle.

Frederick wept, apparently for joy. And from that moment forward, the feeling of destiny dropped from my shoulders, leading me to believe I had done the right thing, even though my formerly directed life has sort of wandered aimlessly since that time.

So, that's the story. You will see I have done nothing wrong, nothing of which I'm ashamed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

News from the Fish Bowl

Hey everybody, it's D.G.D. I'm popping in a moment to introduce Lucky the Goldfish, another of my pals here at Sci Fi Catholic Central. She's pretty shy and the rest of us have a hard time getting her out of her bowl, as it were, but she's agreed to compile a regular news column for the blog. Since I have a hard time catching news as it happens, I thought a regular feature might be a better idea, and I finally egged Lucky into heading it up. Don't forget to check her profile to learn her interesting back story.

--D. G. D.

National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month, a time during which, apparently many amateur writers try to start and finish a novel in just thirty days. I think D. G. D. did that once and the result, if I recall, was quite horrible. Keith Strohm has an entertaining article on this monthly event. Keep in mind, however, that professional writers from the Science Fiction Writers of America once wrote an entire bad novel over a weekend, so the pros still have the amateurs beat.

Incidentally, the official website of that purposely bad novel is here. It's extremely funny.

Catholic Bishop Favors Legalizing Prostitution

And in case you thought there was enough scandal in the Church these days, here's more. (Hat tip: SOV2). I thought bishops usually had to have degrees in theology, but this one apparently cut his ethics classes.

Brave New World Approaches

When you offer people abortion on demand, people practice eugenics. Estimates are that 80-90% of fetuses diagnosed with Downs Syndrome are aborted, according to this article in World Magazine. (Hat tip: EegahInc.) Couple that with Norwegian psychologists who advise Kindergarten instructors to encourage children to engage in erotic behavior, mix in some test tubes and legal narcotics, and you have a future world envisioned by Aldous Huxley.

Bric-a-brac

In more sci-fiey news, SFScope reports today that Nancy Kress has three new books coming out in 2008.

SFScope also reports a few sf/f/h movies have done well at the box office.

And that's all for me for now!

Send any news items or info you'd like to see on the blog to lckythegoldfish@hotmail.com.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

You'll Be Pumping Ovaltine or Salty Shanty's One Shot Tea!

This is sort of related to horror, so I guess I have an excuse for posting it on this blog. I have to share this because it's so funny I had tears running down my face.

Admittedly, this may be a bit disrespectful to another culture. I mean, I like Indian television--what with all the wet saris and hip-thrusts--as much as the next guy. But on the other hand, they're the ones who chose to do a bad rip-off of a Michael Jackson video, so they get what they deserve. Basically, it's in Hindi, but some smart-aleck has put in subtitles of the English words that it *kind of* sounds like they're singing.

Now I gotta go get me some Salty Shanty's One Shot Tea. That sounds delish.

Hat tip: Mark Shea

Anime Review: Steamboy



He may or may not be a superhero.

Steamboy, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Screenplay by Sadayuki Marai and Katsuhiro Otomo. Voice talent by Anne Suzuki, Masane Tsukayama, and Katsuo Nakamura. Bandai Visual Company, 2005. Rated PG-13.

Read other reviews here.

As a note, I was supposed to write this yesterday, but Deej wouldn't get off the computer, so blame him.

So, Steamboy. I was surprised at the mixed reviews this movie received. Though many critics were underwhelmed, it looks to me to be a competent and enjoyable piece of steampunk, even if it is low on brains. It deserves to be watched for the animation if nothing else: Katsuhiro Otomo, director of Akira, reportedly spent ten years working on this movie, and it is undeniably a visually impressive film. I'm not sure it's ten years' worth of impressive, but it's impressive nonetheless.

Set in an alternate world 1860s Britain, Steamboy's protagonist is Ray Steam, a boy genius with a knack for steam-powered machinery. His father, Dr. Eddie Steam, and grandfather, Dr. Lloyd Steam, are away from home, working in Alaska on a new wonder device known as the Steamball, which is something like a miniature steam-powered nuclear reactor. When Ray receives a Steamball in the mail from his grandfather, he is soon beset by violent men who chase after him with a creative array of steam-powered equipment, determined to retrieve the Steamball for some nefarious end.

We soon learn that the Drs. Steam are working for the O'Hara Foundation, an American weapons manufacturer bent on using the Steamball to create weapons of mass destruction and sell them to ee-vil foreigners for profit. Dr. Eddie Steam, rebuilt as a cyborg after a steam-related accident (alas, he never says, "Ray, I am your father"), is all for the plan, but Dr. Lloyd Steam, turned into a shirtless, bearded, philosophical wild man after Eddie's accident gives him second thoughts, wants to sabotage everything and destroy the Steamball, which is now powering a massive mechanical fortress known as the Steam Castle, built for Britain's Great Exhibition (which, I believe, did not happen in the 1860s). Eddie and Lloyd spend the entire movie trying to injure or kill each other, all while spouting a lot of verbose rhetoric. Eddie talks at length about how technology is man's salvation, and Lloyd talks at length about how man inevitably uses technology for evil. They never develop their arguments, and after a time it becomes easy to tune them out. Ray spends most of the movie bouncing back and forth between them, but never clearly achieves a worldview of his own.

Somewhere in here, the storyline takes a hike and the brainless action takes over. Representing the O'Hara Foundation in Britain, improbably, is a spoiled, bratty young girl, Scarlett O'Hara (?!?), who spends most of her time being obnoxious or putting the moves on Ray, who proves to be quite the shrinking violet ("my voice-over is being done by a woman, okay? I'm not into that"). Without her knowledge, young Scarlett's butler-cum-oily salesman demonstrates the Steam Tower's awesome weapons technology by starting a war with Britain, a war the O'Hara Foundation apparently hopes to win even though it's fighting from a single building built on British soil. You can add this to the long list of dumb things not to do when you're a supervillain. At this point, explosions, bursting pipes, gushes of steam, Ray Steam flying around with a steam-powered jetpack, and Scarlett running around and demanding to know what's happening, take over the movie. The action sequences keep coming and coming as Britain's own steam genius, Robert Louis Stevenson (?!?), fights back with his own mechanical inventions. Eventually, the Steam Castle turns out to be a spaceship or maybe just a hovercraft, or...ah, who cares, anyway?

Though a largely enjoyable watch, Steamboy suffers two, maybe three, major problems. First, it's an action movie without a point. What kind of evil corporation in its right mind would start a war--and fight that war itself--solely for the purpose of demonstrating its products? The movie's last third runs on the hope that blowing up Victorian London is so much fun, viewers won't notice they're blowing it up for no reason.

Second, Ray Steam is a passive character. His father and grandfather do all the talking (a lot of talking) while Ray kind of stands there. We know Ray doesn't want people to get hurt, and we know Ray wants technology to be used for good and not for evil, but why? The movie is entitled Steamboy, which gave me the impression it was about a boy, but the boy doesn't have a very assertive role.

Third, the end credits are agony. Under the credits is a series of intriguing images showing what happens to the characters later in life. We see Ray using his jetpack to become a steam-powered superhero who battles technologically enhanced evil wherever he finds it. Ray fights a mechanical dragon in Paris and has angst-filled facial expressions. We see images of a technologically beefed-up World War I with Zeppelins and paratroopers. We see Scarlett O'Hara growing up into a spunky fighter pilot, and we can assume she and Ray will meet again as either friends or enemies. A number of reviewers have said they'd rather be watching that movie, and I don't blame them. The end credits, sadly, are more interesting than the film they follow. Based on those images, I assumed Steamboy must have been a manga series before it was a film, and that the end credits must be showing images from that series. A search, however, turned up nothing. If Steamboy is a manga, it hasn't been printed in the U.S.

Still, for all that, Steamboy's action and interesting visuals never flag, and it does at least give a little to think about. If you like steampunk, you'll probably enjoy it. If you've never before experienced steampunk, Steamboy is a decent introduction to the wacky sub-genre.

As for that on-going argument between Eddie and Lloyd Steam, I'm going to have to cautiously side more with Lloyd, partly because Eddie is a cyborg and you know how cyborgs always turn to the Dark Side (Darth Vader, Lord Dread, and Doctor Octopus are more machine now than man, twisted and ee-vil). Besides that, there's that little matter of human nature.

Once upon a time, some people foolishly argued that a technologically advanced civilization would necessarily be more peaceful. Their error lies is in believing that technological progress and moral progress inevitably accompany each other, but this belief is false, as Western Civilization has adequately demonstrated over the last century or so. Greater technology will not make you humans better; it only gives you the ability to help or harm each other in greater numbers than was previously possible. The battle of wills between Lloyd and Eddie, while juvenile, does adequately capture two extreme viewpoints in the Western world--that technology is inevitably our salvation or inevitably our damnation. I think reality is somewhere in between: technology is a tool, and people will use it as they have always used their tools, for both good and evil. Science, in and of itself, has no morals, and so must be guided by morals derived from another source. Arguably, this is the viewpoint young Ray eventually lands on, for though he is against the development of super-weapons, he nonetheless uses technology for good, at least in the end credits.

Some years ago, I read a review, I believe in Scientific American, of the movie Gattaca. The reviewer complained about Gattaca's view that people would inevitably use genetic technology for evil. That reviewer probably knew a good deal of science, but didn't understand humanity quite as well as Gattaca does. Genetic and embryonic science are quickly becoming, so to speak, the Steamball of the twenty-first century. There is good that we can do with this knowledge--and there is also a world of evil we are already doing. Already, for example, large numbers of women in the UK are aborting children with clubfoot or cleft lips. Knowing a child will have a cleft lip ahead of time, and being able to correct it, is good, but people can still use that knowledge in the wrong way. Technology is not inevitably evil, but human nature ensures that it will be used that way nonetheless, sooner or later.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Steamboy:

Myth Level: Medium (some universal themes, typical hero)

Quality: Medium-High (amazing animation, fun universe, weak script)

Ethics/Religion: High (family-friendly, good message, contains prolonged action-violence)

Friday, November 9, 2007

I'm Back

Good news. I saw a doctor and whatever it is, it's not carpal tunnel (bad news is we don't know yet what it is). Apparently, I'm too young for carpal tunnel.

I was not told to stop typing, and I spent too darn much money on this keyboard to stop typing anyway, so now that I've had a nice week to sit back, read comic books, and rest my hands, I have returned. We'll start posting regularly again beginning tomorrow. We have to--it was too disheartening to watch the blog sink from Flippery Fish to Multicellular Microorganism in just a week.

Besides, Snuffles was supposed to run things while I was gone, but he apparently thought he also had a week off to sit back and read comic books, which I find annoying since that's about all he does anyway. Now that I've learned Drunken Boxing, I'll give his tail a sound kicking and make him review that movie he forced me to watch last weekend.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hiatus

Sorry for the downtime, but I need to type as little as possible until I've seen a doctor, so there will be no posts until Tuesday at the earliest. On the plus side, I have this cool new ergonomic keyboard, which Snuffles hates because it doesn't match up with his claws.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

All Saints' Day

Well, Halloween went well. As usual, most of hte household members were unimaginative with their costumes. Snuffles went as a dragon, Frederick went as a unicorn, Phenny went as a gold-and-red-and-purple bird of paradise, and Lucky stayed home as a goldfish. Rocky, who we haven't heard from in over a month, probably went as a mouse, assuming he hasn't been caught. Speaking of which, about two months ago we got a brief message from him that I might as well share:

Things going okay. Astronauts now know of my existence as they have found grain is missing. Now moving from silo to ventilation system. Expect to be safe there for a while. Have nearly figured out secret plans. Will report soon. Running low on food, but have found way into cold storage lockers. Very dangerous, though. Believe secret Mars base involves rendezvous with hostile aliens. May be conspiracy. In case I don't contact you next month, happy Halloween.

From Mars,

Rocky the Space Mouse

And of course, in the midst of the festivities, Snuffles asked the same question he asks every year: "Why is it called 'Fun Size' if it's smaller?"

So anyway, today is of coure the Mass of All Saints, of which Halloween is the vigil. I hope all the Catholics have a good Mass and that everyone else has a good post-Halloween.