Monday, December 31, 2007

Aliens who Love Jesus

A question that appears repeatedly in science fiction, and which too many people take seriously, is the one of whether or not it's a good idea to evangelize extraterrestrials. So far, the question has been a moot one, and I'm comfortable in believing it will likely remain moot for some time.

Nonetheless, Father Fernando at Agnus Daily has addressed the question. His answer is good for a belly laugh, but it's also quite sensible. Check this out:

First off Darin Gaylord Simpson, the Catholic Church isn’t called universal for nothing. Any rational soul can belong to the Church, whether human or not. If for some reason you don’t believe me, you can take it up with St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. Last I heard, they were angels, and not human. That being said, if there is indeed intelligent life off in the distance, there shouldn’t be an impediment to them being Catholic. [more...]

Since this isn't a real theological issue, I shouldn't argue with Father Fernando. Nonetheless, in this little essay, he says one thing I feel deserves an answer. It must be my duty to work to secure the religious rights of extraterrestrials; after all, if The Sci Fi Catholic won't defend them, who will?

According to Father Fernando, a tentacled alien could not be permitted to the episcopacy because, lacking hands, he would be unable to perform sacraments that require the laying on of hands. I will now attempt to counter Father Fernando and in the process show just how theologically ignorant I really am.

Let us begin with the Aristotelian distinction between substance and accident. I will claim that it is the substance of the hand that it is a manipulative appendage. The accidents of the hand are that it is a modified forelimb of a quadruped and that it has five fingers. If a man were to lose a finger, his hand would not cease to be a hand. In other words, it would remain the same in substance even though the accidents have altered.

Now, if an alien had a set of tentacles that it could use in much the same manner that a human uses a hand, the alien would have a manipulative appendage that could be considered the same in substance as a hand, even though the accidents are different. Therefore, the alien could be considered to have hands, could be permitted to the episcopacy, and could validly ordain or confirm by the laying on of tentacles.

Furthermore, the aliens simply must be permitted full rights within the Church. It would be impious to think that God had created a sentient species with free will and immortal souls, but no means by which to fully receive and confer all the sacraments God has created for their salvation.

Current Reading List

Now is the time of making New Year's Resolutions, and one of my resolutions is to finally, at last, for a change, keep the "Current Reading List" updated. In case you've never seen our Current Reading List, it's over on the right, down at the bottom of the sidebar. This blog is supposed to be mostly about books, though we've been reviewing a lot of movies of late, so I like to let you all see what books we're in.

I've convinced Snuffles to add his own books to the list and keep them updated, too, though considering the unholy rate at which he can chew through manga, I won't guarantee his list will be up-to-the-minute.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Movie Review: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Can I still have fun if I can't understand it?

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, directed by Jon Turteltaub. Screenplay by Cormac and Mariamme Wibberley. Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, and Jon Voight. Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 2007. Rated PG. USCCB Rating is AII--Adults and Adolescents.

I have no idea what was going on in this movie, so why am I so entertained?

Famed treasure-hunter (in Hollywood, this, along with "tomb raider," is a synonym for "archaeologist") Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) has just received shocking news: a shady antiquities collector (Ed Harris) has evidence that an ancestor of Gates conspired in the assassination of President Lincoln. Unwilling to see the name of his ancestor sullied, Gates drags his computer-hacking sidekick (Justin Bartha) and estranged ex-girlfriend (Diane Kruger) on an international treasure-hunt, during which he breaks numerous laws and sullies his own good name. A code in John Wilkes Booth's diary leads the ambitious trio on a search for the famed golden city of El Dorado, but to get all the clues, they will have to break and enter at Buckingham Palace, repeat the process at the White House, and kidnap the President (Bruce Greenwood) to get a look in his private book, which contains all of America's dirty little secrets. Solving various puzzles instantly and without effort, the three arrive at the fabled golden city, tussle with competing treasure-hunters, and somehow, inexplicably, clear the name of Gates's ancestor. Why the discovery of El Dorado would clear the name of an assassin is anyone's guess. It's further proof, I suppose, that gold really can buy anything.

The movie leaves many questions unanswered. If so many people knew the location of El Dorado and planted clues to its whereabouts all over North America and Europe, why didn't any of them plunder the fabled city? If El Dorado is an Olmec city, as the movie proposes, what is it doing in North America? Why did Southerners think finding El Dorado could help them win the Civil War when the Civil War was over by the time they started looking for it? How will taping an iPod to the wall of a bathroom stall help you hack the computers at Buckingham Palace? How does a man who just resisted arrest and engaged in a high-speed car chase through London leave the country without trouble? Why is the President so insanely easy to kidnap? Why does El Dorado look suspiciously like one of the South American levels on Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine? And most importantly, why does the discovery of El Dorado prove Gates's ancestor was no killer? Ah, my head is going to explode!

The movie is a glorified connect-the-dots with no internal logic. That much is clear. It's hard to deny, however, that it's fun, mostly because the cast, made up of high-caliber actors playing roles they can phone in, behaves as if this is all an enjoyable lark. They're having so much fun, it's hard not to have fun with them. The pace never flags, the two car chases are competent if unremarkable, the dialogue is funny, and the plot, though indecipherable, is enjoyably complicated. My verdict? Good, clean, brainless fun. And that's honestly all I want to say about it. You could easily find both a better and a worse use for your seven hard-earned bucks.

Read the addendum to this review here.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for National Treasure: Book of Secrets:

Myth Level: Medium (quest)

Quality: Medium-High (some mediocre cinematography, a script that doesn't quite wrap up neatly, lots of fun, plenty of nonsense)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (generally wholesome, mild fanservice, implied premarital relationship)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Movie Review: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Your Honor, I refer you to the case of Aliens vs. Predator.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, directed by Colin and Greg Strause. Screenplay by Shane Salerno. Starring Steven Pasqualle, Reiko Aylesworth, and John Ortiz. Twentieth Century Fox, 2007. Rated R. USCCB Rating is L--Limited Adult Audience.

I have to review this movie because I'm just about the only movie critic (do I count as a movie critic?) who knows this was a popular comic book franchise before it was a pair of atrocious films, though I suppose it doesn't matter: as far as I can make out, these movies have nothing to do with the comic books anyway.

Though I never saw the first Alien vs. Predator, all sources indicate I didn't miss much. This new attempt, Requiem, begins on a Predator spacecraft containing several jars full of Xenomorph facehuggers (for the non-fanboy, those are the spiderey things that latch onto your face so sometime later an Alien can burst out of your chest). A dead Predator on board is gestating an Alien, which soon bursts from his chest and gets loose. This sole Alien, which bears Predator-like features, kills the rest of the crew and causes the ship to crash near a small town in Colorado. The facehuggers get loose and latch onto members of the local populace, rapidly increasing the Alien population. A new Predator soon arrives to hunt the Aliens and casually kill any humans who get in his way. The human cast, an assortment of horror film clichés, runs around screaming. In other words, this has more-or-less the same plot as Critters, but without the whimsy.

One of the biggest complaints about the first film was the PG-13 rating, which meant the icky blood and guts characteristic of the Alien and Predator movies was absent. Colin and Greg Strause, directors of this sequel, apparently set out to fix that error. Unfortunately, that's all they fixed: Requiem is tacky and tactless, an attempt to cash in on two of the world's greatest movie monsters by dropping them into the middle of a brainless slasher flick. The plot (I use the term loosely) centers around a teenage boy, the girl he likes, and an assortment of other nonentities who spew hackneyed lines while trying to keep a step ahead of the monsters. The government arrives and tries to cover everything up, eventually dropping a nuclear warhead on the town, even though any idiot knows a nuclear explosion in the middle of Colorado would produce an international fiasco, not a successful coverup. The nuclear blast, incidentally, offers the movie's only good lighting. Every other scene is so dark, I couldn't tell Predators from Aliens. Admittedly, that's for the best: it helps disguise Daniel C. Pearl's awful cinematography.

Requiem has no respect for its source material. I consider Predator grossly overrated, so I'm going to talk about Alien, which qualifies as one of those rare films that stand like unshakable monoliths in the vast sea of campy sf. Alien is a revolutionary reimagining of the future, a bleak, gritty space opera already fiercely pushing beyond the vision of Star Wars, which had appeared only two years prior. Surrealist painter and sculptor H. R. Giger provides creature and set designs that are easily some of the most important visual contributions to science fiction. The Alien itself is the best sf horror monster since H. P. Lovecraft's fanged and tentacled chimeras. In the years since Alien appeared, its equal still hasn't.

Gross as it is, Alien is not simple horror. Masquerading as a run-of-the-mill monster flick that happens to be set in space, its superficial scares belie a complicated if perhaps pointless subtext. Alien is a unique exploration of that peculiar folkloric motif known as the vagina dentata: while exploring an extraterrestrial spacecraft laid out like the female reproductive system, a hapless astronaut discovers a mysterious egg--which penetrates him. The resultant offspring, first appearing in the famous chest-bursting scene, is an eight-foot monstrosity that mercilessly kills a mostly male cast with its sharp or toothy, phallus-like body parts. Numerous scenes develop and sometimes contradict the symbolism; taken altogether, it's hard to get a single, solid message out of Alien, but the symbolism gives it a pervading sense of dread and lifts it from the morass of rubber-suited monster movies.

(For another, more thoughtful sf take on Alien's basic themes, I highly recommend Octavia Butler's Hugo-winning 1984 short story "Bloodchild," which depicts a group of humans who have formed an uneasy symbiotic relationship with an Alien-like species. The climax of the story [mild spoiler] is an inverted sex scene in which a female alien implants an embryo into a male human via an ovipositor. It is much less grotesque than the facehugging scene in Alien, but just as unsettling.)

The sequel Aliens knows better than to tread on Alien's symbolic territory, but Requiem doesn't. The result is an unpleasant violation of both the established Alien biology and the dicta of good taste. In what is easily Requiem's most memorable scene--because it's the most likely to make you barf--the Predator-like Alien enters a hospital, seizes a pregnant woman by the face, and forces a whole litter of Alien embryos down her throat, which shortly thereafter burst from her uterus (yes, the film's understanding of anatomy is as poor as everything else).

Arguably, the original Alien film depicts male fear and female empowerment: the monster is born from a man's body impregnated by a female, and this same monster kills men through rapine violation. The series heroine, whether she's fighting in her panties or packing a ginormous flame-thrower/machine gun combo, is undeniably an empowered woman. Requiem, however, prefers to show a woman being ravished by a decidedly masculine Alien monster while strapped to a hospital bed, and the camera even takes time to linger over her gutted, naked corpse when the deed is done. Besides that, the movie's female leads have minuscule roles: the protagonist's obligatory hot girlfriend has no purpose other than to strip to her underwear in the film's first half and get pinned to a wall by a Predator smartblade in the film's second half. I'm not sure what to make of all this, but it suggests misogyny.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is gross but never tense, disgusting but never frightening, fast-paced but never exciting. Every aspect of this movie is incompetent, but since it sets up for a sequel, and since it can't possibly get worse, I recommend the next movie run under the title Alien vs. Predator: The Courtroom Drama:

PLAINTIFF: Hrraaaghh! Hssss!! Roarghh!
DEFENDANT: Hraaaaaaaggghhhhh!!!!
Defendant eats Plaintiff.
JUDGE (rapping gavel): That's it, man. Game over, man.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem:

Myth Level: Low (just, no. No!)

Quality: Low (too dark to see, too gross to watch, too dumb to pay for)

Ethics/Religion: Low (fanservice, pointless gore, foul language, some nudity, nihilistic theme)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Up and Coming

Very soon now, we're headed home. After we have access to all our resources again, we'll start delivering some of the things we have planned. While in the Denver airport, Snuffles read Neil Gaiman's Coraline (you may forget that Snuffles is not only an otaku but a kid lit enthusiast). I'm just about finished with William Gibson's Count Zero, which will also get a discussion.

A lot of sf/f movies have come out lately, but we simply can't hit all of them. I was getting exhausted from constantly running out to the theater before I slapped myself in the head and remembered this isn't a movie blog. Anyway, I will review National Treasure: Book of Secrets in the near future, and it's likely I'll see Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. Though I intended to review it, I missed Enchanted and don't think I'm likely to make it.

It is also almost time to begin a multi-part criticism of Michael O'Brien's A Landscape With Dragons, to which both Snuffles and I look forward with relish.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Last of Santa and the Martians (for this year)

We have now made it an annual tradition to get stuck overnight in the airport at Denver. Last year, we got to do it with thousands of other people. This year, according to recent weather reports, we may get to do it twice. It isn't the hardship for us that it is for some people; we view it as a lark: this year, when we arrived in Denver and found our flight was cancelled and that we couldn't fly out until the next day, we did what any sensible travelers would do: we raided the airport bookstore and then retired to a restaurant and bar where we could have dinner and become mildly intoxicated before plopping down in an empty gate for a long winter's nap. Sleeping in a pile with a unicorn, dragon, and phoenix, with a goldfish bowl tucked under my arm, is really quite cozy and not at all uncomfortable. I rather enjoy the Denver airport: it's like a really expensive shopping mall with bad selection, but they don't run you out if you decide you want to sleep there.

Anyway, now that Christmas is behind us and we are beginning to pack for home, we take one last wistful look back and notice that some of our fellow bloggers have been writing of our favorite holiday movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. In particular, please note the review at It Came from Allen's Brain, where you will find the film reinterpreted as a christological allegory, further proof that you can do that to anything if you strain your brain (or Allen's) hard enough. I haven't decided yet if I think it's a good idea to interpret everything as a story about Christ. Part of me thinks it's a lot like interpreting everything as a story about the bourgeoisie oppressing the proletariat or as a story about men oppressing women. It's really, really interesting--for about ten minutes.

For another, much more subversive take on the movie, check out the review at The B-Movie Catechism. EegahInc has given the film a twisted yet somehow convincing reading. According to him, the movie isn't about Jesus, but about bad parenting. What he seems to be saying, and he has a good case, is that the movie's basic moral sucks. Maybe curing children's TV addiction by giving them more toys isn't the solution. Those Martian parents should have kicked them out of the life pod and made them play outside instead.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Update

Well, another Christmas has come and gone. As I had suspected I would, I've had little time to post, but I thought I should pop in and tell you how we're doing.

As you may have guessed, I've taken the whole family to visit Snuffles's parents (by adoption), Harman and Nattie T. Dragon. They've never met Phenny, Frederick, or Lucky before, but they're getting along splendidly. My fairy godmother showed up yesterday as well.

If you're wondering what we all got for Christmas, I can tell you that Snuffles's manga collection and my science fiction collection have both expanded considerably. Frederick got a neat horn-polisher and Phenny got a new incense burner. Lucky didn't get the oxygenator she wanted because I forgot to buy her anything until the last minute and then couldn't find one, but I figure that doesn't matter because she doesn't really need it and because, hey, it's the thought that counts. And I did think about buying her an oxygenator.

But here's the big news: we got another letter from Rocky the Space Mouse! Rocky can only write infrequently because he's hiding in the ventilation system of a secret Martian base, but he usually tries to send a letter out for Christmas, and he always includes a special note for Lucky. Here's his letter in full:

Dear Deej, Snuffles, Frederick, Phenny, and of course Lucky,

Things have eased up here. The astronauts are relaxing because of the holiday. As I write, they are in the mess hall enjoying, as well as they are able, a reconstituted freeze-dried turkey dinner. They are laughing a good deal.

I have done the best I can with my meager provisions to make a suitably festive repast. I managed to steal a large block of cheese and have been making merry with it.

I am almost certain now that the base was built to contact the Prosipians, a race that has conquered a number of other solar systems in the Orion Arm. At first, I believed the astronauts were planning to sell us out to the Prosipians, but they are constructing weapons in the shop, so I may have been wrong. In fact, this secret base may be our first line of defense against the inevitable invasion. That's something of a relief, though I'm still in danger, as is the Earth. I will do what I can on this end, but tell my compatriots in the wall behind the fridge to begin Plan C. They'll know what you mean.

And Lucky--how are you, Princess? I hope that clod Deej has been treating you well for a change. I renew now the vow I made to you a year ago that somehow, in my travels, I will find a cure for your curse and return you to human form. When I do, I will make you a space suit of your own and take you to the Moon and to Mars and to Venus and show you all the places I've written about in my letters. Take heart, and don't let Snuffles's needling or Deej's oafishness upset you. I hope to return to Earth in a few months. If I'm able, I'll visit you then.

All my love,

Rocky the Space Mouse

So, there you have it. I'm not able with my present shaky access to the Internet to give you regular posts, but both Snuffles and I have a backlog of reviews to present, so as soon as we get back home, we'll start going again at full speed. Hope everyone is having a good time with family and friends this Christmas season!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The "P" Word

This is not a political blog and I don't usually talk politics here, for a reason, but I happened to click this opinion column in our automatic news ticker and was so impressed by the clarity and soundness of what I read that I thought I should pass it on to all of you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Madness!

This isn't exactly the announcement of a hiatus or anything like that, but it is that crazy time of year. Among other things, that means I have to move my person--along with a goldfish, a unicorn, a dragon, and a phoenix--from here to somewhere else far away where the Internet connections are sketchy.

As you can imagine, the logistical issues involved in transporting that many fictional beasts on an airplane during the holiday rush are an absolute nightmare. Imagine me trying to book a flight: "I need to reserve three seats, a stable, and a dragon pen." I get funny looks from a lot of ticket agents. And the red tape is insane--what with the new security measures, transporting two creatures who can create spontaneous fires is ridiculously hard. Last time, they told me I had to chop Snuffles into pieces and carry him onto the plane in clear plastic bags no larger than six ounces. That wouldn't work, so he had to stay home. Fortunately, things have eased up since then.

Having said all that, I should remark that airport security really isn't the hassle people make it out to be. I find I don't really need to arrive at the airport three hours early: a quick strip search by three giggling female guards in a really cold room, and presto, I'm through security and waiting for my flight. I think our safety is worth that kind of humiliation. At first, I couldn't tolerate it, but I got more comfortable after I learned that "window" out to the concourse is really a mirror on the other side. I admit, though, I would have been a lot less uncomfortable if they told me that at the beginning.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

December Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 2

This month, we're featuring the e-zine, Wayfarer's Journal. Today, I'm criticizing an essay in the journal, Tom Hohstadt's "Are You Ready for Science Fiction Clergy?"

Upon seeing the title of his essay, I hoped Hohstadt would discuss gun-toting cyborg priests. Alas, nothing so intellectual is on his mind. What he calls "science fiction clergy" appears to be a version of the Emerging Church Movement. Personally, The Sci Fi Catholic is offended to see the venerable term "science fiction" applied to something as half baked as the Emerging Church.

Hohstadt gets off to a good start by telling us that "new realities are emerging." Well, that's news to me; I suppose if new realities are emerging, we really will need science fiction clergy to cope. I don't know about Hohstadt, but I'm in the same reality I was in last year. If he's really skipping from one parallel universe to another, I suggest he see a doctor.

Be wary of any writer, especially a religious one, who tells you reality is changing. Reality is not changing. The situations you face are merely variations on situations others have faced already. Certainly, as Christians, we are obligated to confess that the moral reality and the absolute reality have not changed. If we do not confess this, we cannot have ethics, because ethics, in order to be ethics, are dependent on certain absolutes, such as the absolute value of human life, for example. As soon as we decide that ethics or dogma can change according to the situation, we no longer have them; we have only spur-of-the-moment whims.

Hohstadt continues the essay with some gibberish:

No wonder. There's no way we can talk about tomorrow's spiritual leaders out of today's context. In the first place, the Lord of History seems to be shattering our man-made illusions about "church." So tomorrow's church leaders are almost "unthinkable"--they're not easily defined by either past or present concepts.

Yet, many continue mistaking church "systems" for church "sacraments." Many continue pursuing "in-control" myths for "in-control" success. And, many continue applying "one-size-fits-all" fantasies for "one-size-fits-all" certainties.

I am seriously considering offering a cash prize to anyone who can satisfactorily explain those two paragraphs.

Hohstadt follows this by giving a disparaging list of "Pastors of the Past," consisting of categories he has apparently invented himself, including "milquetoast pastors," "ministry police," and so forth. I won't rehash his list here; it isn't worth my time, so it certainly isn't worth yours.

Halfway through the essay, I suddenly discover why I am halfway through the essay and still can't tell what Hohstadt is talking about. Here's one of the attributes of Hohstadt's futuristic clergy:


This man of God always speaks an "other" language, an intentionally ambiguous and obscure parlance. His delivery is almost a "sign language"--closer, perhaps, to "doubletalk" or "doublespeak" than logical discourse. To modern minds, of course, such "language" is nonsense.

No wonder. This new leader has changed from charted logic to uncharted "logic"--from a literal world to a metaphorical world--from facts to phenomena. He has changed from dead metaphors to live metaphors--from proofs to paradox--from consistent patterns to juxtapositions. And, he has changed from exaggerated control to "controlled exaggeration"--from rhetorical flair to transcendent revelation--from a "real" world to a virtual reality world.

He has changed from clear thought to murky thought. He has changed from good sentence structure to bad sentence structure. He has changed from logic to nonsense. And he pats himself on the back for it! It is disgusting to me to find in a journal supposedly dedicated to literature an essay encouraging unclear thought, speech, and writing. It is more disgusting, even scandalous, to find it in a Christian journal.

If the world is in the chaos Hohstadt indicates it is in, the answer will not come from murky koans and obtuse sayings. It will not come from "virtual reality" (whatever he means by that) or from "controlled exaggeration" (whatever he means by that). It will come from people who can see clearly enough to understand the "consistent patterns" of the world and think clearly enough to lay out logical solutions. Chaos is not improved by further chaos. A sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal only add noise; a clear thinker actually contributes. When Hohstadt encourages future clergymen to give up logic, he is only encouraging them to be lazy. He is encouraging them to give up consistency, and when we give up consistency in matters doctrinal and moral, the results are detrimental: we end up altering our beliefs to fit the Zeitgeist because we have nothing else on which to base them.

Moral precepts can only challenge us if they contradict what we would be inclined to do without them. Morals that match fashion can only make us fashionable; they have no capacity to make us better. If they are to improve us, they must be uncomfortable to us. They must be stodgy, even dusty--indeed, they should be dusty, for they should be rooted in something older and surer than the whims of the age. A truly moral person does not have to be hip or cool; he would rather be moral. Hohstadt's "science fiction clergy" are so bent on being postmodern, they cannot even make good sense, and therefore cannot stand like a rock in a storm.

In the next section, we find the source of both Hohstadt's errors and his incoherence. The root, it appears, is a distaste for theology. He disparages the "dry theologian" and says his new, hip clergyman will instead be "an artist":


In a life of endless role changes, he has shifted from a dry theologian to an inspired artist--from a manager to a poet--from piety to prophecy. For he's totally convinced he was created in the image of a Creative God.

For whatever reason, this science fiction clergyman is not "totally convinced" (Hohstadt's longhand, I assume, for "convinced") that he is created in the image of a prophetic God or in the image of a God who gives his servant a spirit of the fear of the Lord, that is, piety. But all this is neither here nor there; I don't know what it means to move from piety to prophecy and I'm not convinced Hohstadt knows, either.

Theology, of course, simply means the careful and systematic study of that with which religion is concerned. The religious person who knows theology is one who knows what he's about and knows what his religion is about. If his theology is clear, his religious thinking is clear. If his theology is a self-contradictory mishmash of slangy gibberish, he will write essays like Hohstadt's.

The world today is lacking in clear philosophy and clear theology. As a result, people are confused: their consciences are stunted; they cannot evaluate their circumstances and make clear ethical choices. For example, some years ago I encountered a conservative Evangelical who said that if confronted with an election in which one candidate wanted to raise taxes and the other wanted to stop abortions, she would have a hard time deciding which to vote for. Because of poor catechesis and a lack of good theology, she was unable to evaluate between moral goods and harms and make ethical choices. The solution to this problem is more theology, not less.

But it is here that I may at last be able to understand Hohstadt and perhaps, if for an instance, see eye-to-eye with him. When he speaks of "dry" theology, I assume (I must assume, for he does not explain himself), that he means the sort of bookish, arcane theology that is comfortable in the ivory tower but uncomfortable most everywhere else. The classic example of such theology is the debate, if it really took place, over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. The scholastics who had this hypothetical debate were of course no more concerned with pinheads than physicists, when they debate about encyclopedias in black holes, are really concerned with encyclopedias. The question was, do spiritual beings occupy physical space? The answer to the question is that we don't have an answer to the question because we have too little information. That does not mean the question is unimportant; it merely means we cannot answer it.

I would agree with Hohstadt that we don't need talk of angels on pinheads. What we do need is to ensure that our theologians, after writing their dissertations, distill and disseminate the important parts for us layman so that we, too, may know theology and ethics and make good choices. In fact, our teachers in the faith are doing this. The tools to solve the crisis are already in our hands if we are willing to use them.

In other words, we don't need science fiction clergy. We don't need a new paradigm. The Church of Christ is here already and has been standing for two millennia. She has already withstood massive social upheaval, radical cultural transformations, and troubling times. She will withstand them again. No "new reality" is coming. The same old reality is coming, and the Church will meet it as before.

Blog tour with your bad self:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Michael Heald
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Rachelle
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Monday, December 17, 2007

December Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour Day 1

This month, we are featuring the e-zine, Wayfarer's Journal. Below is the press release and tour list, and we'll be back tomorrow with a review!

Science Fiction with a Spiritual Dimension featured in new E-Zine

Wayfarer’s Journal (http://www.wayfarersjournal.com/), a new science fiction e-zine, was launched in February. The publication focuses on publishing science fiction stories with a “spiritual dimension.”

“By spiritual we don’t mean preachy,” comments Wayfarers editor Terri Main. “We mean stories which not only project the reader into the future technologically, but see how those changes impact the morality, ethics and spirituality of believable characters.”

Main notes that spiritual issues are often not addressed by secular science fiction publications, and that many religious publications are reticent about publishing science fiction or fantasy.

“This shying away from the spiritual aspect of humanity in science fiction is foolish. A look at any newscast will show how technological and sociological developments have spiritual implications,” says Main. “What happens if human cloning takes place? Will clones have souls? What about contact with extraterrestrial intelligence? Could there be a place where original sin was never committed? What about the spirituality of incorporeal beings? These are questions just waiting to be explored in fiction.”

The publication will not only include science fiction stories, but also poetry, reviews and literary essays.

“We will have a regular feature by a Bible scholar called ‘The Masters’ which will explore how many classic science fiction writers explored spiritual themes in their work,” says Main. “We also want to publish science fiction poetry if we can find any.”

The publication will be published semi-annually in February and June. However, Main intends to add new features in between official publications. The site will also include a blog in which Main will publish news bites and mini-reviews.

“Even though we publish a new issue only twice a year, the site will always have new things on it to keep people coming back,” says Main.

Those interested in writing for the publication can contact main at webservant2003@yahoo.com or visit the web site and click on “Author’s Guidelines.”

Well, alright. Now, I have to admit, I don't see this "shying away" from religious issues in science fiction that Terri Main sees. In fact, I run into stories with religious elements constantly, and they aren't in Christian publications, either. Some of these even address religious matters in complex ways. I mean, goodness, Snuffles just made me sit through The End of Evangelion.

You can blog it or tour it, kid. It's your choice:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Michael Heald
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Rachelle
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Richard Mitchell on Clergymen

I'm not speaking to you right now because I'm too busy enjoying the essays in Richard Mitchell's The Leaning Tower Of Babel. Mitchell is one of those wiseacres who knows grammar and openly insults everyone who doesn't know it. Books by such people are a dirty pleasure, as you well know, for you undoubtedly have a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves on your coffee table.

If people like Mitchell took the time to write fiction of an audacity and literary quality equal to that of their essays, they could probably displace not only the gibberish-spouters who win the aplomb of elite critics but also the hacks who fill the bestseller racks.

Mitchell spends much of his time railing against psychobabble and intentionally opaque nonsense, which in some fields pass for scholarly prose. We have all at one time or another seen instances of this kind of writing. I see it coming from postmodern anthropologists. I have also heard psychobabble from English professors who want to pretend their topics of discussion are more complex and technical than they actually are. I greatly suspect that anyone who stoops to using the term "psychosexual" has nothing important to say, especially if he's talking about fairy tales.

I bring this up because at one point in this fine volume, Mitchell aims his guns at clergymen who use psychobabble to discuss religious issues, particularly (one hopes, exclusively) matters of church organization. After quoting some gibberish from one such clergyman, Mitchell gives commentary, which I now quote at some length.

Well, we don't really care how clergypersons think and write, since we are not required by law to drop money into their collection plates. But we are fascinated by the fact that Pierce's prose, both in style and content, is an exact replica of the mindless maunderings we get from our educationists, who do make off with great bundles of legalized swag. Somehow, though, it all makes sense.

After all, the schools have for decades been gradually transforming themselves into insipid and semi-secular churches, preaching the pale pieties of social adjustment instead of teaching difficult discipline. At the same time, the churches have been transforming themselves into insipid and semi-secular schools, teaching the pale pieties of social adjustment instead of preaching difficult doctrine. Both have found more profit in peer-interaction perception than in precepts, and readier rewards in guidance and relating than in stern standards. No more teacher's dirty looks, lest creativity flag, and, lest self-esteem be disenhanced, no more sinners in the hands of an angry God. The principal can say with the pastor, "My brother Esau is a hairy man, but I am a smooth man."

And smooth they are, and featureless. We never hear in their words the ring of a human voice, but merely the drone of ritual incantation in something not quite language. They are full of high sentence indeed, deferential, glad to be of use, politic, cautious, but not meticulous. They are Milton's "blind mouths." Should Socrates appear among them, proposing the examined life, or Jesus, saying, "Thou fool! This very night shall thy self-esteem be required of thee," they would be glad to interface and share concerns in a type of problem-solving variety of an arrangement, elaborating and supporting the issue and suggesting various alternatives and solutions.

They, who were to have been the salt of the earth, the zest of life's best endeavors, are become a tepid mess of pottage. Wherewith, indeed, shall they be salted? [pp. 91-92, emphasis in original]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: The Remake!

According to rumor, a remake of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a holiday favorite at our house, is in the works. The remake will probably suck bad, but on the off-chance Hollywood executives read my blog or I can get some kind of grassroots movement started, I'm here to explain how a remake of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, if done right, could be totally kick-awesome.

First of all, and most importantly, it would be a Kung Fu movie. The basic idea is already zany, so the only thing to do is give into the zaniness, and nothing is zanier than Kung Fu. Here's a tentative cast list:

Dropo: Jackie Chan
Kimar: Jet Li
Momar: Michelle Yeoh
Santa Claus: John Rhys-Davies
Lord Voldar: a cyborg, mostly animatronics and CGI, but played by Mark Hamill
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: voiced by Shia LaBeouf
Winky the Chain-Smoking Elf: Brad Pitt

And here's an outline of the opening scenes:

Our story opens in Santa Claus's massive industrial complex at the North Pole where his elves are hard at work building toys for the upcoming Christmas Eve (noted by a countdown clock on the wall marked "Minutes to Zero-Hour"). There's none of that cutesy-elves-painting-wooden-horses nonsense here. This Santa's Workshop is a high-tech assembly line.

Santa himself is not the jolly old fellow of legend, but a jaded and defeated man. Wanting only to bring Christmas cheer to the world's good children, he has instead become the official patron saint of greed and consumerism. As he double-checks his Naughty/Nice List, he throws down his pen and hangs his head in despair.

But then a spaceship lands, bearing the Martian ambassador, Chancellor Kimar. After Santa gives him a tour of the factory, Kimar makes him a strange offer: to come to Mars, start anew with Martian children, and perhaps accomplish that at which he has so miserably failed on Earth.

But Santa refuses, tempting though the offer may be. Kimar leaves with a courteous bow, but an ominous tone pervades the air.

The scene moves to Santa's stables where the "A-team" of reindeer is having its annual pre-flight party, which involves copious amounts of eggnog and a game of Poker. Comet, the true "ace" of the team, is the sullen one, hanging back from the group and smoking a cigar, huddled in his fur-lined flight jacket. Vixen, the only doe to make Santa's elite, is secretly in love with Comet, but their relationship has never blossomed in spite of Cupid's attempts to bring them together. Dasher, the second-fastest and Comet's chief rival, is jealous of Vixen's affections. Prancer is a slacker who made it to the A-team only by natural talent. Blitzen has violent mood-swings. Donner tends to get lost in the snow.

Rudolph, the youngest, enters. Dasher, who's had a few too many, picks on him and calls him a freak. Vixen tells him to back off. Comet intervenes and pushes Dasher around. It looks like a fight may break out, but Dancer eases the tension by putting a hip-hop version of "Hooray for Santy Claus" on the beat box and busting some moves.

Some time later, on the Martian mothership, Viceroy Kimar reports to his overlord, the evil Lord Voldar, who the viewer can immediately tell is evil because he's a twisted cyborg played by Mark Hamill doing one of his nasty villain voices. The conversation goes something like this:

KIMAR: Lord Voldar, this "Saint Nicholas" has refused to acquiesce to our demands.
VOLDAR: You fool! Our children have demanded a Santa Claus of their own! There is only one Santa Claus in all the universe, and we will have him for Mars!
KIMAR: What is thy bidding, Lord Voldar?
VOLDAR: If he will not come by his own free will, we shall take him by force! Order the pilots to their fighters!

Meanwhile, at Santa's Industrial Complex, Zero Hour has arrived. Three attendants are dressing Santa in his special, high-tech flight furs. Elves are putting gear on the reindeer, including cybertronic heads-up displays built into their flight helmets, each of which is conveniently labeled with the reindeer's name, sort of like in Top Gun. When they bring Rudolph out, he's acting feisty. Winky, his handler, a slouching, unshaven elf with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, speaks to him.

WINKY: How's the nose, Rudolph?

Rudolph responds by dipping his head and making his nose glow so bright, it fires a blast of red energy that knocks the elves back several feet.

WINKY: Whoa! Watch it with those shockwaves!

Suddenly, a Klaxon blares and red lights flash. A loud voice over a speaker announces, "Battle stations! Battle stations! Workshop is under attack!"

Martians fighters strafe Santa's workshop while elves scatter, some of them falling dead in the snow, ripped apart by bursts from the Martians' machine guns. Numerous elves run to antiaircraft weapons and begin returning fire.

A shaky handheld camera conveys the sense of panic as the elves rush the reindeer to the hangar holding Santa's sleigh and begin hooking them up as several buildings in the complex burst into flames. Santa jumps into the sleigh and shouts at his workers.

SANTA: Are the toys loaded?
WINKY: Only about half the payload is in place!
SANTA: That's not enough! We need more time!

A gigantic explosion rocks the compound.

WINKY: There is no more time, Santa! There is no more time!

Several large energy blasts from the attacking fighercraft strike the hangar. With a cry of, "Get in, Winky!" Santa yanks the elf into the sleigh, activates the sleigh's antigravity engine, and hits the throttle. The sleigh rockets out of the hangar just as the hangar explodes!

Back on the mothership, Kimar peers at a radar screen.

KIMAR: Perfect. The target is airborne. Fighters 3, 6, and 7: break off the attack and pursue. Each of you must acquire a lock on the target if we are to use the teleporter.

The fighters acknowledge. The scene returns to Santa's sleigh. Santa has his flight goggles down over his face and is looking at the radar on the sleigh's control panel.

SANTA: We've got bogies at six o'clock and they're gaining fast. Rudolph?

RUDOLPH: I see 'em. Evasive action, boys! Follow me!

The reindeer dive low over the deck. Snow flies from drifts in their wake, but the fighters are in hot pursuit!

Santa notices a flashing red light on his control board.

SANTA: Prancer, you've got a massive energy drop! What's wrong?
COMET: Prancer, you ninny, don't lose it now!
PRANCER: Uuuunnnghh!
DASHER: Prancer, rest in the harness for a minute. I'll take up your slack.
PRANCER: Are ya sure?
DASHER: Yeah, I'm sure. I got reserves.

Prancer, relieved, dangles in the harness as Dasher begins straining.

PRANCER: Thanks, Dasher. Guess I shouldn't have had that extra eggnog!
VIXEN: Heads up, boys! We got company, three o'clock!

One of the fighters draws up to the sleigh's right. A light begins flashing wildly on Santa's dash.

WINKY: Son of a $!#$%!! Santa, he's got a missile lock!
SANTA: I see it! Rudolph!
RUDOLPH: Prancer, get your butt in gear! Time to show some Martians how a reindeer flies!

The reindeer make some fancy flying maneuvers while the fighters struggle to pursue. Fighter 1, frustrated with the pursuit, finally fires a missile.

WINKY: Holy--!
SANTA: Afterburners!

The reindeer hit top speed as the missile flies toward them.

BLITZEN: Santa! Countermeasures!

Santa punches a button, releasing a cloud of flak from the sleigh's rear. The missile strikes the flak and explodes, rocking the sleigh.

Kimar, pursuing behind the fighters in the mothership, locks onto Fighter 1 and destroys it with an energy blast.

KIMAR: You will not fire on the primary target! Fighter 8, join the pursuit!

Back at the attack on Santa's Workshop, one of the fighters banks hard and speeds off after Santa.

The chase continues. Santa's sleigh reaches Archangel, Russia, and begins diving in and out of the buildings to shake the Martian pursuers. The Martian fighters destroy several buildings while people panic in the streets. Finally, the three fighters manage to lock onto Santa's sleigh. Kimar activates the teleporter, beaming Santa, sleigh, reindeer and all onto the Martian mothership.

KIMAR: Target secure. Break off the attack and return to the mothership. All fighters, return to the mothership!

A contingent of Martian warriors in battle exoskeletons march into the docking bay holding Santa, Winky, and the reindeer. Winky has his fists up. The reindeer are forming a protective wall around Santa. Each of them has a determined, angry look on his face.

Kimar enters, removing his gloves and chuckling to himself.

KIMAR: So, we meet again, Kris Kringle. Perhaps you will be more, shall we say, receptive this time?
RUDOLPH: Keep away from him, you bastard!

Rudolph fires a shockwave from his nose that knocks Kimar against the wall. The exoskeleton-armed Martians rush in and begin brutally tasering the reindeer.

SANTA: Stop! Stop!

One of the guards grabs Santa and shocks him in the chest with a taser. Santa falls against the deck, unconscious, and the scene fades to black and the opening credits come up along with the title, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, accompanied by a noisy punk version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Under the opening credits, we see hints of what is to come in the movie: aliens Kung Fu fighting, a heavily armed elf with dark sunglasses walking slowly toward the camera as the wind whips his trench coat, and Santa himself in a long, red, fur-lined coat blown dramatically by the wind, standing at the head of a massive army and raising his fist in the air.

TO BE CONTINUED...

News from the Fish Bowl: Breaking News

TERRY PRATCHETT DIAGNOSED WITH ALZHEIMER'S

Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels, has been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's. The Sci Fi Catholic invites readers to pray for the author. I see Deej has a copy of The Color of Magic lying on the floor near my bowl. Maybe I'll ask Phenny or Frederick to hold it up for me so I can read it.

Here's the article from AFP:

LONDON (AFP) — British science fiction and fantasy author Terry Pratchett said Thursday he has a rare form of Alzheimer's disease, describing the diagnosis as "an embuggerance".

Pratchett, 59, whose Discworld books have sold 55 million copies worldwide translated into some 27 languages, pledged to keep working and reassured fans there was "time for at least a few more books yet". [more...]

Friday, December 14, 2007

20,000!

And a nice complement to the birthday is our 20,000th visitor. Probably not too bad for a specialty blog like this in less than a year (we didn't start counting visits until sometime after the blog's birth).

"The Copper Dredil" and Commentary

Father John Trigilio recently sent us a post from his blog, The Black Biretta, "What Hollywood Will NEVER Produce." The post is a parody outlining a movie called The Copper Dredil, which insults Islam and Judaism in much the fashion The Golden Compass insults Christianity. I found Fr. Trigilio's story interesting at first, but it broke down toward the end when it became too transparently allegorical. I suppose that's appropriate, considering what it's parodying.

When Deej showed me this, I snatched it from him and said I'd like to make a comment. Normally, I only bother to show up for the blog when I've read a manga or watched an anime I feel like talking about, but this rather piqued my interest. Fr. Trigilio's complaint is that Hollywood (which probably doesn't deserve to be identified as a single-minded conglomerate) is willing to insult Christianity in a way it isn't willing to insult other religions.

This is to be expected. When I read manga, I sometimes see a similar irreverent treatment of Buddhism. When people want to attack a religion, and especially if they want to attack a religion for its moral strictures, they are naturally going to aim first for the religion that has most influenced and informed their own culture. So when Westerners choose Christianity as their religion-to-attack of choice, I have a hard time getting excited or surprised.

Incidentally, I will say one thing: Christian authors tempted to write sermons or blatant allegories into their fiction should probably read His Dark Materials. Pullman makes the same error that many Christian writers make, trying to preach a message rather than tell a story. What his novels look like to you is what your novels look like to a non-Christian.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sci Fi Catholic

The self-absorption stops tomorrow. But in the meanwhile, we must announce: today, the blog turns one!

One year down the drain, and so much has changed. We've changed our name and our look, we've picked up two new bloggers, and we've even gotten regular readers. Thanks to all you folks out there, The Sci Fi Catholic has become one of the premier Catholic science fiction blogs on the Internet! The other three are still ahead of us, but hey....

Anyway, because we're all too busy celebrating to give a real post, we're dusting off one of the old classics from the blog's infancy. You'll like it. Trust me. Down at the bottom, you'll find some updated links to go with the discussion.

COMMENTS ON CBC'S ARTICLE ON THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/12/04/judas-scholars.html

UPDATE: Ignorant comment regarding Hugo Awards has been deleted. The Sci Fi Catholic apologizes for the error.

Interesting news regarding the famed Gospel of Judas. At least one scholar has suggested the reconstruction and translation of the text is incorrect, and that the gospel depicts Judas as a dupe rather than a hero. This should be seen as a normal part of scholarly debate; in spite of the sensationalism, courtesy of National Geographic, some actual scholarship is involved.

What interests me more is the grossly irresponsible way this article is written (no, not the one you're reading--the CBC one linked above).

Whoever wrote this little article seems to be working on the assumption that the Gospel of Judas carries some kind of special historical weight, as if this document, by virtue of being sensational and by virtue of having been discovered recently, must contain gospel truth. Pardon the expression.

This leads me to speculate that, in many people's imaginations, the strange, especially in regards to the subject of Christianity, is assumed true with little or no critical evaluation. Witness the popularity not only of Dan Brown's novels, but of Dan Brown's ideas. Because Brown proposed strange and on rare occasion unique notions, many are willing to accept them as true history in spite of legions of experts who contradict him.

The contents of the Gospel of Judas have no compelling claim to historical veracity, though the text itself is of course historically important. To show how sf often successfully predicts real events, I refer the reader to George R. R. Martin's "The Way of Cross and Dragon," a short story remarkable mainly for its clumsy storytelling, though that didn't stop Donald A. Wollheim from reprinting it in The 1980 Annual World's Best SF, probably more because he liked its message than its artistic qualities. In the introduction to that same volume, Wollheim reveals himself to be a remarkably ignorant bigot, regarding people outside the pale of Western civilization as backwards and savage, living meaningless lives because they lack the creature comforts of modern technology. He hints that his bigotry extends even to those within Western civilization if they hold to religious creeds.

At any rate, Martin's space opera centers around a heresy-hunter sent to eliminate a new heresy that reveres Judas Iscariot as a saint. As a premise for a made-up heresy, Martin's idea is obvious and not particularly shocking, but he manages to spice it up. In this version, Judas is king of Babylon, master of dragons, and Jesus' greatest servant. After Jesus gets his legs chewed off (a nice, morbid embellishment), Judas carries him around. There's no traditional betrayal here, though Judas eventually falls out of Christ's favor by sending his dragons on a rampage after the crucifixion. When Jesus rises from the dead, he punishes Judas by making him into the famous Wandering Jew of folklore.

The narrator of Martin's tale hands a copy of this legend to a nonbeliever for comment, who replies that it's entertaining , unique, more interesting than the Bible (Martin clearly thinks highly of himself), and for that reason, apparently, more compelling than Christianity. Here we see, buried in Martin's short story, the same concept--that which pertains to Christianity, if it is novel, and especially if it contains conspiracy theory, is more acceptable to our exotic tastes than anything traditional. Of course, Martin is no more a believer in the Way of Cross and Dragon than is his narrator. The moral of his story, with which he gleefully bludgeons the reader, is that all religions, or at least Christianity (the only religion discussed) are false because their details are too hokey for Martin's tastes. That is, you might as well believe Judas was a dragonmaster as believe Jesus was the Son of God.

This isn't exactly brilliant reasoning. When is a detail in a narrative hokey? When it contradicts Martin's worldview, apparently. It's easy enough to point out absurdities in Martin's own story, if we all get to define our own absurdities. There are some indications that he wrote about Catholicism without researching it, and how about the psychic mutant who shows up for no reason? The philosophical sketchiness, thin plot, klutzy writing, didacticism, and occasional pure venom didn't prevent Martin from picking up a Hugo Award.

For an update on the controversy over the translation, see GetReligion's post on April DeConick's claim that the translation of the Gospel of Judas is incorrect. Read DeConick's op-ed with the New York Tmes here. One of the translators writes a reply here. As mentioned in this "classic" post, we can probably expect healthy debate on the subject to continue.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Comics Review: DinoWars



DinoWars Volume 1, written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2007. Full color. $14.95. ISBN: 978-0-9787725-4-3.

I realize it's been a little while since we had a real honest-to-goodness book-without-pictures review on this blog, but bear with me. When a new Rod Espinosa comic comes in the mail, I drop everything and read it.

Espinosa, if I haven't made clear, is one of my favorite comic author/illustrators. His artwork is incredible and detailed, his stories are imaginative and wholesome, and his heroes (and even moreso, his heroines) are likable and entertaining.

That being said, I admit DinoWars is a disappointment. Although it delivers exactly what it promises--robotic dinosaurs shooting lasers out of their mouths--it doesn't deliver a lot else. The elements I expect in an Espinosa comic either aren't present or are unusually underdeveloped.

At least part of the problem is the story's heavy and obvious dependence on Transformers and Independence Day. The comic opens with a dashing astronaut hero, Hank Armstrong (first rule of comics: all astronauts will be named Buzz or Armstrong), whose mission to the moon is interrupted by the appearance of deadly dinosaur cyborgs. Though Hank manages to get his crew home safely, it isn't long before a gigantic spacecraft appears in the sky and begins disgorging legions of armed dinos, apparently bent on wiping humanity from the face of the planet.

Meanwhile, in the town of Nowhere, Texas (yeesh), Hank's old flame Debra McDonald gets home from her job at the diner to find a couple of small dinosaurs in her living room. She quickly learns that the dinosaurs left Earth 65 million years ago to escape the Ice Age (I assume Espinosa skimped on the research here) and have been hibernating in the asteroid belt. The dinosaurs have two factions: the Protosaurs, who want to make peace with humanity, and the Megasaurs, who want to destroy humanity.

You get the idea.

Perhaps the greatest drawback of this miniseries is that it's too short. It's not paginated, but it can't be much over a hundred pages, and most of those pages have three panels or less. As a result, most of the war promised in the title happens in the background. We have a few good shots of Hank, who smoothly transitions from astronaut to warrior, fighting street battles against armored stegosauri, but most of the war happens through set-up panels and narration.

The brevity not only means much of the action is backgrounded, but also means the plot itself is rushed. Hank and Debra run into each other and fall in love again with unnatural speed, and the story ends with a swift deus ex machina. Given the dependence of the basic storyline on Transformers, I would at least have expected to see a good battle between the Protosaurs and Megasaurs, but alas, it was not to be.

The story has at least one serious plot hole: Debra somehow manages to walk into a top-secret, heavily guarded meeting of the U.N., and nobody notices the two dinosaurs with her until she introduces them.

Most of Espinosa's comics happen in lavish otherworlds, which give him space to display his significant prowess at designing elaborate costumes and buildings and introducing fun fantasy characters. The real-world setting of DinoWars seems to limit him. Although the detailed artwork in the few battle scenes is incredible, it isn't nearly as impressive at the skirmish that climaxes The Courageous Princess or the massive battle that fills the fourth volume of Neotopia.

At least a few of you are thinking I'm asking too much of a comic book about a dinosaur-alien invasion, but I've learned that even goofball ideas--or perhaps I should say, especially goofball ideas--have plenty of dramatic mileage in the hands of an expert. Although Espinosa shows the same superb visual talent here that he has shown elsewhere, the story is disappointingly flat.

The robotic dinosaurs shooting lasers out of their mouths are still awesome, though.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for DinoWars:

Myth Level: Medium-High {good premise, large-scale battle of sorts, some grand ideas)

Quality: Medium (superb full-color art coupled with ambitious but weak writing)

Ethics/Religion: High (nothing objectionable; some possible mild fanservice)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Speed Racer Trailer



Man, it's too weird sometimes. Does anyone remember last year when I claimed I had the ability to predict the creation of certain movies? I did it again; now I just wish I'd told you about it beforehand so you'd believe me.

I was just commenting to Snuffles some time back that anime and manga characters tend to look Caucasian, and he was saying in reply that I really don't get it, and then it occurred to me that it might be an interesting experiment to adapt an anime or manga into a live action film with mostly Caucasian actors. Um, yeah. I mean, it just sort of occurred to me as a possible experimental sort of thing. Well, anyhow, watch the trailer here for Speed Racer. I admit I didn't watch this cartoon as a kid, so this is brand new to me.

Hat tip: Cinerati

Sick Day

The whole cast and crew's come down with a cold, but we should drag ourselves out of bed tomorrow to offer up a new book review, so stay tuned.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Secret Origin of Snuffles the Dragon

Peter at With a Grain of Salt tried to meme us here; unfortunately for him, it's a meme we've already done.

He tried to get me to give facts about myself in the hope of learning my origin. It's no secret, so I'll oblige him.

I was originally a superintelligent nebula from a universe beyond yours. I decided to visit your world because the rumor had reached my corner of the multiverse that you guys had really good sushi.

Unfortunately, when I used my transdimensional teleportation and incarnational capacities, I didn't realize that your universe worked under strict "laws of physics," with which I was unfamiliar. In particular, gravity is a pain in the...well, anyway, on with the story--I transformed into a dragon because I considered dragons the most interesting lifeforms your world had produced. However, an electromagnetic storm interfered with my incarnational process, so instead of becoming an adult dragon as I intended, I entered your world as an infant.

And then I admit I panicked because I immediately discovered I had lost my former powers as well as most of my mental capacity. I was still many times smarter than your average infant dragon, mind you, but I was no longer a superintelligent nebula.

A couple of dragons (Harman and Nattie by name) found me and raised me as their own, considering me a great blessing, since they were unable to have children of their own. They taught me Draconic and all the customs of being a dragon, and I learned to appreciate the hoarding of gold and virgins.

Later, they adopted Deej when his mother left him in the faerie wood in a pitch-sealed reed basket. He was supposed to be my pet, but we grew up together like brothers and even made a blood pact when we were both young. Unfortunately, this means we can't separate from each other for more than about a week and a half without experiencing severe abdominal cramps.

Anyway, after Frederick the Unicorn showed up as a physical manifestation of Deej's manhood when Deej came of age, I helped him escape from the dragons because he is, after all, my blood brother. From there, we eventually ended up in this ratty apartment. He acquired a taste for sf and I acquired a taste for anime, manga, and children's books, and the rest is history.

And you do have very, very good sushi.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Movie Review: The Golden Compass



Zzzzzzzzzz...

The Golden Compass, written and directed by Chris Weitz. Starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Dakota Blue Richards. New Line Cinema, 2007. Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AII--Adults and Adolescents.

Read other reviews here.

When you fight over something with which you're unfamiliar, you run the risk of fighting over nothing. Such is the case with The Golden Compass, which recently sent Catholic bloggers into a tizzy. But the movie doesn't deserve the attention. It barely deserves this review. I've read the novel, yet even I couldn't figure out what was going on in this film.

Here's my best attempt at a summary: in an alternate universe much like ours but with more CGI, people's souls manifest as talking animal companions called daemons. Ruling over this otherworld is an oppressive hierarchy known as the Magisterium, which is guilty of the unforgivable sin of (horrors!) telling people what to do. In other words, it's a sort of government with vaguely religious overtones. That's all we learn about it, except that it's supposed to be evil.

Living for no known reason at Oxford University is a young ragamuffin named Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) and her daemon Pantalaimon (voiced by Freddie Highmore). Lyra's "uncle," Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) has come to the college to speak about his research in the far north, where he has been studying a mysterious particle known as "dust." Don't ask what dust is; you'll certainly never learn the answer from this film, and if the movie trilogy follows the books closely, you won't get a satisfactory answer from the sequels, either. One way or the other, agents of the Magisterium consider study of dust heretical (yet they study it themselves, so go figure) and want to get Asriel out of the way. Though they could presumably arrest him since the Magisterium more-or-less owns the planet, they decide it would be more prudent to--cackle, cackle!--poison his wine! But that fails, of course, and Asriel escapes their clutches.

The slippery Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) shows up and decides to take Lyra on a trip up north. It then turns out that Coulter is head of the Oblation Board, which has been kidnapping children for no clear reason. For an equally unclear reason, Lyra joins up with a group of seagoing Gyptians, and for no reason at all, they head north to some pristine sets made of fiberglass rocks and fake snow.

Meanwhile, Asriel has also headed north, apparently without guides or supplies, and gets captured by the Magisterium. Fortunately, he escapes their clutches and...wait, didn't we do this already?

Anyway, to cut this short, Lyra teams up with a talking armored polar bear (voiced by Ian McKellen) and a Texan dirigible pilot (Sam Elliot) and heads, um, north. She finds the Magisterium's evil lab where they are--cackle, cackle!--cutting away children's daemons to keep them from growing into adults. (Why? Who knows?) There's a big fight at the end involving some witches, some Gyptians, and some Magisterium agents, and then the movie really falls apart.

As I've said before, The His Dark Materials Trilogy is a big disappointment. Though the series starts strong with a beautifully realized alternate world in The Golden Compass, it swiftly goes downhill as Pullman stops worldbuilding and starts preaching. The novels promise, among other things, that young Lyra will commit a new Original Sin, that Lord Asriel will gather the fallen angels to wage a new war in Heaven, and that Will (who appears in book 2, The Subtle Knife) will kill God with a magic knife that can cut anything. The anticlimactic fulfillment of each of these promises is a crushing disappointment. His Dark Materials begins by promising to be one of the greatest fantasy series ever written, but it ends as an incoherent and inartistic mess.

But the movie is a different story. The first novel is quite strong, but this first film is quite weak, and that does not bode well for the sequels, which will be based on inferior source material.

This movie features good actors and good sets. The CGI never overwhelms the imagery. The daemons look good, though the armored bears look fake. The music by Alexandre Desplat is atrocious, but the directing by Chris Weitz is competent. Dakota Blue Richards, in particular, acts with skill beyond her years and proves a perfect choice for the bold, charming, and tomboyish heroine Lyra; as a result of her performance, Lyra is more three-dimensional here than she is in the novels, where she remains consistently, bemusingly, and frustratingly uninterested in the larger happenings around her. All the materials for a good film are present and accounted for, but the movie falls flat anyway, mostly because of the script.

Everything in this movie is rushed. Lyra moves from Oxford to Mrs. Coulter's apartment to a Gyptian ship to the frozen north with the speed of a bouncing superball. Characters, especially villains, are thrown at us with little introduction. The Magisterium is a one-dimensional conglomerate of moustache-twirling villains with no raison d'être. An evil armored bear who usurps a kingdom is equally motiveless, and the subplot involving him has no relevance to the larger story.

As promised, Chris Weitz has removed the most obvious religious elements, and as I predicted, this was an unwise move. In the novel, the villains are members of a Church that has been gradually recovering from the chaos caused by Pope John Calvin, who moved the papacy to Geneva and dissolved it. The Oblation Board under Mrs. Coulter, working more-or-less independently, believes it can destroy Original Sin by cutting away children's daemons before they reach adulthood, a horrific process that either kills the children subjected to it or turns them into mindless zombies. Lord Asriel is a hero almost as evil as the villains, willing to murder children in order to open a gateway into an alternate universe where he can begin his monomaniacal quest to find God and slay him. It is a grand, imaginative beginning for a fantasy epic.

Absolutely none of this comes across in the movie. The Magisterium "tells people what to do," and the heroes are people who "don't like to be told what to do." Instead of a bold act of blasphemy, the movie is more like a wimpy plea for anarchy.

As for what you're all wondering about, yes, the Magisterium is still clearly a religious organization. Its members wear clerical outfits and its buildings sometimes feature Christian icons. Because of the reduction of the religious themes, the Church the movie attacks is even more of a strawman than the Church Pullman attacks. In the novels, the Church is at least concerned with sin, something the Church is concerned with in real life, though why the Church would think it could eliminate sin by preventing children from reaching adulthood is something only Philip Pullman knows. In the movie, the Church wants to eliminate free will, but according to actual Church teaching, free will is something sacred, a dogma, something the Church has fiercely defended. The idea that the Church would be interested in a medical operation to remove free will is simply silly.

When Philip Pullman took aim at Christianity, he missed, but at least his gun was pointed in the general direction. Weitz doesn't even know what he's supposed to be aiming at. Gutted of its central themes, this film has no point. Stripped of Pullman's lavish worldbuilding, it's not even good eyecandy. It belongs in the same round file we have put the other fantasy films that have appeared in the wake of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Golden Compass:

Myth Level: Medium (a half-hearted attempt at an imaginative epic)

Quality: Medium-Low (yet another high-budget film destroyed by its own script)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-Low (pointless anticlerical elements)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Mystery Science Theater 3000 does Santa Claus Conquers the Martians



Bad Christmas movie fun continues!

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection - The Essentials (Manos, the Hands of Fate / Santa Claus Conquers the Martians). Best Brains, Inc. Rhino Home Video (2004).

In continuation of our Santa Claus Conquers the Martians theme, I recently goaded the whole household into watching the film with the Mystery Science Theater commentary. Consensus is that as punishment I won't be allowed dessert for a week.

Just in case you don't know, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a long-running television show featuring atrocious movies. The show's hosts (one guy and two robot puppets) do skits making fun of the film and, during the film itself, appear as silhouettes at the bottom of the screen and offer merciless heckling full of in-jokes and obscure pop culture references. As a free bonus, I'll add a bit to your geek knowledge: taking a text you didn't write (such as a web page) and interspersing it with your own snide comments is known as MSTing in honor of this show.

To be honest, I am a tad disappointed. Even though this is apparently considered one of the greatest Mystery Science Theater episodes, the heckling just didn't seem that funny. Perhaps it's because I had already seen this movie twice; after all, one can only watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians so many times before getting sick of it. Nonetheless, I can't help but think they missed several opportunities to hurl some serious barbs. I don't believe they even once made fun of the martians' shoe polish makeup. They were also surprisingly sparse on the jokes about Pia Zadora, who plays young Girmar in the film.

The movie, in case you care, is about a group of martians, led by Kimar (King Martian), who decide they need to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him to Mars so their children can learn to be children again instead of watching TV all the time. (Do you think that trick would work here on Earth?) The Martians travel to Earth; unable to find Santa, they ask two kids, Billy and Betty, for directions, and then kidnap them to prevent them from alerting "the authorities." With few further incidents, they seize Santa.

Playing villain is Voldar, a snarly Martian with a moustache not quite large enough to twirl. Guilty of trying to preserve Martian culture, Voldar will do any underhanded deed to stop Santa from spreading Christmas joy, even stooping as low as sabotaging Santa's workshop!

Nonetheless, I did laugh out loud a number of times while watching this, particularly when they invented their own lyrics to the theme song, "Hooray for Santy Claus," or when they made ax-murder noises during a scene in which Santa laughs maniacally for no reason. The skits are reasonably funny, especially the one in which they sing their own Christmas carol, "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas."

I got this film as part of a two-DVD set; the other featured film is possibly the show's most famous episode, in which they watch "Manos" The Hands of Fate, an empty yet incomprehensible film about a vacationing family that encounters an evil cult. The movie fills a long hour and a half or so with lots and lots of slowly paced footage of fields going by a car window. The commentary on this one is hilarious. I laughed the whole way through, but I would definitely have to rank this among the worst movies I have ever seen.

But as for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, as I'll reveal later on, I may be the only person on Earth who thinks this premise has serious storytelling potential. If only the movie had a competent writer and a skilled director and the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster, it could be so bad it's good.