Thursday, October 30, 2008

Movie Review: Quarantine

You know that horror movie that's shot on a home video camera, and where all the characters are dead by the end? Have you seen that one?

Quarantine, directed by John Erick Dowdle. Screenplay by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Starring Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, and Jay Hernandez. Produced by Sergio Aguero, Clint Culpepper, and Doug Davison. Screen Gems: 2008. Rated R. USCCB Rating is L--Limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling (boy, you don't see that on this blog very often).

Read other reviews here.

'Tis the season for throwaway horror flicks. A bunch of bloody, brainless movies are showing? No, it's not another anime convention--it's October, and tomorrow, of course, is The Sci Fi Catholic's official Catholic holiday, a time for pumpkins, candies, costumes, and confused Evangelicals who can't define Satanism, but sure know how to use it to label stuff.

And this season, of course, morally obligates me to review at least one horror film. Just as a warning, this is my least favorite genre of speculative fiction.

Quarantine is another one of those movies that tries to look as if it were filmed on a home video camera, or in this case, a camera being used for a reality TV show, and as in other movies of this kind, the camera, unlike the characters, is invincible. The final-girl-type protagonist for this particular outing of the indomitable camera is small-time TV personality Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter, who, readers may want to know, previously played Emily Rose in The Exorcism of Emily Rose). With her is her cameraman (Steve Harris), and with him, of course, is the real star of the show, that invincible camera we know and love. For some TV show or other, they're spending the night tailing a group of firemen. For that reason, approximately fifteen minutes of the movie are taken up with a dull attempt to build camaraderie between Angela and the firemen, but after that, they're called out to a rickety old apartment building to assess a medical emergency.

The firemen only know that a woman at the apartment building had started screaming and then went quiet. When they arrive (cameraman and Angela in tow), they find the woman making weird noises and foaming at the mouth. Said woman quickly goes out of control and mangles two of the firemen. Evil government agents, who are always close-by in situations like this, seal the building and trap everyone inside, after which more and more members of the cast get infected with the doomsday-virus-of-the-week and turn into savage zombie-like creatures, or else get killed in various creative ways, including, but by no means limited to, dog maulings, human maulings, beatings with a sledgehammer, beatings with an axe, and drops from upper storeys. But let's not forget the film's highlight in which a woman is actually beaten to death with the camera lens! Naturally, the camera remains perfectly intact and functional even after cracking human bone.

Quarantine, when you get right down to it, doesn't have a plot or a point. Its sole purpose is to scare the pants off you while eliminating its cast members at a steady pace, and then briefly throw in an unlikely explanation at the end so you don't leave the theater wondering what the heck was going on. It doesn't make any real attempt to build tension, but elicits fear entirely by having things jump suddenly at the camera. The jump-scare is used again and again until the movie feels like a theme park ride. But even though it gets ridiculous after most of the cast has been zombified, it really is a frightening movie, and several of the jump-scares are effective.

Personally, I like my horror to exist for some purpose besides the mere cheap thrill, but then again, not every horror movie can be The Shining or The Silence of the Lambs, so if the cheap thrill is all you want, Quarantine delivers without being unnecessarily disgusting, though be warned that it does enjoy showing close-ups of gaping wounds and smashed rats, even if most of the really savage violence is performed off-camera (with the exception, of course, of that woman who gets her face bashed in with the camera lens!). The acting in this film is quite good, which is not surprising, since most of the actors are respected veterans. At the same time, though Jennifer Carpenter does a great job going hysterical in a situation that would make anybody hysterical, her convincing acting gets annoying after a while. That points up the film's primary flaw--because the movie has no point, the characters have no point. They exist for the sole purpose of getting scared and then getting killed. Their few attempts to escape the building are pathetic and short-lived, giving them something to do while the audience waits for the next zombie-jumping-at-the-camera scene. Perhaps with more careful attention to narrative or character development, or more attention to the building's architecture, the characters could have had something substantial to accomplish, and then they could have actually failed or succeeded. That would have made the movie more memorable.

And it's worth pointing out, because every other reviewer has, that this is yet another American remake of a foreign-language horror flick, though in this instance, the original isn't Japanese. This is a remake of [REC], a 2005 Spanish film. If there's one thing the critics agree on, it's that the original is better, but I haven't seen it and in all likelihood, neither have you.

Content Advisory: Blood and gore, scary images, and frequent coarse language.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Quarantine:

Myth Level: Low (the movie is, you know, just kind of there)

Quality: Medium-High (effective acting and production, but the film exists without purpose)

Ethics/Religion: Medium (definitely not suitable for children; see the USCCB review)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Anime Banzai 2008: Day 2

Snuffles: So, Deej, how did the second day of Anime Banzai 2008 go?

D.G.D.: All right, I guess. The nice thing about being surrounded by anime cosplayers is that I no longer feel out of place wearing a big crucifix. Incidentally, I forgot yesterday to mention one of the guests at the event--Vic Mignogna, a music composer and voice actor who's been in an awful lof of stuff, particularly Fullmetal Alchemist.

Snuffles: So, did you actually watch any anime or Japanese films while you were there?

D.G.D.: Yeah, they had a couple of viewing rooms with shows going constantly, so I took in a few. I saw something called Tokyo Marble Chocolate and a couple of episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Snuffles: Waitaminnit, let me see that schedule.... Yeah, just as I thought. You could have been watching Macross Frontier, Giant Robo, They Were 11, or Negadon: The Monster from Mars, and what did you end up seeing? A cheesy romance and a shoujo anime. Is that all you saw?

D.G.D.: Um, I also saw a couple of episodes of Lucky Star, and was disturbed to find I understood the jokes, which just means I've been hanging out with you too much.

Snuffles: I agree. The less time you're around me, the better.

D.G.D.: I also thought it was gutsy that they started that series off by having the characters sit around and give a highly detailed, ten-minute discussion of how they eat various desserts.

Snuffles: You're not alone in thinking that--

D.G.D.: I liked it.

Snuffles: You would. Now, let's see the magnificent change that should by this time have come over my Evangelion box set...

D.G.D.: Snuffs? What's up? You don't look happy.

Snuffles: Where is it? Where is Tiffany Grant's autograph?!?

D.G.D.: Well, I had things to do today and the line was really long--

Snuffles: Deej!!!

D.G.D.: Whoops! I'm outta here!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Anime Banzai 2008: Day 1

Snuffles here. This weekend is the weekend of Anime Banzai 2008, an anime con in Salt Lake City. I was planning to go, but then I decided I'd just stay home and watch anime instead. But I sent the Deej in my place, and now he has returned to give his report.

He took photos, as per my instructions, but a perusal of the program book reveals detailed and decidedly strict rules on the taking and subsequent use of photographs. I admit I understand this: after all, some of the cosplayers might be dismayed to find the Internet full of pictures of themselves in kinky schoolgirl uniforms. So, alas, no photos. Sorry, people. Nonetheless, we have the second best thing--the Deej. Deej, tell us what you experienced.

D.G.D.: What I experienced may very well scar me for life.

Snuffles: Knock it off.

D.G.D.: Have you ever sat in a room for hours listening to people talk enthusiastically about things you've never heard of and don't care about?

Snuffles: I have a miniature version of that experience every time you open your mouth. Would you get on with it?

D.G.D.: Yes, but first I want to ask a question. In addition to banning unsolicited photos, the con bans something called "yaoi paddles." What are--?

Snuffles: Never you mind. Tell us about the con!

D.G.D.: Okay, okay. Guests this year are Tiffany Grant and Sonny Strait. Grant is a voice actress for the English dubs of numerous anime, including the character Asuka Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Snuffles: Did you get her to autograph my Evangelion box set like I told you to?

D.G.D.: I forgot.

Snuffles: Then you're going back tomorrow.

D.G.D.: Oh, for--! Anyway, Sonny Strait is both a comic artist and a voice actor, who began his voice career with the character of Krillin on Dragonball Z.

Although it isn't an especially large con, the events and panels are numerous, the most educational ones being an introduction to Japanese culture and an introduction to Japanese language. Workshops on making anime music videos or cosplay costumes are offered, as well as forums on some specific works.

The cosplayers are certainly out in full-force, and some of the costumes I saw were quite impressive. And, apparently, I'll be back tomorrow. But for now, it's about my bedtime.

Snuffles: Try not to duck out early tomorrow.

D.G.D.: I got hungry and thirsty, alright? You said the best way to experience an anime con was without food or water, and I foolishly believed you.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

TV Review: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 1

The end of the world: a time to fight, a time to make a stand, a time to eat pancakes.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, developed for television by Josh Friedman. Starring Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, and Summer Glau. Executive producers Mario F. Kassar, Andrew G. Vajna, Joel B. Michaels, John Wirth, and Josh Friedman. Warner Bros. Television (2008). 9 episodes. 394 minutes. Not rated.

Don't forget: You can still vote in the Skynet vs. Master Control Panel Chess Match.

In the game of artificial intelligence, the only true loser may well be human reason.
--Gaby Wood, Edison's Eve

The Terminator is the one-shot movie idea that, like its titular villain, just won't die. One of the world's greatest action films, Terminator has a simple but well-conceived storyline, plenty of violence, a nice little time travel paradox, and, of course, a rear nude shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger from back in the day when he still looked like an animated slab of muscle. Since I was only four when this movie came out, I didn't see it until some time later, after the big-budget Terminator 2 was already in existence; when I finally saw Terminator, my first thought was, "They made a sequel to this?" The film is complete and final in so many ways, I couldn't imagine a sequel being anything but superfluous and damaging.

The original Terminator is gritty, dark, and nasty. The violence is blunt and brutal, but most unsettling of all is its fatalism, its depiction of a world headed unavoidably for a robot apocalypse; the movie's final, time-travel-enhanced message is firm: the future cannot be changed, our fate is fixed, and our only hope is to rise to the occasion, to behave as bravely as possible, and to maybe work in a lengthy sex scene while the killer robot obligingly takes his sweet time driving across town on his motorcycle.

Terminator 2 makes hash of all that, but it has such fun doing it, nobody cares. With bigger, more stylized action sequences that are a lot less hard to watch, a more upbeat theme, a scrappy young boy as the central hero, a Linda Hamilton who has convincingly transformed from girl next door to half-crazed freedom-fighter, and, most importantly, a friendly Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator with better hair and better catch-phrases, Terminator 2 does damage to the themes of the original, but then again, so what? The movie totally rocks, and as a result, it is the nice guy Terminator--the one who says "Hasta la vista, baby" and fights the good fight while George Thoroughgood shreds "Bad to the Bone"--who has stayed in our minds as Arnie's defining role, rather than the mean Terminator who kills every woman he can find named Connor.*

And as for Terminator 3, I got about fifteen minutes into it before I just couldn't take any more, but that's okay, because the makers of The Sarah Connor Chronicles apparently never saw it either. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, or Chronicles for short, takes place after the events of T2. Young John Connor has grown into a mopey, pretty-boy Thomas Dekker, and his mother Sarah Connor has morphed into Lena Headey, who in real life is only old enough to be Dekker's mother if she started impressively early. In the world of the television series, however, John is only fifteen years old--and Dekker is about as convincing as a teenager as is the cast of 90210.

John and his hot mom are on the run from the cops, who still want them for blowing up Cyberdyne and averting the construction of that pesky doomsday computer. They're also on the lookout for any more cyborgs from the future that might be out to kill them. Sarah is engaged to nice guy Charley Dixon (Dean Winters), but decides it's time to skip town without notice when she gets word that the cops might be on her trail. John whines to no avail, so he and Sarah are off to a new town, but only after they've had some pancakes. (This show has some kind of fixation on pancakes, which are apparently the ultimate symbol of American domestic normality).

Shortly after the move, they encounter two Terminators, Cromartie (played first by Owain Yeoman and later by Garret Dillahunt), who's out to kill John Connor, and, Cameron (Summer Glau), the young female Terminator out to save him. After a few explosions and smash-ups, John, his hot mom, and his hot cyborg all run into a bank vault containing a time machine constructed in the 1960s (seriously), with which they zap themselves to the year 2007, thereby simultaneously eliminating everything from Terminator 3 and saving the producers from having to continuously round up a bunch of older cars. You might think of it as the Terminator version of Superman Returns, though rather than merely ignoring the bad sequel, it goes one step further: with the unlikely time-travel device, it acknowledges the bad sequel's existence--and gives it the finger. Therefore, Chronicles and T3 stand as two separate, alternate sequels to T2, both featuring sexy female cyborgs who sometimes appear without their clothes. So take your pick.

After the move to the twenty-first century, more evil Terminators show up, and the Connors learn that they only postponed the construction of Skynet, but didn't stop it (the apocalypse has now been moved to 2011, a favorite date for such things). Female Terminator in tow, they go on a desperate hunt to find and destroy the technology that will one day wipe out most of the human race. The show effectively conveys a sense of desperation and even futility; in one episode, John even mentions the fabled Technological Singularity, the supposedly inevitable point at which we design a computer sufficiently intelligent enough to design its own successor. Though sometimes described as the "Rapture for Nerds," in the universe of Chronicles it's more like the Apocalypse for Nerds: there's a potential for any sufficiently advanced computer system to evolve into Skynet, whether it be a traffic control program or a chess program.

Speaking of chess programs, the show gets bonus points for occasionally throwing in esoteric trivia. In particular, a chess-playing supercomputer is named "The Turk," which of course is a reference to a chess-playing machine constructed by Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1769, and which continued to baffle audiences well into the nineteenth century, though it was actually an elaborate magic trick, operated from within by a human chess expert (Wood 2002:60-110).

Anyway, if you can swallow the unlikely elements of Chronicles's plot, you should have no trouble believing Thomas Dekker as a fifteen-year-old. The casting is good, even though Dekker is clearly too old to be John and Headey is clearly too young (and hot) to be his mom. Though Dekker's John Connor starts out as your basic sullen teenager (I kept waiting for the scene where he cuts himself at night), his attitude picks up as the series progresses, and the script never gives him the chance to get annoying, though he tries hard in the pilot. Headey pulls off her role of overprotective-mother-cum-bad&$$ and makes a likable enough replacement for Linda Hamilton, though she begins most episodes with an inane voiceover that can induce either winces or giggles, depending on your disposition. As for Summer Glau, she's certainly easy on the eyes, but she has neither the screen presence nor the intimidating appearance to pull off the signature Terminator deadpan. Nonetheless, her character's sudden flops from robotic incomprehension to cold irony are always entertaining even if they are repetitive; it becomes quickly apparent that her dialogue follows a formula: first she says something unemotional or technical to get a rise out of a human character, and then repeats a key line of that human character's dialogue in an ironic fashion. No characters in the show are complex, and the plots are easy to follow. For its charm, it relies mostly on the juxtaposition of its sci-fi storyline with more mundane elements: in addition to fighting killer robots, John and Cameron have to go to high school and deal with teen angst while Sarah has to hold together the home front and make lots and lots of pancakes. If Wheaties are the breakfast of champions, pancakes are apparently the breakfast of robot-battling vigilantes.

Like the movies preceding it, the series pays careful attention to action sequences. Although it has none of T2's gigantic action set pieces (how could it?), Glau and the evil Terminators manage to smash through plenty of walls, floors, and cars as they push, shove, and shoot each other. The brawling is careless in the choreography department, but then again, it is in the movies, too. The prosthetics on the wounded Terminators look good, as do the occasional CGI endoskeletons. The cinematography is competent if unremarkable, making the action easy to follow. The show also wisely focuses on a few individual villains rather than introducing an endless army of machines.

Think whatever you like about Chronicles "messing" with a beloved franchise; the fact is, this franchise was already thoroughly messed with when its first sequel came out. Besides, the TV show completes the Terminator series's exploration of the potential roles of robots: The first film depicts the robot as merciless enemy, the second depicts it as a potential friend and companion, and the TV series at least hints at, but so far has not developed, the depiction of the robot as a potential, um, sex toy.

Yeah, I went there. But depending on how the technology develops, this could be a real concern in the near future. David Levy argues in his book Love and Sex with Robots that soon we will all be able to purchase sophisticated android sex dolls, and that this is a cause for celebration. According to Lanham (2008), Levy ends his book by announcing that sex robots will bring "Great sex on tap for everyone, 24/7." In a phone interview, Levy argues that people who have a hard time developing healthy relationships will benefit from such machines because "society will be a much better place when they have an alternative that satisfies them without doing any harm to other people" (Lanham 2008). What Levy apparently misses is that such a crutch would only send such people into further isolation and would hinder them from developing normal relationships. It would also probably create a larger mass of such disaffected. Human beings are not meant to have access to "great sex on tap...24/7" because real sex involves another person; robotic masturbation toys would instill in people the idea that sex partners are supposed to be entirely compliant, infinite of endurance, and sterile. Such machines could not heal broken relationships or disordered personalities, but only give people a new excuse to indulge a craving, and contrary to Levy, it would not "satisfy" them, but, like masturbation and pornography, would only lead to a worsening of the craving and greater unhappiness. It may indeed be possible for a man to love a robot, in the sense of having great affection for it, but the robot could never love him back, no matter what it's programmed to whisper in his ear.

Numerous sf works about such possibilities already exist. In his 1945 novel, That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis describes a society on Sulva (the Moon) where people have sex with androids, rather than with each other, because they are "dainty in their perversity." Taking a different tack, Frederik Pohl in his 1966 short story "Day Million" describes a future where women have sex with "mathematical analogues" that, unlike real men, can "go all night," and Pohl verbally abuses anyone who dares to find that disgusting. In his 1993 novel Killobyte, Piers Anthony creates something similar with a sophisticated virtual reality system; his characters argue that virtual sex is better than the real thing precisely because of the impossibility of pregnancy. All three of these visions--two that endorse and one that dissents--depict a world where normal human sex has been replaced with technologically enhanced masturbation. David Levy might think that's a good thing, but, whether intentionally or not, Pohl's all-night analogues and Anthony's sterile virtual women convey a sense of dissatisfaction with, even revulsion for, real people and their normal functioning, an attitude that certainly isn't conducive to happiness of any kind. One of the earliest stories of a seductive female robot, E. T. A. Hoffman's 1817 short, "The Sandman," may still have the best insight into this subject: In that story, a man unwittingly falls in love with a robot, and as a result, his possibility of happiness with a real woman is utterly destroyed. Nonetheless, if Levy has his way, our post-apocalyptic future may look not like The Terminator, but like Cherry 2000.**

However, after that unpleasant aside, it must be said that, at least in this first season, Chronicles is apparently aware that it's treading well-trod ground. The relationship between John and Cameron is firmly platonic, at least so far, though there are some hints of sexual tension. Besides that, unlike his previous relationship with a reprogrammed killer cyborg, there's a strong element of distrust, and Cameron's true allegiance grows murky as the series progresses. This serves to prevent the character from degenerating into a mere sex fantasy. The cyborg here is seductive and dangerous, but that of course brings us into another realm of sf clich├ęs, so I am not going there.

Instead, I'll mention that Chronicles brings yet another inevitability to the franchise: the linking of a nuclear holocaust with the Book of Revelation (note the lack of an s at the end of the book's name, please). Tracking the Connors is an FBI agent (Richard T. Jones), who as the series progresses is revealed to be a Christian of the comfortably generic variety, and who grows increasingly convinced that a robot apocalypse really is forthcoming, and that it has all been predicted in the Bible. I readily agree with him: after all, there are plenty of killer robots in my Bible...oh, whoops, I'm looking at my Sci Fi Catholic Bible, not my regular Catholic Bible. My bad.

Yes, the biblical link is strained and kind of silly, but then again, the season finale has a bloody action sequence set to the tune of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around," so who would dare to complain?

Sources Cited

Lanham, Fritz
2008 "Programmed for Love: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE." Houston Chronicle 3 January.

Wood, Gaby
2002 Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life. Alfred A. Knopf (New York).
*The last time I saw a TV series based on a one-shot movie idea that just wouldn't die, it was the underrated and prematurely cancelled RoboCop: The Series, which inclines me to ask, isn't it time for a little RoboCop vs. Terminator?

**Let it be known that this is an official request that The B-Movie Catechism review Cherry 2000.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Ultimate AI Chess Championship

Does everybody remember that great website Grudge-Match? You know, the one that used to have battles between celebrities and fictional characters? The one you could waste lots of time on in college?

Well, in view of the upcoming review of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which got delayed because I went off on a tangent writing a brief history of female robots in sf before realizing that would be too much for a television review and ended up with the equivalent of a half-finished review and a one-eighth finished essay, I was noticing that Chronicles depicts the evil Skynet computer, the one that nukes the world and builds Terminators, beginning as a chess program. I thought that was quite appropriate, since chess programs have tried to take over the world before: after all, I'm old enough to remember when the MCP was just a chess program; he started small and he'll end small!

So I asked myself, "If Skynet and the Master Control Program played chess against each other, who would win?" Then I remembered good ol' Grudge-Match and decided to rip off their method: Two of us will debate the question of whether Skynet or Master Control would win a chess match, and then we'll allow readers to vote and settle the matter once and for all.

Lucky the Goldfish will be arguing for Skynet, seeing as how she's a Terminator fan, partly because she likes Thomas Dekker and partly because, as she once admitted to me after making me swear never to tell anyone, especially strangers on the Internet, "Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the day had a majorly hotty body." I, on the other hand, will argue for the Master Control Program, seeing as how I'm one of the four remaining people who think Tron is a good movie. Let the games begin!

Lucky: I think Skynet would definitely win in a chess match against the Master Control Program. You know why? Because chess takes brains. After Skynet became sentient, it not only wiped out most of the humans and then cleverly built humanoid cyborgs to destroy the survivors, it was smart enough to build a time machine. That's really impressive. Skynet took over the world! The Master Control Program, on the other hand, only managed to take over the network in one company, and then it was defeated by a glowing frisbee. Besides that, Skynet was smart enough to build a cyborg that looks like a hot young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

D.G.D.: Yes, but it wasn't smart enough to give Arnie good hair. The human rebels had to do that, in the sequel. And let's look at just how smart Skynet is: yeah, it's smart enough to build cyborgs, but when it sends one back in time to 1980s Los Angeles, which model does it choose? That's right, the one that looks and sounds like an Austrian bodybuilder. Apparently, that's what Skynet thinks will blend in. And as for the Terminators themselves, they may look human so they can infiltrate, but they're not exactly masters of stealth, seeing as how they simply stomp in, pull out guns, and start shooting. They never bother to get close to the target before opening fire. They can't even aim.

Lucky: Speaking of not being able to aim, the Master Control Program is dumb enough to protect itself with nothing but a spinning gizmo containing a big slot just large enough for a killer frisbee, and not only that, but some guy jumping into its beam-of-light-thingy is enough to distract it so its gizmo stops spinning. If it's such a smart program, can't it focus on the guy and frisbee at the same time?

D.G.D.: Don't ever blame the Master Control Program for missing the obvious when you're trying to defend Skynet. Here's a question: If Skynet can send robots back in time only when they're coated in living flesh, why doesn't it grow some flesh around a crate full of guns and clothes so its cyborgs can get dressed and armed right away instead of staggering around buck wild?

Lucky: Why don't you ask the computer program that thinks it's a good idea to punish its enemies by forcing them to play video games? Or that thinks it's a good idea to create its own nemesis by digitizing a skilled computer programmer?

D.G.D.: Hey, have you ever played Pong for hours on end? That's what I call torture. I'd do that to my enemies if I could. And while I'm at it, I've got another question: if only flesh-coated stuff can travel back in time, how did that liquid all-metal T-1000 make the trip? And why did it show up naked when it can generate clothes out of its own body?

Lucky: Don't try to confuse me by changing the subject!

D.G.D.: And how is it that a Terminator with an M79 grenade launcher can blow stuff up at point-blank range when those grenades have to fly 30 meters before activating?

Lucky: Stop it! That's not Skynet's fault! You just don't like it that Skynet is smart enough to work around those little problems! Your Master Control, on the other hand, can't even guard its Light Cycle arena carefully. And when it's in trouble and Plan A isn't working, its Plan B is to turn its chief minion into a slow-moving, ineffective giant. Yeah, that's real smart!

D.G.D.: Ooh, someone's getting feisty. She must know she's losing. Let's look at how things have played out here: Skynet is ultimately defeated by a waitress, a juvenile delinquent, and a wisecracking bodybuilder, all of whom use the brilliant, subtle, brainy technique of shooting the bad guy repeatedly until he eventually falls over. Quite pathetic to lose to that crowd. The Master Control Program, on the other hand, is ultimately defeated by a dream team that includes the likes of Tron the Electronic Gladiator, a hot digital babe, and the computer program equivalent of the messiah. It's no dishonor to lose to them.

Lucky: Ah, but the Master Control Program is still dead. Skynet, on the other hand, keeps coming back for more.

D.G.D.: Yeah. I've noticed.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Schedule

For the last nine days, I have been in the small, quaint town of Rump's End, Nevada, where it is impossible to get a motel room with a phone, let alone an Internet connection. Because I have the computer with me when I travel, Lucky and Snuffles, naturally, don't post much.

I rather enjoy getting out of the house and out of contact, however, because it gives me plenty of time to dedicate my evenings to the important activities of reading, writing, and drinking, which are the only things to do in Rump's End. Besides that, it gets me away from our apartment's new occupant, Crystal Dragon Jesus, who, it turns out, is quite a chatterer. Shortly before I left, we had a conversation that went more-or-less as follows:

C.D.J.:'re one of those "Catholics," right?

D.G.D.: Uh...yeah, pretty much.

C.D.J.: That's great, because it just so happens I'm starting up a new religion based on yours, and you can totally get in on the ground floor.

D.G.D.: I dunno. That's been done. I mean, I live in Utah, where every day I have opportunities to join a new religion based on mine.

C.D.J.: No, you'll like this: See, I'm gonna set up a hierarchical "Magisterium" of dour-faced men who worship an intolerant monotheistic god, and according to the evil Magisterium, I, Crystal Dragon Jesus, am supposed to be this god's son, right? But actually the god is an evil demiurge and I was sent from the pleroma to defeat him. My true nature is only known to a shadowy, persecuted minority of the enlightened, who engage in sex orgies.

D.G.D.: I'm not interested in--

C.D.J.: Since I'm just starting this out, you can choose any role if you join right now. You could be enlightened and persecuted, or you could be a grumpy, celibate Magisterial bishop and make up mean-spirited moral rules while flying around in an airship.

D.G.D.: Look, I get an airship?

Er--I mean the conversation didn't go at all like that. Not once did I waver in my dedication to Holy Mother Church, even when tempted with airships.

(Click to enlarge.)
It's a greeting card world!

(Click to enlarge.)
Cross, rainbow, and...brothel.

But enough of that. Check out these photos from the lovely town of Rump's End. A few weeks ago, after a rainstorm, we witnessed the clearest rainbow I've ever seen. A coworker captured these photos of the cross up on the hill above the town. Because of the cross, I have chosen not to reveal the town's real name so they don't get a lawsuit from the UCLA. I don't know what the deal is with the University of California at Los Angeles, but from what I hear on the news, it's always going after towns with public displays of religious icons. (And the building in the picture is actually a former, historic brothel, so keep your shirt on and don't write in.)

(Click to enlarge.)
Functional and attractive.

Here's the latest addition to the dragon collection. This one was a gift: a dragon-style carabiner.

And now for some important stuff: has a new Rudy Rucker short story available online.

Spike TV is holding its 2008 Scream Awards for the best in sf, fantasy, horror, and comics. Information is available here. I didn't link this before because the website looks a little, er, seedy, so view at your own risk. They're apparently taking votes for the awards. The awards appear on the TV on Tuesday, October 21st at 9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT.

The Moti8 Fantasy Fiction Tour (which I absolutely, positively, did not name, though you probably didn't think I did, but just in case), featuring eight Christian sf authors, is going on right now. Check this link for the schedule and other information.