Monday, March 31, 2008

Comics Review: Magicians' Village: The Prelude



I have to wait how long for the sequel?

Magician's Village : The Prelude, written by Kaja Blackley and illustrated by Alison Williams. Mad Monkey Press (Toronto): 1995. 176 pages. Black and white. $10.99.

Snuffles has gone into mourning; alas, the Shady Bookstore Down the Street, where both he and I buy our comic books, has closed its doors. I admit this is a great tragedy, though it is greater for him than for me: he has a philosophy that every manga purchase should be an impulse buy, but it's hard to buy on impulse over the Internet. Besides that, I won't let him use my credit card.

Before the doors closed, I did my best to take away whatever treasures I could find, and one of the treasures I found was Magician's Village : The Prelude. This is a gem of a graphic novel, but I can only wish you good luck if you want to get your hands on a copy. It appears to be rare, and I have had a good deal of difficulty getting information on it, its creators, and its publisher (though here's Kaja Blackley's brief bio). Another Kaja Blackley comic, Dark Town was turned into the movie Monkeybone, a colossal flop. I have been unable to find any information at all on the illustrator, Alison Williams, which is a crying shame, since her artwork does a good deal to carry the story.


As the title suggests, this is the beginning of what is supposed to be a much longer series, but if the subsequent issues have been produced, I have been unable to find them. If they exist, they too are rare--very rare.

But you shouldn't allow that to stop you from getting your hands on Prelude, one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in a while, even if I will never know how it ends. It proposes that, somewhere in New York's Central Park, is an entrance to a magical otherworld called Magicians' Village, which is full of wizards, fairies, trolls, and anthropomorphic animals. The protagonist is ten-year-old Timothy Rackham, whose busy, widowed mother has little time for him. With the help of a magic-using hot dog vendor and a six-foot talking mouse with a shady reputation, Timothy soon finds himself in the Magicians' Village, where he learns his dead father was a powerful wizard and that an evil sorcerer named Daedelus wants him for some unknown purpose. Timothy's journey into the magical realm won't prove entirely escapist, however: a girl with a crush on him and an obnoxious bully, both from his school, soon make their way into the Village as well.


This is a strong beginning for a fairy tale and its incompleteness is nothing short of tragedy. Williams's carefully detailed and somehow nostalgic artwork is astounding, and Blackley's swift yet developed storytelling is highly engaging. The rendering of the Village itself is quite clever: quaint and old-fashioned and full to the brim with eccentric and lovable characters, it nonetheless contains numerous modern artifacts and articles of clothing to remind the reader that it's attached to New York.

Alas, what more can I say? Without the complete story, my commentary must be limited. Blackley's tale is wholesome and evinces, in some subtle ways, a strong sense of decency. His characters are engaging, and his situations, though not entirely original, are compelling. This is worth adding to your collection, and if you happen to know of any subsequent work related to it, be sure to tell me about it.

Content Advisory: Contains action violence, some blood, and oblique references to sex.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Magician's Village : The Prelude:

Myth Level: High (evokes the great fairy tales)

Quality: High (with only a few minor bumps, contains an intriguing story combined with excellent and unique artwork)

Ethics/Religion: High (no objectionable content, some briefly touched-upon positive themes)

An Addendum to the Ongoing Discussion

Something has occurred to me, thanks to a cheeky post from The B-Movie Catechism.

The first fantasy creature C. S. Lewis introduces in The Chronicles of Narnia is a faun. Traditionally, fauns are associated with uncontrollable lust, but Lewis not only depicts his faun as a good character, but allows him to take a little girl home for tea, unsupervised.

Is any Christian willing to condemn Lewis for this? Any? If no one will condemn Lewis for his chaste faun, let us have no more talk of condemning other fantasists for their friendly dragons.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pokemon: Banned in Saudi Arabia

As a rule, I try not to get too bent out of shape about other religions, since this is as far as I know the only conservative Catholic blog largely dedicating to criticizing conservative Catholics. Nonetheless, when I learned from Lucky the Goldfish that Pokémon is banned in Saudi Arabia, I realized things have gone too far. Radical Islam has got to be stopped.

(P.S., Pokémon has also been criticized as "demonic" by the Catholic Church in Mexico. Perhaps they've been reading too much Michael O'Brien?)

Hat tip: Five Feet of Fury and The Amboy Times

Fan Fiction...*sigh*...Again

After conferring with my priest and being told that fan fiction is not morally problematic if it is noncommercial, and after reading an article by a lawyer indicating that fan fiction is not legally problematic if it is noncommercial, I have decided, against my better judgment, to restore my Bone fan fiction to the Internet. You are all invited to read and review--nay, skewer--this work. I produced it in my younger days (that is, about three years ago) and am embarrassed by some of its contents, though other parts I'm still pleased with. Then again, I'm kind of embarrassed by the whole thing since it is, you know, fan fiction.

It is a full length novel, and so I will be producing it in serial fashion, with a new chapter about every two weeks. It assumes reader knowledge of the entirety of Bone.

Because I rate other people's content on this blog, it is only fair I should rate my own, so be warned: this work contains coarse language, excessively ornamented prose, graphic violence, sexual angst, a kissing scene, copious quantities of certain bodily fluids, lurid blood-rites, gratuitous biblical references, cute school-teachers (don't even get me started on cute school-teachers), blood-sucking monsters, large-caliber firearms, cliched dialogue, literary allusions, hunky men with German accents, preachy parts, and exactly one ill-timed, inappropriate, and ultimately ineffective joke on the genre of slash fan fiction. Otherwise, the whole thing really isn't very good.

(Someone here once suggested I write bodice-rippers; well, consider this a PG-rated bodice-ripper.)

A derivative work this bloated and audacious deserves an equally derivative, bloated, and audacious title, so here it is, with the link to FanFiction.net where this monster is posted:

The Chronicles of Fone Bone Oathbreaker:
Being an Account of the Second Bonewar,
the Rise of the New Locust,
and the Fall of the House of Harvestar

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Telling Quotes

Read. Discuss.

"But I thought all witches were wicked," said the girl, who was half frightened at facing a real witch.

"Oh, no; that is a great mistake. There were only four witches in all the Land of Oz, and two of them, those who live in the North and the South, are good witches. I know this is true, for I am one of them myself, and cannot be mistaken."

--L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


"I wish they taught magic at school," Jane sighed. "I believe if we could do a little magic it might make something happen."

...

"I could begin right enough," said Anthea; "I’ve read lots about it. But I believe it’s wrong in the Bible."

"It’s only wrong in the Bible because people wanted to hurt other people. I don’t see how things can be wrong unless they hurt somebody, and we don’t want to hurt anybody; and what’s more, we jolly well couldn’t if we tried."

--E. Nesbit, The Phoenix and the Carpet


For example, magic has been used traditionally in fairy stories to give a visible form to the invisible spiritual powers...."Good magic" in traditional fairy stories represents these very realities, symbolizing the intervention of God in the lives of good men put to the test. It is actually a metaphor for grace and miracle, the suspension of natural law through an act of spiritual authority, culminating in a reinforced moral order.

--Michael D. O'Brien, A Landscape With Dragons


While Rowling posits the "good" use of occult powers against their misuse, thus imparting to her sub-creation an apparent aura of morality, the cumulative effect is to shift our understanding of the battle lines between good and evil.

--Michael D. O'Brien, "The Problem of Harry Potter"


Supernatural is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter. But to fairies it can hardly be applied, unless super is taken merely as a superlative prefix. For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom. The road to fairyland is not the road to Heaven, nor even to Hell, I believe, though some have held that it may lead thither indirectly by the Devil's tithe.

...

Even fairy-stories as a whole have three faces: the Mystical toward the Supernatural; the Magical toward Nature; and the Mirror of scorn and pity toward Man. The essential face of Faerie is the middle one, the Magical.

--J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories" in Tree and Leaf


Sometimes a possessive mother even grudges a child his dream kingdom.

I remember a little boy who was punished for day-dreaming. His dream kingdom was a deep green forest peopled by wizards and gomes and magic children but where no grown-up people could come. Here he was king. But when I saw him his white face was dirty with tears, and his mother explained that she had punished him because when she asked for his attention, he was "so far away."

--Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vocations, Now in Five Colors!

It's the Snuff-meister here, and I'm posting whether Deej likes it or not!

With all this talking smack about dragons, I don't feel too welcome at the moment, but throwing my weight around where I'm not welcome is how I roll. (And hey, Templar, I know where you sleep at night!)

Anyway, a reader recently sent me to something he describes as sort-of manga-ish Catholic stuff. Thanks for the link, bro, but let me make one thing clear: this is not manga. Deej may read that Amerimanga garbage, but that's because he's a big luh-hooser! Anyway, what I'm talkin' about here isn't really Amerimanga, either. I guess it would be...Brito-manga. It's the website Called Today, which features the stories of cutesy Catholic cartoon characters who chose celibate vocations, and how you too should choose a celibate vocation because these cutesy cartoon characters are young, hip, good-looking, with it, groovy, and relevant, just like you.

As soon as I saw it, I said, "Okay, this needs to get skewered." Of course, the wildly famous Catholic blog Shrine of the Holy Whapping has already opened a can of holy whap-&$$ on it, but that doesn't mean the dragon can't throw in his own bit. And two bucks says I can do it better.

You see, while looking at this attempt to attract hip young people with cartoons, I realized it could never work because this cartoon is boring! So, to help our friends across the pond with their recruiting effort, I took the liberty of spicing up their cartoon a little. After some debate with the Deej, I agreed to display only the publicly available poster and to leave off the images of the individual characters. It was a tough decision, but it was the only way (click here to see the pictures I was going to use). Here we go:




TEAM CELIBATE VOCATION:
BATTLESMOKE GOOGLION


They have a vocation...to kick butt!


Father Michael Bruiser: When supercriminals prey on the world's helpless people, the Vatican covertly organizes its own team of vigilante superheroes, and the first of their recruits is Father Bruiser, diocesan priest and former flyweight boxing champ. Trained in numerous martial arts and armed with a .44-magnum, Bruiser is meeting the scum of the city in a confessional called the streets--where he doles out the ultimate penance!

Sister Catherine Slaughter: Known on the street as the Nun with Nunchukas, Sister Slaughter is Father Bruiser's loyal sidekick (because this is a comic book and every comic book priest, apparently, needs a loyal nun sidekick). Able to transform any object into a deadly weapon, she's rapping more than just knuckles, and she's rapping them with more than just rulers!

Brother Gregory "the Fist" Balizar: Bound by a vow of silence, Brother Fist is a master of stealth. Trained in mystical gravity-defying monkish martial arts, he is Team Celibate Vocation's ultimate weapon. None can oppose him, and few dare try. Not only that, but those robes tend to fly around while he's moving and look really dramatic and cool! And when riddled with bullet-holes around the hem, they look even cooler! Yeah!

Sister Leah "InvisiNun" Chalendar: Sister Leah is Team Celibate Vocation's espionage agent--cleverly disguised as a skateboarder's cute girlfriend, no one can tell she's a nun! She worms her way into the vilest supercriminal organizations and retrieves sensitive information for Father Bruiser. But don't let appearances fool you: when she presses her crucifix lapel pin and recites a Hail Mary, a bolt of lightning transforms her street clothes into a fully armed Mecha Battle Habit! (This happens at least once an episode.)

Brother Ben "I'm not Starring in a Harem Anime" Frederickson: Every superhero team needs one loser sidekick to kick around, and Brother Ben fulfills that purpose. Designated the team's "refreshing drink provider," Brother Ben's job involves ensuring that the other team members remain hydrated and that the kiddies watching at home see plenty of product placements. He also organizes the potlucks and usually functions as Team Celibate Vocation's PR man. He dreams of being a true superhero, but Father Bruiser and the others refuse to appreciate the mystical power of his Magical Baggy Pants. Nonetheless, for all his passive loser-ishness, Brother Ben remains the hippest and most relevant member of the team.

Okay, I'm done. Now I'll just sit back and wait for the lawsuit.

Technically, a Difficulty...

Snuffles has a parodic post ready to go for today, but when I saw it I freaked out, since it involves the appropriation and mockery of proprietary artwork. So we're arguing at the moment about legality and other issues we know nothing about. Sorry for the delay.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Infinite Space, Infinite God Is Accepting Submissions



Speaking of religion in science fiction (hard science fiction, even!), does anyone here remember an anthology of Catholic sf entitled Infinite Space, Infinite God? Well, there's going to be a sequel, and the editors are accepting story submissions until June 30th. You can look here for the submission guidelines. Anyone out there a budding Catholic sf writer?

As a writer, I really shouldn't take issue with the submission guidelines of an anthology. It would be out of place and would open me to scorn and ridicule, and rightly so, but...but...

...but it's called Revelation, people, not Revelations! Open your Bible, flip to the last book, and see if there's an s in the title! I promise you, there isn't!

SF Signal's Mind Meld

The blog SF Signal has a section called the "Mind Meld" that polls sf writers and enthusiasts on interesting topics.

The topic for the latest Mind Meld is, "Is science fiction antithetical to religion?"

They asked me for a contribution, so you can see my modest little essay on the subject wedged between much more substatial responses from big-name authors. Particularly, I recommend the lengthy essay from John C. Wright:

Science fiction thrives on the Horror of Darwinism. That sense of weirdness is a twin brother to the Sense of Wonder of American pulp fiction. We science fiction people like it when Copernicus yanks the world out from under our feet: to us, it is like a roller-coaster ride.

Is the disorientation of Darwinism antithetical to religion? Maybe or maybe not, but H.G. Wells, Progressive, is antithetical to religion. The last line of the book is telling. The narrator is looking up at the stars. "There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope."

In other words, the soul of man (that which is more than animal in us) can find solace and hope, not in religion, but in the vast and eternal laws of matter, i.e. in physical science. Even though the book never mentions God, the moral atmosphere of the tale is rich with those odors that waft from Victorian notions of Progress, Eugenics, Darwinism, Materialism. The Progressives will instinctively recognize the scent and smile.

Progressives, let us not forget, regard religion as one of those things to be left behind on the junk pile of history, along with monarchy, slavery, femininity, personal property, marriage, death and taxes, and whatever else will not exist in the Brave New World of our loving Big Brother. [more...]

For the opposing view, the best probably comes from James Morrow:

To the degree that science fiction is the literature spun from human insights into the laws of nature, then it is indeed the last place a person should look for corroboration of the Christian worldview or any other frankly religious perspective. For better or worse - better, in my opinion - science has yet to provide a single molecule of evidence for the supernatural, and so far every attempt to make the empirical substantiate the ethereal, from the laboratory testing of the Shroud of Turin to the crude appropriation of particle physics by various self-styled mystics, has come to nothing. [more...]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Landscape with Misplaced Commas



Sooner or later, I am going to start a series critiquing Michael D. O'Brien's narrow-minded, anti-fiction A Landscape With Dragons (no really), but I haven't quite finished amassing source material in the middle of my living room floor, and then there's taxes and Josephus and...well, you know how it is.

Anyway, when I finally start in, I'm going to be sore tempted to criticize something that really has no place in my criticism. I decided I should get it out of the way now so I won't desire to do it later when I shouldn't. Here goes:

I don't know if this is O'Brien's fault or the fault of an editor at Ignatius Press, but for the love of St. William of Strunk, the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks! Take a look at this dialogue from O'Brien's first chapter (all of it sic except my comments in brackets):

"What kind of a monster is it?" [my mother] asked.

My little brother wasn't exactly sure, but I was.

"A dragon", I said.

[A terrible monster who sneakily moves commas where they don't belong!]

"Why don't you draw the dragon."

[Why don't you use question marks?]

"No, No, we would be too askaired!"

[So askaired that we capitalize no twice in a single sentence!]

"It's okay, I'll be right here", she said calmly.

[But it's not okay, Momma! The dragon's moving your commas, too!"]


Whew. Thanks for bearing with me; I know I'm not the world's greatest grammarian, but some things I still have to skewer. Incidentally, did anyone really use the word askaired when he was a little kid? Didn't think so.

In case you're wondering what's going on in this charming scene, I'll tell you: O'Brien is here explaining the basis of his belief that dragons are inherently evil and must always be depicted as evil in works of fantasy lest O'Brien brand the fantasist as an evil tempter who wants to lure children into Satanism. The basis of O'Brien's idea is twofold: first, O'Brien's children have had bad dreams about dragons, and second (as he depicts here), O'Brien had a scary dragon in his closet when he was little; therefore, dragons are evil.

I admit, logic like that is hard to beat.

What is particularly sad about all of this is that O'Brien, who condemns the fictional magic of Harry Potter, can't recognize real magic when it's right in front of his face. His own mother, as he proudly describes in this scene, dispelled the dragon in his closet through a ritual of sympathetic magic: she had young O'Brien draw the dragon, and then she burned the image to kill the monster in the closet. Somehow, O'Brien doesn't recognize this as a magic ritual. This isn't hypocrisy, but inexcusable ignorance.

John C. Wright Has Become Catholic

I look away from the sf news for just a little bit, and all heck breaks loose. Lucky the Goldfish was jumping in and out of her bowl when I got home from work this evening, and after she handed me her news sheet, I understood why.

Many or most of you know that sf author John C. Wright, considered one of the most important science fiction writers (so far) of the twenty-first century, converted to Christianity some time ago. He announced in his online journal here that he was becoming a Roman Catholic. He made the announcement with his usual wit:

For my Protestant friends, all I can do is assure you that that Church you broke away from in centuries past has been reformed of the abuses you complained of at that time. The Pope no longer sells indulgences. The theological differences are minor enough that Christly love, if you imitate His love, will cover them. I was raised Lutheran, and drank in anticatholicism with my mother's milk, so I assure you I am aware of most or all the objections, subtle and obvious, which you consciences in good faith might raise. The shock that came to me when I looked into Catholicism is that the Catholics do not teach what my teachers told me they teach. In any case, Protestant friends, I will be closer to you than I was when I was an atheist, so please consider this progress.

For my pagan friends, rejoice! My Protestant friends tell me my Catholic friends are pagans anyway! So I will be closer to you than I am now. And there is certainly some truth in the idea that Catholicism is a child of Jewish and Hellenic thought: the ancient civilization of Europe is still alive in the Catholic Church. If you worship Brigit, and I revere St. Brigit, this will be a common bond between us. [more...]

Some of us aren't too terribly surprised. As he says in this post, a lot of people thought he was Catholic anyway, and he has tended to sound more Catholic than anything else.

This is from the post after his Easter induction:


I have heard my whole life how corrupt and superstitious the Catholic Church is, so, now that I am in, where do I sign up? I'd like to start with Simony. Can I buy Church offices wholesale, and then sell them through retail outlets? What are the tax implications? [more...]

Welcome home, Mr. Wright. (Don't miss Mark Shea's hilarious response to Wright. Seems everyone in the Catholic blogosphere knew about this before me, but, hey, I was busy catching up on my comic books, and besides, Shea posts, like, twice a minute, and there's no way I can keep up with that.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter

Happy Easter! Christ is risen, and Marshmallow Peeps are still nasty. Over here, we're all lounging around and enjoying the end of our Lenten fast. I broke fast with a few bad comic books of no account, and am now enjoying The Importance of Being Earnest, which is just as clever and shallow as I had always hoped it would be.

We'll be back soon with some of the kind of stuff we used to do around here before Lent and Josephus got in the way, but in the meantime I want to say a few irreverent things and then a less irreverent thing.

First, on the irreverent side, I have discovered that you can tell a good deal about a person by the way he handles his Easter basket. When a young child, I knew a person, not to be identified to strangers on the Internet, who pulled the fake not-at-all-resembling-grass stuff out of his basket, shook all the candy out of it, and put the candy into a bowl for easy access. I, on the other hand, arranged the candy as decoratively as possible in the basket and then rearranged it whenever I took a piece out in order to, as long as possible, preserve the idyllic pastoral scene in which a hollow chocolate bunny and his Peeps companions benevolently watch over their nest of jelly beans and Cadbury Creme Eggs. This says a great deal about the differences in our personalities; I'm just not sure what it says exactly. One thing it says is that I don't really like eating candy all that much.

Second, still on the irreverent side, Fr. Erik, don't expect to see me at Mass in a suit again for another full year. That thing only comes out of the closet once a year, and I consider that more than enough. As an archaeologist, geek, and bachelor, I have a rep to keep up, and that means a strict dress code of grungy tee-shirts and cargo pants. Besides that, I'm given to foppishness and dandyism and always feel like I'm showing off when I dress up. Besides, that suit is huge; I got it in high school when my well-meaning mother believed I would "grow into" any clothes I acquired, not really understanding that I have to eat a good deal to keep my weight up, more than I would be able to eat in college. I was about ten pounds heavier when that suit was merely baggy. I do wish I had more shirts to go with that bow tie, though.

Third, though I'm now reading fiction again (with a vengeance), I intend to spend Easter season reading the "sequel" to Josephus. I mean, of course, the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius. The edition I have is the Ferrari of Eusebiuses, but it unfortunately appears to be out of print, though a paperback edition is still available (Eusebius: The Church History). This is a "sequel" because Eusebius, who chronicles the history of the Church from its origins to Constantine, quotes Josephus profusely, because Maier (in my copies) comments on both ancient historians, and because Eusebius and William Whiston (who translated our Josephus) were both Arians. So, as you see, there are strong, tenuous links between the two. Strong and tenuous. Both. At the same time.

The hardback edition of Eusebius that I have and that you will have trouble acquiring is a model of the way books ought to be bound. This is a tiny, slim volume, but it must weigh at least seven pounds due to the solidity of its cover, which appears to be Samsonite or something similar, and the heavy weight of the acid-free pages. This thing would probably survive a nuclear holocaust. Besides that, it has full-color illustrations throughout, ample commentary, and dates in the margins to keep the reader from getting lost. On top of that, it has Maier's highly readable translation (Maier, you may remember, is a successful novelist as well as an historian). It may very well be the finest translated edition of Eusebius ever created. I have one, and you don't.

Oh, and as for those Peeps, I guess it is true that eating one is kind of like the feeling you get when you break a man's mind, enslave his will, and slurp down his soul.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book Review: The New Complete Works of Josephus



A not quite ideal presentation of the great work.

New Complete Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston and edited by Paul L. Maier. Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids): 1999. ISBN: 0-8254-2924-2. 1142 pages. $24.99.

It is of course pointless for me to review the works of Josephus. They are, for obvious reasons, among the Great Books. Only serious historians can presume to critique Josephus, so I will leave that up to them. William Whiston's translation, too, is the most readily available in English, so a review of it would be likewise presumptuous and unnecessary. I will only mention that his style is slightly archaic and for that reason enjoyable, and then move on to discussing the Kregel edition specifically.

The Kregel hardback edition of Josephus's complete works appears to be well constructed; it withstood the abuse I gave it during this reading, the paper is opaque and of a good weight, and the text, though not exactly large, is no smaller than what can be found in a typical well-printed Bible. On the whole, it is a handsome edition (though shame on Ragont Design's cover art).

It could, however, use some improvements. Several photographs and a few maps appear throughout, but the photos are frequently blurry and the maps are usually unhelpful. The few maps that are present are general maps that do not serve to illustrate the text or help the reader locate most of the places Josephus mentions. An edition with better photographs and more helpful maps is in order. Also, a table of figures and illustrations should appear after the table of contents to make these features easier to find.

This edition is replete with typos. I expect a few typos in a volume this size, and if I only noticed two or three, I wouldn't mention them, but I noticed typos every five or six pages. Usually, they come in the form of single incorrect letters that change whole words (such as bad for had), which in turn make hash out of Whiston's already complicated sentences.

Probably the only thing that could make this edition of Josephus more attractive than another hardback edition is Paul L. Maier's commentary. The commentary is, however, quite sparse, and Maier usually does little more than summarize Josephus's information on certain subjects. He also fails to deliver on at least one promise: the book is supposed to contain a reconstructed version of Josephus's section on Jesus (Ant. 18.63), which contains Christian interpolations. This reconstruction never appears in this volume, though Maier does present it in the appendix to his translation of the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius.

On the whole, this is a good edition, but it needs to be more carefully edited and could benefit from a few improvements.

And that, finally and at last, ends the 2008 Lenten Nonfiction Read-a-Thon. You may now return to your pulp literature.

Friday, March 21, 2008

2008 Lenten Read-a-Thon Day 45



Wait a minute...day 45?

New Complete Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston and edited by Paul L. Maier. Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids): 1999. ISBN: 0-8254-2924-2. 1142 pages. $24.99.

Ever feel like you've gotten more Lent than you signed up for? I'm kidding, of course; I know how it all works: it involves numbers and stuff, which means I don't want to deal with it.

Speaking of which, finishing this book is like finishing a doctoral dissertation: sheer pain. Things were going fine while we had J Dawg himself giving us the lowdown on the history of the Jewish people, but after that's all said and done, translator William Whiston has to step in and offer a verbose selection of essays, the longest of which is (*shudder*) "Dissertation 5: Upon the Chronology of Josephus." This might not sound so bad until I remind you that Whiston was, by trade, a mathematician. I'd tell you what this essay is about, but I remember not a word of it. Not a word.

The other essays aren't nearly so bad. Indeed, watching Whiston argue his bizarre positions based on scanty evidence is quite amusing. I was particularly entertained by his argument that Josephus became an Ebionite Christian and wrote the fragment of a homily on Hades. Whiston has not a leg to stand on, but he still fills a few pages on the subject. He also convinces himself, and tries unsuccessfully to convince me, that Josephus had access to a set of scriptures laid up in the Temple by Nehemiah, and that these scriptures were better and more accurate than all our extant copies, and that this explains most of the differences between the Old Testament and Josephus's Antiquities. Especially, Whiston spends a good deal of time arguing that the phrase "until this day," which appears many times in the Old Testament but fewer times in Josephus, are later interpolations. In response, I point out that Josephus paraphrases and summarizes the texts rather than copying them exactly. Furthermore, he would naturally leave most occurrences of this phrase out of his history, since most of them would no longer apply after the Romans had destroyed Israel. Besides that, Josephus has clearly worked later commentary into the text and changed parts that might embarrass him before a Gentile audience.

So there you have it: our final reflection on the book. Barring mishap, I'll come back tomorrow with a review.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bone Slated to Become a Movie (or Three?)


Last night, I was talking to Lucky the Goldfish and she was going on and on about true feelings or something (I wasn't really listening), when I decided to turn the conversation to something interesting, like comic books. I was just getting warmed up on an impromptu lecture on the subject when Lucky interrupted and asked, "How come you haven't blogged on the movie adaptation of Bone?"

I said, "What movie adaptation?"

Lucky rolled her little eyes, flopped onto the keyboard, and flailed around until she had hit the right buttons to bring up this news article at Rotten Tomatoes:

The comic book adventures of Jeff Smith's popular Bone brothers may have ended in 2004, but if all goes according to plan, they'll soon be making the transition to the big screen.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. has picked up the screen rights to Smith's creations; though the studio hasn't decided whether to go the live-action or animated route, a production crew -- including Dan Lin and Jon Silk -- has been assembled. [more...]

This is good news to me, of course, as I am an enormous fan of Bone. It was inevitable that someone would try to adapt it for screen eventually, but I admit I had hoped it would be Disney, which shows signs of rebuilding its 2D animation department.

Hollywood Reporter has the best article on the subject, but the information is scanty as yet. According to author/illustrator Jeff Smith's blog, Boneville.com, about all that has happened so far is a phone conversation between himself and Warner Bros. Smith is slated to be executive producer. This is the second attempt at a movie of Bone. The first deal was with Nickelodeon, but that fell through, according to Smith, mainly because Nickelodeon wanted to insert pop songs.

Fans are of course speculating about how the film will be made. Most, including me, will want it to be done with 2D animation, and Smith indicates that he would prefer a traditional cartoon himself. Live action and CGI have been mentioned as well. I have grown to dislike CGI over the last few years and feel it would take away much of what makes Bone special. As for a live action movie, I once thought it was a good idea, but the next morning, after I had sobered up, I realized it would be a huge mistake: watching a tender moment between a computer-generated Fone Bone and a live actress playing Thorn would be painful. It's even painful to think about. Besides that, none of the women in Hollywood who look the part of Thorn can act worth a darn.

I guarantee the film adaptation will be quite bad, no matter how skilled its cast and crew, unless it is extended over two or three movies. It would be impossible to stuff Smith's epic into one film: even if dispensable subplots like the Great Cow Race were deleted (a move that would anger the fans), the comic still has too much material to fit into two hours. A two-hour epic is inevitably rushed and under-developed.

Fans of the comic are already clamoring for a 2D film and expressing distaste for CGI, and I hope Warner Bros. listens. Given the increasing mainstreaming of anime fandom, the success of The Simpsons Movie, and the general displeasure with computer-generated animation, I suspect America may at last be ripe for the production of a well-made 2D cartoon marketed to adults. Bone is an ideal title for such a project. I'm inclined to think they should make it after the fashion Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings movies, remaining reasonably faithful to the source material while amping up the grittier and darker elements. In Bone, they could probably place emphasis on the violence, the angsty parts, and the Freudian symbolism without driving away the family crowd, though I confess I look forward to the hubbub some of my fellow Christians will make if the infamous "bathing scene" makes it to film; that will give me at least a week's worth of enjoyable posts to write.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Has Died

Arthur C. Clarke has passed away at age 90 in Sri Lanka, leaving explicit instructions that no religious ritual should accompany his funeral.

Clarke is often remembered as the inventor of the telecommunications satellite. His most famous science fiction novel, thanks in part to Stanley Kubrick, is probably 2001: A Space Odyssey, though I will always remember him best for Childhood's End, a powerful and intriguing work, made more intriguing by the notice in the front of early editions warning readers that the opinions of the novel are not those of the author.

Clarke is well-known for incorporating religious themes into his stories. His use of religion in fiction is most notable for its nuance, sophistication, and originality. In particular, his story "The Star," which depicts a Jesuit scientist who discovers that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that wiped out a civilization, is a masterpiece of short fiction. Another famous story, "The Nine Billion Names of God," is an unusual take on the concept of the apocalypse. Of all his short fiction I have read, I consider "The Wall of Darkness" best; it depicts scientific exploration in an alternate universe and has probably one of the best conclusions of any short story I know.

Christian readers may be interested to know that Clarke maintained a correspondence with C. S. Lewis, during which they good-naturedly ribbed each other.

Lucky has kindly collected some articles: See the the AP article by Ravi Nessman in the ChicoER. See the homage article by Ed Park in the L. A. Times. See also SF Signal, which has a list of links to free fiction by Clarke and a video.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Error Corrected

Sometimes we get linky love from people we don't know how to love back; this is a blog about Catholics, science fiction, and Catholics who like science fiction. Like most blogs, we maintain blogrolls (to your right) for sf and RC blogs (that's science fiction and Roman Catholic for you fellow acronym-haters, and I really need to go design that Acronym Haters Anonymous logo). Sometimes, when we get luv from those who aren't RC or sf, we give them a little post and then have no idea where to stick their blogs permanently on the site, so we don't.

Sometime back, TJIC from TJICistan linked us, and because we have a Persian emperor's record for showing magnanimity to those who benefit us, we promptly forgot to link him back. And as it turns out, TJIC over there is Catholic, so you'll now find his blog in our blogroll, listed as Dispatches from TJICistan. TJIC is insightful and also funny. See how he describes his blog:

TJICistan is an autonomous anarchic zone landlocked inside Arlington, MA, USA.

TJICistan covers approximately 7,000 square feet of space.

TJICistan has a permanent population of one humans and two dogs.

TJICistan seceeded from Arlington, Massachusetts, and the United States on 26 December, 1995.

After extensive utility computations, the non-government of TJICistan has chosen to pay foreign aid, to all three levels of government in the adjacent territories, as the alternative of armed confrontation, while certainly exciting and entertaining, sums to a lower total level of utility over time.

That's classic.

Palm Sunday



(I hope Joel at Crummy Church Signs doesn't mind if I borrow this picture.)

You really do have to wonder about a sign like this. In particular, I wonder about the church's slogan, "Through the fire to the fire." Presumably, they're headed to the fire for posting a sign that attributes the quote, "Bring me that ass," to Jesus.

I hoped, when I saw this, that the sign's decorator had simply made an unfortunate choice of biblical translations, but alas, no. I can find no translation in which Jesus says, "Bring me that ass," so we're forced to conclude that someone was knowingly making an inappropriate attempt to be funny. A more correct quote would read something like, "And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me" (Matthew 21.1-2). I guess that's not as catchy.

We are now down to the final week of Lent. This is Palm Sunday, when we celebrate shop-lifting...no, wait a minute...this is Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, during which the crowds put palm branches and coats in front of Jesus while he rode into the city on a donkey. This is the beginning of Holy Week, or as some call it and I prefer, Passion Week. This Thursday is Maundy Thursday, when we celebrate...um...maundies,* this Friday is the curiously named Good Friday, the swell day when our Savior got arrested, falsely accused, and executed, and then next Sunday is Easter (or Resurrection Sunday for the purists).

If you're absolutely riveted to your computers, wondering if I'll finish the Complete Works of Josephus before Easter, all I can say is, been there, done that. I finished all the parts Josephus wrote on Friday, along with the excerpt on Hades that translator William Whiston incorrectly attributed to him. I'm currently in Whiston's bizarre little set of essays in the appendix, of which there are seven, and of which I'm on the fourth. In the near future, I'll give another reflection on the reading and follow that up with a proper book review of the edition I'm using. That will polish off our Lenten Fiction Fast, and then this blog can get back down to its regular business of wallowing in science fiction, action movies, and comic books while occasionally straining for an allegory.

*The good Archdeacon Smiter will flay me alive if I don't mention that it's called Maundy Thursday because it is a celebration of the Last Supper, the Passover meal at which Christ instituted the Eucharist, and that maundy is from the first word of the Latin of John 13.34, which I'm going to let you look up yourself, since that's the normal thing to do with passages from John, at least at baseball games.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More on Fan Fiction

To continue our exploration of the question of fan fiction, which is, curiously, occupying a prominent place in our fiction-free Lent, I absolutely must refer you to the engaging article, "Legal Fictions: Copyright, Fan Fiction, and a New Common Law" by Rebecca Tushnet, who makes a compelling case (at least to me, a non-lawyer) that fan fiction, apparently more legally murky than I previously believed, might fall under the category of fair use as long as it's noncommercial.

If you love fan fiction, or if you write it, this is definitely an article to read. I can't put it down, and that's something I never would have thought I'd say about an article on copyright law. It's a testament, I suppose, to Tushnet's writing skill; I hope she puts that to good use and produces some great fan fiction.

Hat tip this bad boy to EveTushnet.com.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Kirk Cameron Goes Bananas

This is sad. I don't mean the whole bananas-as-proof-of-God's-existence part, which is embarrassing enough and no doubt gives the unbelievers much cause to blaspheme, but the level to which Kirk Cameron has been reduced. I used to watch Growing Pains religiously; it really pains me to see Kirk Cameron on the credits for Left Behind or in this Ray Comfort video, though it's not as painful as watching what's happened to Mr. T, who pities da fool who don't love Jesus.

But what's really sad about the above banana video is that Kirk Cameron doesn't explode with objections to Ray Comfort's characterization of the banana as the "atheist's nightmare." Comfort is apparently unaware that the banana he is holding is the product of generations of artificial selection. I'd like to see him wrestle with a wild banana and claim that's a proof of intelligent design. He might as well argue that cows are proof of intelligent design because they're reasonably docile and produce lots of milk, but our modern cows are descended from the wild aurochs, a fearsome creature no drunken teenager would dare try to tip. Or how about maize, a gross parody of grain created by selectively cultivating teosinte?

Besides that, Comfort claims the banana has a "tab" on the top for easy opening, but if that's the case, why is it that chimpanzees, also God's creations, always open bananas from the other end? In this, the chimp appears smarter than the human, for opening the banana from the other end gets rid of that little inedible stem thingy that's always such a nuisance at the bottom of the banana. And while I'm at it, pointing out that the banana peel is biodegradable is just ridiculous.

And for another thing, he might as well argue that bananas are a sign that God has a vicious sense of humor: not only are bananas easy to open and very tasty, but according to Mr. Wizard, they also make us more susceptible to mosquitoes.

Besides all this, anyone watching this video will immediately start thinking of all those fruits and other edibles that aren't so user-friendly. Is the coconut a sign of intelligent design? The pineapple? The chestnut? One thing is certain: someone wasn't very intelligent when he planted a chestnut tree outside the middle school I attended, because we kids liked to throw them at each other.

Some of the concepts behind this "Intelligent Design" thing have been part of serious philosophical discussion. My biggest problem with the Intelligent Design movement is not that it's a philosophical position masquerading as a scientific theory, which is bad enough, but that it so dumbs down the issues that it makes the whole idea of an intelligent creator harder to take seriously. Comfort and Cameron, thanks for nothing.

(This blog has gone bananas once before. Click here to see it.)

Hat tip to Crummy Church Signs

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom is Coming!

Is it just me, or are a lot of potentially kick-awesome but probably lousy movies coming out in the near future? We've got Hellboy II, Speed Racer, and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.

But let's not forget the chop-sockey extravaganza, coming out in mid-April, The Forbidden Kingdom, the first movie to feature Jet Li and Jackie Chan together! The only thing that could make that more kick-awesome would be the addition of Donnie Yuen.

Besides guaranteed kick-awesomeness in the form of awesome kicking, this movie has a classic fantasy fish-out-of-water premise: a boy from the present day gets sucked into an ancient, mystical, magical realm full of Kung Fu warriors. Even Snuffles the Dragon approves of this basic plot, though he argues that it would be better if the protagonist were a Japanese high school girl in a sailor fuku.

Anyhow, it's been ages since we've had a Kung Fu Night around here, so I'm really anticipating this movie. I'm so excited, I might go posture in front of a mirror and hit a lamp.

(By the way, didn't Jet Li claim Fearless was going to be his last Kung Fu movie?)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Boogie Nights: Star Wars Edition

Ah, that bizarre artform known as the mash-up. You have to wonder who it is who sits in his parents' basement for hours and hours making these things. Is it for love? Or just to get props on YouTube? And why can't these people get real jobs if they're such good film editors?

Monday, March 10, 2008

2008 Lenten Read-a-Thon Day 34



Speaking of which....

New Complete Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston and edited by Paul L. Maier. Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids): 1999. ISBN: 0-8254-2924-2. 1142 pages. $24.99.

Now that our grossly unpopular Lenten Read-a-Thon has just about halved the blog's traffic (people apparently expect to see some science fiction on this science fiction blog), I must say that the siege of Jerusalem has put me in mind of another siege in another great work of literature. I mean, specifically, the siege of Troy in The Iliad (which I refuse to read in any translation but Pope's, much as I refuse to read the Arabian Nights in any translation but Burton's).

The Iliad is evidence of the singular fact that, if you are a great literary genius, you can get away with any amount of idiocy in your writing. I do not mean to say that Homer is himself an idiot or even that his Iliad is itself idiotic; nay, rather, Homer is a great poet and the Iliad a great poem, but there can be no denying that it is a great poem about great idiots.

I don't even mean that Agamemnon and Achilles are a couple of dislikable hotheads; I expect to meet hotheads in a lengthy poem that dwells on graphic violence. What I mean, rather, is the way these morons go about committing said graphic violence.

Do you realize that the Greeks sat in front of Troy in their boats for nine years before it occurred to any of them that it might be a good idea to put up some fortifications? And how about the Trojans, who sat in their city for nine years before someone finally said, "This kinda blows. What say we go out and fight those Greeks?"

And why is it that none of these herculean men, who could hurl gigantic boulders at each other, pierce multiple layers of armor with their thrown javelins, and build monumental architecture overnight, had not the capacity to construct even a primitive siege engine? For nine years, the Greeks sat in their boats in front of Troy, confounded by the presence of a wall, and for nine years, the Trojans sat behind that wall, confounded by the presence of Achilles. Why didn't any of the Trojans build something to hit Achilles from a safe distance while he was posturing out on the plain? And why didn't any of the Greeks say, "Y'know, last night I had this idea--we like to throw stones at each other, right? How about we build a sort of gadget that can throw stones over that wall? Or better yet, how about a movable tower, as high as the wall--and we could even put men in it, who could climb over the wall...."

I mean, honestly!

(And I refuse to read The Aenid in any translation but Dryden's. That makes me, so I understand, a 1697 Dryden-only Virgil-believer.)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

2008 Lenten Read-a-Thon Day 33



Into the War.

New Complete Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston and edited by Paul L. Maier. Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids): 1999. ISBN: 0-8254-2924-2. 1142 pages. $24.99.

I have just completed book 4 of the Jewish War and am, I believe, well on my way to finishing the book by the allotted time, which is a great relief to me, as I've no doubt I would be much lowered in the eyes of my readers if I was found to be unable to complete a book of a mere 1,100 pages in 40+ days.

Josephus was eye witness to much of what he describes in the War. In particular, he is quite detailed in the description of the siege of Jotapata, in which he was opposite number to General (later Emperor) Vespasian. At the end of the siege, when Jotapata was taken, Josephus pulled one of his more conniving stunts. Having hidden himself, with a number of others, in a hole in the ground, he desired to surrender to the Romans but was prevented by his companions, who preferred death and threatened to kill him. Josephus then convinced them all to make a suicide pact and slay each other. When the smoke cleared, Josephus and one other person were still standing. The two of them promptly surrendered to the Romans. Ah, Josephus, you sneaky bastard.

At the end of the present book, Vespasian has become emperor, and we are now getting ready for the siege of Jerusalem itself. The various factions at Jerusalem have been spending their time slaughtering each other so as to make the Romans' job easier. In particular, Josephus has many harsh words for a particular John of Gischala, on whom he lays almost all the blame for Jerusalem's destruction. In particular, John apparently had working for him a group of killer transvestites:

...and during this time did the mischievous contrivances and courage [of John] corrupt the body of the Galileans; for these Galileans had advanced this John, and made him very potent, who made them suitable repayment from the authority he had obtained by their means; for he permitted them to do all things that any of them desired to do, while their inclination to plunder was insatiable, as was their zeal in searching the houses of the rich; and for the murdering of the men, and abusing of the women, it was sport to them. They also devoured what spoils they had taken, together with their blood, and indulged themselves in feminine wantonness, without any disturbance, until they were satiated with it; while they decked their hair, and put on women's garments, and were besmeared over with ointments; and that they might appear very comely, they had paints under their eyes, and imitated not only the ornaments, but also the lusts of women, and were guilty of such intolerable uncleanness, that they invented unlawful pleasures of that sort. And thus did they roll themselves up and down the city, as in a brothel-house, and defiled it entirely with their impure actions; nay, while their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with their right hands; and when their gait was effeminate, they presently attacked men, and became warriors, and drew their swords from under their finely dyed cloaks, and ran everybody through whom they alighted upon. [War 4.9.10 (4.558-563)]

History is weird, man.