Saturday, May 31, 2008

Monastery Cleanup

The Cistercian monastery, Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, had a few buildings that experienced serious damage last winter, including one that was destroyed, so today about a hundred and twenty people, including me, worked to remove the debris. I spent the whole day working on one building, which was a complete ruin; by the time we were finished, we had it cleaned off down to the foundation. As a result, I don't have good sci-fi related content for you today, but I do have pictures.

The crew was a diverse lot ranging from Knights of Columbus to high-schoolers to Mormon missionaries. All were hard workers. My photos, however, aren't too diverse, since I had to snap them on the fly, so I didn't get any good portraits. If only Snuffles the Dragon had come with me, we could have traded off the camera and gotten a better set of photos, but when I invited him to join the cleanup effort, we had a conversation something like this:

D.G.D.: Hey, Snuffles, you gonna help clean the monastery this Saturday?

Snuffles: I dunno. I'm pretty sure I'll be watching anime this Saturday.

D.G.D.: You do that every Saturday! Why don't you help out? They could use a good, strong dragon like you.

Snuffles: Are there going to be any attractive young women I can abduct and take back to my cave?

D.G.D.: I...I don't know, but I'd rather you didn't do that while I'm around, anyway. I mean, I know you're a dragon and you gotta do your thing, but it makes me uncomfortable--

Snuffles: Makes you jealous, you mean.
Yeah, so, to make a long story short, he didn't come. Here are the photos:

The front of the monastery itself.


Behold the idyllic, pastoral, The-Valley-from-Bone-except-with-less-trees landscape.


This shot is toward the buildings where we worked.


This is the building after a good deal of the debris had already been removed. We had to jump in and pull out all the strips of corrugated tin by hand. Most of the tin was already gone by the time I took this.


Another shot with some workers in the foreground. Can't you just see a giant dragon surrounded by a cloud of locusts bursting out of those mountains back there and laying waste to the unsuspecting valley-dwellers?


Sometimes I wish I could burn it all. Fr. Erik Richtsteig at Orthometer likes to brag about the bonfires he lights at Easter Vigil, but I bet he's never had a bonfire like the one we made of the wooden building debris.


Yeah, baby!


Now it's really going up! Burn, building, burn!

Well, there it is. It seemed that most of that building was made out of fiberglass insulation, so we were covered in the itchy stuff by the time we were finished. It was an itchypocalypse. In fact, it looks like I have a good fiberglass-induced rash starting on my forearms. But a little fiberglass didn't stop me from visiting the monastery's gift shop before I left. I picked up the following books, and I suggest you keep your eye on the first one, as it's likely to be the subject of our next Lenten Read-a-thon:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taibbi on Christians and Harry Potter

Joel at Crummy Church Signs links an interesting article in Rolling Stone entitled "Jesus Made Me Puke" by Matt Taibbi. I have many things I'd like to say about Taibbi's article, many, many things, most of them uncharitable. But for now, I will merely content myself with a long quote that I find interesting, though it has next to nothing to do with the intent of Taibbi's article.

To give you the backdrop to the quote here, Taibbi is "undercover" at an oddball Christian retreat. Being "undercover," he plays it up as if he had to sneak in, so he acts as if he's seeing something Christians don't want outsiders to witness. In reality, he hasn't found some secret underbelly of Fundamentalism. All he's found is an example of the Deliverance Movement [insert joke about the Southern U.S. here], which combines pop psychology with funky demonology* and elaborate exorcisms that appear, usually, to involve listing demons' names.** The Deliverance Movement is not a secret; you can read about it on the Internet, and it's not identical with Fundamentalism. The Deliverance Movement would raise the eyebrows of most of the Fundamentalists I have known, and I think they would call it heresy (that's only my own personal experience, of course, but since Taibbi uses personal experience as an excuse to generalize about "the Religious Right," I figure I should at least get to generalize about Fundamentalists).

In the following quote, the character Taibbi calls Fortenberry is the self-consciously macho leader at this Deliverance Movement retreat, who peppers his talks with anecdotes:

Fortenberry told a story about a nephew of his who called him up one night. "Both of his kids had fallen on the ground in respiratory distress, half-conscious, writhing around, gasping for air," Fortenberry said. "And I said to my nephew, I said, 'It isn't something they've done. It's something you've done.' "

The crowd murmured in assent.

"I told my nephew to look around the house," Fortenberry continued. "I said, 'Do you have a copy of Harry Potter?' And he said yes. And I said, 'That's your problem.' So I told him to go get that copy of that book, tear it in half and throw it out the window. So he does it, and guess what? Both of those kids stood up completely recovered, just like that."

He snapped his fingers, indicating the speed with which the kids had jumped up in recovery. The crowd cooed and applauded. I frowned, wondering for a minute what life must be like for a person mortally afraid of toothless commercial fairy tales. It struck me that Phil Fortenberry's nephew was probably more afraid of Harry Potter than Macbeth, which to me said a lot about this religion and about America in general. [more...]

*When I say funky, I mean really funky. Check out this quote from GreatBibleStudy.com, a Deliverance ministry:
Some of the most popular and destructive soul ties are formed during an adultery or fornication. 1 Corinthians 6:16 warns us not to have sexual relations with a prostitute because we become one flesh (flesh as in soul realm kind of flesh, not a physical flesh) with that person. This ungodly soul tie is like a rope between two persons that demons can use to their advantage to cross from one person to another. If that person had demons tormenting them, and you had sex with them, it unites the two persons, and therefore a soul tie is created, and the demons tormenting that person can also have rights to torment you. [more...]
Now that I think about it, that sounds like a cool basis for a horror movie.

**Unimaginative names, too: names like "Anger" or "Sexual Abuse," or if they're casting out Catholic demons, they might list Marian titles, sometimes blasphemously altered. Apparently the days of cool demon names like Belphegor and Ashmoday are long gone.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

T. Joseph Marier on Video Games

T. Joseph Marier has written an interesting and positive article on video games, "Those 'Mindless' Video Games," for InsideCatholic.com. Go read it.

I quickly discovered, though, that the videogame world is better than its reputation (which is set by the most violent and outrageous games, which I avoid). In fact, the best games out there may actually be good for the soul. [more...]

I've never been much of a gamer, mostly because I lack the skills, hardware, and budget, and because even though I in theory respect the video game as a legitimate artform, I can't help thinking, whenever I play videogames, that I'm seriously wasting my time.

Still, certain games have caught my attention for the kudos they've gotten for their storytelling. In particular, I've whistfully wished I could play BioShock, and for the last several years, I've been consistently impressed by the advertisement art for the Final Fantasy series, which, from what I've heard, generally has good storylines to match the visuals. Speaking of Final Fantasy, a year or two back, I was so arrested by a poster for Kingdom Hearts II that I didn't move from it for several minutes. I like to believe I have a built-in good story detector,* and that poster sent it pinging off the charts. Alas, I've not played the game.

*I generally find my detector is quite accurate; however, it has no ability to detect if the good story is well executed.

Sushi

Well, once again Lucky the Goldfish isn't speaking to me. After we saw the new Indiana Jones together, I thought it would be a good idea to go out for sushi, and for some reason I cannot fathom that got her all upset.

She agreed to help write the review because she promised to do that ahead of time, but since then she's been giving me the silent treatment. Sometimes I just can't understand her.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Addendum to the Review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

While trying to figure out exactly why I was disatisfied with this movie, I ran into the review at MovieCrypt.com, where reviewer Grim D. Reaper nails the film's central problem:

The secret the audience holds is that Indy is never really in danger because he’s a hero, but Indy doesn’t know that, so we suffer along with his every near miss wince, daring escape gasp, and sudden renewed hope for life. The problem with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that the author (yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Lucas) not only inexplicably gives his characters the ability to succeed in doing anything remotely plausible that they attempt but criminally allows the characters to become keenly aware of this. [more...]

So there you go. One of the keys to writing good action/adventure is this: don't let the hero know he's invincible. Violating this rule is probably one of the major ways a lot of adventure movies fail even though they follow the proven formulas.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fan Fiction Update

About time, I think, to put up a new novella-sized chapter of my ongoing Bone-based fan fiction. This is chapter 5 of 9, so we're over halfway there!


In this chapter, we'll learn a little more about the gruesome monstrous birth seen in the preceding chapter, and we'll join Annie and Rictus as they contact the humans. Plus, Bartleby's growing obsession with eating boneflesh becomes downright creepy. We'll also get some old-fashioned sf misanthropy as a nonhuman character observes humanity for the first time, coupled with more of my idle speculations about bone physiology. This is also the chapter that introduces some religious concepts (with me writing, it's bound to happen sooner or later), so watch for the off-handed mention of a bone saint and a gratuitous discussion of art that's meant to be a round-about homage to C. S. Lewis.

But more important than all that is the exploitation, because the key to any good fan fic is sex appeal. In the last chapter, I introduced the cute school teacher for the guys,* and now in this chapter I introduce the beefy men with fake Hollywood-style German accents for the ladies.

Diehard Bone fans may also recognize from this teaser quote that I've taken an idea from the prequel Roseand run with it:


The Headmaster turned his stern gaze on the city. “Dark times indeed. Foolish me, I thought the dark times were over.”

“As did we all, Headmaster.”

“This unnatural creature is the product of an unlawful lust, and the very fabric of its being is disorder and chaos. The best thing would be to destroy it before it can cause real harm.”

“I do not know how easily that could be accomplished,” Gran’ma said. “Fone Bone loves his son, and Thorn--”

The Headmaster slammed a hand into the wall. “You have coddled that girl her whole life, Your Majesty. The Dreaming is again unbalanced and we must right it. Such things demand blood sacrifice and they always have. That is the price of balance.” [more...]

*Yeah, I know she's a three-foot-tall sexless cartoon character, but fanboys don't seem to be too picky in this regard, so I figure I can still say she has sex appeal.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull



Okay, I get the crystal skull, but what's the kingdom part?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by David Koepp. Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, and Karen Allen. Paramount Pictures (2008). Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AII--Adults and Adolescents.

Read other reviews here.

D.G.D.: I took Lucky to see this, so the two of us are reviewing it together. Not surprisingly, we're of two minds.

Lucky: I kind of liked some parts but not others.

D.G.D.: Because of Harrison Ford's age, it's necessary that the movie be moved out of the 1930s. The story takes place in 1957. Indy has gotten along in years and is now a decorated war veteran, though he's still teaching at a college. KGB agents, led by the terse and knowledge-hungry Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), kidnap Indy and take him to Area 51 to help them find the remains of the Roswell crash site, which Spalko believes can be used to take over American minds and turn everyone into a communist. Indy escapes, of course (in the most ludicrous fashion possible), but his run-in with commies gets him blacklisted by the FBI. On his way out of town, he encounters a motorcycle-riding greaser named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), who wants Indy to travel to Peru to find his mother, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) from Raiders of the Lost Ark, who was captured by Russians while searching for a crystal skull that's key to finding El Dorado.

Lucky: It's okay as a summer movie, but I thought the action sequences were kind of crazy. Indy does stunts he couldn't have done when he was younger, and there's a lot of CGI, and it's pretty fake-looking, especially the animals. For some reason, there's a lot of prairie dogs and monkeys and ants, and they're all computer-generated and they all look fake.

D.G.D.: There's a rule that every Indiana Jones movie needs some kind of gross-out animal. Killer ants are the animal of choice for Crystal Skull, but as Lucky says, they're fake-looking. In both appearance and behavior, they're closely related to the flesh-eating beetles from the remake of The Mummy. Not only do they swarm a man and crawl en masse into his mouth, they pick him up and drag him bodily into their anthill in one of the film's more outrageous scenes.

Speaking of outrageous scenes, I should add this: if you got annoyed seeing Indy skydive out of an airplane with an inflatable raft in Temple of Doom, that's nowhere near as wild as the escape he makes at the end of Crystal Skull's opening action sequence. Over-the-top phoniness pervades the film and crescendos at the climax, which looks like a blend of the climaxes of The Mummy Returns and the X-Files movie.

The film's also padded with a number of pointless elements that make the murky plot harder to follow. The heroes escape the Russians for a few minutes just so they can fall into quicksand and get captured again. And they have a run-in with natives, apparently the Hovitos from the first film, who in the interim have learned Capoeira; their only reason for existence is to get beat up by Indy and shot by communists. We also get a lot of bizarre reaction shots from groundhogs and a gratuitous scene with scorpions. And then there's Indy losing his job because he runs into communists, an out-of-date political commentary with no apparent point.

Lucky: The one thing I really don't like is the re-introduction of Karen Allen's character, Marion. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy had used her and dumped her ten years prior and then does the same thing to her again. Now in Crystal Skull, he gets the chance to do the same thing to her again. I don't understand why she keeps coming back for more. I don't understand why any woman would stick around an archaeologist who's mean and insensitive and treats her like dirt...Deej? You're squirming.

D.G.D.: Huh? No, I'm just thinking this is the part where you and I disagree. I think the reintroduction of Marion is the best thing about this movie. In fact, I'm inclined to think that alone redeems its many problems. In Raiders, Indy is depicted as a bad character, a greedy womanizer who heads to the bottle to forget his problems. The sequels treat these character flaws in a more playful fashion that's mildly amusing in Temple of Doom and outright irritating in Last Crusade. In this latest movie, however, the reappearance of Marion forces Indy to admit what kind of man he is and deal with it. His past catches up with him. Perhaps it isn't explored as thoroughly as it could have been, but the reintroduction and resolution of Indy's conflict with Marion makes a nice wrap-up for the series: finally, in his old age, Indiana Jones grows up. I think that's a brave step for the franchise, and I'm quite pleased with it. The new film doesn't add depth or complexity, but it does add a touch of maturity.

Lucky: I think Marion should have just kicked him in the--

D.G.D.: Moving on from there, I've got to give a spoiler alert to talk about one thing that's bugging a lot of fans: the extraterrestrials. The plot centers around communists and aliens, and some think this doesn't jive too well with the established Indy universe. Considering what they've already done in these movies, however, I have a hard time imagining anything that doesn't jive with the Indy universe. It's the sort of universe you can cram pretty much any legend into. However, the shift from fantasy to sf is very bumpy: the screenwriter can't seem to tell the difference between a living alien and a dead, skeletonized one, so most viewers will probably leave the theater scratching their heads.

That being said, I'm stunned or maybe even perturbed by the similarities between this movie and the video game Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. That game is also set after World War II, in 1947, and the villains are Russians. Like Crystal Skull, its story centers around dimension-hopping aliens. It too features one of Indy's old flames, in this case Sophia Hapgood, who first appeared in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which is commonly considered one of the best adventure games ever made. One of the ancient booby traps in Crystal Skull looks almost identical to part of the bonus level, "Return to Peru," in Infernal Machine, and some of the other set pieces look strikingly familiar as well. Considering that Infernal Machine is an absolutely awful game I never would have played if it didn't have Indiana Jones in it, I'm wondering why somebody thought it would be good inspiration for a movie.

In spite of the movie's problems, I can't deny being entertained. Impatient with a few parts, maybe, disappointed with some inept cinematography during the action sequences, and thinking it should have been shorter, but definitely entertained. It might be easier for die-hard fans to enjoy it if they pretend the title is National Treasure 3 or The Mummy Comes Back For More.

You know, now that I think of it, the climax of Crystal Skull is strikingly similar to the climax of Fate of Atlantis. I mean, what the heck?

Lucky: Deej, I don't think you should play so many video games.

Content Advisory: Mild language, frequent action violence

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

Quality: Medium (too much CGI and a plot to make you say “huh?”)

Myth Level: Medium-High (it
is still Indy)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (the one Indy flick that admits treating women like playthings is bad)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Off to the Movies!



Hi, it's Lucky. I'm just popping in quick to tell you that the Deej and I are off to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull together. Don't wait up!

In the meantime, listen to the classic song "Me and Indy Jones" to get yourself in the right mood.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Upcoming Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Well, the reviews are more positive than I expected, though they're also saying the negative stuff I expected, that it's fluffy and has too much CGI. Of course, the original trilogy wasn't exactly superbly written or thoughtful, either, so perhaps there's nothing to complain about.

Um, anyway, Lucky keeps talking about what a fun time she had at the Renaissance Fair and keeps hinting that she wants me to take her to a movie...so, I guess this will be a dual review. Go easy on her. It's her first movie review.

(I think she just wants to see Shia LaBeouf.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Honorably Mentioned

Over at the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Blog, you can see my name on the list of Honorable Mentions for the Second Quarter of the contest. That would be for my novelette, "Dragonsaint."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Random Generations

You may perchance have run into the Cyborg Name Decoder, a program on the Internet that will transform your name into an acronym for a cyborg. Mine, for example, is S.N.U.F.F.L.E.S.: Synthetic Network Unit Fabricated for Forbidden Learning and Efficient Sabotage. I can't get the Deej to try this program out because it involves acronyms.

Anyway, I was thinking the other day that someone needs to create a random name generator for translated anime titles. A proper anime title, of course, is a lengthy string of nouns with no obvious relationship, though it is permissable for the first one or two words to be adjectives instead of nouns, preferably meaningless adjectives like super. The last word in the string should be a name, an obscure word, a made-up word, or a word untranslated from Japanese. The generator should be capable of producing gems like Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Armored Trooper Votoms, and Super Dimension Century Orguss. Alternatively, the title can either be or contain an inappropriately compounded word, as in Trigun, Spaceketeers, or Psychoarmor Gobarian. Following this general structure, of course, is how I came up with Team Celibate Vocation Battlesmoke Googlion. I think more titles should look like this.

So, if my name were the acronym for an anime title, I would want it to be Super Null Universe Flower Fighter Lightranger Excalibur Sarcetron, or something similar.


Synthetic Networked Unit Fabricated for Forbidden Learning and Efficient Sabotage


Get Your Cyborg Name

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Renaissance Fair Pictures!

D.G.D.: Hey, everybody. Lucky and I just got back from the Utah Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire, and we have pictures. Yes, I know they all came out looking funny. It turns out that "vivid color" option on my camera actually means "turn photos a funny blue color," but I fixed it as much as I could. I'll remember to turn off that feature next time I use the camera. So I hope you can tolerate the bad color, because we have lots of photos.

Lucky: I had so much fun! We met all kinds of cool people at the fair, which was great because being a goldfish means I don't get to meet a lot of people, but Renaissance Fair people are nice and don't treat me weird just because I'm a goldfish. So I'm really happy. Deej and I haven't been on a date in ages before this!

D.G.D.: Wha--whoa, whoa, wait a minute. It wasn't, like, a date exactly. I mean, it was more like we were just at the fair together...um, no, Lucky, don't cry.... Ah, crud. Here are the photos, everybody.

Here are Lucky and I going into the fair. I do not know why I am holding my stomach as if I have appendicitis, nor why it looks like my shorts are falling down.


Three really cool dudes...and a goldfish.


The magician at the Gypsy Magick show, doing his shtick. Reasonably good tricks, but the jokes were slow.


Two great guys briefly made pals with Lucky while we were there. Here are the three of them together, looking like old friends.


Here I am knife-throwing. After two duds, I got one knife to stick in the log.


Here I am dueling with someone who dared to suggest Lucky was no lady. If you wish to know the outcome, it was this: her shot went over my shoulder, but I plugged her between the eyes and even knocked her facemask off. Since I was dueling with a woman, I suppose that means I'm no gentleman.


Here I am acting all bad after my victorious duel.


A magician kindly tried to undo Lucky's curse and turn her back into a princess, but to no avail.


Four lovely ladies.


The soon-to-be victor of the jousting tournament.


Here he is getting his helmet on.


Jousting. I tried to get an image of the titans colliding, but none of my attempts came out. The last such fair I went to only had fake jousting in which the combatants tried to place chalk marks on each other's shields, but this was the real deal.


Me, the winner of the joust, and Lucky.


A little swordplay never hurt anybody!


Yet another picture of lovely ladies. Lucky made a lot of friends today.


Is this that liturgical dance I've heard so much about?


A gentleman with a dragonet on his shoulder posed with Lucky.


Where do you find fairies? At the fair, of course! These three charming sprites offer drenches of ice-cold water to overheated visitors. They also pose with goldfish.


The latest addition to my dragon figurine collection: the Hear No Evil, See No Evil, and Speak No Evil Dragons! Hopefully, they won't quarrel with my Seven Deadly Sins Dragons.

The Other Side of Geekery

For most of the day today, I will be at the Utah Renaissance and Fantasy Faire in Ogden, Utah. These aren't the kinds of events I frequent frequently, but I've known people who do, and according to them, the appending of "fantasy" to the fair's name is a good indication that few will be concerned much with accuracy, historical or otherwise, in the cosplay.

I will remember to bring my cheapo camera so I can take blurry pictures to share.

I can't believe I just used the word cosplay.

I'm looking at the schedule now and wondering why the work magick with a k appears in the names of several of the events. Keep your Wicca out of my fantasy and out of my Renaissance!

Friday, May 16, 2008

News from the Fish Bowl: Starbucks Changes Logo, Christian Group Complains

Major coffe chain Starbucks has altered its mermaid logo to show more mermaid, according to Mike Sunnucks with MSNBC.

Christian group The Resistance finds the logo offensive and is holding a boycott, as discussed at Q13Fox.com:

"The Starbucks logo has a naked woman on it with her legs spread like a prostitute," explains Mark Dice, founder of the group. "Need I say more? It's extremely poor taste, and the company might as well call themselves, Slutbucks."

The all-brown logo is a re-make of the chain's original logo. Starbucks declined comment, but in a memo last month CEO Howard Schultz said " . . the original logo acknowledges our pride in our past and embraces our heritage as the world's leading purveyor of specialty coffee." [more...]

As can be expected in an anthropocentrist and chauvenist society like ours, the opinions of actual fish-women are being silenced and ignored. Just because some women have fish-like attributes does not mean they want to be sex objects. Just because mermaids are regularly topless does not mean they want to be gawked at by sailors or coffee-drinkers. Their mode of dress is both practical and perfectly modest within the context of their culture.

I have a similar problem. Whenever Deej has his boorish "drinking buddies" over, they're always saying things like, "Dude, your girlfriend is an Arabian princess cursed to be a goldfish? That's totally hot." Then I have to explain that I don't like being a goldfish and that we're really more like just friends, actually.

So I agree with The Resistance. It's not nice to leer at a mermaid while you have your coffee, and besides that, no Christian can ever condone something so indecent as putting naked people in artwork.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Michael O'Brien, Make Up Your Mind!

Frequent commenter Brendon has expanded one of his well-thought-out comments on fairy tales in the post, "Fairy-stories, the Good and the Beautiful." This fine post arose out of a discussion here on the rights and permissions of fantasists regarding the physical appearances of characters.

Clear thinker that he is, Brendon gets things straight: he argues that exterior appearance can be used in fiction to depict interior disposition, but he carefully distinguishes between appearance, disposition, and action. Brendon defends the fantasist's right to use apperance as a symbol of interior disposition, but warns us against equating physical beauty with interior goodness, which he describes as a category error.

More muddled on the subject is Michael O'Brien, who writes in A Landscape With Dragons:

Generally...it is true that the exterior forms that many traditional authors give to the morally or spiritually ugly characters tend to be ugly forms. Likewise, beautiful forms tend to express a beautiful interior life. This is a literary device that works well to reinforce the child's budding awareness of interior ugliness and beauty....

We have lost our sense of the holiness of beauty. By the same token, when exterior beauty is in harmony with a character's interior beauty, then the sign of the value of the tale or the character is greatly enhanced. Similarly, when worship of God is done poorly, it is not necessarily invalid if the intention of the worshiper is sincere. But when it is done well, it is a greater sign of the coming glory when all things will be restored in Christ....

Clearly, God is better glorified by a humble hunchback mumbling badly phrased prayers in a ditch than by a proud aesthete singing hymns perfectly, solely as an art form.... But what if the beautiful heart of that hunchback were to dwell in the developed art of the aesthete? Would not a greater glory be rendered to God by the restoration to harmony of both substance and form? [pp. 35-36, emphasis in original]

What Brendon says, correctly, is that goodness is beautiful and can by represented in literature by physically beautiful characters. What Michael O'Brien says, accidentally (I hope!), is that beautiful people are intrinsically better than homely people and capable of greater worship. Poor, poor, confused man. And did you note his use of the word necessarily in the third sentence of the second paragraph? Fumbling worship is not necessarily invalid if it is sincere, he says. It might just squeak by.

While I'm at it, I must quote O'Brien one more time because it's so much fun to watch him contradict himself. Observe his essay, "The Problem with Harry Potter," in which he writes, "In a consistent display of authorial overkill Rowling depicts...'bad' characters as ugly in appearance." Now compare that to the first paragraph quoted above, in which he praises "traditional authors" (whoever they are) for depicting evil characters as ugly.

In the dark and ugly landscape in which Michael O'Brien dwells, it is good and right to depict good characters as beautiful and bad characters as ugly--unless of course J. K. Rowling does it, for in Michael O'Brien's dark landscape, Rowling can't do anything right. Chesterton once complained that in the minds of some non-Christians, any stick is good enough to beat Christianity with. And in the minds of some of today's Christians, any stick is good enough to beat Harry Potter with.

Finally, as for the rights and permissions of fantasists, the solution to this and similar dilemmas is simple. To the Christian writer of fairy tales, fantasy, and sf, no other command do I give you than this: "Love God, and do as you please."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Letter from Camp

While looking for something else among my documents, I stumbled upon a letter I wrote to friends in August of 2006 immediately after returning from the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought. I rather liked what I read, so, after perusing the letter and finding nothing that looked like private information, I decided I might as well share my first Catholic retreat experience with readers. I wish I had done this earlier so it might serve as an advertisement for the retreat, but the submission deadline for applications to this year's retreat is apparently tomorrow. Then again, the website, like any good Catholic website, is a year out of date, so contact the Diocese of Cheyenne to find out for sure. Here's the letter with a little editing. It's long, but I hope you enjoy it. You'll see I haven't changed much in two years:

This last week was one of the best weeks of my life, probably. On Sunday afternoon, we loaded onto a bus and went up to a campground on Casper Mountain, specifically the Lions camp for the blind, which will probably amuse some of my Protestant friends. From there, we went to Mass, had dinner, and were introduced to our speakers.

The Wyoming Catholic School of Thought’s theme was “The Restoration of Catholic Culture.” The speakers were four in number, They consisted of Dr. Kevin Rickert, who discussed papal encyclicals on social justice, Fr. Gregory P. Adolf, who discussed “the paradigm for an authentic Christian anthropology,” Dr. Robert K. Carlson, who addressed the “moral crisis,” which he sees as the view that truth is subjective, and Dr. Henry Russell, a champion of poetic and aesthetic presentations of truth, who discussed Willa Cather’s novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop.

In addition to all the laity present from around the state, there were a number of priests and a few religious, including members of a Beatitudes Community, who led us in chanting the morning and evening prayers for the Liturgy of the Hours. The bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, David Ricken, was also present for most of the week.

Our bishop, quite flatly, has to be one of the best bishops in the world. They keep warning us that he’s going to be taken away and from us and made an archbishop or put in charge of a larger diocese, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s very concerned with adult education, and the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought is one of his initiatives, along with the new Wyoming Catholic College, which Father Bob Cook, who’s in charge of both the School and College, plugged heavily throughout the week. The unfortunate side of that is that Casper is losing Fr. Bob, but he’s going on to bigger and better things.

Anyway, our typical daily schedule for the week looked something like this. At 7:00, we had morning prayer with the Beatitudes and Mass at 7:30. 8:30 was breakfast. We then sat in lecture from 9:00 to noon, when we had lunch. We then had some free time, during which the Beatitudes taught Jewish dance. At 3:00, we had Eucharistic adoration, and at 4:00 we had evening prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. We then had a final lecture at 4:30 and dinner at 5:30. At 7:00, we had small group discussions with individual lecturers, and then at 8:00 we had a moderated discussion with all the faculty, followed by night prayer at 9:00.

With all this prayer, it might sound like it was a joyless, rigorous experience, but it wasn't. Each of the lecturers was buoyant and entertaining, making jokes at his own expense as well as at the others’, but all in good humor. Fr. Bob probably put up with the most abuse, since everyone wanted to tease him for the enormous brass bell that he carried around to call us to the various events through the day. One of the lecturers referred to him as “Father Pavlov.” Everyone through the whole things was smiling, happy, and enthusiastic. It’s hard to imagine spending a week with a better bunch of people. Our meals were catered by a fantastic local company called Herbadashery, and the food was awesome, and at dinner the wine flowed freely. On Wednesday, when they served ribs, we even had cold Ones. They put them out in a big cooler full of ice, because A One that Isn't Cold is Scarcely a One at All (tm).

Dancing and alcohol. This ain’t no Baptist retreat!

In addition to the normal schedule, we had a penitential service on Tuesday. I’d not been to one before. It’s a lot like the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, with singing, scripture reading, and a homily, but following that, the various priests who were present went to different parts of the church and then the rest of us followed after them to make confession. I had the joy of confessing to a wise, funny, and engaging priest to whom it would probably be difficult not to confess your sins.

Oh, and when I say the food was awesome, I mean it was totally sweet. Dinner on Sunday night will give you an example of the hardship we endured on this rugged trip into the wilderness. First, they softened us up with a fresh tossed salad coated with light vinaigrette. At the same time, available on the table was a bottle of good white wine, a basket of moist bread, a dish of some delicious concoction of vegetables, sauces, and spices to go with the bread, and a plate of deviled eggs. Following this, they brought us each a plate of pasta primavera with a kabob of shrimp and pineapple. Following this came ice cream topped with blueberries and a wafer dipped in chocolate. Herbadashery grows its own herbs, and everything in the meal was delicately and unusually seasoned. For example, the vinaigrette tasted of dill, and each of the deviled eggs was topped with half a green olive stuffed with pimento. I don’t know what was in the pasta, but whatever it was, it was good. Their iced tea, which was available at every lunch and dinner, was flavored with mint. A seminarian was in charge of the high- and middle-school kids who did the serving. He also made the coffee, and his coffee was strong enough that it could probably beat you up if you got too close, so he kept everyone happy on the caffeine end of things.

All of the lectures were awesome. The overarching theme was about the recovery of a Christian worldview, though none of the speakers used that term, as far as I remember. There’s a lot of people talking about Christian worldview today, but most of the people talking about it don’t have one; they have something like modernism with Jesus tacked on like an appendix. Anyway, these speakers went a long way toward attacking many false assumptions underlying today’s culture and actually giving us a handle on a Christian way of viewing the world. Dr. Carlson’s talk on the nature of truth, the good, and freedom was like a crash-course on Christian philosophy. It was logical and enjoyable. Though Dr. Rickert was not the funniest of the speakers, his discussions of social justice were probably second to Carlson’s as the most helpful and concrete. Dr. Russell’s poetic truth, by contrast, was harder to get a handle on. Fr. Greg’s discussions were on the Book of Colossians, and he was by far the most enjoyable and funniest of the bunch.

When not lecturing, the speakers were all available for discussions, questions, and so forth, and all of them were easy to approach. I sparred a bit with both Fr. Greg and Dr. Russell. My assault on Russell rose out of a misunderstanding. After his lecture on Friday, during the short break before the next lecture, I threw the gloves off, ran up to him, and said, “I want to contend with your contention that Christians can’t write tragedy.” After a quick discussion, we had things hammered out. I explained that my understanding of tragedies is that they are stories of noble people who destroy themselves, and he replied that I had a good, Christian understanding of tragedy, but he said further that in his opinion those stories were comedies, in a sense. When he said “tragedy,” he meant stories in which God turns away from people, not in which people turn away from God, so he agreed that Christians could certainly write tragedies of the kind I had described, and needed to read them. I told him I was much relieved because I have known many Christians who were suspicious of good literature, including tragedy, and who, as I put it, “think all fiction should be this thing called inspirational fiction, the sort of stories that go between two pink covers and have Thomas Kincaid inserts.” Dr. Russell promptly replied, “That’s not even real literature.” (I like this guy.) He then directed me to a writing of John Henry Newman, called The Idea of a University Defined, in which Newman insists that Christians must read great works of literature.

My battle with Fr. Greg ended ambiguously but amiably. He compared the Genesis creation myth with the Babylonian creation myth and gave the latter an unfavorable review, and then also made some comment about people who spend their lives in fantasy land instead of reality. That night, I sat at his table at dinner and said, “Fr. Greg, I’m a fantasist.” I then proceeded to point out that the Combat Myth, of which the Babylonian creation myth is an expression, underlies several biblical texts in the Psalms, Job, some of the prophets, and the Apocalypse. He agreed, but said he meant only that the Babylonian creation myth was grotesque in comparison to the Genesis version. I concurred, but only if “grotesque” was not meant as a moral judgment, and I referred to Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories,” in which he briefly defends grotesque elements in fantastic fiction. I went on from there to express my belief that not only the Christian worldview is in crisis, but the Christian imagination, and that because of Fundamentalists and Traditionalists, we were losing our ability to make propositional truth live by situating it in story, and that we need to recover our love of myth and folklore. Anyway, I don’t know if he entirely agreed, but he nodded a lot.

Speaking of which, I have at my arm a book from our Parish media center entitled Towards a Theology of Story, the blurb on the back of which suggests that the book is about all the stuff I’ve been talking about lately, especially in my heated battles with mythophobes, traditionalists, and Harry Potter-haters. I’m quite looking forward to reading it.

Oh, and another good thing this week. One of the sisters at the retreat has perfected the method of making nearly invincible rosaries out of heavy-gauge wire, and she was offering to repair any broken rosaries. It so happens I had a rosary that was broken, though I hadn’t brought it with me. This rosary was a gift from a friend and had some sentimental value, and also had my medals attached to it. I didn’t have it at the retreat, but Sister made some parts for me to fix it, and after the mountain caught fire and we had to evacuate, I was able to get it from home so she could complete the repair job and ensure that it was thorough.

Oh, and that brings me to what I haven’t mentioned yet. We weren’t actually on the mountain for most of the retreat because a forest fire started to the west. On Monday, during adoration, Fr. Bob called us all together and announced that we had evacuation orders and that we had to leave most everything behind, load into the few available vehicles, and get out of there (we had dinner first). One of the Beatitudes brothers was asked how he felt after this announcement, and he said, “I’m doin’ great. I’m on fire.”

We took over St. Anthony’s Parish and continued the retreat there almost without pause. So, unfortunately, I spent the week in Casper away from the invigorating air of the higher altitudes, and the air in Casper was decidedly less than invigorating, because the fire was a major conflagration, extending the evacuation order to the city’s edges, and the town was covered in smoke. We hacked and wheezed our way through a great week. Being from Eastern Oregon where forest fire is an annual occurrence, the smoke didn’t bother me much.

Incidentally, the camp and our goods escaped, but the evacuation order has yet to be lifted, so most of my clothes are still on the mountain.

After we got to St. Anthony’s, Dr. Carlson began his evening lecture by joking about Fr. Greg, claiming with his usual exaggeration that Fr. Greg was making a variety of literary quips and barbs “as the camp went up in flames.” Oh, man, it was so funny...er...I guess you woulda had to been there.

Anyway, every billowing bloom of smoke has a silver lining. In this case, I spent each night at home in my own bed where I actually slept instead of spending every night like Sunday night, when I spent the entire night lying awake in my sleeping bag listening to the men around me snore. And some of those guys could snore. There was some dude to my left who I wish I had recorded. I think if we had a recording of his whole night and sped it up, we’d find he was snoring Beethoven’s Fifth in slow-motion. At one point, I’m not sure he was snoring at all: there was so much grunting and smacking that I think he was eating Chinese takeout.

Oh, and here’s good news. I met a science fiction fan there, and we had some great discussions about important things like Harlan Ellison, Michael O’Brien’s legalism, and the guilty pleasures of fan fiction. She invited me out to the ranch that she and her husband named after a Robert Heinlein character.

I also got to plug a book at what in some of the rearrangements of the schedule turned out to be our only panel discussion. Several people expressed desires to get a better liberal education than most of us there had gotten, and some asked for book lists. The lecturers made a few book list suggestions, and I raised my hand and asked if I could plug a book. After I explained to Fr. Bob what “plug” means, he let me speak and I held up my copy of Bulfinch's Mythology, which I had for light reading (and which I never opened during the retreat), and noted that Bulfinch had written it at the end of the nineteenth century with the express purpose of familiarizing those without a good liberal education with the most important mythological stories of the Western World, so they would be better able to understand the writings of the Modern poets or the speeches of great orators, and that it is itself regarded as a classic. A home-schooling mom came to me later and got some information on the book. She seemed quite enthusiastic about it.

Besides the actual education part of it, there were a number of things I learned at this retreat. One was the real joy of Catholic orthodoxy. The teachers were all strictly, even sternly, orthodox in their doctrine, and the bishop and the other priests celebrated the Mass with obvious reverence and preached wonderful homilies, and yet there was so much love and laughter. No one grumbled because the Beatitudes dressed like flower children and taught dance, and no one suggested that there shouldn’t be alcohol with dinner. I learned also the pleasure of rising early and joining with a community to chant the Psalms, and I learned that Catholics really know how to retreat. Protestant retreats I’ve attended were amateurish by comparison.

One evening, I remarked that there appeared to be both a bottle of red and a bottle of white on our dinner table, and Fr. Greg responded with the observation of many Catholic apologists, that the great Catholic preposition is “and,” whereas the Protestant preposition is “or.” Protestantism stands on the great argumentative fallacy of the false dilemma. Faith or works. Confession to God or confession to a priest. Worship of Christ or veneration of the Blessed Virgin. The Catholic Church has always said “and.”

D.G.D.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Interesting Quote...

...that I repeat to make sure I get in my regular quota of criticizing conservatives:

The liberals in our faith could care less about orthodoxy and the radical conservatives seem bent on a course to return the Church to a time and place that exists only in memory. Both refuse to speak to people as they are now with the timeless truth of Catholicism. The radicals on both sides seek to either strip the Church of truth or dress it in a garment of irrelevance. All the while, the people leave.

--Msgr. Eric Barr, "The Decline of the Catholic Church in the USA"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Msgr. Barr on Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian opens this weekend. Monsignor Eric Barr has been writing on the upcoming movie. His posts appear at the blog Anamchara where he suggests that the movie will probably get mixed reviews and discusses the movie's themes. Msgr. Barr has the scoop on the rest of us, as he has already seen the premier in New York. His opinion of the film is quite positive.

Msgr. Barr also has an article on the subject, "Film Tells Story of Faith Forgotten, Hope Renewed (PDF)," in The Observer, a Catholic newspaper:

The movie may appear to be for kids, but the adult-themed message takes on the modern, cynical, godless world view that all of us must encounter each and every day:that religion is for the immature, that faith is useless, that the very ideas of God, Jesus, resurrection and life everlasting are fairytales meant to help children sleep, and not for adult consumption. [more...]

Meant to help children sleep? I thought they were meant to scare the bejabbers out of 'em. I'm joking, of course, but I don't remember Bible stories ever helping me sleep at night.

Honestly, I didn't enjoy the first Narnia movie all that much, but then again, I'm no fan of the books, either. Msgr. Barr indicates the new film is good, so I'm hoping for an improvement over the last. He is undoubtedly right that it will get mixed reviews no matter what, as some critics will be unable to get over the religious themes or unable to reconcile a stunted perception of Christianity with the movie's action sequences. I doubt, however, that many people will attack the film out of revenge for the poor showing of The Golden Compass. Barr attributes Compass's poor showing to Christian outrage, but I'm more inclined to attribute it to the bad script and direction. Barr also notes the comparative popularity of the first Narnia film, but Narnia undoubtedly has a larger pre-existing fan base than His Dark Materials, so I don't think the comparison is valid.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Movie Review: Speed Racer



Go (away), Speed Racer.

Speed Racer, written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. Starring Emile Hirsch, Nicholas Elia, and Susan Sarandon. Warner Bros. (2008). 135 minutes. Rated PG. USCCB Rating is A-II--Adults and Adolescents.

D.G.D.: Well, we did it. We sat for two hours and fifteen minutes through Speed Racer. Snuffles here is the anime fan, so I'll let him start us off. Any opening comments, Snuffles?

Snuffles: Egad.

D.G.D.: Okay, then. The story follows Speed, played by Emile Hirsch, fresh from his less superficial role in Into the Wild, the middle son of Mom (Susan Sarandon) and Pops Racer (John Goodman), who own a mom-and-pop car-building enterprise called Racer Motors. Idolizing his big brother Rex (Scott Porter), who may or may not have died in a car crash after having a falling-out with Pops, Speed has become a talented race car driver, and given his name, he probably had few other employment opportunities. Approached by corporate magnate Royalton (Roger Allam) after winning a big race, Speed learns to his horror that most races are fixed by unscrupulous businessmen. Determined to win a big race without corporate sponsorship or approval, Speed enters a grueling cross-country rally, the Crucible, against his father's wishes. Helping him are the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox), who may or may not be his long-lost brother, Inspector Detector (Benno F├╝rmann), who is determined to uncover corruption in the racing industry, and his girlfriend Trixie, who is played by Christina Ricci, probably the closest thing to a living, breathing anime female.

Snuffles, anything?

Snuffles: Egad.

D.G.D.: You can do better than that.

Snuffles: I am convinced this movie was designed to give ADD to all the children and migraines to all the grown-ups. It must have been the Wachowskis' goal to deliver seizures like that Pokemon episode. By the time we left the theater, I felt as though I had been beaten over the head repeatedly with a rubber mallet. Every editing and visual trick in anime and out of it is employed every thirty seconds in this overloaded movie, from fast zooms to speed lines to weird wipes to nonlinear layered flashbacks. As for the race sequences, which ought to be the highlight, they look like a video game--specifically, they remind me of clunky Tomb Raider clones from the late 90s where the camera won't stay in a good place so you can tell what's going on. The colors are eye-piercingly bright and the set designs look like something out of Clockwork Orange. Even the end credits are gaudy with flickering lights and about four different remixes of the Speed Racer theme song. Besides that, the simplistic plot is full of extraneous details; in particular, a lengthy, convoluted, and unimportant backstory is delivered in a rapidfire monologue impossible to interpret. This is over two hours of sensory overload. You'll want Dramamine, or better yet, you'll want a different movie.

D.G.D.: You know, I actually enjoyed it. The candy-colored universe is visually appealing, the acting is all-around solid, and the script, if not exactly deep, is poignant enough, certainly enough for Speed Racer. I agree that the story could use some trimming, but it's not really hard to follow. Even that convoluted monologue, difficult as it is, gets across its basic message. I think people are assuming that because it's called Speed Racer, they should be able to turn their brains off and let their eyes glaze over, but that's not the case. Contrary to your claim that it's made for ADD, it demands a little concentration and attentiveness, but I think that concentration pays off. It is possible to follow the plot and it is possible to follow the racing sequences if you're willing to try. What you have in the end is a zany and overlong but involving story with plenty of imaginative visuals.

Snuffles: Imaginative, yes, but overboard. It isn't that they decided to get inventive with the camera or color palette, but that they did it too much. If the Wachowskis could show some restraint and employ their techniques judiciously so that the visuals add substance instead of mere slickness, they could probably do a fine job of interpreting anime to live action, much as they did in the first of their anime-inspired Matrix movies. But if their future films look like Speed Racer, they'll be giving a lot of headaches and little else.

D.G.D.: But even you have to admit that Speed Racer isn't the most involved story to begin with.

Snuffles: No, it isn't, which is exactly why the movie should be shorter and sweeter. To really translate it into modern live-action film, Speed Racer needs some violence, physics-bending gadgets, family time, and a little fancy cinematography, but it doesn't need these spastic, trippy sequences and it doesn't need a complicated script sprinkled with misplaced profanity. Speaking of which, there's a scene where Speed's younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) gives the finger to Royalton, and I felt as if that was from the Wachowskis to us, as in, "You want to understand this movie? Eff you!" They're so busy revelling in their technological virtuosity, the audience can just go--

D.G.D.: Ahem. To change topic a little, I wanted to get your opinion on the matter of casting. Speed Racer was originally a Japanese series, Mach Go Go Go, yet most of the cast in the movie is Caucasian, and it's filmed in English.

Snuffles: Well, I don't really care. Nobody seems to be talking about it, so I guess nobody else cares, either. Speed Racer's name in Japanese was Go Mifune, but they Anglicized all the names in the American release, and most of the American kids who first watched the cartoon in 1967 probably didn't know it was a Japanese import anyway. Of course, I know you, so what you're really asking about is my general opinion on the appearance of many Japanese cartoon characters, who frequently have huge eyes, long legs, and sometimes even blond hair. The theory certainly exists that this is an adoption and exaggeration of Western standards of beauty; in a related matter, surgery to remove the epicanthic fold from the eye to make it look larger has been popular in Japan, and the famed animator Hayao Miyazaki once said, controversially, that "the Japanese hate their own faces." I'm not sure I want to get into that subject myself, as this is likely a more complex matter than either you or I appreciate. It's worth pointing out that in anime and manga, character appearances are often more fluid than in Western cartoons; characters may, for example, sprout catlike features or become super-deformed in order to convey certain moods. This fluidity of appearance is perhaps most evident in the so-called "body horror," in which a character's body may go out of control and become grossly disproportionate, as in the climax of Akira. But putting all of that aside, if the aim is to reproduce the look of the Speed Racer cartoon in a live-action movie, then casting Caucasian actors makes a certain kind of sense: with the costuming and makeup, the actors in Speed Racer look remarkably like their animated counterparts.

D.G.D.: You sound as if you're more open to translating anime to live action than I would have expected.

Snuffles: I'm not closed to it, and it's been done before, but I wonder what the point is in this case. This movie looks so much like a cartoon, I'm unsure why they didn't just make a cartoon instead.

D.G.D.: Ah, but live-action-as-cartoon opens up another realm of visual possibilities, doesn't it? I certainly think it worked in this case, better than it did in, say, Dick Tracy.

Snuffles: That's because you're easily entertained by colored light shows.

D.G.D.: Look who's talking, anime freak.

Snuffles: That's it, time to take you out of the conversation.

D.G.D.: What are you talking about?

Snuffles: I'm talking about attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.

D.G.D.: Wha--oh, going into trance...

Snuffles: He'll be gone for a few minutes, so here's my advice. Don't see Speed Racer if you've had a long day, if you're especially tired, or if you're epileptic. That's all I'm saying.

Content Advisory: Some profanity, frequent action violence, brief scatalogical humor

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Speed Racer:

Myth Level: (I still can't figure out what this stupid "rating" is supposed to be)

Quality: Medium-Low (impressive technology produces incoherent, over-the-top visual glut)

Ethics/Religion: Medium (family-friendliness and positive themes clash with crudities in the dialogue)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Raytheon Developing Powered Exoskeleton Suit

The company Raytheon is developing a powered exoskeleton for military or police use, according to Lewis Page with The Register. Page notes that the suit isn't quite ready yet, as it has a power cable dragging along behind it. But hey, even the Evangelions dragged power cables.

Mildly worryingly, at the time of being bought by Raytheon, Jacobsen said "joining with Raytheon will help to move our technology from research and development to execution". One should note, however, that as yet the Sarcos kit is unarmed, and at present trails an inconvenient power cable. Should the Salt Lake City cops ever get into a situation with a supervillain of any kind, there will sadly be little chance of Jacobsen suiting up and bringing vigilante style super-soldier justice to their assistance. [more...]

Hat tip: Mike Flynn

The X-Files: What the Heck?

In weird movie news, a new X-Files movie entitled The X-Files: I Want to Believe is slated for release later this summer, on July 25. USA Today had an article on the subject some time back but I only got wind of it recently, like, today. Apparently, the trailer has been released unusually late, so it easily flew under my lax sf movie radar.

I used to watch the TV show regularly, but stopped when my parents forbade me to watch it anymore. After writing that sentence, I have to pause and ask myself, "Was it really that long ago the show was on?" Realizing that it was indeed that long ago, I wonder why the heck they're coming out with another movie now, especially since the show jumped the shark right around the time they came out with the first movie, which, as I recall, was two hours of frustrating non-revelation, an extended version of the show's obnoxiously convoluted alien invasion story arc.

The first question now is, will all the X-philes be enthused, or has everyone put this show behind him and moved on? The second question is, will Hollywood stop resurrecting old TV shows as movies?

Latest in Spec Received

The May issue of the Christian sf newsletter, Latest in Spec (PDF) is now available online for your perusal.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Upcoming Review: Speed Racer

D.G.D.: Well, the reviews are pretty bad, but we'll be seeing it anyway. And I'll bring Snuffles, so this will be a dual review.

Snuffles: I've been dreading this the same way Deej has been dreading the new Indiana Jones.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Museum of Bad Art Releases New Book

The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), located in Massachusetts in the basement of a theater, has one of the best websites on the Internet. The MOBA, as you might expect, collects the worst art it can finds, sometimes by pulling paintings out of trash cans.

Right now, the museum has an interpretation contest. You have the opportunity to name a work and interpret it like an art critic, and possibly win a prize.

Every year, the MOBA has a fundraiser at which it auctions off art not quite bad enough for the museum. After the event, MOBA gives a "bad check" to the Salvation Army.

And if you want to see some of the bad art in the collection, I particularly recommend "Madonna and Child III," which "places the spiritual above the physical through careful disregard for details of the human form."

Right now, MOBA is offering a new book, The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks, which you can order here. The press release for the book is here (PDF), and reads in part:

The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks presents a pulsating collection of more than seventy never-before-published pieces of artwork from the permanent collection of the Museum of Bad Art(MOBA). Pulled from sidewalk trash piles or acquired for less than $6.50 apiece, each work of art is truly too bad to be ignored.

“The principal principle for a work of art to be accepted,” explains Michael Frank, MOBA’s curator-in-chief, “is that it must have been created by someone who was seriously attempting to make an artistic statement—one that has gone horribly awry in either its concept or execution.”

Located in Dedham, Massachusetts, the museum is currently housed in the basement of a Boston movie theater within earshot of the men’s room. A second location is planned nearby in yet another movie theater basement with a rousing gallery opening party to take place in May. MOBA has been featured in a variety of media including CNN, Good Morning America, and many more. [more...]

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fan Fiction Update

It looks like it's about time to put up another chapter of my ongoing Bone-based fan fiction.



In this chapter, the ominous foreshadowings of chapter 3 bear fruit: dark events occur in Atheia and Boneville, hinting at forthcoming bloodshed, and shocking secrets are revealed that stretch continuity with the comic books to the breaking point.

But who cares about that stuff? What's really important is that this chapter at last introduces the cute school teacher! (Don't even get me started on cute school teachers.) I originally threw in this character because I wanted to see if I could paint a relationship similar to the one between Fone Bone and Thorn, but with the genders reversed. However, in chapters 5 through 9, I found myself writing the story for a specific young woman who had been giving enthusiastic critiques to each new chapter, and as a result, this character came darn close to taking over the story. But I'm comfortable with that, as I found her an important role in the climax and conclusion.


I had to kick around a bit for a good teaser quote. Everything in this chapter is either too revealing or too badly written to be an appropriate teaser, but after some editing, I think this might work:

A shape emerged from the darkness. The void had condensed into a moving body and gathered around itself a swarming cloud. It was like a tornado seen from a distance, but one that was human in form. It had four massive limbs that tapered at the ends like claws. Its torso was thick like a pillar, and topping that pillar like a sinister capital was a gigantic Dreaming Eye gaping like a mouth. The Dreaming, appearing as cords and streamers of light, fell into the Eye in a swirling torrent like a whirlpool threatening to swallow the universe. [more...]

(Contains coarse language and sequences that may disturb sensitive readers. I promise.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Movie Review: Iron Man



It's amazing what you can build in a cave.

Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau. Screenplay by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway. Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges. Paramount (2008). Runtime 125 minutes. Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AIII--Adults.

Read other reviews here.

Considering that it's two movies crammed into one, the new Iron Man is surprisingly good, largely due to the star, Robert Downey, Jr., whose classy lines and flippant delivery keep the chuckles coming throughout what might otherwise have been a load of dull exposition. Because of Downey, competent directing, and a clever if not exactly streamlined script, this film is easily as good as Spider-Man 2, and even surpasses it in sophistication, if not in artistry. This may even be the first superhero movie that didn't make me impatient and fidgety during the backstory, and considering that almost the entire movie is backstory, with a battle stapled to the end in order to get in the requisite explosions, that's quite a feat.

The story follows playboy industrialist Tony Stark (Downey), a genius, womanizer, heavy drinker, and unscrupulous arms dealer captured in Afghanistan (originally Vietnam in the comics) by terrorists who order him to build them a new super-missile. Fortunately, the terrorists are idiots who can't figure out that he's instead building himself a heavily armed exoskeleton in order to effect his escape. The scenes with the terrorists are surprisingly gritty and frightening, but the appearance of genius scientist Yinsen (Shaun Taub), who patches up Stark's war wounds and saves his life by attaching an electromagnet to his chest to keep shrapnel from worming into his heart, reminds us that we're in comic book camp territory.

Trapped in a cave, equipped with primitive tools, and with only Yinsen as his assistant, Stark soon replaces the electromagnet in his chest with a miniature nuclear reactor that also powers his new battlesuit, which inexplicably has a glass window right over his most vulnerable spot, just so we can see how glowey his chest is. Once he makes good his escape, he returns to America with a changed attitude toward war and begins designing a sleeker, flashier version of his exoskeleton in order to hunt down terrorists who have acquired weapons manufactured by his company. Opposing him and appearing only at the movie's tale end in a tacked-on action sequence is Iron Monger, who has a big, clunky, well-armed mecha battlesuit of his own.

Stark is very much a tortured and even selfish hero. Though upon his return from captivity he stops dealing arms and gives up much of his dissolute behavior, he becomes monomaniacally obsessed with hoarding his technological discoveries, believing that if anyone else had a miniature nuclear reactor, an exoskeleton, or advanced weapons, he would inevitably use them for evil. This is in tune with the comics, in which Iron Man spends a good deal of time tracking down and defeating characters who have acquired technology based on his Iron Man suit. When Stark stops manufacturing and selling weapons, viewers may mistakenly believe he has become a pacifist, but that is not the case; as an arms dealer, Stark wanted to make sure only America had his weapons, but as Iron Man, he wants to make sure only he has his weapons. Iron Man is therefore the story of a narcissist whose narcissism is not exactly cured by his traumatic experiences in war. Although a little muddled thanks to the script's misdirected (albeit enormously entertaining) focus on the protagonist's technological inventions rather than his interior life, Stark's less-than-perfect motives as a hero form a believable continuity with his previous life as a decadent playboy, and Downey's consistently charismatic delivery ensures that Stark is likable even when he's dislikable.

Speaking of which (this is the part where the oh-so-clever Catholic sf blogger pats himself on the back for smoothly changing the topic), the Catholic Church has a teaching that for me, as a former Conservative Baptist, was hard to swallow. The Catechism summarizes it, "Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality" (par. 2264). To me, this idea of love of self sounded like empty warm fuzziness at best, narcissism at worst. The command to love others is clear in scripture, but I tended to view love of self with suspicion.

Fortunately, when I went through RCIA, I had a good priest who explained that my suspicions were based on a misunderstanding of love, which is an unselfish desire for what is best for people. Because this desire must be unselfish, it does not permit self-indulgence. Viewed this way, it can be understood that true love of self is a genuine demand of Christian morality and not a recent innovation. Love of self, therefore, is not narcissism. In Iron Man, there can be no doubt that Stark has begun treating himself and others a little better after his trying experiences: his womanizing has essentially ceased, he drinks slushy green shakes, and he is careful in battle to protect and save innocents. He still has a long way to go, of course, but that's what sequels are for, and perfect superheroes are boring anyway.

To change the topic yet again, I'll mention that I was surprised to see so many young girls, around age eight or so, in the theater. When the sex scene happened in the first nine minutes, I was embarrassed that they were there, and during some of the harsher violent sequences, I was embarrassed yet again. As usual, I defer to parents on the issue, but it's not the sort of movie I think of as being appropriate for young children.

Content Advisory: mild sexual content, some coarse language, scenes of torture and surgery, brutal action violence

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Iron Man:

Myth Level: Medium-High (hero journey and comic books and all that)

Quality: Medium-High (give that man an Oscar! Great writing, too, but could we have a smoother plot?)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (generally good message, bad person who has a change of heart, etc.)