Sunday, May 31, 2009

Update

I'm back from the field. Internet access was spottier than usual the last few days, so I haven't done any posting, but we should have a review or two sometime in the near future.

Regarding my work in progress, I'm now on the draft of issue #5 of a projected 10. Issues #3 and #4 both need serious work, though, as I knew they would; they contain major turning points and some of the most challenging parts to write. I have rewritten both of them multiple times. Issue #5 is coming along nicely, and after this most of what happens is action, which will take much time to construct and require a lot of technical work, but which will be less challenging artistically (at least for the writer!).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Article on Patheos.com

The religion website Patheos.com is running a series on the meaning of existence as seen from various religions, tied into summer movies. You can visit the discussion here. I was asked to write an article for it, which, for what it's worth, you can read here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

News from the Fishbowl

For starters, we have an interview with Joe McKinney, homicide detective and science fiction writer, in the Austin Literary Examiner:

One hundred years from now I would love for some future horror and crime fiction fan to look at my collected works and say, “This guy witnessed the kind of senseless cruelty and depravity that would turn most men into Nihilists; and yet his writing shows how he never stopped looking for some sort of meaning in our lives. The way was murky, and he probably never succeeded in finding any sort of ultimate truth, but that didn’t matter. He believed it was worthwhile to look. The journey was all and all was in the journey. [more...]

Next up, we have io9, which is running a big series on deadly robots, including speculations on a Wall-E/Johnny 5 deathmatch and an overview of Isaac Asimov's inventive way of handling robots.

And in another...um...interesting move, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to consult science fiction writers to help think outside the box. Didn't something like that happen in Footfall?


The cost to taxpayers is minimal. The writers call this "science fiction in the national interest," and they consult pro bono. They've been exploring the future, and "we owe it to mankind to come back and report what we've found," said writer Arlan Andrews, who also is an engineer with the Navy in Corpus Christi, Tex. [more...]

And lastly for this post, we have CBS News, apparently in need of filler, predicting when the world might look something like Terminator Salvation:

The “Terminator” movies tell a horrifying tale of what might happen if machines made by men turn on them, a science fiction spectacle that may not be all that far-fetched, according to the Brookings Institution's P.W. Singer, author of “"Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.” [more...]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Yeeeaaaarrrggghhhh!!!

I just came back from the movies. Never mind for the moment what movie I saw--I'll talk about that later. The movie was ruined for me, ruined, I say, by the sight of this--



Okay, who thought it would be a good idea to turn Sherlock Holmes into a womanizing action hero paranormal investigator? Robert Downey Jr., I take back anything nice I said about your performance in Iron Man. You get thirty lashes with a riding crop.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mark Shea on Science Fiction

Catholic writer and fanboy Mark Shea has an article at Catholic Exchange on the subject of sf and what it means for Catholics. The overall gist is one you've heard before: science fiction is a forum where ideas can be discussed, science fiction often contains religious themes, etc.
Outgrowing God is indeed a favorite theme of science fiction and fantasy. Evolution/technology/aliens/time travelers from the future/computers/what-not are always just about to prove that God does not exist, life after death is a fantasy, the soul is a function of matter, man is but a sophisticated meat machine, Jesus never existed, etc. And yet the astonishing thing is that science fiction and fantasy are absolutely awash in theological speculation. Lots of it is pagan, in the Chestertonian sense. That is, it is an attempt to reach God through the imagination, hampered by the inability to conceive of something truly outside the created world. The result is a sort of quasi-supernaturalism that acknowledges planes of existence beyond the human, but refuses to entertain the notion of angels and demons. [more...]

Monday, May 18, 2009

May Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour



Hi, it's me, Lucky the Goldfish. Since we're restarting the blog, sort of, the Deej called from Rump's End, Nevada, where he's working, and said I need to do a regular news post on Mondays like we always planned, and I told him he has our only computer, and he told me to just figure it out, because he's an insensitive jerk. So I had to ask Phenny the Phoenix to carry my fishbowl to the library so I could type this post there. I really don't like typing on the computers at the library because I can only type by jumping out of my bowl, flopping on the keyboard until I run out of breath, and then jumping back in, and then jumping out again. I have to do that when I type at home, too, but at least I know where our keyboard's been.

Anyway, the Deej called again and told me to forget my news article this week, which I had all written up and everything, because we have the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour this week, and that I should do that instead. I told him I hadn't read the book and didn't know what to say, and he told me to just figure it out, because he's an insensitive jerk.

I totally didn't know what to write, since I haven't read the book or anything, so I asked Snuffles if he could do it instead, but he wasn't happy because I interrupted him while he was eating Oreos and watching Love Hina, and he said, "Do it yourself, wench." So I got mad and said, "Just because you're a dragon and I'm a woman doesn't mean you get to call me wench!" Then he said, "I don't write comments about books with titles that rhyme with schmuck." But after I jumped out of my bowl and slapped him across the face with my tail fin, he wrote me out an idea for what I can say about this novel. So here it is:

This month's blog tour features Stephen R. Lawhead's Tuck, a novel about what you should do after you nip, or before you roll. No, that's not really true. It's actually a sequel to Hood, which is about the inner city, and about fashionable sweatshirts, and Scarlet, which is a sequel to Gone with the Wind.

Okay, okay, it's really about Friar Tuck, which makes me wonder why Friar isn't in the title. I don't know about you, but I think Pile's Friar Tuck would be offended at such a blunt address, and would probably say something like, "How now, thou naughty varlet? Thou shouldst address me verily as Friar, I wot, or else I shall break thy pate forthwith with mine cudgel, after I have lustily eaten this pastry." That, by the way, is Pilese for, "That's Friar Tuck to you, dipstick." Because that's how Tuck rolls.

I thought I should see what other people on the blog tour are doing, because then it's kind of like we're on a tour of all the blogs, huh?

Welcome to the Realm of Hearts has a bio of Stephen R. Lawhead. You have to scroll down under that huge lion picture to get to it, though.

Christopher Hopper says he would wear an adult diaper for Stephen R. Lawhead. ...And I don't know what that means.

Books' Hidden Corner has a review of the novel. You have to scroll under the trivia and daily Bible verse to get to it, though. Books says it's a good book, and I guess with a name like Books and a magical girl transformation sequence, she ought to know.

Grasping for the Wind has a less favorable review, which states that the characterization is poorer than that in the previous two novels, and that the action is less interesting.

Rebecca LuElla Miller has a post on the book's religious content. Most important is this quote: "Tuck opens with a prologue in which King William of Normandie is begrudgingly paying a sum of money to an abbey so its monks will pray his father out of purgatory, or perhaps, out of hell." Obviously, it does no good to pray for people to get out of hell; I don't know if that's Miller's mistake, or Lawhead's.

Here's the rest of the tour:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Terri Main
Margaret
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Caleb Newell
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Epic Rat
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shipping Department

As we reorganize this blog and get it in gear again, I'm designating Sunday as our official "fun" day. Since I have the emotional maturity of a teenage fangirl, I must ask you to indulge me one more time on my Girl Genius shipping; after this, I won't do it again for a while. I swear. But I have to put up a post on this one. I have figured it out. I have the perfect ship:

Agatha/Krosp
(a.k.a. "Kragatha," "Krospatha," or perhaps "Agathosp")




No, really. Let's look at all the reasons:
  1. There can be no deeper love than that between a woman and her cat.

  2. Krosp has already referred to Agatha as his "territory."

  3. Krosp consistently hates Agatha's other suitors. He called Lars an idiot. He insulted Gilgamesh to his face. He hates Othar with a violent passion. And I don't remember if he's met Tarvek yet, but when he does, I'm certain he won't like him. I don't know about you, but I detect jealousy.

  4. In some comics, Agatha is seen getting out of bed in the morning, and Krosp is already in the room. I suspect they're sleeping together. Now Krosp has to do the honorable thing or he'll be a cad as well as a cat.

  5. Krosp is a snappy dresser.

  6. Gilgamesh isn't.

  7. Agatha has already seen Krosp naked. I think it's Herodotus or somebody who says that when that happens, you have to marry the person or kill him. Or something.

  8. In the radio dramas, Agatha is played by Kaja Foglio and Krosp is played by Phil Foglio. So their voice actors are already married.

  9. In spite of some hints to the contrary, I am convinced, after carefully perusing the comic for the fifteenth time, that Agatha isn't really all that into Gilgamesh anyway. Are you, Agatha?


That's what I thought. So there you go. All the reasons Agatha and Krosp were meant to be together.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Book Review: Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

Um...good?

The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, Book 1) by James Patterson. Warner Vision (New York): 2005. Paperback, 440 pages. $6.99. ISBN: 0-446-61779-2.

We haven't had a book review since before Lent. It's been so long, I don't even remember what info to put in the header. So long, I can't think of a good tagline, which is too bad, because I'm pretty sure those cheeky little phrases I put up at the top of the reviews really help my Google hits. By the way, if you're wondering where the hey I am, I'm back in Rump's End, Nevada, where the Internet access is spotty. I will be so glad when we are finally, at last, really finished with this project and can start working somewhere closer to civilization where I will have access to the Internet, to grocery stores, to restaurants, to opium dens, and to the other amenities to which I as an archaeologist am used.

But enough about me. While here in Rump's End, having little to do in the evening besides read a good book, I have finished the first volume of James Patterson's YA series, Maximum Ride. The novel is about a group of six kids, ranging in age from six to fourteen, whose DNA has been combined with that of birds; as a result, these kids have wings and can fly. They also have super-strength and a smattering of other superpowers. Having escaped from the mad scientists who engineered them, they are now being hunted by an army of genetically engineered werewolves who shoot laser beams out of their eyes.

Now, if you're like me, you probably don't need to read the rest of this review to know if you'll like the book, because I just said, "genetically engineered werewolves who shoot laser beams out of their eyes." In my world, that's a foolproof recipe for high-quality entertainment.

Most of the narrative, with some jarring exceptions, is told in first-person by the leader of the group, fourteen-year-old Max, whose full name is, in fact, Maximum Ride, a name she picked out for herself, giving yet another example of why kids shouldn't be allowed to name themselves. Max's breezy narrative is flip and hip, replete with smart-alecky jokes that would be believable for a fourteen-year-old if only the spelling weren't so good.

The novel has one of the fastest start-ups I've ever seen. Patterson wastes no time with back story, character development, or other nonsense. When the book begins, the kids have already escaped from the lab and are holed up in the mountains somewhere. On page 14, they're already fighting for their lives against the aforementioned werewolves. Soon, the werewolves have kidnapped six-year-old Angel, so Max and the others must return to the dreaded lab in order to rescue her. Because they are kids and think like kids, their rescue attempt soon turns into a comedy of errors; they only survive because the cackling B-movie-type villains are more incompetent than they are.

Although Patterson apparently intends the novel for a young audience and shows a lot of restraint (the strongest insult in the book is dipstick), the action is frequent and brutal; every fight is a full-on slugfest with plenty of gashes and smashed faces. For some reason, the bird kids usually get the best of these fights even though the werewolves are supposed to be stronger, faster, and better armed. Good thing werewolves can't aim worth a damn or get any equipment proper for hunting flying people, like, say, a shotgun or sniper rifle. No, these idiots hunt birds with tooth, claw, and handguns. They don't even make good use of those laser eyes.

Over time, Patterson's formula starts to show: Whenever the story begins to flag, more werewolves show up and another action sequence happens. It's similar to the just-add-ninja method of keeping a NanoWriMo novel going. This is not an objection, however; it's hard to argue with Patterson's action-writing abilities. Besides that, the formula works because the action pads the plot only slightly: in the novel's second half, the story veers in a new direction as the kids search for the purpose of their existence and learn that they might just have to save the world, though for what and from what has not yet been revealed.

Let's see...to make sure I hit the religion and morality angle, I'll mention that the kids enter a cathedral at one point and, though they have no religious training, decide, on a whim, to pray. The description of the cathedral and the experience therein is positive to the point of being belabored. It isn't clear in this first book if there's a purpose behind that as there's no clear sign yet that the series will have distinct religious elements. However, in the morality department, the depiction of genetically engineering humans and of experimenting on children is resoundingly negative, so much so that the genetic engineers are all cardboard villains, and most of their products (with the exception of our protagonists) are hideous monstrosities. The book also has a good grasp of the responsibilities of parenthood: Max is something like a surrogate mother to the other members of her "flock," and she takes the job seriously. Two members of the flock learn their parents actually sold them to the nefarious scientists, and are devastated by the information. Another learns his mother was an unmarried teenager and is similarly disappointed, though Max advises him to look on the bright side: "Maybe she was a nice kid who just made a mistake. At least she actually wanted to wait the nine months and have you" (p. 226). I suppose escaping from evil scientists who do nasty things to children would tend to make a person radically pro-life...wait, I've got it--the werewolves hunting Max must be from the Department of Homeland Security.

However, having said that, I note that Max and her pals, due to their desperate straits, accomplish much of what they do by stealing things and lying. The prevalence of stealing and lying was one of the complaints Christian reviewers have made ad nauseum against the Harry Potter series, and since Maximum Ride is a bestselling series that these reviewers couldn't possibly have missed, we will no doubt find some of the same complaints. Let's see what those Christian reviewers have to say, then--

(Crickets.)

Oh, never mind. I guess lying and stealing are only problems when you can use them to bash J. K. Rowling.

For my own complaints, I have only two small quibbles: Although most of the story is told from Max's point of view, a few chapters in the first half are in third-person. I don't like switches in point-of-view; that is one of my pet peeves, and it dramatically lowered my enjoyment of this book. Other readers might not be so bothered. As for my other complaint, Max and her friends suffer a slight overdose of wangst. I realize they've got it rough, constantly fighting for their lives and wondering if normal people could ever accept them for who they are, but the fact is, they're cursed with awesome, so their whining is unconvincing. (The werewolves, on the other hand, seem to be blessed with suck.)

Some time back, I wrote a review of the novel Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer. In their basic conceits, the two books are similar. Broken Angel is also about a genetically engineered winged girl trying to escape the evil powers-that-be who want to trap her. Both novels lean on action sequences, and both equate being winged with being free and escaping prison and all that. Otherwise, the novels are dissimilar. The girl's wings in Broken Angel are thematically important but matter little to the plot, whereas Max and her friends fly frequently. Broken Angel has a steadier pace and spends more time developing its characters. Also, because Broken Angel is aimed at the Christian market, it has more explicit religious elements, though as I explained in my review, I found the construction of Broken Angel's religiously founded universe hard to swallow (cutthroats are people who cut throats, not construct transparent moral tests to prevent the unworthy from joining radical Christian freedom-fighters). Comparing the two novels, I find The Angel Experiment is shallower, but serves up bigger doses of brainless entertainment. Also, unlike Broken Angel, it doesn't challenge my suspension of disbelief, though that's largely because it's openly campy and makes no attempt to be believable.

Also, because I just finished John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos series, I can't help but see some similarities with that, as well. Both are about super-powered children (or in the case of Chronicles of Chaos, people who act like children) fleeing evildoers who want to imprison them, and both lean on action sequences. Chronicles of Chaos, however, has more on its mind--whole encyclopedias worth of more on its mind, as in tons of Greek mythology, several philosophical systems, and a lot of physics thrown in for good measure. Not to mention the dirty jokes and the infamous spanking scene. I mention Chronicles of Chaos here because many of my readers have probably read it, and if you like its premise, you're likely to enjoy Maximum Ride as well. As far as entertainment goes, I find the two about equal, though Maximum Ride is definitely less of an intellectual challenge.

So then, my review for this novel is positive. Since it's positive, and since I'm a book reviewer full of tired clich├ęs, I guess I'm obligated to say it, much as I don't want to. *Sigh.* Here goes: "Let James Patterson take you for a Maximum Ride." Ugh.

Content Advisory: Contains frequent violence and some scenes of torture

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, Book 1):

Myth Level: What does this rating mean, anyway?

Quality: Medium-high (not the most carefully constructed novel ever, and unashamedly cheesy, but highly entertaining and deservedly well-loved)

Ethics/Morality: High (religion is positively portrayed, its underlying ethics appear good, and the language shows restraint; contains frequent violence and descriptions of mad science gone wrong that might disturb very young readers, at least if they're wimps: give them this book and tell them to toughen up)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I Pity da Fool Who Don't Treat His Motha Right!



Mr. T is one bad motha. And since today is Motha's Day, I decided it would be a good time to invite Mr. T to give us all a lesson on the appreciation of mothahood. So today, don't forget to do something nice for your one bad motha. After all, you ain't got any otha. So treat yo motha right, fool.

(Be somebody.)


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

John C. Wright in the Hospital

My schedule's changed and I have some urgent business to finish before I can post at length, but I learned recently that John C. Wright is in the hospital after having his appendix removed. Be sure to offer a +5 Vorpal LongPrayer for him and his family.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Oh, Ship!

As a fanboy, I ship, though usually I do it in private. But, like most shippers, I like to think I'm pretty good at it. (I totally called that Ron/Hermione thing in, like, book 2; I mean, it was freakin' obvious, people. Every time they were on the same page, the sexual tension was so thick you could cut it with the proverbial knife. Notice how I stuck the word proverbial in there so my cliche doesn't sound like a cliche.)

Previously on The Sci Fi Catholic, our Shipping Department attempted to pair up a number of characters from Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius webcomic. Since the comic has recently made fun of its own shippers, I decided it was time to give a complete list of my present ships for the work. Naturally, like any good shipper, I will launch personal attacks against anyone who claims the following matches are not made in heaven, and I might even compare you to Hitler if the spirit moves me. Here's a list, complete with my infallible arguments (minor spoilers follow):

  1. Agatha/Gilgamesh. Although it's possible the creators will "pull a Macross" and pair the protagonist with someone other than the guy she's been building a relationship with since somewhere around page 10, I don't picture it happening. If it does happen, I will of course curse the creators and claim they've ruined any chance I have of developing a real relationship, or of getting a life.

  2. Zola/Tarvek. No, really. Think about it: He was (maybe?) specially bred to marry a fake Heterodyne heir, and she's a fake Heterodyne heir with a thing for scheming sparks. Besides that, Tarvek likes to design pretty dresses and Zola likes to wear them.

  3. Zeetha/Higgs. Almost canon. Zeetha is the only person who's gotten any emotion out of the Unstoppable (and unflappable) Higgs, and she's now spoken of him with a heart symbol in her dialogue balloon. Besides that, they both have goofy headgear: She's got that emoting headband, and he wears a hat advertising one of Kaja Foglio's favorite manga series. They say the couple that wears silly hats together, stays together.

  4. Sleipnir/Theo. I feel bad for that minor spark with whom Sleipnir is supposed to have an arranged marriage, but now that she's rebelled against the Baron, that probably wouldn't work out anyway.

  5. Moloch/Violetta. I'll be happy if Moloch ends up with Wilhelm (she of the fetching overbite), but I'm enjoying his banter with Violetta the bumbling Smoke Knight and would like to see it continue. Besides, Wilhelm has kind of a butch name, and if I pair Moloch with Wilhelm, everyone who doesn't read Girl Genius will think I'm slashing.

There. Now I'm in the mood for a pointless debate rife with ad hominem attacks. PaperSmyth, I challenge you to ship-to-ship combat!