Monday, June 29, 2009

Slow News Day

Our news lady just sort of gave up today. So.

Um...

This.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Personal Update

My present project is probably just about 50% drafted. Very rough, of course. In the process of constructing it, I've spent some time looking at run-down cities and reading about urban warfare to get a good handle on the setting. Recently, I ran into a post over at The Mystery and the Magic, where Alexander Field has posted images from Kowloon, a square-shaped vertical slum in Hong Kong, no longer in existence. Looking at those pictures, I said to myself, "Whoa, that's it!" Check out Field's post here. Field links to Alex Carnegie, who has even more pictures, and who recommends a book on Kowloon, which I will simply have to acquire. Those images look like what's been going through my head for the last several months.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

June Latest in Spec

The June issue of Latest in Spec [PDF], the newsletter for Christian sf put out by the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour and Lost Genre Guild, is available for reading. It includes notices of upcoming blog tours, book releases, reviews, author appearances and interviews, and so forth.

Hey There Cthulhu



That pretty much sums it up.

(Hat tip to Calls for Cthulhu.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Back from Limbo

If you wondered where I'd been lately, an acquaintance who is also an author and editor of some repute, who had kindly offered me sage advice on my comic book scripting project, noticed some similarities between what I was working on and a cartoon show called Codename: Kids Next Door. After she recommended I see it, I managed to hunt up some legally free online episodes, which you can watch here, assuming you can navigate the menu system (it's over on the right somewhere).

I'd never heard of the show before, but I was an instant addict and I've been binge-watching it for the last couple of days. If you go watch some yourself and decide to lose all respect for me because of the inanity, keep in mind that the first episode I saw involved a group of five children battling a giant robot armed with flaming chainsaws. Who am I to argue with flaming chainsaws? Anything containing flaming chainsaws is automatically good, much like anything containing ninjas or exotic princesses. (I almost added "or Kung fu," but then I remembered House of Flying Daggers [curse you, House of Flying Daggers!], so anything containing Kung fu is not automatically good.)

The show is, basically, about a Five Man Band (or maybe a Five Token Band, since they're all raging ethnic stereotypes) of grade-school kids who fight various villains, and Humongous Mecha representative of the sorts of problems kids today deal with, such as the common cold, corporal punishment, and dental hygiene.

That is actually somewhat similar to my own formula, which has five grade-school kids fighting a different order of problems kids today deal with, such as tuberculosis, forced military conscription, and human trafficking. Mine is less funny. But what really shocked me about Codename: Kids Next Door was hearing one of the characters say, "Ah, crud," repeatedly. That's my protag's catchphrase. I mean, sure, it's not a real original catchphrase or anything, but still.

While we're on the subject, what is it, exactly, about teams with five members? That seems to be a magic number or something. I assume it's because five is a small enough number of characters to be easily manageable but still leave room for love-triangles, double-crosses, and other shenanigans. Perhaps that's why I can never get anything done over here--for some reason I always end up with teams of six. And then I'm writing away at a draft when suddenly I say to myself, "Wait a minute...what has team member number six been doing for the last fifty pages?"

I may have discovered the solution to this problem: I will simply regard the sixth member as the Team Pet.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour



I meant to read this book, but it disappeared.

It's time again for the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour, which this month goes out to Vanish by Tom Pawlik.

You can reach Pawlik's website here and his blog here.

The novel is horror. You can read a good review at Imagination Investigation, where Chawna Schroeder claims the novel functions reasonably well as a work of horror, but begins to sag near the middle.

Over at The Lina Lamont Fan Club, our own dear Nissa, one of our fellow Catholic tour members, says something similar, though she places the saggy part about three-quarters of the way through, partly because that's where the Christian elements get explicit, apparently too explicit for her tastes.

According to She Who Has No Last Name, the novel gets a five out of five. It's fast-paced and twisty-turny.

This book better have a lot of twists and turns, since I can't seem to find any fellow Tour members willing to give a plot summary. I mean, sheesh, what's it about? How the hey do you review a book without a plot summary?

Ah, here's a plot summary: you can find it at A Place Called Fiction, of all places. It also contains a snazzy picture of Tom Pawlik himself sporting a fine leather jacket. The novel is about three people who, after a mysterious storm, find everyone else has disappeared except a creepy young boy and some shadowy "observers." Sounds unnerving enough.

Read the Other Blog Tour Members Before They're Gone!

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Karri Compton
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
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Margaret
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Donita K. Paul
Epic Rat
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

Monday, June 22, 2009

News from the Fishbowl

Sorry, but I've forced the Deej to push back the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour a day. We have news that has to be posted.

GEORGE LUCAS IS THE NEW ARCHBISHOP OF OMAHA

A reader sends us news from the Omaha World Herald:

Cardinals Francis George of Chicago and Justin Rigali of Philadelphia are among the dignitaries expected to attend the July 22 installation of George J. Lucas as Omaha archbishop.

The Mass of installation will be at 2 p.m. at Omaha's St. Cecilia Cathedral. An outdoor reception will follow. Because of limited seating at the cathedral, the installation events will be private, the Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the archdiocese, said Saturday in a statement. [more...]

GIRL WITH CANCER GETS DYING WISH TO SEE UP

And in less humorous but more touching news, Pixar graciously sent an employee with a DVD to the house of a young girl dying of cancer who was too sick to go to the theater to see Up, as MSNBC reports:


The 10-year-old girl desperately wanted to see the new Disney-Pixar movie, “Up.” But the cancer-stricken girl was too sick to go to a theater.

Thanks to a family friend who got in touch with the movie studio Pixar, an employee of the Emeryville-based company arrived at Colby’s home with a DVD copy of the movie, The Orange County Register reported Friday. The girl died later that night. [more...]


ALASTAIR REYNOLDS SCORES A MILLION POUNDS TO WRITE SPACE OPERA

That pretty much says it all, as reported in the Guardian:


As banks struggle and businesses collapse, the science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds is making his own contribution to the flagging UK economy, signing an unprecedented ten-book deal with Gollancz worth £1m.

Reynolds, who has published eight novels with the Orion imprint Gollancz since his 2000 debut, Revelation Space, said he was "amazed and thrilled" to commit himself to the same publisher for the next decade. "It gives me a huge amount of security for the next ten years," he said, "and writers don't have a lot of security. Even at the best of times you're worrying about the next deadline, the next contract. To have that in place is fantastic for me." [more...]

JAPAN CONSIDERS SCIENCE FICTION TO SAVE THE ECONOMY

Or maybe just bad ideas? You decide. io9 reports:


U.S. economists may dabble in science fiction, but only the Japanese are considering resorting to science-fictional ideas to rescue their economy. To avoid the spectre of deflation, the Japanese are considering abolishing cash altogether. [more...]

BUFFY VS. EDWARD

Also, don't miss io9's take on the hilarious Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs. Edward Cullen mashup.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Following the grand tradition of lazy bloggers everywhere, today I fulfill my blog posting quota by acknowledging the holiday you can't have possibly been unaware of. This is because my time was otherwise occupied earlier in the day, and I have a meeting to be at in a few minutes.

In the realm of personal updates, I am, apparently, back from Oregon. It was a quick trip with no hitches. I will tell you about it, probably, at a later date, but can't discuss it right now.

So happy Father's Day. Tomorrow starts this month's Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour, so that will replace Lucky's usual weekly news column. Check back in tomorrow for the info on that. We should have a couple of reviews coming your way in the near future, if we can squeeze penning them into our schedules. In the meanwhile, we strongly encourage you to vote in yesterday's battle royale between the Macross and the Galactica. If you don't, your favorite spacefaring warship might get obliterated by your less favorite spacefaring warship, so vote soon. Remember, you don't have to know the shows to vote; you can vote on who you thought made the strongest arguments.


Holy Joseph, you were always most just; make us relish what is right. You sustained Jesus and Mary in time of trial; sustain us by your help. You provided for all the needs of Jesus and Mary; help the needy of the whole world. You rescued Jesus from Herod who sought to kill Him; save us from our many sins.

You were the foster father of Christ, the priest-victim; make priests faithful to their calling. You were the foster father of Christ, the Divine physician; sustain the sick and obtain relief for them. You died the holiest of deaths in the arms of Jesus and Mary; intercede for the dying. You were the intrepid guardian of the Holy Family; protect all Christian families.

You cared for Jesus with true fatherly love; protect all children in the world. You were a dedicated and honest worker in your trade as a carpenter; teach us to labor for Jesus. You were the faithful and chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary; preserve in all hearts a love of fidelity and purity. You were a model single person and a model father later on; help all human beings to imitate your virtues.

Prayer taken from My Pocket Prayerbook, by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D. Catholic Book Publishing Corp. (New Jersey): 2004.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross vs. Battlestar Galactica



VS.




It's the Snuffmeister here. I'm currently at work on a discussion of that sci-fi anime classic, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. After Deej tortured us by making us watch the entire 1978 Battlestar Galactica, I couldn't help but notice some similarities between the two shows: both are about space-borne aircraft carriers fighting relentless alien assaults as they make their ways, along with a lot of civilian hangers-on, toward Earth. So it occurred to me to ask, if the SDF-1 Macross and the Battlestar Galactica battled each other, which would win?

In the grand tradition of that great website Grudge-Match, we will now debate the issue and hand it to our readers to vote. I will of course argue for the Macross. Deej, the BSG fanboy, will argue for the Galactica. Deej, you're up first.

D.G.D.: Thank you, Snuffles. I look forward to kicking your @5$, and I look forward to seeing the Galactica kick the Macross's @5$. Let's begin with a discussion of armament. The Galactica, not being limited by such pesky things as physics, has an unknown number of highly maneuverable fighter craft, some of which are piloted by hot babes. It is also arrayed with numerous laser cannons designed to take on capital ships as well as eliminate enemy fighters. In addition to that, it has its powerful forward lasers, which can destroy an enemy capital ship or even cleanse an entire planet's atmosphere of nuclear missiles. On top of that, it has some missiles of its own, which, judging by the stock footage used during their launch, are rather potent. At least two of their pilots are both aces and protagonists, meaning they are unkillable. And Lorne Greene is at the battleship's helm. And the bridge has red lighting and moving parts, making it really cool and therefore harder to destroy. The Macross, on the other hand, thinks a bratty teen J-pop idol is a super weapon.

Snuffles: Don't try to end your gibberish by changing the subject; we'll discuss Minmay later, if we can't avoid it. I contest your absurd claims that the Galactica has weapons superior to the Macross. The Macross, too, has an "unknown number"--an apparently limitless number--of fighter craft, but the Valkyrie fighters are not mere X-Wing knockoffs like the Galactica's Vipers. The Valkyries are not fighters only, but can transform into giant robots, because you simply can't have good anime without giant robots. The Macross also has on board an "unknown number" of vaguely anthropomorphic and heavily armed Destroid tanks, which can crawl on the outside of the Macross to repel enemy assaults. And as for your "forward lasers," it is to laugh. The Macross has its massive main cannon, which can take out numerous enemy capital ships at once. And did you say missiles? Missiles? You are perhaps forgetting what the Macross is famous for--that's right, I mean the Macross Missile Massacre! Every single one of the Macross's fighters carries something upwards of eight bajillion missiles, and at least five hundred of those get launched even in a typical attack on a fighter. You forget, too, that the Macross is not just a space ship: it's a transformer. The Macross itself can turn into a gigantic robot and launch its Daedalus Attack, in which it punches one arm into an enemy ship, opens a bay, and fires off enough missiles to riddle the entire enemy ship from the inside!

D.G.D.: You're getting over-excited, Snuffles. I'm sorry, but your missiles are simply no threat. As I already pointed out, the Galactica can cleanse an entire planet, in a sanitary and environmentally friendly way, of its missiles. Do you think it can't cleanse the air, or the vacuum, of your so-called missile massacre? The Macross's fighters will find their favorite weapon useless, rendering them vulnerable to the laser blasts of the Galactica and its Vipers.

Snuffles: The Macross is, I admit, vulnerable to lasers. However, with its point defense system, an impenetrable but limited force field, it can stop most incoming laser blasts or projectile weapons and prevent major damage. It is even capable of generating a fully encompassing force field for a limited time. The Galactica has no force field at all. It is vulnerable not only to fighter assaults but to the Macross's main gun as well, which could take it out in a single blast. You will notice, too, that the crew of the Macross is not stingy in the use of this cannon, whereas the Galactica's big lasers get used about twice in the entire series.

D.G.D.: The Galactica uses its big weapons when it needs to, because its commander is wise and judicious. The Macross is infamous for its weapon wastefulness.

Snuffles: Ha! That's because the Macross can never run out of weapons! May I remind you, the Macross has infinite supplies. In fact, the Macross more-or-less defines the concept of Infinite Supplies. That means that no matter how many assaults the Galactica launches, the Macross will still have another fleet of transforming Valkyrie battroids, another platoon of Destroid tanks, and more missiles. On top of that, the Macross can never run out of the abundant food and toys for the 60,000+ people living in decadent luxury in its cargo bay. The Macross can do it all, and in a single ship! By contrast, the Galactica has to drag along a ragtag fugitive fleet where most of the people live in boxcars.

D.G.D.: Most of the people in the Fleet might live in boxcars, but there's still plenty of decadent luxury for the Galactica characters who count. But never mind that--the real issue is military capability, and the Galactica's supply of fighters is every bit as limitless as the Macross's.

Snuffles: But there's another factor you're forgetting--engineering. The civilians and military personnel of the Macross managed to put together an entire city inside their ship, gleaming and beautiful with good sanitation and uncongested streets, and they built it in the space of two weeks. That city gets destroyed something like four or five times in the course of the show, and it is always shiny and new again by the next episode. And don't forget that they built the entire city out of junk floating in space! These people are friggin' geniuses. There is nothing the Galactica can do to the Macross that the Macross can't have repaired in a day. On the other hand, the Galactica crew had to spend an entire episode fighting a fire that threatened to destroy the ship. One fighter exploding in the landing bay or near the bridge and the Galactica is potentially finished.

D.G.D.: Nonsense. The massive damage to the Galactica incurred by that fire was repaired by the next episode. Both these ships have unlimited fighters, unlimited supplies, and instant repair capability--unless the plot for that week dictates that they need to sustain massive damage or run out of something. In fact, considering the infinite resources, a battle between these two ships might take a while...

Snuffles: Hold on, I wasn't finished dismantling your dumb arguments yet. You mention Lorne Greene, and I'm sure he's cool and all, but Captain Global (or Gloval, or however you want to spell it) is pretty cool himself, especially when he does that one-visible-eye-under-his-hat shtick. Also, you discuss the Galactica's cool bridge. Now, admittedly, the Galactica does have a pretty cool bridge, but the Macross, you will note, has the original Bridge Bunnies.

D.G.D.: Wait a minute, are you claiming that a bridge crew made up of giggly schoolgirls trumps cool moving parts?

Snuffles: Yes, of course.

D.G.D.: That's crazy. While the bridge crew of the Galactica is on the ball and dealing with the battle, the bridge crew of the Macross will probably be in town looking for guys to take them to the disco. Speaking of which, notice that the Galactica has special vehicles to move pilots rapidly to their fighters, meaning the Galactica can deploy its fighters quickly. But on the Macross, the pilots, who spend most of their time wandering around town, have to hail a taxi. The Vipers will have already devastated most of the Macross by the time the Valkyries manage to launch. Furthermore, Hikaru, or Rick Hunter, or whatever his name is, does something in just about every episode that could get him court-marshaled, yet he never gets in trouble. This is all evidence of lax military discipline.

Snuffles: Hikaru's questionable actions are nothing compared to Starbuck's, so don't even start. The Macross has enough discipline to ward off countless Zentradi attacks, so I'd say they're doing fine. In fact, if you can judge a ship by its enemies, I'd say the Macross has held off more formidable foes than the Galactica--the Zentradi are fifty-foot giants who know only war and have millions of ships and the capacity to wipe out entire planets. But the Cylons are jerky robots who drop like flies in every battle.

D.G.D.: Excuse me, are we talking about the same Zentradi who thought a girl in a swimsuit was a secret weapon? The Zentradi who were paralyzed by the sight of Hikaru and Misa sucking face? The Zentradi who thought a Kung fu movie was evidence that humans possess superpowers? The Zentradi who lost the will to fight because the Macross was broadcasting J-pop music? (Admittedly, I have a similar reaction to J-pop.) The Cylons also destroy whole planets yet show a curious inability to take out one battleship, but for all their faults, at least the Cylons are not distracted and demoralized by attractive women; we know this for a fact, because if they were, the female cast of Battlestar Galactica would have devastated them instantly. You can keep your pouty J-pop idols and bubbleheaded bridge crew: we have Laurette Spang, Maren Jensen, and Anne Lockhart, any one of whom could destroy the entire Zentradi fleet single-handedly by batting her eyelashes. I note that the Zentradi are even more freaked out by the sight of children than they are by the sight of women; witness, therefore, the awesome power of Boxey, his robotic dog, and all the kids who show up as extras. Battlestar Galactica beats Macross on both the Babe Factor and the cuteness factor, even though Macross is an anime.

Snuffles: Ha! But everyone knows Boxey and his dog are annoying!

D.G.D.: Everyone also knows Minmay is annoying.

Snuffles: Curses! Very well, the Galactica has Babe Factor...but wouldn't you agree that Babe Factor has now been permanently ruined...by Tricia Helfer?

D.G.D.: Aaaaarrrgghhh!!! Never say that name in my presence!! Just you wait until Warner Bros. comes out with that live-action Robotech movie, and then I shall have my revenge!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Art Page

Once upon a time, we used to link art pages and artists from time to time around here, and it's time to start that again, so we'll start with Theresa Henderson's art. Theresa Henderson is a Catholic artist who paints beautiful landscapes, among other things.

You guys go look at that. The blog won't be updated for a few days, as I'm getting on a plane to Oregon and leaving the computer behind.

Monday, June 15, 2009

News from the Fishbowl

PUBLISHER SUED FOR PLAGIARISM IN HARRY POTTER

According to MSNBC, the estate of Adrian Jacobs is suing Bloomsbury Publishing, claiming that J. K. Rowling lifted ideas for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from Jacobs's book The Adventures of Willy the Wizard.

[A statement] named the estate's trustee as Paul Allen, and said that Rowling had copied "substantial parts" of "The Adventures of Willy the Wizard -- No 1 Livid Land" written by Jacobs in 1987.

It added that the plot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire copied elements of the plot of Willy the Wizard, including a wizard contest, and that the Potter series borrowed the idea of wizards traveling on trains.

"Both Willy and Harry are required to work out the exact nature of the main task of the contest which they both achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers, in order to discover how to rescue human hostages imprisoned by a community of half-human, half-animal fantasy creatures," the estate statement said. [more...]

CAPTAIN AMERICA COMES BACK

And...no one is surprised. Super heroes, of course, have a habit of not staying dead. Reports CNN:

"The tenor of the world now is when we're at a point where we want to believe in heroes. Someone who can lead the way," said [Marvel Executive Editor Tom] Breevort. "It just feels like the right time." [more...]

Oh, gag. He's coming back as Obama.

ROBOT HOLOCAUST INEVITABLE

Just make sure it has good special effects. Reports TMCnet:

"The conversation I'm hearing is less about a takeover," said Dennis Roberson, vice provost of new initiatives at Illinois Institute of Technology. "It's more insidious _ it's about bionic capabilities being implanted, working their way upward, getting closer to the brain." Cyborgs? "The way we think about technology, especially robots, is completely driven by science-fiction scenarios," said P.W. Singer, director of the 21st Century Defensive Initiative at the Brookings Institution and author of "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century." He said that while researching his book he talked to a military officer whose ideas of what to build came from watching "The Empire Strikes Back." "We don't have to reach a world where metal ones are coming for us," he said. "It's a reality. They're here. We've flown 7,000 drones in Iraq. You could argue we're in a robot war in Pakistan right now." [more...]

Public Service Announcement

As a Christian blogger, and especially as a Christian blogger with an audience consisting largely of fanboys, I am obligated, morally, to alert you to these dangers:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

And on That Note...

I have never cared much for chastity rings. Although, since becoming Catholic, my view of religious paraphernalia (even kitschy religious paraphernalia) has grown more generous, something about the chastity ring bugs me, something that until now I have been unable to frame exactly in words. Now I know what it is. A friend sends along this quote from Miss Manners (which you can find here):

Dear Miss Manners,
For my sixteenth birthday, my parents took me to dinner and gave me a beautiful ring set with precious stones (sapphires and a tiny diamond) that doubles as a chastity ring. I am now almost eighteen, and lately I have been considering moving my chastity ring from my right hand ring finger (where I have worn it thus far) to my left hand ring finger, which I know is traditionally the finger used for engagement and wedding rings. I like the symbolism of putting my chastity ring on that finger, but I don't want people to misinterpret my intentions. I would greatly appreciate your opinion.

Gentle Reader,
Allowing prospective suitors to believe that you are engaged is certainly one way to preserve your chastity. Perhaps in perpetuity.

However, Miss Manners feels obliged to warn you that polite society does not recognize such a thing as a chastity ring. It is so polite that it presumes that a lady is chaste unless publicly proven otherwise.

That last paragraph pretty much sums it up. It is a bad move to act as if men and women who treat marriage with respect are doing something extraordinary.

Of course, on the other hand, Miss Manners is talking about "polite society," and today that would be made up of, what, ten or twenty people? I recall an occasion in college on which, in the course of an ordinary conversation, a friend stated outright, erroneously, that I was sleeping with a certain young lady, and the young lady was even present in the room and participating in the conversation. Had this friend been a man, "polite society" probably would have obliged me to punch him in the face. (I should ask Miss Manners about that.)

What makes that incident remarkable is that the friend in question had no inkling that she was making accusations, ruining reputations, or being incredibly rude. Because she thought (again, erroneously) that the young lady and I were dating, she assumed we were sleeping together. Just as "polite society" assumes chastity, regular everyday rude society now assumes fornication.

Where exactly can I find this "polite society"? I'd very much like to go there.

Crossroads Walks for Life

After Mass today, we had a visit and a short talk from a participant in Crossroads, an organization that sponsors volunteers, mainly college students, who spend their summers walking across the continental United States, educating people about the Pro-Life movement, protesting at abortion mills, and praying as they go. You can see their website here. Although I certainly am pleased with the good work these people are doing in furthering awareness about horrors and indignities of abortion, I am probably bringing it up in this space because I was especially charmed by the young woman who gave the post-Mass presentation. I told Father afterward that if he had women like that asking for money at every Mass, I'd probably go broke.

And then we have further Pro-Life information, to make a sort of counter-balance to that celebration of sterility they call LGBT Pride Month. The bill HR 2410, known as the Foreign Relations Reauthorization Act, has come before the House of Representatives. The bill would mean global promotion of abortion by the U.S. You can contact your representative through this link to ask him to oppose the bill.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Messing Around


It's the Deej here, comin' atcha. Some time ago, when Lucky stole my camera and posted slightly risqué pictures of me at Sundance, a reader astutely noted that, in said pictures, I was without my sunglasses. This is a fact; indeed, I lost my sunglasses during an archaeological survey, which is unfortunate, for they were designed to attach to my prescription glasses. I have since learned I need my sunglasses, as the sunlight is simply too powerful for me here on your Earth.

Realizing I would have to replace my shades, and realizing they come in two classes, I went to get myself some cheap sunglasses. Alas, I was unable to beat the masses, but I got the sunglasses anyway. Behold:


They're almost more like goggles than sunglasses, since I had to get them specially designed to fit over the gigantic frog-eyes I developed after I foolishly went outside at noon, exposing myself to the daily rain of radioactive isotope. In addition to the eyes, of course, the radioactive rain gave me the ability to read minds and turned me into a psychopath. Say my name! Say my name!!

The result of the new physiological peculiarities and the new sunglasses is, of course, a new look:

I even wear them...at night.

Yeah, man. Anyway, in other news, I have a friend here who makes rosaries and chaplets, and I wanted to show off the nice St. Philomena chaplet she recently made for me. St. Philomena is, of course, the [unofficial] patron saint and muse of struggling Catholic sf writers.


That's three white beads representing St. Philomena's purity and in honor of the Blessed Trinity, followed by thirteen red beads for the number of years she lived until her martyrdom. A St. Philomena medal goes on the end of the tail, and my friend also affixed a Marian icon in the middle. The prayers are an Apostle's Creed followed by three Our Fathers, followed by this thirteen times:


Hail, O holy Saint Philomena, whom I acknowledge, after Mary, as my advocate with the Divine Spouse; intercede for me now and at the hour of my death. Saint Philomena, beloved daughter of Jesus and Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Darak the Dragonsaint loves his St. Philomena chaplet.

Well, that's all I had to say. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm just gonna stand here and look cool.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

News from the Fishbowl

Hi, it's Lucky. I'm a day late, but I'm here, and I'm finally over my cold. I'd like to thank Phenny the Phoenix, who kindly dribbled chicken soup into my bowl while I was sick. Deej, on the other hand, just ignored me.

Here's my lastest news gatherings:

NEW GENE WOLFE COLLECTION

A more-or-less new collection of Gene Wolfe's short fiction, The Best of Gene Wolfe, is out (it's been out for a few months, but we move slow here). You can read a review at Boston.com.

FINALISTS FOR BRITISH FANTASY AWARDS

The list is out and available over at Locus.

BEN BOVA ON ETHANOL

According to Ben Bova's column, ethanol derived from corn, when used for fuel, produces more carbon-dioxide than gasoline. When I told the Deej, he nodded and said, "There's only one thing I want to do with ethanol."

BORDERS SF BLOG

Borders, as in the bookstore, has a new blog on science fiction. An article on the subject is here at PR Newswire, and the blog itself is here.

DOMING HOUSTON

Slow news day? Associated Content discusses what it would take to put the city of Houston under a dome. I thought Atlanta was supposed to be the southern city to get a dome.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Movie Review: Drag Me to Hell

Dragged to the theater!

Drag Me to Hell, written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi. Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, and Lorna Raver. Universal Pictures (2009). Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AIII--Adults.

At time of writing, the film has a 93% rating on the Tomatometer. See Joseph's review at Life's Enchanting.

Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man films, got his start in movies with the cult classic Evil Dead, an ultra-low-budget zombie film he made in college and later turned into a trilogy that established him as an undisputed master of comedic horror, as well as an undisputed master of innovative cinematography and editing. If you've never experienced Evil Dead, you owe it to yourself to get liquored up (so it appears to make sense) and at least watch Army of Darkness. It would be absurd to die without having seen the "groovy" sequence (you'll know which one I mean) and the final fight in the grocery store. Hail to the king, baby!

In Drag Me to Hell, Raimi returns to his roots with a bubblegum horror flick abounding in cheap thrills, cheap laughs, gross-out gags, one-liners, and schlock (and lots and lots of Evil Dead references). Taken by itself, it offers little to quibble about. Taken in relation to the rest of Raimi's work, however, it is disappointing in that it breaks no new ground, but rather retreads ground Raimi has already thoroughly covered.

The plot, what there is of it, involves Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a sweet and bubbly farm-girl-turned-loan-officer. When an elderly gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), begs her for an extension on her mortgage, Christine, eyeing a promotion, makes the "tough decision" and refuses. Mrs. Ganush takes the logical next step and attacks Christine in that classic horror film location, an empty parking garage, where (after an impressive, signature Raimi fight sequence) she lays on her an ancient gypsy curse: for three days, Christine will be tormented by the cartoonish goat-demon Lamia (not to be confused with the mythological figure), after which the Lamia will drag her to straight to hell.

That means three days' worth of projectile vomit, explosive nosebleeds, hell-flies, scary shadows, creaking noises, and eyeballs popping up in weird places as Christine repeatedly goes to a medium (Dileep Rao) to try to find ways to lift the curse. Unfortunately, Christine never quite figures out that if a monster tries to come in here, you have to kick its ask. Otherwise, if it comes in here, it's gonna kick your ask.

The film poses as a morality tale, but does little to develop that theme. On a few occasions, Christine lies and claims it's her boss's fault rather than her own that she foreclosed on Mrs. Ganush's house. This is apparently meant to establish some plausibility for the curse and some notion that Christine is getting her just desserts. However, the movie's focus is on jump scares and sight gags: Drag Me to Hell wants us to get scared and then laugh at ourselves for getting scared; it doesn't care whether we take home a message about being kind to others.

On the other hand, Drag Me to Hell is arguably a little subversive, poking fun at morality tale horror by purposely using a mundane situation (refusing to extend a mortgage, of all things) as a pretense for supernatural punishment. The movie has the characteristics of a parody; its plot line is more-or-less identical to a "scare the hell into you" low-budget pious horror film I watched as a Baptist kid (and if you've never experienced the unique joys of pious Christian horror, you owe it to yourself to see The Appointment, which has a plot outline nearly identical to Drag Me to Hell, except with Christian elements).

Surprisingly (to me), the review at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declares the film more-or-less harmless, saying it "need not be taken seriously," even though the USCCB reviewers are usually, in my experience, unsympathetic to gross-out jokes and horror films. Regarding my own emotional reaction to the movie, I found it quite funny and only nominally frightening, but I was rather disturbed by the fight sequence involving the beating of an elderly woman. Granted, the elderly woman was the assailant, but I still found myself wincing when Mrs. Ganush got her dentures knocked out against a car dashboard. Even in intentionally tasteless but good-humored films like this one, I don't find the beating of elderly women to be very cool.

I see two potential Christian reactions to the film. One I will call the Lewis response, and the other I will call the Chesterton response, not because I think I know how either C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton would respond to the movie, but because I will base my two responses off their writings.

In The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape advises his nephew Wormwood that, should the man Wormwood is tempting ever come to suspect Wormwood's existence, he ought to do the following:

If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

Drag Me to Hell, figuratively speaking, has a lot of red tights. With its exaggerated, comical, cartoonish depictions of demons, not to mention its silly magical ways of attempting to appease or dispel them, it arguably does what Screwtape proposes. Though the movie has the characteristics of a stern morality tale, by making light of sin, retribution, and the supernatural, it might not have the effect a morality tale should have on its audience.

On the other hand, in Alarums and Discursions, G. K. Chesterton has an essay entitled "The Nightmare" on the subject of what we now call the horror genre. To get the full sense of what Chesterton is stabbing at, I must quote him at some length:


That is the stern condition laid upon all artists touching this luxury of fear. The terror must be fundamentally frivolous. Sanity may play with insanity; but insanity must not be allowed to play with sanity. Let such poets...be free to imagine what outrageous deities and violent landscapes they like. By all means let them wander freely amid their opium pinnacles and perspectives. But these huge gods, these high cities, are toys; they must never for an instant be allowed to be anything else. Man, a gigantic child, must play with Babylon and Ninevah, with Isis and with Ashtaroth. By all means let him dream of the Bondage of Egypt, so long as he is free from it...

In one of Stevenson's letters there is a characteristically humorous remark about the appalling impression produced on him in childhood by the beasts with many eyes in the Book of Revelations: "if that was heaven, what in the name of Davy Jones was hell like?" Now in sober truth there is a magnificent idea in these monsters of the Apocalypse. It is, I suppose, the idea that beings really more beautiful or more universal than we are might appear to us frightful and even confused. Especially they might seem to have senses at once more multiplex and more staring; an idea very imaginatively seized upon in the multitude of eyes. I like those monsters beneath the throne very much. But I like them beneath the throne. It is when one of them goes wandering in deserts and finds a throne for himself that evil faith begins, and there is (literally) the devil to pay--to pay in dancing girls and human sacrifice.

I'm sure we're all ready to condemn human sacrifice (I admit to being more reluctant to condemn dancing girls), but what Chesterton is saying is that the genre of horror literature should always be a frivolous and humorous enterprise simply because to treat it seriously is to lose sight of what is wholesome and good. Horror should, in his estimation, make us scared--and then make us laugh at ourselves for being scared. Certainly Drag Me to Hell follows Chesterton's instructions. Taking Chesterton's essay as a starting point, we may agree with the USCCB reviewer who says the film "need not be taken seriously." Beginning here, we may go back and find that the film really doesn't contradict Lewis's warning in The Screwtape Letters at all, for even Screwtape is an absurd and humorous character, a droning bureaucrat for whom hell is a business operation complete with offices and paperwork. The danger of the Thing in Red Tights is not that we might mock devils, but simply that we might decide devils don't exist because they can be mocked, an illogical conclusion. Drag Me to Hell is uninterested in the existence or nonexistence of demons; it is merely interested in mocking them, a not altogether impious enterprise: the humorous devil character--along with the humorous mummery used to dispel him--appears in the Book of Tobit.

(I must give a mild spoiler warning for this section.) Worth reading is Annie Young Frisbie's review of the movie at Christianity Today, partly because (I have to say it) there's something charming about the name Annie Young Frisbie. Frisbie takes seriously Drag Me to Hell's moral matters and compares the film to Raimi's earlier Simple Plan, which also depicts bad moral choices resulting in downward spirals. Frisbie writes, "It's easy to see that the theology of Drag Me to Hell misses out on the glorious gospel truth that Jesus Christ triumphed over death so that Christine and the rest of us don't have to."

Perhaps, but that assumes the movie has ambitions beyond the modest ones of being an effective shock comedy. If we were to seriously compare Drag Me to Hell against Christian theology, we might find the movie lacking: it has an almost total absence of any notion of repentance, restitution, redemption, or grace. It is a film about damnation and damnation only. Even though it contains demons and hell, it is also curiously lacking in Judeo-Christian references or imagery; Christine goes repeatedly to a medium and holds a seance to get rid of her demon, but not once does she try waving a crucifix or splashing holy water after the manner of monster films, or (more likely to be effective) repenting of her misdeed. However, even in this arguable deficiency, the film shows a certain perception; there may be no grace here, but the need for grace is evident: "The Lamia cannot be abolished by a medium," as one character states. Christine has sinned, but she tries to escape the consequences only through means that require no change on her part. Throughout the movie, Christine seeks to keep her sin and to find salvation, too. She discovers, to her loss, that she cannot have both. That, by the way, is the difference between what Christine attempts in Drag Me to Hell and what the characters accomplish in the Book of Tobit; Tobit may depict exorcism by means of burning fish guts, but even more important to the story are prayer and good deeds united to the grace of God. Drag Me to Hell is not really missing out; it's merely limited in what it says, but what it says, it says well, considering that it pretends to be nothing more than a B-movie.

Content Advisory: Contains bloodless action violence, frequent gross-out humor, frightening imagery, a nongraphic premarital bedroom scene, and some vulgarity.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Drag Me to Hell:

Myth Rating: Medium (classic storyline, use of mostly made-up folklore)

Quality: Medium-High (superbly directed, highly entertaining, lacking in character development if anyone actually cares)

Ethics/Religion: Medium (okay morality tale, contains an unmarried couple in bed and some crass language)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Evil Dead the Musical

While we're all waiting for the review of Drag Me to Hell, the latest Sam Raimi movie, which heavily references Raimi's famous Evil Dead trilogy, don't forget to check out the official website for Evil Dead: The Musical.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

David Eddings, Author of the Belgariad, Dies at 77

Rest in peace.

Read the article here.

Upcoming Review: Drag Me to Hell



Haven't had much time for movies of late, so I'm setting some time aside. Of all the films coming out this season, this looks the most likely to rot my brain. Naturally, it's the one to which I gravitate.

Monday, June 1, 2009

News from the Fishbowl

And now, everybody, give it up for our news girl, the bold, beautiful, blonde...er, gold-colored...Miss Lucky the Goldfish!

Actually, Lucky's out today with a bad head cold, so I'm filling in. Just so you know, a head cold for a fish isn't quite like a head cold for you and me. We're talking serious stuff here. I was considering whether to take her to a doctor, who wouldn't know what to do with her, or to a veterinarian, which would make her feel insulted. I opted for the veterinarian, so I'm once again in the doghouse. Er, fishhouse. Er, whatever.

Anyway, I don't know how Lucky does what she does, as I don't have her Google-fu skills, a fact she's demonstrated to me on several occasions, especally when we're fighting over the remote: I attack with Shaolin Boxing, and she counter-attacks with Google-fu. She wins every time. I attribute this to her feminine charms and wiles, whereas Snuffles over here attributes it to "the Deej being a wimp." What I mean to say is, this might not be much of a news post.

Anyway, check io9, which has a big fat list of science fiction stuff coming out in June, complete with a calendar. Worth looking at if you need to schedule your movies, DVD releases, author appearances, and new comics.

Similarly, SF Signal has a hodge-podge of info for this first day of June, including some interviews and free fiction.

In the "slow news day" sf news, CNN has a piece on why the future didn't turn out the way we used to picture.