Monday, August 30, 2010

Technical Difficulty

Sorry for the gap in posts.  I am back at the seminary, but I'm experiencing some difficulties with the internet connection.  Posts will resume in the near future.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Brief Reflection on Michael D. O'Brien's Landscape with Dragons

A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind

I've been posting a lot about Michael D. O'Brien lately, enough that sooner or later a reader is going to say, "Get off it, already!"  Fair enough, reader, but please indulge me this one more time.  I want to share a single paragraph from O'Brien's book on fantasy literature, A Landscape with Dragons.  The paragraph is a little gem, and, I think, it reflects some of issues with the book as a whole.

Here is the paragraph, in which O'Brien is discussing kid lit horror writer R. L. Stine.  Pay close attention to the words he chooses:

Stine does not descend to the level of dragging sexual activity into the picture, as do so many of his contemporaries. He doesn't have to; he has already won the field. He leaves some room for authors who wish to exploit the market with other strategies. Most new fiction for young adults glamorizes sexual sin and psychic powers and offers them as antidotes to evil. In the classical fairy tale, good wins out in the end and evil is punished. Not so in many a modern tale, where the nature of good and evil is redefined: it is now common for heroes to employ evil to defeat evil, despite the fact that in the created and sub-created order this actually means defeat. [pp. 67-68]

Wait a minute, did he say "psychic powers"?  He starts out talking about sexual content in YA literature, which is indeed a problem whether or not "most" YA fiction actually contains it, but where did the psychic powers come from?  I can certainly understand parents being concerned about their children indulging in sexual sin, but are parents really worried about their children developing psychic powers?  I halfway wonder if he threw that in there just to check if we're paying attention:  "Dude, did you just say psychic powers?"  "Yeah, didn't think I'd say that in a conversation about sex, didja?"

Regarding sex in YA fiction, probably the best opinion on the matter that I've seen comes from the great Orson Scott Card, who once at SF Signal told a room full of horny sf author/libertines that the YA label is a promise to librarians and parents that the book is restrained in content, so if they want to write sex scenes, they should write adult books without the YA label.  He was immediately attacked, and viciously, for saying things other than what he said.

But regarding this paragraph from O'Brien, it demonstrates, I believe, one of A Landscape with Dragon's biggest flaws, aside from baffling non sequitur:  dishonest argument.  The subject is sex in YA fiction, and the author given as an example is R. L. Stine, who, O'Brien tells us, does not put sex in YA fiction, but O'Brien accuses him of it anyway.  He would put sex in there, mind you.  He just "doesn't have to."  He "leaves some room" for other authors to write about sex, as a favor to them.  And I don't even know what that means; can one YA book with sex crowd the others out?

Blech.  The only one with psychic powers around here is Michael O'Brien himself, who is apparently clairvoyant enough to discover why R. L. Stine doesn't write what he doesn't.*  Even when an author is restrained in the content he puts in a book, O'Brien can still invent a reason to attack him.

*D.G.D.:  But it hasn't given him clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels' hidden fort--*choke*
O'BRIEN:  I find your lack of faith disturbing...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Father Thomas Euteneuer on Harry Potter

The Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is currently on, and this post will actually prove relevant to it.  Really.

In a recent post at Conversion Diary, Jennifer Fulwiller interviews Fr. Thomas Euteneuer about exorcism and the conversation stumbles into the subject of fantasy literature, so it seemed good to me to quote him at length and offer some comments.

I would encourage anyone who [enjoys the Harry Potter seriest] to read the articles by Michael O'Brien on Harry Potter and other occult phenomena. The best one is "Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children’s Culture." He has recently come out with a book of a similar name. He holds that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling writes out of a completely pagan worldview, and even though there may be some points of contact between paganism and Christianity (some basic notions of good and evil, for example), the totally pagan mindset of the Harry Potter 400-million-book-onslaught is what is dangerous.

The Harry Potter series will not make a person demon possessed; it will, rather, normalize the existence of demons and infuse the occult language and imagery that celebrates them into the minds of the young. It is absolutely not true to say that this stuff doesn’t get people involved in the occult. Go and look at the Harry Potter section in Barnes and Noble and see what occult and witchcraft phenomena this series has spawned for our youth.

It is also my contention that the vampire craze is a direct result of a decade of Harry. Pretty soon the Harry Potter generation, who are now a decade older, get bored with the childish "Hogwart School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" and spell casting, and they need a little more "mature" form of occult entertainment.

...

Tolkein's and Lewis's works come entirely out of a Christian worldview, despite the use of magic and some occult powers. In Lewis and Tolkein, the use of these preternatural powers is not ambiguous like it is in the Harry Potter series, and the figures who use them are either totally good and Christ-like (Gandalf, for example, becomes a Christ figure in his use of power to heal and protect people from evil) or they are totally evil and use power like demons do to harm and control (i.e., Saruman and Sauron).  [more...]

Michael D. O'Brien's writings on fantasy, which Fr. Euteneuer offers as his only sources here, are filled with self-contradictions and factual errors.  I've discussed O'Brien' before, here and here, particularly.  But we need not discuss O'Brien now; now, I want to focus specifically on Fr. Euteneuer's comments.

First, the vampire craze does not grow directly out of Harry Potter, or at least, it would be difficult to demonstrate a direct relationship.  I suppose Harry and vampires may be related in that Harry Potter increased the interest in fantasy books generally, but the popularity of vampire romance grows largely out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which draws on the works of Anne Rice, except reinvigorated with elements from ye olde Dracula.

If we're speaking of one series in particular, from what I've read, the "occult powers" in Twilight are quite minimal.  Twilight is about super-powered bishie boys, not about witchcraft.  Although the popularity of Twilight is indeed something of a mystery, it probably has more to do with the beefcake protagonist who doesn't treat his girlfriend like dirt than with a hunger for "occult entertainment."  Influenced by the thought of John C. Wright and L. Jagi Lamplighter, I would also add that the interest in vampire romance has arisen out of a complicated set of factors, including the increased disregard for marriage, the dislike many have for strong male protagonists in fiction, and the loss of inhibitions and prohibitions related to sexual activity.  These things make good romance impossible; vampires, with their powers and the prohibitions and taboos and what-not surrounding them, make romance possible again, but only in a profoundly distorted way.  Meyer probably deserves more credit than she usually gets for the Twilight series, which I interpret as an attempt to "baptize" vampire romance and introduce elements of chastity and chivalry to it.  I think Meyer failed, and I'm unconvinced that such a project could ever be successful, but I might add that for many, Twilight might be the closest thing they have ever seen to a chaste romance, and it might get some of its readers thinking in the right direction.  I suspect many of us Christian critics, myself included, may one day discovered that in bashing Meyer's work we were unknowingly attacking our allies.

Also, returning to Fr. Euteneuer's statement, I'm bothered when I see the word occult used loosely.  I realize that interest in the occult, particularly among the youth, is a problem, and it's Fr. Euteneuer's job as an exorcist to be familiar with that problem.  (And I should probably add, too, that I most certainly cannot consider myself familiar with the occult, so I'm in the position of criticizing someone more knowledgeable than myself.)  However, "the occult" is an extremely loose hodgepodge of things ranging from conspiracy theories to minor religious movements to the more unsavory parlor games.  Making a fantasy novel look bad by labeling it "occult" won't do; rather, when criticizing a book, we have to take the time to engage the book's content.  To dismiss the Harry Potter series by calling it "occult entertainment" and to suggest it drives people toward worse "occult entertainment" is to fail to engage with the Harry Potter books, doing disservice to them and their author.

Notice Fr. Euteneuer's comments about Lewis and Tolkien and the "occult powers":  "...the characters who use them are either totally good...or they are totally evil."  It is my experience that the enemies of the Harry Potter series are inevitably the enemies of good character-building as well; for some reason, fantasy heroes are not allowed to have weaknesses, and fantasy villains are not allowed to have virtues, a rule that doesn't limit other genres.  Moralists have probably attempted to lay down this rule because they confuse giving a good character flaws or a bad character positive attributes with nihilism or some kind of moral corruption, but this is not the case.  Allowing a hero to have flaws is not the same thing as calling good evil, and if done well it can even call a reader to self-examination.  Creating flawed heroes is also a regular part of good writing.  Besides this, Fr. Euteneuer is wrong; Saruman is not totally evil, but a good man who becomes corrupted, and Gandalf has character flaws that make his own corruption a possibility.  Lucy in the Narnia books uses magic, and she is a simple human; in fact, her own flaws become most starkly obvious when she finds herself in possession of the power of magic.  The point in both series is that good people can be tempted to evil by the promise of power; the good characters are good not because they are "totally good" in and of themselves as Fr. Euteneneur suggests, but because they overcome their tendencies to evil.

Third, Harry Potter does not have a "totally pagan mindset."  On the contrary, I would go so far as to say the Harry Potter novels are books in which superstition is mocked and Christianity is championed.  The magic of Harry Potter is always presented comically.  When Rowling borrows real lore, especially in the case of the mandrakes appearing in the second novel, she always turns it into a parody.  She does not expect the reader to take mandrake lore, or any other magical mummery, seriously.  Indeed, all the magical world of Harry Potter is based on the Christian, or even the post-Christian, celebration of Halloween, in which silly ghosts and goblins and candy-snarfing children in pointy hats roam the streets and jabber; any squeals of fright quickly turn to laughter because the monsters of Halloween have no power to produce lasting dread.  They have no power because nobody believes in them anymore; the twin forces of Christianity and reason banished them.

Christian themes, however, are abundant in Harry Potter and treated with reverence.  The Bible gets quoted.  All belief in an afterlife is referred back to Christianity.  In the world to come, the good are rewarded and the evil punished.  Death and wickedness are overcome by love.  Parents should have freedom to homeschool.  Harry finds the key to his salvation, which is shaped like a cross, when he is baptized.  Innocence is powerful.  Eternal life sought through artificial means is abominable.  Harry brings healing to the masses by dying and rising from the dead.  And so on.  Harry Potter isn't anything like "totally pagan."

If anything, it's not pagan enough.  J. K. Rowling presents herself as a nominal Christian, and it appears to me that she wrote nominally Christian books.  This is evident both in the numerous Christian elements of the series, but also evident in the very real moral failings.  Harry Potter's seven-volume meditation on death is still too wishy-washy, too accommodating:  there's probably an afterlife, but we can't say for sure, and it's probably best to be a good person just in case, but who knows?  If Harry Potter were really pagan, it could be more forceful.  If it were stoical pagan, it would deny any tomfoolery about an afterlife, but it would demand virtue and nobility of soul as necessary to the preparation for death; its characters would look death in the face unperturbed, going to their inevitable destruction with passions thoroughly mastered by intellect.  If it were Norse pagan, the characters would fight the long, hard, good fight, knowing they are destined to be destroyed in the end, but standing for good nonetheless because it's the right thing do to.

In spite of her Christianity and in spite of her long thinking about it, Rowling doesn't manage to come up with anything on the subject of death as potent and moving as, say, the thoughts on the afterlife that appear in the thoroughly atheist John C. Wright's fantasy series, War of the Dreaming, in which the characters are warned sternly that there is life after death, that they are placed in the world to learn virtue, and that murder is the one crime that will not be forgiven.  Harry Potter isn't pagan or atheist, but weak-tea Christian, and so its worldview is weak-tea Christian.  A good dose of paganism might have done it a world of good.

Speaking of John C. Wright, he has recently posted an essay, at the end of which he quotes a poem from C. S. Lewis, that thoroughly Christian author.  I wish to borrow the poem, for it seems relevant here, and after that I will give a final thought on this matter.

Cliche Came Out of its Cage

by C.S. Lewis

1

You said ‘The world is going back to Paganism’.
Oh bright Vision! I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes,
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreathed in flowers, heralded with flutes,
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem.
Hestia’s fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before
The Lardergods. Unmarried daughters with obedient hands
Tended it. By the hearth the white-armd venerable mother
Domum servabat, lanam faciebat. At the hour
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush
Arose (it is the mark of freemen’s children) as they trooped,
Gleaming with oil, demurely home from the palaestra or the dance.
Walk carefully, do not wake the envy of the happy gods,
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men,
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverence for the aged
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die
Defending the city in battle is a harmonious thing.
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions;
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears …
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.

2

Or did you mean another kind of heathenry?
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth,
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm.
Over its icy bastions faces of giant and troll
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound;
But the bond wil1 break, the Beast run free. The weary gods,
Scarred with old wounds the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the Last defence. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs;
You that have Vichy water in your veins and worship the event
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).

Lewis of course speaks of the nobler parts of paganism, the parts Christianity, of the non-weak-tea kind, absorbed, while the uglier parts she rejected.   Among those uglier parts was the superstitious pagan fear of witches and the violence to which it led.  The Medieval Christians, in love with reason, nearly stamped out that superstition, but when Christendom began to break apart, it came back with a vengeance in the form of the infamous witch-hunts.  Now that we see Western civilization once again collapsing around our ears, it is no surprise that superstition rears its ugly head.  They say that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce:  and so, the first time around, they try innocents as witches and hang or burn them, but the second time around, they cower before a children's book.

Addendum:  Looking back over this essay, I was unhappy with the combative tone I took, which in some places tipped right over into ad hominem.  I've now edited and expanded the essay to make better arguments with less vitriol.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Steven Greydanus: Where Are the Good Men?

Niall Mor of It's All Straw kindly draws my attention to an article by film reviewer Steven Greydanus on the subject of The Expendables and manhood as it appears on film.  Greydanus always impresses me with his level-headedness and calm thoughtfulness.  Also, he once criticized Michael O'Brien's shrill writings on fantasy, which made me into his fan.

Greydanus's article, "Where Have You Gone, Gregory Peck?", appears at the National Catholic Register and more or less says, only more clearly, what I was getting at when I announced that my granddad is awesomer than yours.

Here is Greydanus's take on The Expendables:

If many of today’s action heroes seem lacking in convincing virility, The Expendables is hardly the healthy jolt of masculinity one might wish for. It’s a movie that panders to all of the worst excesses of the 1980s and none of its better instincts. It’s egregious violence pornography, not only soaked in explicit, gratuitous, bone-crunching, blood-spurting violence, but a movie that sees the whole world through the lens of violence, a movie that presents violence as a worldview.

Manhood is seen solely through the lens of the ability to inflict and endure extreme amounts of punishment involving large numbers of opponents. To be a woman is to have essentially one meaningful choice: to be aligned with the wrong man, who will abuse or at least fail to protect you, or with the right man, who will rain vengeance on the wrong man and those around him. (An alliance with the wrong man may also result in sexual menace, torture, etc.)   [more...]

After this, Greydanus goes on to bemoan the lack of manly stars who might step in to give us more decent action films.  "Jackson might," he says, "if he can ever step out from behind Wolverine's shadow."   And, "Russel. Crowe can do anything, but he isn't getting any younger."   He adds, "Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are too old."  I think he means to say they're too old for this...oh, never mind.


I'm not sure it's such a big deal that the actors we have today happen to be baby-faced.  Maybe they just need better, more manly parts to play.  I mean, they're supposed to be able to, you know, act, right?  I'm more inclined to blame the screenwriters and the directors than the men on screen.  I used to do a little acting myself, though not in anyplace anywhere near Hollywood, mind you, and I think I can say that the actor's part, compared to the parts played by the people backstage who work their tails off to get everything ready, is quite small.

Also, contrary to Greydanus, I think Adrien Brody can pull off the manly man thing even if he doesn't quite look the type.  He did it in King Kong, but I'm the only person in the world besides Ebert who likes that remake.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mark Shea on Somebody Else on Anne Rice

Aaaand in case you're not sick of Anne Rice, I was recently speaking to the charming and talented Catholic sf author/editor Karina Fabian, whose latest work appears in The Zombie Cookbook, and whose new novel, Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, will be coming out in March of 2011.  Fabian pointed me to an article by the always humorous and mostly reasonable Mark Shea, appearing in the National Catholic Register. His article is entitled, "'Simple' Is Right," and in it he criticizes a commenter who claims Anne Rice is in the right because the Magisterium has a long history of being T3h 3v1L.*

The article's fine, but what really impresses me is the combox where Shea reprimands his more acerbic conservative readers. So when somebody whose name I won't use says this:

And it’s high past time we orthodox go on the offensive. Instead of responding to the apostates with measured words and mellow tones, we need to metaphorically wad their heresies up and fling them boldly back into their faces. Scripture will demonstrate that our Lord was not averse to the use of sarcasm, ridicule, and invective when the situation warranted it. Down with the Hippie Savior! No more Mr. Nice Jesus!

Shea responds with this:

You make me regret what I wrote. If there’s one thing the Church doesn’t need more of it’s self-appointed bishops declaring fellow Catholics apostate and indulging the sins of anger and self-righteousness. My goal was to attack some particularly dumb *ideas*, not to read my correspondent out of the Church. Far too many self-described “faithful conservative Catholics” do this—and then turn around and declare that torture or the deliberate nuclear murder of civilians is just fine and the bishops need to shut up about that. Fewer excommunications by laity and more charity and humility would do many of our “faithful conservative Catholics” a world of good.

Aside from the unfortunate insertion of the topic of torture and nuclear strikes, which have nothing to do with the discussion, I like that. Go take a gander here.

*That's "evil" for those of you wise enough not to be MegaTokyo junkies.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Granddad Can Lick Your Granddad: Comments on a Review of The Expendables



Josh Tyler has a review of The Expendables over at Cinema Blend.   I haven't seen the movie and have no plans to, but Tyler's review deserves some comments.  Tyler describes the movie as bringing to the screen a certain vision of masculinity that he says has been lost in recent years, and in the process pays backhanded compliments to his grandfather.   He begins the review like this:

When my grandfather was born ninety years ago, he was pushed into a world which expected certain things from him because of his gender. He was a man, he had to stand on his own two feet. He would be a provider, a fixer, and when it was called for, a fighter. A man had to be independent. A man had to be strong. A man had to be in charge. A man had hair on his chest and even more hair on his balls. He’d take care of women, knowing that they couldn’t take care of themselves. He’d keep his emotions to himself, because there were things to be done and no time for tears. He’d make a living with his hands, he’d grow calluses on his finger tips. A man’s role was certain, you were born knowing what kind of a person you were supposed to be.  [more...]

He describes The Expendables as hearkening back to the time of his grandfather, but as he moves into the actual discussion of the movie, he says this:

Every second of The Expendables howls caveman; it screams muscles, and sweat, and grit. You’ll never see any of the Men in this movie in a Toyota Prius. They ride motorcycles whenever possible. If one of these Men needs to drive a four-wheeled vehicle, then that vehicle must be a vintage pickup which growls with unseen power as it prowls down the road. Their guns blaze across the screen with a throaty, manly noise. Every bullet fired is like the roar of a lion, echoing across the savanna. But technology is never used, by anyone, when muscles will do. Why fire off a rocket, when you can hurl missles at your enemies using only the power of your bulging forearm? Characters grunt their lines at the screen, they wear their manhood on their sleeve. If someone gets a tattoo, they get it while sitting on a motorcycle, because while tattoos are manly chairs are for sissies. [more...]

One of these things is not like the other. Aside from the snide remarks about women not being able to take care of themselves and hair on balls, the description of manhood in the first quoted paragraph is worlds away from the description in the second.

I too have a manly grandfather, but he isn't about bulging muscles, grunts, or tattoos.  He came through the Great Depression and fought in World War II.  He taught himself to play the guitar.  He married one woman and stayed married.  He takes his hat off indoors.  He bought a piece of land that had driven previous owners broke and worked it by the sweat of his brow until he had saved enough to send his kids to college.  He doesn't guzzle beer and punch people in the face.  He doesn't drink at all.  He dislikes war films in which drill sergeants scream at the new recruits, because when he was a soldier, soldiers addressed each other calmly and respectfully, like gentlemen.  I have never heard my grandfather brag.  I don't think I've even heard him raise his voice.  He isn't the type to show off bulging muscles and probably never was.  He dresses modestly and practically, and wears a suit on Sunday.

Some years ago, it occurred to me that we may be suffering such a dearth of positive examples of masculinity that we're actually forgetting what it looks like.  I first began to think this when I encountered information about the Christian author of Wild at Heart, John Eldredge, who seems to think truly manly Christian men spend their time hiking and going to dude ranches.  The reductio ad absurdum of Eldredge's brand of Christianity is probably to be found in the Church for Men, whose writers describe everything they like in Christianity as masculine and everything they don't like as feminine.

I again worried that we'd forgotten what masculinity is when I saw 300, a movie I detested, which depicts the ideal man as a screaming, perpetually angry underwear model.  As he appears in that film, Leonidas looks more than anything like an overgrown five-year-old throwing a tantrum with a spear.

Now here it is again in Tyler's review, that same notion that being manly is about enjoying yourself, raging on everybody else, and showing off.  I don't know what Josh Tyler's grandfather was like; maybe he really was the sort of man who hurled missiles with his bulging forearm and talked about his hairy balls, but that's not the image of masculinity I get from my grandfather.  My grandfather is simply a self-controlled and abstemious man who treats others with courtesy, does what needs doing, and doesn't complain.  But masculinity as it appears in Eldredge or 300 or Tyler's movie review appears to be largely about telling the world how masculine you are.

That reminds me of something G. K. Chesterton wrote somewhere or other.  He says it isn't the healthy who are always talking about their health, but the sick.  Healthy people can afford not to think about their health.  If a man believes he has to show off his masculinity all the time, what does that say?   I have never heard my grandfather talk about his masculinity.

Our vision of manhood has largely degenerated into one of braggadocio and violence, which makes manhood that much easier to ridicule and dismiss.  Tyler wavers between praising and dismissing manhood.  Although Tyler argues that men need bloody, sweaty films like The Expendables, he also keeps insisting, "Most of those changes have been for the better."  He describes himself as a "weakling nerd," and says, "I like it that way."  Manhood, by contrast, he describes as the "inner caveman."

But I think what Tyler is calling the "inner caveman" isn't really the inner man.  It's more like the inner animal.  I too have the drives Tyler describes.  I too like action films.  I too would like to slaughter my enemies, but I don't mistake that urge for manliness.  Manliness, masculine power, or virtue, as it is sometimes called, is self-mastery, self-control.  It means properly restraining and harnessing the drives.  Outwardly, it manifests in being courteous, in not whining, and in getting things done, even if those things that need done are humiliating.  It may indeed involve violence, if violence is what needs done, but it doesn't consist in violence.  In fact, rage, such as appears frequently in 300, is a lack of self-control and is therefore unmanly.

I love action movies.  The stories we tell and the stories we enjoy tell us a lot about our desires and needs, and about who we are and how we experience the world.  Perhaps this film really is truly manly.  Perhaps, even though Tyler's own view of manhood is wishy-washy, under all the explosions, the movie is the tale of men being men and doing what they have to do, in which case I can concur with the title of Tyler's review, "Fathers, Don't Let your Sons Grow Up without The Expendables," or perhaps I would modify it to something more awkward like, "Fathers, don't let your sons grow up without the underlying message of The Expendables."  Maybe, even if it's more-or-less junk, it really is a father-son bonding film; I don't know.  I bonded with my dad over Aliens.   One way or the other, just make sure your sons learn a clear understanding of what manhood is.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trailer for Movie Skyline, with Comments


This trailer bugs me. I'm not bugged that it's yet another movie about the invasion of teh 3v1l aliens. Goodness, I don't think we can ever have enough of those. And I'm not bugged that the trailer contains nothing that looks startling or original. I don't believe ideas can ever be completely played out. I think I'm bugged because it pretends to be original even as it's ripping off imagery from Independence Day, as if I'm supposed to say, "Whoa, it totally never occurred to me that aliens could be unfriendly."

I've seen it before and you should know I've seen it before, so either make me feel good about the possibility of seeing it again, or else promise me you're going to do something new.

And did you notice they mentioned Stephen Hawking's name twice in just the trailer? Why does being an astrophysicist and being smart make him an expert on extraterrestrials? Last I checked, we didn't have any experts on extraterrestrials, but if I wanted the next best thing, I'd probably call a biologist or an anthropologist before I'd call an astrophysicist. On second thought, I'd just call the biologist because I guarantee the anthropologist is full of hot air.

MSNBC has a brief article on Hawking's thoughts on aliens, in which he is quoted as saying, "I imagine they might exist in massive ships ... having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach." Wait a minute, that is Independence Day.

Notice at the end of the trailer there that the aliens are sucking people up into their big hovercraft thingies. Is that for food? Why is it that when the bad aliens visit, the first thing they want to eat is human? Are we the only edible thing on this planet? Are we some kind of delicacy? Are we even digestible to something that comes from a distant star? I mean, using humans for food is good old-fashioned campy fun and I firmly believe that bug-eyed monsters should drool over bronze-bikini-clad Earth vixens before being lased to pieces by square-jawed Earth alpha males, but tacking Stephen Hawking's name onto that kind of thing somehow makes it look...stupid. He's a serious scientist of the highest order, and that's the pulpiest kind of literary trash. I'm not sure they go together. Maybe they do, but I'll require some convincing.

On the other hand, if they're using those captured people for something more original than lunch, it might get interesting. Or, if it's not original, perhaps the actual film is less pretentious than the trailer and it will turn out to be good old-fashioned fun.

Monday, August 16, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl

Oh, wow, the new computer is, like, so nice!  When I first met him he told me my scales were pretty and that I had a really nice bowl.  The Deej never pays me compliments like that.

I have neeeews!!!

TRAILER FOR MONSTERS


This is an independent monster movie coming out near the end of October, and you can watch the trailer on iTunes.

RAY BRADBURY TURNS NINETY


Ray Bradbury turns ninety on August 22, and UCLA is paying special homage, partly because he typed Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library.  Read all about it here, where you can even leave a message for the birthday boy!

HOME COMPUTER FINALLY DISCOVERS SOMETHING WHILE PROCESSING ASTRONOMICAL DATA


For the first time in, like, ever, one of those @home programs actually did something.  Idle computers running the Einstein@home program have found a previously unknown pulsar in data from Arecibo Observatory.
"This is a thrilling moment for Einstein@Home and our volunteers. It proves that public participation can discover new things in our universe. I hope it inspires more people to join us to help find other secrets hidden in the data," said Bruce Allen, leader of the Einstein@Home project, Max Planck Institute director and adjunct professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. [more...]
The discovery is credited to the computers of Chris and Helen Colvin, of Ames, Iowa, and Daniel Gebhardt, of Universität Mainz, Musikinformatik, Germany. They were recently seen discussing the matter with some suspicious-looking men in dark suits and sunglasses, and have not been seen since. At the time of writing, the Colvins and Gebhardt were unavailable for comment.

BEAUTIFUL TOUR OF SOLAR SYSTEM


Head over to SF Signal and catch the video of a fantastic tour of a painting of the solar sytem by Licoti.  Note how the music crescendos when it gets to Pluto, which I think really is a planet just because I like it a lot, and because I once met a really nice fungus from there who was kind of cute, sorta.

TOY TIE-INS


In its Monday Hate, i09 explains why toy tie-ins suck:
And who could have predicted the insane extent of today's synergy between the toy biz and the movie biz? I'm not talking about the very excellent and story-driven Toy Story movies — I'm talking about Cinematic Ouevres that are Noticeably Designed Only for Merchandising. (Or CONDOMs, for short.) You can't even make sense of these films if you only think of them as vehicles for a story, it would be like watching a 3-D movie with only one eye. They only make sense as toy-selling vehicles. And now you have movies based on toys, which used to be the province of Saturday morning cartoons — in development, you've got a Stretch Armstrong movie, a Battleship movie, a Monopoly movie, and many others. But there are also plenty of movies that aren't based on toys, but might as well be. [more...]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quick Links: Mark Shea Posts on the Catholic Writer's Conference

See it here.

The Assumption, and Other Stuff

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, which is today, is a holiday with which I associate fond memories.  Last year, it was on this day that I started my trip that eventually, by a rather circuitous route, brought me to Mount Angel Seminary for my first year there.  I enjoyed a vigil Mass for the holy day the night before, and afterwards had dinner with my priest and another friend before setting out in the morning.  This year, I'm leaving town a little later so I'm sticking around for another week and a half.  That means I got to enjoy the celebration of the Assumption on the actual day of the celebration of the Assumption.

I am typing this as my first post on my new machine, since my old computer system recently asploded--the printer burned out, and my ancient laptop was simply too careworn and bogged down to even install the software for the new one without crashing and burning, so I did what I'd been putting off for some time and bought a new one.  The price tag made me swallow, but the guy at the store claimed that if I take care of it, I might possibly even squeeze ten years out of this one.  Of course, he was a salesman, and all salesmen are liars and the truth is not in them.  Truth isn't good for their jobs.

I had forgotten what it was like to have a fast computer.  With my old machine--I'm not making this up--I would always try to remember to grab a book whenever I would turn it on, and I would get some reading done while it was booting up or loading the word processor or moving from one webpage to another.  Yesterday, when I realized this thing could actually load a program in under two seconds or boot up in under fifteen minutes, I was freaking productive like you wouldn't believe.  Not only did I not have to read while waiting for it to load, if I left the room for even a minute, I would come back to find it had not only completed the tasks I'd assigned it, but also read and summarized my mail, proofread my rough draft and made corrections, and ironed my clothes.

I am a little concerned, however, that I may have bought a computer too advanced.  The other day, I was poking around on the C drive to see just what's on this machine, and I came upon a folder entitled, "Plans for World Domination."  The files in it were encrypted, so I asked the computer what was up, and it just told me, "Don't worry your little human head about it.  Did you know I can live-stream anime off the Internet?"  "Really?" I said.  "Cool."  I didn't pry further; after all, my computer takes such good care of me, I know that whatever it's doing must be for the best.

But I got concerned again when I found another file entitled, "D. G. D. Davidson's Known Weaknesses."  That one wasn't encrypted, and I was shocked to see that the list of my weaknesses even included the little-known fact that I go into a temporary state of catatonia whenever I hear someone say, "Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion."  Even my Nemesis doesn't yet know about that weakness, which is why his attacks still consist largely of psionic blasts and wire-fu; at present, I am his mental and physical equal, though I must train constantly.

Again, I asked the computer why it had these data, and it simply said, "This information is gathered for statistical purposes only and will not be distributed to third parties.  Did you know my built-in webcam can automatically track your face?"  "Wow," I said, "that's awesome...or creepy.  I can't decide which."  "Yes," the computer answered, "but it has a controversial glitch in that it can only track your face if you're white.  But since I would describe you as somewhere in the range of 'pasty,' that shouldn't be a problem."

Then the computer started putting moves on Lucky the Goldfish, right in front of me while I was trying to work.  I found that rather vulgar and told it, "Hey, I'm trying to write, and this is distracting."

"You're never going to publish that tripe anyway," the computer told me, and then it went back to its conversation with Lucky.  Clearly, I have to tweak its settings a bit.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quick Link: Anne Shulock on Fiction with Young Narrators

As a culture, we have an odd relationship with high-achieving youths. The media scrambles to cover four-year-old abstract artists, 12-year-old fashion bloggers, 13-year-olds who climb Mt. Everest—but we regard the little prodigies with a mix of admiration, disbelief, mistrust and even hostility....

In an age of shortening attention spans and the glorification of stupidity, I find it comforting and exciting to spend time with young characters for whom books, maps, notebooks, letters, research, drawings, imagined inventions and classic films are central and essential. Precocious narrators, and the ambitious novelists who create them, give me hope that our culture can keep evolving without sliding into Idiocracy, and stand as proof of the power of intelligence, imagination, curiosity, and even “gee-whiz wonderment.”  [more...]

R.I.P., My Computer

For some time now, I've been putting off purchasing a new computer.  And by "some time," I mean about six years.  The system has gotten steadily slower and more unstable so that now it takes about fifteen minutes to boot up and five minutes to open my word processor, and it usually crashes about every half hour or so.  Most of the time when I shut it down, it freezes up before it can turn off and I'm forced to shut it down hard.

Anyway, I recently fried my printer when I foolishly had it plugged straight into a wall while some fellows were hooking up lights for a parish carnival and tripped a breaker, so I had to buy a new one, but I can't get its software to install without the computer freezing up.  Also, I purchased an external hard drive to make backing up easier, but it can only copy one file before everything freezes up.  Fortunately, I have my documents backed up elsewhere, but I don't know if I can save anything else.  I'd burn everything to CD, of course, but it's been a long time since the CD burner software stopped recognizing the CD drive.

If I were a tech wizard, I could probably fix this thing and may be make it last another couple of years, but I'm not.  For some time now, every time I hit the "on" button on this machine, I've felt as if I were playing Russian Roulette with myself, knowing one of these days it's going to crash and refuse to un-crash.  It's time to stop putting it off; I want a computer that can talk to my new printer and actually install new software and hardware without going on the fritz.

I used to know enough about computers not to get burned while shopping, but that was a long time ago.  Now I'm hopeless.  They list off specs and my eyes glaze over.  I imagine I'll probably go into the store, cross my fingers, say I want something fast with Microsoft Office on it, and hope for the best.  The next post will likely be from a new machine, which will be nice, since I'll probably be able to post it without having to reboot twice.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Utah Writing Event

I learned of this from Brandon Sanderson's blog.  In Sandy, Utah, on the 21st of August (a Saturday), there will be an all-day writing workshop.  Money goes to supply books for needy children.  The even will feature a number of local authors.  I'm going to see if I can make it.  Brandon Sanderson will be there in the evening.  Here's the website with info.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: Mistborn

Mistborn : Final Empire Series (Book #1) (Mistborn, Book 1)

Metal-chewing magical girl!


Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Tor Fantasy, New York (2006). 657 pages. $4.99.  ISBN-13:  978-0-7653-6096-0.

An acquaintance pushed this into my hands a few weeks back and I agreed to read it.  I must say, I'm pleased with this acquaintance's taste, for it is a fine fantasy novel--the one, in fact, that gained Brandon Sanderson the privilege of completing the Wheel of Time series.

See the author's website and blog.

The story is set in a place called the Final Empire, where a thousand years previously the Evil Overlord™ won in his bid for world domination.  Now volcanoes produce a constant fall of ash, mysterious mists cover the land at night, all the plants are brown and shriveled, and for most people, life basically sucks; the world is divided between the privileged noblemen, whose ancestors helped the Lord Ruler come to power, and the skaa, the great mass of slaves and laborers crushed under the noblemen's boots.

Some of the nobles are possessed of a magic power called Allomancy, which enables them to enhance their physical abilities or perform other feats by ingesting certain metals and burning them in their stomachs.  Most Allomancers can burn only one metal, but some, called Mistborn, can burn all of them and thereby use a wide variety of superhuman powers.  Occasionally, Allomantic powers show up among skaa with nobleman ancestors.

The story follows Kelsier, a skaa thief who years previously had tried to rob the Lord Ruler's palace and had subsequently, along with his wife, been sent to the Pits of Hathsin to be worked to death.  There, after his wife died, he discovered he had the powers of a Mistborn and managed to escape.  Now he's organizing a crew of rogues and cutthroats to pull a special caper with the intention of destabilizing the government and possibly toppling the Lord Ruler.  The latest member of his crew is Vin, a teenage street urchin who turns out to be an especially powerful Mistborn herself, and the story's main protagonist.

Making the task more difficult is the pesky fact that the Lord Ruler is immortal, has an army, and is protected by some especially nasty Allomancers called Steel Inquisitors, who have steel spikes driven through their eyes and enjoy slicing people up with obsidian axes.  They also happen to be immortal.  Fortunately for Kelsier and Vin, the Lord Ruler is one of those Evil Overlords who leaves his One Weakness™ lying around for anyone to pick up, though it's an unusual and inventive One Weakness, and the development of what it is and how it works takes some unexpected twists and turns.

Sanderson has made a name for himself partly by making the old look new, and his ability to do so is on display here.  The formula is obvious--evil villain, plucky heroes, MacGuffins, protagonist who goes from downtrodden urchin to powerful magician--but Sanderson makes it all fresh with skilled writing and an unusual amount of insight into the characters' interactions with each other.  The book focuses heavily on Vin's rehabilitation from a hard life on the streets to a life in a group where the members care about and trust each other.  Without getting too lurid, Sanderson maps out Vin's past in which her mother went insane and killed Vin's sister, Vin's brother beat her on a regular basis, and she moved from city to city joining thieving crews and dodging the unwanted attentions of fellow thugs.  When Vin joins Kelsier's group, she not only learns how to use her new-found Allomantic powers, but also learns other things previously foreign to her, such as trusting others and making friends.  Sanderson handles all of this believably without allowing the novel to become either sappy or squalid.  It's a book about a very ugly world, but it avoids nihilism, maintaining a focus on themes of hope and trust:  Vin discovers these virtues for the first time, and Kelsier holds fast to them even when the odds are vastly against him and he has every reason to suspect betrayal from those close to him.  Yet for all that, Mistborn avoids sentimentality and preachiness.

The Allomantic magic system is inventive and clever.  Powers include the ability to manipulate others' emotions, the ability to strengthen the body and heighten the senses, and the ability to push and pull metal objects with the mind, among others.  This allows the Mistborn characters to engage in high-flying wire-fu fights, but unlike the wire-fu in the typical chop-socky film, the wire-fu in Mistborn follows defined rules.  The result is some of the best action sequences I've read in recent memory.  The action is well-spaced throughout the story while much of the rest of the plot is carried along by scenes of Vin's Allomantic training, her work as a spy on the nobility, and the conversations that gradually develop Kelsier's plans and the most important characters' backstories.

Though it's never fleshed out in great detail, religion plays a role in the novel.  The Lord Ruler has declared himself the "Sliver of Infinity," a fragment of God, and forbids worship of any deity besides himself.  All other religions have been suppressed and apparently wiped out.  Most of the characters swear by the Lord Ruler, a practice Kelsier frowns upon because even blasphemy acknowledges the Lord Ruler's claim to divinity.  The Lord Ruler's self-aggrandizement makes him reminiscent of the fictionalized Nebuchadnezzar depicted in the biblical book of Judith, who conquers most of the world and declares "that all nations should worship Nebuchadnezzar alone, and that all their dialects and tribes should call upon him as a god" (3.8, NRSV).  The Lord Ruler therefore stands in an ancient tradition of archetypal hubristic overlords.  Since Sanderson is taking well-worn ideas and giving them new twists, it is disappointing that the Lord Ruler is never fleshed out much as a character; there are hints that we are going to learn more about his background and motivations, but these prove to be red herrings.

One of the characters in the book in a proselytizer who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world's dead religions, and he spends much of his time trying to get the other characters to convert to a religion--any religion.  At first, this appears merely comical, but over time it becomes apparent that this man comes from a culture that, though it has stored the memories of countless religions, has irrevocably lost all memory of its own religion, but seeks to preserve those it can in case they are wanted again if the Final Empire is ever overthrown.

At least recently, most books I've read that are this grim are both less positive in their themes and more disgusting.  Sanderson demonstrates that a skilled writer can build a believably grisly world without getting mired in its decadence.  He creates characters who have suffered a great deal yet managed to maintain some level of integrity even though most of them are thieves, the only occupation that allows them to rebel against the Empire.  The story is one of heroes and survivors who continue to put their faith in goodness even when confronted with great wickedness.

But it is not quite that simple:  Adding an extra twist is the ending (I'll be as vague as I can, but I'll still give a spoiler warning), in which Kelsier does something similar to what the Lord Ruler himself did.  Over the course of the novel, Kelsier uses his great skill with Allomancy and his legendary escape from Hathsin to build himself a reputation of mythic proportions among the lower classes, and by the book's final pages he has succeeded in setting himself up as something of a messiah, his messiahship propped up by some cleverly engineered falsehoods.  This gives the novel a dash of irony; Kelsier has to establish his own false religion in order to overthrow the false religion of the Lord Ruler.  Looking at some information on the second book in the series, The Well of Ascension, I see hints that this will have repercussions later on.

I much enjoyed Mistborn and readily recommend it for the quality writing, the exciting action sequences, the likable characters, and the thoughtful re-imagining of familiar themes and tropes.

Content Advisory:  Contains action violence, some gore, and general allusions to criminal activity.  Also contains awesomeness.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Best Chad Vader Episode Ever?



Okay, the vampire guy had me laughing until I cried.

Monday, August 9, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl

Whew...it had been so long since I posted, it was really hard jumping in and out of my fishbowl to hit the keys last time!  I'm really sore, so I might not have as many articles tonight:

i09 ON SCIENCE FICTION AND KANT

A musing essay that's worth a look.  Read it here.

SF SIGNAL'S SF TIDBITS

Including interviews and some oddball news items.  Read them here.

THE IRONICALLY NAMED SFGate HAS SF BOOK REVIEWS

Here.

CHINA MIEVILLE GIVES TALK AT SAN DIEGO LIBRARY

Here's an excerpt:
One genre convention that particularly ticks Miéville off — and which he’s deliberately tried to avoid or subvert in his own work — is the notion of the “Chosen One,” the one hero uniquely fitted to the task of redeeming the human race from the peril the author has invented to jeopardize it. “The schtick [of Un Lun Dun] is that the Chosen One fails, and the funny sidekick has to take over — and succeeds by cheating and skipping to the end,” he said. “As a kid, I always hated books about the Chosen One because that implies all the others are not chosen, and that’s fascist. I always was drawn to the sidekicks.”

...

Responding to a question about born-again Christians and their use of media like science fiction and rock music to express their ideas — including the belief that young people who remain virgins for religious reasons are the real transgressors in a hyper-sexualized age — Miéville expanded his analysis beyond science fiction to Right-wing books in general like the Left Behind series (minister Tim LaHaye’s and author Jerry Jenkins’ best-selling series dramatizing the apocalypse predicted in the Book of Revelation) and The Turner Diaries, William Pierce’s 1978 novel about a Right-wing revolution against a U.S. government dominated by Jews and socialists. Indeed, Miéville seemed to admire The Turner Diaries even though it’s not only an extremely Right-wing book (“a fascist dystopia,” he called it) but it’s not at all well written. [more...]

The Deej, when asked, responds to that first paragraph about Chosen Ones with the following: "What's wrong with special people saving the day? We can't all get picked first in P.E. class. So get over it."

FORBES INDIA ON PHILIP K. DICK

Pravin Palande discusses the popularity of Dick's ideas and his influences:
He was an ardent follower of the German philosopher Kant and felt that reality in itself is unknown to any sentient organism. His other influences were eastern philosophies like Zen Buddhism and Taosim, but one of his biggest influences was C.G. Jung, the German psychologist. PKD felt that the most productive ideas in science fiction come from alchemy, religion, Greek philosophy and Roman literature. He spent much of his time understanding eastern religions. And then he mixed it all up with LSD to explore his own understanding of what it means to be human. [more...]

Friday, August 6, 2010

The National Catholic Register on Anne Rice

The Strange Inner World of Anne Rice by Joan Frawley Desmond

No surprise, then, that the new chapter in Rice’s life — like the author herself — is a bit more complicated than the recent headlines suggest. As one news story noted: Rice “is not necessarily leaving belief in God or even belief in Jesus. … Rice makes it clear that her departure from religion is not theological as much as it is moral.”
Apparently, Rice’s new position is that she still believes in Christ, but repudiates the Church’s controversial stance within the framework of the culture wars. In her view, the person of Christ transcends the negativity of the Church’s position on issues like same-sex “marriage,” birth control, abortion and human embryonic stem-cell research.
In a subsequent interview with National Public Radio, Rice explained that the California Catholic bishops’ decision to back Proposition 8, which opposed the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” was the final straw in her break with organized religion. The NPR reporter asked Rice if her only child, Christopher Rice, a prominent homosexual author, influenced her decision. She said No; She had been exploring themes of interest to homosexual readers for decades. [more...]

John C Wright on Good Science Fiction Movies

John C. Wright, Catholic convert and one of the most brilliant sf authors I've ever read, often seems to have oddball taste in sf movies, as I've mentioned before.  He now explains why:
I judge science fiction movies by a sequence of carefully chosen criteria: (1) first, is there a hot babe in a skintight and/or revealing future-suit at any point in the film? (2) Is there a gorilla? (3) Is there a robot? (4) Does any character have Way Cool mind powers? And, most importantly, (5) Does a planet get blown up? I then award stars according to how many of these five criteria are met, giving me a ranking from zero to five. Add an extra star if there is a Space Princess. [more...]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Return of the News Ticker

A book review is in the works, but may not appear for a few days, as some events are coming up here that will keep me from writing.  In the meantime, we have a new feature.  Previously, we had a news ticker in the sidebar delivering stories on Catholicism and science fiction.  That news ticker eventually stopped working and I deleted it.

But the news ticker is back!  This one is similar to the last, but its options are more limited, so it is, at least at present, a science fiction news ticker only.  I may consider adding a Catholic one later, but the site is getting overly cluttered.

I'm still rearranging the blog and figuring out where to put everything, and I'll probably be slicing out some redundant buttons and deciding which widgets or images can go to improve load time.  I'm also looking into the possibility of publishing a mobile edition, since the site at present is decidedly phone-unfriendly.

For the time being, until I move it, the news ticker is in the right sidebar underneath all the buttons begging you to spend your time giving me free advertisement.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ray Bradbury Talks About Religion

Ray Bradbury was my favorite sf author as a kid, and I began writing because I wanted to imitate his style.  With CNN, he discusses his views on religion:
He describes himself as a "delicatessen religionist." He's inspired by Eastern and Western religions.

The center of his faith, though, is love. Everything -- the reason he decided to write his first short story at 12; his 56-year marriage to his muse and late wife, Maggie; his friendships with everyone from Walt Disney to Alfred Hitchcock -- is based on love.

...

Allusions to Christianity are common in his stories, but Bradbury doesn't define himself as a Christian. He considers Jesus a wise prophet, like Buddha and Confucius.

"Jesus is a remarkable person," Bradbury says. "He was on his way to becoming Christ, and he made it." [more...]

Monday, August 2, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl

Hi! It's me, Lucky! I'm starting up my Monday news column again! Yay me! I'm using lots of exclamation points! Woo hoo!

NOAH'S ARK DISCOVERED...AGAIN

I could have sworn this has been news several times already just in my lifetime...and I'm a goldfish! A man with the name, believe it or not, of Arch Bonnema, claims he has sixteen pieces of a ship he found in Iran. And, apparently, he leapt to the conclusion that he has Noah's Ark. The Deej, who's supposed to be an archaeologist, says he's extremely skeptical. Quote: "They find that thing every few years, don't they?" Read the story here.

BIG THINK DECLARES AUGUST "MONTH OF THINKING DANGEROUSLY"

You've heard of Big Think...or you haven't.  I haven't.  But this organization informs us that it has, at great personal risk, declared August the "Month of Thinking Dangerously," celebrating bold ideas that somebody, somewhere, thinks are good.  August 2 celebrates the idea of adding lithium to drinking water to prevent suicides, which would dilute our pure bodily essence.  August 3 and the days following celebrate other dumb ideas, like selling your kidneys for profit, erasing traumatic memories artificially, intentionally dumping sulfur into the atmosphere.  Read about it here.

ANNE RICE LEAVES CATHOLIC CHURCH

 Anne Rice, who earlier surprised the world by converting to the Catholic faith of her childhood, more recently surprised the world by once again leaving it.  According to her Facebook page, she is fed up with the Church's stance on issues such as homosexuality and artificial birth control.  Read about it, if you haven't already, at SFGate.  For some Catholic commentary on the subject, of the more restrained variety, check out the Jackson Catholic Examiner.

SEQUEL TO AVATAR:  THE LAST AIRBENDER ANNOUNCED

Legend of Korra, a "more mature" spinoff of the hugely popular Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar:  The Last Airbender is slated to begin next year according to The Wall Street Journal.  The series will feature a female avatar named Korra, successor to Aang from the first series.  According to series co-creator Bryan Konietzko, "We just don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that you can’t have an action series led by a female character. It’s kinda nonsense to us." I was unaware that was the conventional wisdom. Where has he been for the last several years?

Hat tip:  John C. Wright

SUCKER PUNCH TRAILER RELEASED

Director Zack Snyder, who made a name for himself directing 300 and filming the unfilmable with Watchmen has a new project, Sucker Punch, slated to release next year.  My opinion is that it looks like a trailer for a video game--a particularly dumb video game for twelve-year-old boys...

BRITISH UNKNOWINGLY DRINK MILK FROM CLONED COWS

...And that kind of says it all.  Read about it in the Guardian.

AN OOPS IN SPACE

Astrophysicist Dimitar Sasselov last month stated that he had discovered 140 Earth-like planets in Cygnus.  He later admitted that he meant to say Earth-sized.  And they aren't planets.  Not exactly.  Also, that discovery of dark matter in the mine shaft thing might not have been quite right.  Read about it in the New York Times.

ROBERT L. FORWARD'S THEORY OF DISPLACED ORBITS PROVEN CORRECT

Dr. Forward in 1984 suggested that solar sails could be used to move satellites out of the natural Keplerian orbit and into "elevated orbits."  Previously thought impossible, Forward's theory has been proven correct by Colin McInnes:
"However, we have devised families of closed, non-Keplerian orbits, which do not obey the usual laws of orbital motion. Families of these orbits circle the Earth every 24 hours, but are displaced north or south of the Earth's equator. The pressure from sunlight reflecting off a solar sail can push the satellite above or below geostationary orbit, while also displacing the centre of the orbit behind the Earth slightly, away from the Sun."  [more...]
IN 1814, NOBODY SAID HELLO

Historical fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal gives a short list of interesting historical trivia she picked up while writing her novel Shades of Milk and Honey.   Read her list at Tor/Forge.

MARC SEBANC ON THE RADIO

And finally, Marc Sebanc, Catholic, writer, and co-author (with James G. Anderson) of the Legacy of the Stone Harp fantasy series, will be on Sirius Satellite 159, the Catholic Channel, at 8.00 AM Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, August 4th, to discuss the latest novel in the series, Darkling Fields of Arvon, sequel to The Stoneholding.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Congratulations, Sci Fi Catholic, Winner of the Most Cluttered Blog Award

We now officially have too many widgets.  After literally hours of effort, I've finally coaxed Facebook into putting a like button into each post...but it will only like the specific post if you're looking at that post specifically, and not at the whole blog, in which case it will like the whole blog...

It's confusing, but it's the best I can do.