Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'Rag & Muffin' Rough Draft Complete: Well, That Was Easy

I just finished the rough draft of Rag & Muffin: Tales of a Fourth Grade War Goddess, the novel I like to believe will open up a new sub-genre I call "magical girl noir," except it won't really. It's a magical girl warrior story in an exotic setting with elements of Dungeon Punk and lots of angst with some odd twists caused by my magical girls being different from the usual: they're sort of like a cross between a Nepalese kumari and a Little Sister from BioShock, with magic powers.

That gap I mentioned . . . it filled in rather easily. That probably means I'll need to rewrite that whole section, but still. I'll give the thing a first go-over right away to fix the most obvious weak parts, grammatical errors, and continuity problems, but then I'll probably inflict it on some poor beta readers and put it away for a month so I can look at it fresh when I make the next draft.

I'm sure it has some continuity problems to fix. I'm reasonably certain I accidentally gave at least one character Hollywood-style infinite ammo for her AK-47. I actually mean for the characters to be limited in the amount of ammunition they can pack, but then again, this particular character can blow people away with an assault rifle while listening to heavy metal and playing blindfold speed chess at the same time, so maybe she deserves infinite ammo.

At any rate, this seems to be a good time, at least to me, to check whether the rough draft is sufficiently awesome. If the awesomeness appears insufficient, I will have to jot "add more awesome" on my list of things that need to be done in the second draft.

Let's take a look:

Click to enlarge.
(Stolen from here.)

So there it is, the Periodic Table of Awesoments.  The rough draft, as it presently stands, includes the following:

  • Bacon. One character eats twelve slices at once.
  • Ninja. That's a stretch, but ninja are mentioned in the dialogue.
  • Sniper.
  • Explosion. (That goes without saying.)
  • Grenades.
  • Assassin.
  • Bombs.
  • Christopher Walken. Okay, not really.
  • Proximity Mines. Whoa. I almost can't believe I actually worked those in there.
  • Minigun.
  • Kung fu. They call it something different, but it's basically Hong Kong wire-fu chop-sockey.
  • Helicopter. Magitek airships, actually, but I think they should count.
  • Sword.
  • Tank.
  • Moon jumps. I'm not really sure what this means, but if it means using your awesome Kung fu to jump really high, then that happens a lot. My characters are practically living super balls.
  • Mecha. Not just mecha, but demon-possessed mecha that can drag you to hell.
  • Lightning.
  • Fire. Goes with the explosions.
  • Liquor.
  • Robots. Not just robots, but demon-possessed robots that can drag you to hell.
  • Motorcycle.
  • Storms. How 'bout a whole frickin' monsoon?
  • Ribs. Not sure if this means any old ribs or ribs prepared for eating, but ribs play an important role in the story one way or the other.
  • Fortress. Not just a fortress, but a temple fortress. And it's a transformer.
  • Metal. Not sure if it means any old metal, or the music. One way or the other, we have both.
  • Money. Yeah, it gets mentioned.
  • Dinosaur. Also a stretch. Mentioned in dialogue.
  • Dragon. The "Muffin" of the title is the name of the heroine's pet dragon.
  • Cheetah. Do anthropomorphic furry cheetahs count?
  • Skulls. Of religious importance, no less.
  • Scars. When you look at everything else on this list, somebody is going to have to get a scar sooner or later.
  • Sunglasses. Worn at night, even.
  • Guitar solo. Believe it or not, I worked one in there.
That's not too bad, really. If I can throw in a penguin, mention cheese, and give somebody a cup of coffee, I should be able to make this even more awesome. I actually had a stuffed penguin in an earlier version, but eventually I needed to replace it with something else.

Yet Another Narcissistic Update

I am work on the rough draft of Rag & Muffin: Tales of a Fourth Grade War Goddess, a novel I have been working on, sort of, for just a little over four years. I say "sort of" because Rag & Muffin has gone through so many mutations in that time that the only constants have been the title, and the fact that it's about a girl with a fuzzy companion, and that it takes place in a city. Everything else has changed, and I've written probably over 4,000 pages just to get to the point of having completed the rough draft of a 100,000-word novel. I guess I'm not an efficient writer.

Except it's not quite complete yet. One chapter still has a gap. Not a huge gap, necessarily, but a gap. It needs filled in, and I have only to the end of the week to meet my self-imposed deadline of having an R&M draft by the end of the year.

What to do with that gap is admittedly flummoxing me. Except for the normal bout of weariness at the midway point, I have had the experience of watching this draft come together absurdly quickly and--at least in the not-so-humble opinion of an author writing his rough draft--absurdly well. But that of course is because it has four years of work behind it, and many of the scenes were ones I had already written and polished when I started, albeit in a different format. Most of the time, when I got stuck, I could simply open an older file and use dialogue and situations I'd already penned.

Nonetheless, this one scene (or two, or three) in the middle of one of the latter chapters has me a mite stuck. It has no precedent in anything Rag & Muffinish I've written before. It is new territory, and I must explore it before the end of the week.

Also, I'm still of two minds about the kooky one-liners I've thrown into the action sequences. Some of them will stay, I'm sure, but I'm debating whether or not to take the parodic references to "all out of bubblegum" and "that's not a knife" out of the second draft.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Because You Don't Mess with Santa


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Science Fiction Sermons

Not very long ago, I read and forgot to review George L. Murphy's Pulpit Science Fiction, a collection of science fiction short stories meant to illustrate biblical passages, which Rev. Murphy had preached from the pulpit. I was recently reminded of my fault when Dave Maass, of Syfy's Blastr blog, kindly sent me a post he had put together, rounding up videos of actual sermons using science fiction as illustrations.

Here's his post, and a big thanks to Maass for sending it our way.

I leave you, then, with no comment besides this: I like sermons, and I like science fiction, but I don't particularly like them together. I don't like preachy science fiction stories, and I don't much care for science fiction stories in my preaching, either. In fact, all though a few of the stories in the aforementioned Murphy collection were not bad (none of them were stellar), I thought the short explanations he wrote after them, to explain when he'd preached them and why, were more illuminating than the stories themselves.

You see, the Mass or other church service already contains storytelling: it's in the biblical readings. The job of the sermon is to illuminate the biblical passages and explain what they mean. Storytelling is great, but the purpose of the sermon is to comment on and illuminate the stories already told. Using the sermon to tell yet another story is likely to be obfuscating rather than illuminating. And inviting people to wear sf costumes to church is just kind of stupid.

And as for sci-fi illustrations in sermons, well . . . that might not be so bad, but it stands a good chance of coming across as flip or silly, and may fail to make the point intended.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Disney's 'Sofia the First'

According to The New York Times, Disney is hard at work on a new animated television show, featuring yet another princess, this time aimed at the younger crowd: the show is entitled Sofia the First, and the protagonist is apparently around five, Disney's aim apparently being to attract the youngest viewers.

The character looks cute, and her show will probably be more wholesome than those teen shows that the Disney Channel has been turning out in recent years, and since I try to avoid indulging in the Disney-hate popular these days on both the right and the left, I wish the show's creators all the best, though knowing Disney's history, I doubt Sofia the First will manage to come up with any important life lessons aside from "Believe in Yourself, Whatever That Means."

Image Blatantly Stolen from the Source  because This Is a Small Blog and I Can Get Away with That.  Also, Awwww.
The image attached to the article looks like a real actual cartoon character instead of that CGI stuff I'm officially sick of, so that makes me happy. Maybe I'll even check out the show myself. I rather like children's cartoons as a general rule, though I don't seem to be able to handle the ones aimed at preschoolers; I tried Dora the Explorer once or twice, and she kept repeating stuff, and she apparently wanted me to talk to the screen or something . . . anyway, I couldn't handle it. I was just sitting there, watching this little girl say the same thing over and over again, and finally I was just, like, "So, is she ever going to pull out an Uzi and blow up something, or what?" Back in my day, children's cartoons involved senseless violence, even the ones for girls. Anyone seen the original My Little Pony? That thing was a gore-fest, or at least that's how I remember it. Speaking of which, this:

Whoa, one of those has already actually happened since that parody was made. Well, considering that the film adaptation of Battleship is coming out in the near future, this seems apropos. Also, I just want to mention that I thought Care Bears was hella lame, even when I was a kid.

Where was I? Ah, yes. The real reason I'm posting on this topic is because I'm creeped out--again--by the comments appearing under the article. The article on Sofia the First, I mean, which I was talking about before I got off track. Joyless politically correct types, or maybe just people who enjoy the ever-popular sport of Hatin' on Disney, are angry at this new show, even though it doesn't exist yet, because it's about a princess. Yikes. If nothing else, we can say that political correctness is no fun.

I don't really understand the complaints being made. Princesses are bad role models, or something, and little girls only like princesses because princesses are presented to them in their entertainment, and little girls would like exactly the same things as little boys if only we didn't give them little girl entertainment instead, or something. The idea that girls might dream of being princesses or enjoy girlish things because they're girls is apparently too much for the PC types to wrap their minds around.

If I had George MacDonald in front of me, I'd quote him, but I don't, so I'll paraphrase him from memory instead. In the original serial publication of The Princess and the Goblin, he has a footnote in which he imagines a frustrated reader asking him why his protagonists are always princesses, and MacDonald, being a wise man, replies that he wants the reader to understand that every little girl is a princess. Looking at the angry objections to Sofia the First offered before the first episode has even come out, I'd say we need a good dose of MacDonald's wisdom. Just to give silent support to the project over and against the naysayers, I might even be there to catch the pilot episode, though I make no promise that I will last longer with it than I did with Dora . . .

However, if they ever have the Very Special Episode in which Sofia meets up with Dora to find some crystal in the deep jungle, and they end up in a running gun battle or something, call me. That's what children's cartoons should be like.

Portlandia on Battlestar Galactica

 I really didn't think it was that good. In fact, I thought the original was better, so there.

News from the Fish Bowl Extra: Party on a Space Station

The Deej got this from a reader and gave it to me, so here it is.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Astronauts on the International Space Station are planning a big holiday bash to welcome three new crewmates, who are slated to arrive just before Christmas.

The addition of three more spaceflyers on Dec. 23 will double the population of the orbiting lab, bringing it back up to full operational strength after a month at skeleton-crew levels. That's good news for scientists keen to maximize thespace station's research potential, and it'll make the holidays a little less lonely 240 miles (386 kilometers) above the Earth's surface. [more . . .]

Weird Maintenance Issue Involving Sharing Buttons

Nobody uses these things anyway, at least not around here, but I've been trying to adjust the sharing buttons you see at the bottom (formerly at the top) of each post. The Google +1 button is a funny, temperamental little beast:  the code from the third-party sharing button provider I use had stopped working for unknown reasons, and so I went straight to Google to get code for the button and found their site was only for people already completely fluent in Java script, so I ripped off a piece of code from somebody else having the same problem. I discovered that the button will disappear or reappear depending on where I put the code; it will only show up if it's placed right before the Pinterest button, on the same line, yet the button itself shows up on the end of the line . . . go figure.

Anyway, I know this sounds like a way of tricking you into using my sharing buttons, but I'd appreciate it if anyone would tell me whether he can or can't see the Google +1 button, and whether it works. Thanks.

So have fun with that. Now I'm going to go see if I can figure out why the buffer around the Facebook Like button is so freaking huge.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book Review: Scientific Mythologies

But can I still have a cathedral-shaped spaceship?

Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs by James A. Herrick. IVP Academic-InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, Illinois), 2008. 288 pages. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8308-2588-2. $23.00.

In this slim volume, James A. Herrick sets out on the ambitious task of demonstrating that science fiction, far from being merely a form of low entertainment, has often inspired scientists, even to the point of influencing how scientific questions are asked, and of informing how many scientists have viewed subjects that go beyond the realm of scientific inquiry. Herrick's basic thesis is that a collection of interwoven stories and metaphysical suppositions unsupported and insupportable by empirical science but nonetheless uncritically supposed by many to be scientifically founded, forms the basis of a modern Zeitgeist that stands in opposition to Christianity.

Some time ago in this blog's ancient history, I linked the review of Herrick's Scientific Mythologies over at Dr. James McGrath's blog, Exploring Our Matrix. McGrath and I rarely see eye to eye, and now that I've read this book for myself, I can confirm that this is one of those times. Although McGrath makes a few good points in his lengthy discussion of this book, most of his review consists of textbook examples of tu quoque; for example, when Herrick points out, among other things, that we have no empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrials, McGrath criticizes Herrick by pointing out that historical evidence does not favor a literal historical Exodus, either. But Herrick never mentions the Exodus nor says whether he thinks it is a literal historical event. Similarly, McGrath criticizes Left Behind not once but twice in his review--though Herrick never mentions that book nor says what he thinks of it--apparently assuming that the ideas in LaHaye and Jenkins's novel reflect Herrick's own. While attempting to criticize Herrick, McGrath gets off-track and shadowboxes with his favorite bogeyman, the Evangelical Fundamentalist.

I would like to set the record straight. Though flawed, Scientific Mythologies is not the Protestant Landscape with Dragons. It is thoughtful and even-toned, and most of its arguments are well-made (with unfortunate exceptions I'll discuss presently), though it relies too heavily on secondary sources and at time makes factual errors. In spite of McGrath's strange claims to the contrary, it is interested more in description and analysis than in condemnation, of which it offers very little, and most of the information it presents should not even be controversial: much of the book is devoted to a history of certain ideas in both science fiction and popular scientific writings, most of which are probably already well-known to many sf fans.

Contra McGrath, Herrick states early in the book exactly what he means by myth, and he sticks to the definition. He is clearly not using the word in a pejorative sense (though one or two unfortunate rhetorical flourishes may give that impression); quoting Richard Cavendish, Herrick accepts a definition of myth as a story that makes sense of the world and imposes certain obligations and values, and he accepts also the claims of both Cavendish and Mary Midgley that myths are something we cannot do without. His point in this book, then, is not to dismiss what he calls "scientific mythologies" by pointing out that they are myths, but rather to point out that they do not have the basis in science that many claim they have.

After the first few chapters introduce the book and its aims, Herrick moves into discussions of the modern myths he has discerned in science fiction and speculative science. His first, and probably strongest chapter on the subject is chapter 3, "The Myth of the Extraterrestrial." He briefly outlines the history of speculation on the subject of extraterrestrial life. Again, contra McGrath, he does not condemn any and all such speculation, and even says (much later in the book) that the discovery of extraterrestrials would present no, or present little, challenge to Christianity. Herrick's actual concern is to criticize those who write or speak as if extraterrestrials were already known to exist, and who try to base metaphysical or spiritual speculations on this supposed fact. Herrick summarizes his "Myth of the Extraterrestrial" thus, and cites scientists such as Carl Sagan who have been proponents of it:

(1) The universe is vast and contains an unimaginably large number of planets, many of which are likely habitable. (2) Probability, if nothing else, suggests that there must be other intelligent beings "out there." (3) These beings might be willing to communicate with humans. (4) They are more technologically and biologically "advanced" than we are. And (5) they may wish to help us progress. (p. 64)

Herrick quotes numerous scientists and popularizers who have written or spoken of extraterrestrials as if they were already discovered, and quotes a few who insist that Earth's religions will have to change utterly to accommodate their existence. By simply pointing out that we have no evidence of extraterrestrials' existence, and that we don't really know the probability of their existence, he succeeds quite well, without ever getting shrill or casting insults, at making these imaginative claims look silly. Certainly, the insistence that we must change our religious views to accommodate aliens is premature, to say the least.

His subsequent chapters build on this first one. In chapter 4, "The Myth of Space," Herrick criticizes the idea that space exploration must be somehow capable of granting spiritual insights. He wonders why exploration of space ought to grant spiritual knowledge that is not already available on Earth, and in the sources he examines, he can find no clear answer. This chapter, in particular, McGrath does not appear to have read carefully enough; although it is true that Herrick mentions C. S. Lewis's opposition to space travel, Herrick neither elaborates on it nor expresses agreement with it. He mentions Lewis a few times, but mostly uses him only to set up a discussion of the film Conquest of Space, which depicts a Christian character in a negative light. Herrick interprets this film as a criticism of Lewis's view. Herrick gives no clear indication that he opposes space exploration as a scientific enterprise (and I do wish he were more clear about his opinion of the subject), but only that he opposes the unsupported notion that a scientific exploration of space will lead to some vaguely defined new spiritual insight capable of sweeping away older religions, a notion based on nothing but wishful thinking.

It is in chapter 5, "The Myth of the New Humanity," that Herrick temporarily loses his mind and is replaced by a politically correct pod person. He discusses the history of eugenics and points out, quite rightly, that much science fiction from the early twentieth century and to some extent even beyond is supportive of eugenic aims. It is in this chapter, too, that he gets into a subject that is truly central to his book, and to which I wish he had devoted a clearer and lengthier discussion: he is sharply critical of the idea that humanity is necessarily on an upward progression, carried along by evolution from one stage to another, each stage higher than the last. He points out that this idea has often been tied both to racism--usually the belief that whites are inherently superior to others--and to atrocious policies of sterilization or extermination. He also notes that many science fiction writers have supported such things.

Herrick expresses no opposition to the truly scientific theory of evolution. McGrath, again play-fighting with his favorite imaginary enemy, appears to miss this, and spends some time in his review criticizing Young-Earth Creationism even though Herrick never identifies himself as a Creationist. What is lacking in Herrick's book, however, is a clear distinction between the scientific theory of evolution, which holds that populations of biological organisms change over time due to mutations, those mutations maladapted to the current environment being weeded out, and the popular but unscientific notion, which holds that evolution inevitably leads to greater complexity, intelligence, and eventually to some sort of Nietzschean superman. It is clearly only the popular and unscientific but oddly persistent conception of evolution that is the target of Herrick's criticism, but a careless reader, or one unfamiliar with what the theory of evolution actually teaches, could easily arrive at the mistaken conclusion that he is "anti-science," just as the previous chapter could give the impression that he is anti-spaceflight. Also, I might add, this chapter is lacking a discussion of Tielhard de Chardin, the theologian who was important in formulating this bogus notion of evolution.

Where Herrick, or rather the PC-bot who temporarily replaced him, no doubt in a life-and-death struggle involving rayguns, goes crazy, is where he tries to accuse Star Trek and Star Wars of racism. His accusation against Star Trek is based almost entirely on the fact that the character Q, a godlike being, is played by a white boy. When I read that, my head exploded.

I refute Herrick thusly. Star Trek featured an innovative multi-ethnic bridge crew and had the first interracial kiss on television. At least one episode of the original series that I can think of was dedicated to lampooning racism. Although Q is a godlike being, he is not represented unequivocally as a "higher" or "better" being. More typically, he is like a petulant child. One episode of Voyager even suggests that suicide would be preferable to a godlike eternity in the Q Continuum. Although Star Trek does indeed accept uncritically the unscientific notion of evolution as progression, it is usually suspicious of highly evolved demigods: benign demigods are praised on occasion, but those that lord it over lesser beings are usually treated to a good dose of the Enterprise's phaser banks. Star Trek implicitly, whether its writers intended it or not, holds the view that there is an ethical standard to which even "highly evolved" beings are obligated. And though it does express the notion that humans are on some vaguely defined upward progression, it clearly envisions all of humanity going there together, and does not present one race as superior to the others. Star Trek also appears to be opposed to the cyborg enthusiasms of the cyberpunks and transhumanists (also criticized in this chapter), since the only cyborgs of note in the Star Trek universe are the Borg.

Herrick's criticism of Star Wars consists largely of pointing out that many of the actors in the films were British. That does not even deserve a response.

It is also in this chapter that pseudo-Herrick makes his most obvious errors (and thus we know that he is not the true Herrick). He confuses the original Battlestar Galactica with the remake and shows himself incapable of correctly spelling "Adama" or "Cylon." In his discussion of Star Wars, too, he for some reason can't spell "midi-chlorian," but then again, who would want to?

Herrick turns sane again in the following chapters, "The Myth of Space Religion," and "The Myth of Alien Gnosis." Neither needs a discussion here, as they merely expand on the previous chapters. "The Myth of Space Religion" again criticizes the idea that beings in space must necessarily have deep religious knowledge, and "The Myth of Alien Gnosis" discusses the frequent appearance of Gnostic or Neo-Gnostic concepts in sf, something of which anyone who's seen the Matrix films is aware.

To my mind, Herrick says little here that is remarkable. As a form of popular literature, science fiction naturally tends to reflect the philosophical fashions of the age, so it should be no surprise to anyone that, for example, sf tended to support eugenics in an age of eugenics. Nor should anyone be surprised that in a politically correct age, in which the progressives have stuffed their former support of eugenics down the memory hole, science fiction tends to be politically correct. And though many people today apparently believe that entertainments are incapable of shaping their thoughts, anyone with a realistic view of fiction should also find it unremarkable that science fiction has not only accepted ideas current in the culture, but has also reinforced them and in some ways shaped them. Taken as a brief history of ideas (and that is for the most part what it is), Herrick's Scientific Mythologies is engagingly written and informative, though as mentioned previously, it relies too heavily on secondary sources. I would like to see a second edition that corrects the errors, delves more deeply into the topic, depends more heavily on the thinkers Herrick discusses, and depends less heavily on their later interpreters. While he's at it, although he does for the most part maintain a professional tone, he should remove the occasional snide asides and scare quotes, as well as the baseless race-baiting.

I must agree with McGrath, however, in saying that this book fails as a work of Christian apologetics. Herrick sets up these "Scientific Mythologies" in opposition to Christianity, never explaining why these are the only alternatives, nor explaining why the reader ought to prefer Christianity to science fictional speculation. He also, strangely, avoids mentioning that many of the ideas he criticizes were posited by Christian thinkers (for example, the notion that the universe must be full of inhabited worlds was based in part on a theological argument that God does not waste space). He states in his acknowledgments that he presented much of his material in lecture form to church and youth groups, and the book does read throughout as if Herrick is preaching to a choir. He treats Christianity as if it is firmly established on irrefutable historical data, an assertion he does not support and to which even a mildly skeptical reader might object.

I think it would be best if Herrick removed his brief and inadequate mentions of Christianity from each of the present chapters and wrote a final chapter explaining in detail why he thinks Christianity stands on firmer ground than the "scientific mythologies" he criticizes. His criticism that these "scientific mythologies" are not actually scientific appears to me to be a strong one, and the jarring, undefended praises he gives his religion do not help his argument. He could make his case more effectively if he began by explaining that empirical investigation is necessarily limited in its aims, and continued by describing how many scientists have overstepped their fields of expertise by launching into imaginative speculation or metaphysics, continue by explaining why these speculations are baseless or these metaphysics self-refuting, and then finish by defending Christianity on both metaphysical and historical grounds. In this way, he could produce a better work of apologetics and could also avoid the criticism to which the book in its present form is easily susceptible, that his religion is no more empirically verifiable than the myths he condemns.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Worth a Read

Without much comment, I direct you to Tim Molloy's article, "TV's Disturbing New Trend--Kids in Danger," about the frequent depiction of children getting killed in recent television shows.

More disturbing than the contents of article are the comments underneath it, the majority of which berate Molloy with statements like, "It's just a show," often accusing him of being unable to tell fiction from reality, though he actually shows no such confusion in what he writes. Implicit in these angry comments is the quite obviously false assumption that you cannot be negatively affected by the entertainment you consume.

Random Link

I know I haven't posted much lately, but don't complain or I will punish you with this. Or, alternatively, this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Get Your Own Redshirt

John Scalzi's novel Redshirts, which pokes fun at Star Trek's short-lived red-shirted ensigns who always die on away missions, but, according to promises over at Tor.com, turns into something bigger than a mere parody, is coming out on June 5, but you can buy your own Scalzi red shirt right now, as well as other crazy redshirt gear.  Some of the items for sale are pretty funny.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Star Trek Comic Strip Mocking Patheos

I just found, over at Acts of the Apostasy, a B-Movie Catechism-style comic strip using images from Star Trek:  TNG to poke fun at Catholic bloggers who blog at Patheos, a website bringing together loads of religious articles and blogs.  The comic is overlong, but amusing.  Also, I'm not quite sure what its point is; so some bloggers blog at Patheos . . . so what?

And just for the record, I had an article on Patheos before Patheos was big.

I Should Sue James Cameron

At least three people have brought lawsuits against James Cameron, or his company, or somebody, because they claim the film Avatar closely resembles certain ideas of theirs, according to this article from CNN and this one from the Hollywood Reporter.

Well, sure. As I pointed out in my review of the film, it eerily resembles a novel I was writing back when I was in middle school. Avatar isn't exactly full of farm-fresh ideas.

Of course, that doesn't mean the claims in any of the lawsuits aren't legit; on that I have no actual basis for judgment.

Instant Learning through Your Television

I'm highly suspicious of the claim being made here, but io9 links a press release at the National Science Foundation that claims researchers have found a way to make you learn stuff just by looking at things.  Wait a minute, I thought we already knew we could do that.

What the researchers found, or say they found, is that they can use what they call functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to cause the brain activity to reach a certain desired state. It's entirely possible that I don't understand what they're saying, but it sounds like they're saying you can learn stuff by watching things. Hm.

The NSF and io9 both suggest this is similar to the instant learning via brain download shown in the Matrix films, though to me it sounds more like the instant learning that appeared in one episode of ye olde television classic, The Prisoner (the original, not the sucky remake), in which a person could get instant, detailed knowledge of history by looking at a picture on a TV screen.

From being able to make a person recognize shapes faster by showing him pictures--at least I think that's what they're doing; neither the NSF article nor the accompanying video is exactly crystal-clear--the writers have leapt to the speculation that we soon will be able to become super-athletes or quickly heal diseases simply by looking at pictures on computer screens.  Whatever this research actually implies, I strongly suspect it doesn't imply that.  And if you think altering your brainwaves is all it takes to be an athlete, you're dreaming.

What I want to know is whether these researchers are any closer to developing a growling robotic balloon that suffocates people.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dang It, I Was Really Hoping That Was Cthulhu

I saw this preview before I knew what the movie was. It got my hopes up . . . and then dashed them. Well, I'd heard they were making a movie based on this classic board game. And since the board game doesn't exactly have what you'd call a plot, I suppose they might as well make the movie about deep-sea robo-aliens. The end result . . . a sci-fi action film with a curiously generic title. Somebody better say "You sunk my battleship" at some point during the film or I'm going to want my money back.

I am eagerly awaiting the "Sorry" movie.

DC Universe Online Trailer

Don't usually follow video game news, but I just happened to run into this.  Well worth watching.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Akira Remake Is Not Racist

According to Madeline Ashby over at Tor.com, a remake of the cult anime hit, Akira, which is usually credited with starting the anime craze in the U.S., is in the works.  This time, it's a Hollywood film, and it's set in Neo-New York instead of Neo-Tokyo, and it's probably going to suck.

But I think I'll watch it anyway simply because Ashby is giving it the Shyamalan treatment:  that is, she's calling it racist because it's set in the U.S. and will (presumably) have a largely white cast, much the way people called M. Night Shyamalan a racist because he cast a small handful white actors in a movie adaptation of an American cartoon that had been full of American idiom and humor and starred a mostly white cast.  The hatred and name-calling directed at Shyamalan still mystify me.

Frankly, I never liked Akira to begin with.  It's an overrated, unintelligible, and hyperviolent movie based on a comic book that consists largely of repetitive fight scenes between unlovable characters.  But to call the American adaptation racist because it is set in America and stars Americans is so obnoxious to me that I'll probably give its creators money anyway.

In the comments following Ashby's article, a reader named Tevii attempts to answer:

now Im not happy about the changes being made either. But to say hollywood doesnt care about any race except white is absolutely ridiculous. How many characters have they changeds from white to black? Thats equally as racist as this nonsense.

Actually, no, that's not racist either. But never mind that. The answer from another reader named Distortionrock shows how weirdly the minds of racebaiters sometimes work:

Secondly, the original Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio wasn't white to begin with - he's Italian American.

Ah ha. So Italians aren't white. I wonder, if they cast the new Akira with Italians, would that make it okay?

I wonder what you have to do these days to not get accused of racism.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cyborg Insects

A reader sends this in:  scientists are working on turning Green June Bugs into cyborg bugs.

NaNoWriMo Update

Okay, I'm not going to be finished with the rough draft of Rag & Muffin by the end of the month.  That's just not going to happen.  But I am going to be finished next month for sure.  Current word count is 68,390, and I have portions of four chapters left to write.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

io9 on the Most Unintentionally Scary Movies

The sf website io9 has a list up of movies, mostly children's films, that are unintentionally frightening.  Some of the movies listed, like Labyrinth, are, I think, only scary to adults, but I remember some of them freaking me out as a kid:  The hell scene in All Dogs Go to Heaven was still making me wake up in a cold sweat a year later, and everybody remembers the nefarious boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The best one on the list may be Watership Down.  Mind you, I only read the book as a kid (and I thought it was awesome), but everyone I know who saw the movie claims it warped him for life:  there he was, an innocent kid picking up a cartoon about fuzzy talking bunny rabbits . . . and then the blood started flowing.

And just for the record, the scariest thing about Labyrith, not mentioned in the io9 article, is David Bowie's pants.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: 'Maximum Ride' Volumes 2 and 3

Sorry, I walked into the environmentalist lecture by mistake. Can you direct me to the YA action novel?

Maximum Ride: School's Out - Forever by James Patterson.  Grand Central Publishing (2007).  368 pages.  Paperback.  $7.99.  ISBN-10:  0446618896.

Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson.  Little, Brown, and Co. (2008).  432 pages.  Paperback.  $8.99.  ISBN-10:  031615427X.

Previously, on The Sci Fi Catholic, I gave a glowing review of the first volume in James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, and then some fans showed up and read me the riot act because I played a little loose with the details in my plot summary, so just for the record:  Yes, I know the genetically engineered werewolves are called Erasers, so calm down, crazy people.

Being on a job that left me in a remote part of the country where I had access to libraries but not consistent access to the internet, I recently read the second and third volumes in this series, School's Out - Forever and Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports.  The first title gets points off for having a dash in it, and the second gets points off for containing seven words.  I will now perform the unenviable tasks of reviewing these two books without having either of them in front of me, since they're back at the library where I read them, which I think is in another state, and of writing my review on the fly in a coffee shop where I can get internet access and a mean chai latte.

I enjoyed School's Out - Forever almost as much as I enjoyed the first volume, The Angel Experiment, though my standards are admittedly low:  due to my heroine addiction, I could enjoy pretty much any novel about a sarcastic mutant fourteen-year-old girl who spends her free time beating up werewolves.  Like its predecessor, School's Out - Forever,which I'm going to abbreviate to SO-F from here on out, is a fast-paced book filled with absurdities and lapses in logic, leaning heavily on its protagonist's one-liners and snappy narration.

To recap, Maximum Ride and her five pals are genetically engineered human-avian hybrids who escaped from the mad scientists who created them, and are on the run from a group of crazy werewolves sent by the same mad scientists.  They fly around from place to place, snark frequently, complain about being Cursed with Awesome, visit lots of tourist attractions, eat junk food, and either fight werewolves or develop new superpowers whenever the pace starts to flag.

As the second volume opens, Max and her "flock" of genetically engineered flying children are attacked yet again by the werewolves created by the mad scientists who can't make up their minds if they want Max captured or dead, and after one of the kids gets injured, they end up in a hospital where they're quickly accosted by the FBI, which decides it's a good idea for them to all go and live in the home of a motherly female FBI agent.

From that point forward, Patterson apparently forgets that it's supposed to be an FBI agent who's adopted them (when one of them leaves without notice, she panics, has no idea what to do, and even threatens to call the police).  They proceed to have a normal life of sorts and get enrolled in a prestigious school, which gives Patterson opportunity to toss in some standard adolescent shenanigans:  Max has a first date, she gets jealous when she sees the guy she likes kissing the little red-haired girl, one of the kids set off bombs in the toilets, etc.  Naturally, they discover that the school has dark secrets and a morbid history, and there's a tunnel in the basement, and there's a weird and sinister looking filing system, and then the protagonists say SCREW THAT, WE'RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND.

No, seriously.  The story just sort of stops, switches gears, and they all go off to Disneyland, leaving the sinister school and the not-really-an-FBI-agent mom more-or-less unexplained.  I don't usually use this kind of language, but I was shouting, "WTH?!?" (which stands for "What the Heck?!?") right there in the library.  I'm lucky I didn't get kicked out.

For all that, I had a good time reading SO-F.  Like the first novel, it's shoddy, with plot holes large enough to fly a human-avian hybrid through, and reads like Patterson pounded it out over a fun weekend in between other projects.  Nonetheless, the fun he undoubtedly had writing it comes through, and I had fun reading it.  I had to set my brain on "Low" to enjoy it, though, and I had to not simply suspend my disbelief, but draw and quarter it.  Fortunately, that's easy for me to do.

With volume 3, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, which contains no extreme sports unless you count sprinting and tractor-pulling, the series sort of starts to suck.  First, the heroes get a new batch of villains who are lamer than the previous villains.  Second, although Max is for the most part an entertaining narrator, she by this time has started to wear on me, and if she's wearing on me, with my heroine addiction, she's probably downright irritating to other people.  Yes, Max, I know it sucks to be you, to have superpowers and a hot boyfriend and all that junk.*  Now shut up and punch a werewolf.

But the real reason STWAOES . . . good grief . . . is not as good as its predecessors is--wait for it--relevancy.  Blech.  Prior to this, the series was about children snarfing donuts and beating up monsters, but all of a sudden, with the third volume, it's about beating the reader over the head with some message about recycling.  I've nothing against recycling, mind you, but Maximum Ride is not deep enough or internally consistent enough to have earned the right to preach anything whatsoever, but what it does preach is not interesting, nor unique, nor particularly bright.  In fact, the bird kids even start their own agitprop campaign that is as eerily content-free as the current Occupy Wall Street nonsense:  Yo!  The adults have messed stuff up!  We kids should take over and do . . . something.

At one point toward the end, Max gives a stirring sermon on how we shouldn't budget for a military and the government should take care of everybody.  Uh huh.  Whatevs, Max.  Shut up and punch a werewolf.

Paper-thin though they are, I like these characters, so I'm willing to pick up the fourth volume in the hopes that it will suck less hard than the third one did, but unless Patterson drops the Oh noes! Global Warming! thing, and fast, I'll probably be giving it a thumbs down.  When I pay James Patterson my hard-earned bucks to tell me a brain cell-destroying story about monster-fighting children, I don't want to hear a lecture on my carbon footprint.  Now where's that chai latte I ordered?

Content:  Intelligence-free attempt at a "message," frequent action violence, mild crude language, some sensuality--whatever the heck that means.  I'm getting pretty good at these meaningless rating system content lists, doncha think?

*To the fans who are going to write in, I know he is not technically her boyfriend at this point. Calm down, crazy people.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Query for Weapons Buffs

One of the characters in my work in progress uses an AK-47 with an under-barrel GP-25 grenade launcher.  I'm trying to find out if there's a baton grenade for the GP-25, and what it's called.  Does anybody know anything about it?

Inadvertent Commentary on Modern Art

A reader sent me this, and I have to pass it along:

Oops! Cleaner Scrubs Away $1.1M Artwork

A cleaning woman at a German art museum mistook a $1.1 million sculpture for a mess, and made a bigger mess of things when she scrubbed most of it away.

The cleaner went to work on the Martin Kippenberger installation titled "When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling," a patina intended to look like a dried rain puddle, The Associated Press reported. [more . . .]

Need we any further evidence that modern art is junk?

Revolution in Thought Comes from Psychological Study

A new psychological study from Kansas State University discovers that some people don't like fantasy fiction because they think it's boring:

According to Russell Webster, doctoral student in psychology at Kansas State University, people experience fantasy differently, and some people enjoy it more than others. [more . . .]

Well, stop the freakin' presses.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rag & Muffin for NaNoWriMo

Well, why not?  I'm out in the boonies on a job where I have infrequent internet access but plenty of time to write, and I'm making unexpectedly good progress on the rough draft of what I hope will be the first in a series with the title Rag & Muffin, a play-on-words of which I'm fond.  Previously, this first volume was entitled Rag & Muffin: Girl Trouble, but after I realized that wasn't descriptive and didn't sound exciting, I changed it to the clunkier but more interesting Rag & Muffin: Tales of a Fourth Grade War Goddess.  More tweaking will likely occur.  That's why they call these working titles.

Anyway, looking at my progress and remembering that this month is NaNoWriMo, I figured I might as well make it a goal to have the rough draft churned out by the end of the month, since I've already done most of the character development, world-building, and research over the last five years (including a trip to India to get first-hand knowledge of the culture I'm ripping off for the exotic fantasy setting), looks feasible at this point.  I'm not really doing the whole competition thing; I started writing it before the month began, and I'd rather turn out a decent draft than be able to say I managed to write all of it by the end of November, but having the goal might help me work harder, so from time to time I'll make the blog even more narcissistic than usual by giving word-count updates throughout the month, as my circumstances permit.

Not bothering to do the traditional word count still used by editors, I look down at the bar at the bottom of Microsoft Word, the only program on my new computer that still likes to crash on a regular basis, and see this:

37,124 words.

That's not a bad start.  That's also more than eight completely drafted chapters, yo.

At the very least, since I already know the characters and know exactly where the novel is going, I won't have to use the NaNoWriMo technique of "Just Add Ninja" to keep the story moving.  I am, however, planning to throw in some demon-possessed Chinese robots armed with chainsaw-ax-scissors, but those are supposed to be in there.  No, really.

Now if We Can Just Make People Understand that the Whole Field of Social Psychology Is a Fraud, We'll Be in Good Shape

"Psychologist Admits to Faking Dozens of Scientific Studies"

Every branch of science has its share of "sexy" studies—so called for their supposed tendency to provoke media attention, even in the absence of strong or conclusive findings—but investigations in the field of social psychology are often especially popular targets of the "sexy" label.

Now, prominent social psychologist Diederik Stapel (who earlier this year reported that something as trivial as litter can promote discriminatory behavior) has been outed as one of the biggest frauds in scientific history. Will social psychology be able to recover? [more . . .]

Monday, October 31, 2011

And . . . Happy Halloween

Midnight of Halloween is fast approaching in my time zone, which means I have only a few minutes left before I have to run out to the hilltop to begin the incantations to call down Yog-Sothoth, which must be done exactly as the bell strikes twelve or I won't get another chance until the Feast of St. Walpurgis.  However, before I go, I want to direct your attention to Brad Noel's article on the Christian-ness of Halloween over at Southern Fried Catholicism.  Since Halloween is the official Christian holiday of The Sci Fi Catholic, I just want to say, I'm the Deej and I approve this message.

Noel spends some time poking fun at a Protestant Halloween activity called the "Judgment House," where they enact a play for unwary trick-or-treaters showing teenagers going to hell for not accepting Jesus.  He scoffs, but I cannot:  I grew up on that kind of O'Henry-style evangelism, as somebody or other once called it.  Besides, he posts this picture from a Judgment House:

Wah!   Adorable children dressed as angels!   I'm the Deej, and I approve this message, too.

'Terra Nova,' Reprise

Being on my break, I had nothing better to do this Halloween evening besides watch the latest episode of Terra Nova, and I must say my opinion of the show has just improved a great deal. The pilot was not encouraging, and every episode I'd seen after that was ill-conceived and kind of stupid. Certain things are still stupid, and they couldn't possibly fix them without a retcon, but the latest episode, involving an investigation of a murder-by-dinosaur, was pretty good, with all the appropriate twists of a mystery show and some subplots in the background that were meted out at the right pace. The characters are still paper-thin and I still can't remember their names, but at least there are signs that the show might be finding its bearings, which is good, because the basic concept of "Swiss Family Robinson with Dinosaurs and Machine Guns," probably the most creative premise for a family sit-com since Lost in Space, is too good to waste.

I also take heart that the preview for next week indicates it will involve a siege battle with dinosaur-riding, or at least dinosaur-wrangling. Win.

Oh, dude. In the course of writing this brief post, I discovered I can watch all of Lost in Space online for free, apparently legally. Also win. Man, what did geeks do before the Internet?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Update Again

At least from the writer's perspective, it is interesting to compare the differences between the mediums of the novel and of the graphic novel.  It's possible to do things in one that are impossible in the other.  Certain scenes in Rag & Muffin I have had to abandon or alter drastically, but others I am able to expand in new ways.  This following paragraph, for example, couldn't translate into graphic novel format; I don't know if this or anything like it will be in the final draft, but I, for one, find it hilarious:

When Shin looked her way, Jeanne saw her chance. She flashed her bright blue eyes at him over her glasses while simultaneously flicking her wayward ponytail off her shoulder; it was a maneuver she had practiced countless times in front of a mirror, and though Jeanne was in a decidedly awkward phase of adolescence, this gesture gave her the appearance of a saucy young lady of the world, and it could never fail to have its intended effect on any boy who had begun to find girls interesting. She was rewarded when Shin for the briefest moment sucked his breath between his teeth. That was enough to give Jeanne the courage to overcome her shyness and adopt a haughty attitude, even though haughtiness somehow emphasized her large overbite. “Shin,” she pronounced with the authority of someone wise beyond her years, “you’re being mean.”

Oh, the awful, deadly serious world of playground politics.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Alive and Kicking, Sort Of . . .

What do Sci Fi Catholics do on their breaks when they're out in the field and living in motels?  They spend their days at the library, obviously.  And type chapters of their works-in-progress on outdated versions of Word and e-mail them to themselves.

Okay, I really have nothing of interest to report here, considering that I've been out of the loop of all news of any sort for the last several days.  I'm just tucking in and getting some writing done while I have access to a computer.  Trying to run a blog and be an archaeologist at the same time is making one of those smart phones actually look like a good idea.  Then I could at least upload brief, inane posts while in the field--more inane than usual, I mean.  I've been avoiding getting a cell phone for as long as I could, since cell phones are the Mark of the Beast described in the Apocalypse*, but I might finally cave in.  After all, I can't buy or sell without one.

* I'm joking, of course.  The Mark of the Beast is actually Obamacare, which will not permit Americans to buy or sell unless they burn a pinch of incence to Moloch.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Out of Commission

I am heading out on a work project that will require me to camp, and therefore be away from the compy, for about a month.  I will try to make updates when I can, but blogging will have to become less frequent during the project.

I'll also have to go back to composing my work in progress the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.  Oh, the horrors our grandfathers endured . . .

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wasabi and Broccoli? That Sounds Like . . .

Read my lips, no more wasabi. According to an article posted at io9, wasabi added to broccoli can help prevent cancer. That would be great without the broccoli. Actually, this isn't the sort of thing I would normally post here if it weren't for this picture, more-or-less unrelated to the article it accompanies, that I blatantly stole.

Oh, Sriracha hot chili sauce. You've gotten me through more of my own unpalatable home-cooked meals than I care to admit.

New Twitter Widget

Formerly, in the right sidebar under all the please-notice-me buttons was a Twitter widget showing my tweets. Since most of those tweets were these blog posts, I didn't see much point in that, so I've replaced the old Twitter widget with a new one aggregating tweets on science fiction and fantasy. Enjoy.

Also, if anybody happens to be having display issues or problems with the nigh-unmanageable number of plugins or widgets or whatnot now associated with this blog, let me know. Particularly, let me know if the new subscription button in the upper right does anything wacky.

Superhero Nation

A reader sends this in, and I happen to have missed it before: Superhero Nation, dedicated to giving advice on writing superhero stories.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Narcissistic Update 3

I just finished the last words of the rough draft of chapter 2 of Rag & Muffin. Again, though it undoubtedly has problems I won't be able to see until later, I think it reads rather well. Also, it somehow seems to have more blood and guts than the comic version. If I can keep up this pace, I should have a complete rough in the near future. It helps that I've already done almost all the legwork and am now down simply to the composition.

Random Excerpts

The following are random, recently penned sentences from the rough draft of Rag & Muffin, my work in progress:

Since Swaggart had once observed this effeminate dandy of a pediatrician single-handedly taking down six armed Shijain rajputs--bare-handed--he decided it was best to invite him along, and to be damn polite about it, too.

It was a little girl, petite and short, with large, luminous green eyes and soft brown hair braided and twined at the back of her head around a pair of what at first appeared to be hair sticks, but which on a second glance proved to be stilettos.

Rags arched her back, slid forward on her knees, ducked the Taser, and then promptly rolled into a handstand and, with both legs, kicked Sanders in the stomach, sending him flying across the room.

Nicky reached the end of the alley, leapt an open sewer ditch, crashed noisily into a row of parked motorcycles, and then almost veered into a zebu cow sleeping in the middle of the street.

The feel of a windowpane shattering against his skull woke Nicky back up.

The Opening Hook

Some writers and people who give advice to writers make a big deal out of a book's opening sentence, and of course it's true that a great opening helps pull a reader into a story. But of all the books I've read, I can remember the opening sentence of very few of them. Neuromancer has probably the only one I can quote from memory, at least that I can think of in the thirty seconds I'm using to write this post: "The sky was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." That's a pretty good opening line.

Over at Speculative Faith is a list of openings lines from unpublished novels, and they're inviting readers to choose which ones they like best, and to offer critiques.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nothing . . .

. . . is more creepy to me than the critics who think the dystopian enforcers who throw a man in jail for having a third child on Terra Nova are the good guys.

See here and here.

I'm guessing these critics missed the part where the enforcers enter an apartment without a warrant and brutally trash the place looking for a child in order to penalize the child's parents, or the part where the child in question is precious and adorable and feeds leaves to a Brachiosaur.  The enforcers obviously didn't have the sympathy of the show's creators, and it chills me that they could get the sympathy of any of the viewers.

SF Signal's Visual Guide to NPR's top 100 SF Books

SF Signal has created one dang cool flowchart to guide you through NPR's list of the top 100 science fiction books.  It is a great pleasure to look at and meander through, and I rather hope they come out with a poster version I can put on my wall.

See the chart here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Whoa, Sweet! Brain Scanners Can Play Movies from Your Mind

Now they have machines that can, in blurry and vague fashion, reconstruct the movies you're watching from the activity of your brain, according to a story I found in Arab News.com.

It sounds like science fiction: While volunteers watched movie clips, a scanner watched their brains. And from their brain activity, a computer made rough reconstructions of what they viewed.
Scientists reported that result Thursday and speculated such an approach might be able to reveal dreams and hallucinations someday.

In the future, it might help stroke victims or others who have no other way to communicate, said Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the paper. [more . . .]

This is good.  If they can play movies from the content of your brain, then when a million-year-old psychic spaceship containing the dead bodies of giant grasshoppers from Mars is found in the London underground and a guy with a diamond drill turns crazy and psychic from trying to open it, they'll be able to reconstruct the giant grasshoppers' evil Fascist agenda by plugging the guy's head into a TV set.

New News Ticker Is a Keeper

Or at least I think so.  See it up above there in all its glory.  It should aggregate stories related to science fiction.  I tried to make it do fantasy, too, but then it kept churning out articles on Fantasy Football.

Really Fast Neutrinos

As a follow-up of sorts to our review of the time travel adventure show Terra Nova, I direct you to a radio program on the subject of the experiment of which you may have already heard, in which researchers at CERN in Geneva recorded what may be faster-than-light neutrinos.  More science will have to happen before faster-than-light particles are accepted as real, of course, but if neutrinos really can exceed light speed, that will be a big deal.

The program speculates that it may mean some form of time travel is possible.  Here's the link.

However this plays out, and whatever future research shows, it will make for some good sci-fi phlebotinum, I've no doubt.  Just say "neutrino," and throw some other big words around with paraphrased excerpts from science magazines, and . . . presto!  Explanation for an FTL drive!

Monday, September 26, 2011

TV Review: 'Terra Nova' Pilot, 'Genesis'

Terra Nova:  Genesis.  Directed by Alex Graves.  Written by Allan Loeb, Kelly Marcel, and Craig Silverstein.  Amblin Entertainment and Chernin Entertainment.  Fox Broadcasting Network (2011).  2 hours.

Experience teaches me that pilots for new sf shows can be weak, so I'm willing to give Terra Nova another shot and tune in Monday for the next episode, but I'm not impressed by what I've seen so far.  All the good stuff is in the first fifteen minutes; in fact, the first fifteen minutes may be some of the best minutes I've seen on TV, but after that the story meanders and we get nothing but stock situations.  The writers made a bad move selecting the subplot they did and using it to fill almost the entirety of the two-hour pilot when it should have been used in a one-hour filler episode further down the line.

I'm having to go to Internet sources to remind myself of the characters' names, and that is not a good sign.  Our main characters are a family of five living in the year 2149, which suffers from the standard polution-overpopulation mix predicted by our so-far inaccurate doomsday prophets:  we have ex-cop Jim Shannon (Sharon O'Mara), his wife, a skilled physician  (Shelley Conn), and his three kids, one of whom is illegal because of a two-child law.  When their illegal cute little girl is discovered, Shannon goes to prison for a couple of years and faces the possibility of permanent separation from his wife and two oldest kids when they're selected to join other colonists in a trip through a convenient space-time rift and live in the Cretaceous.  That leads to the best sequence in the whole two hours:  Shannon breaks out of prison and smuggles his youngest daughter into the past to join the rest of the family.  The sets depicting the scummy, dirty future world are well-crafted, and the CGI flybys through the Blade Runner-like future city look great, but once the show switches to the primordial past, everything goes downhill.

Once in the past, we learn that the colony, Terra Nova (filmed with a mix of Australian forest and mediocre CGI) is ill-prepared to deal with its environment:  they've surrounded their settlement with a wooden fence that a lot of even rather large creatures could easily squeeze through, and they defend themselves almost entirely with small arms.  Remember Jurassic Park and how everything went wrong in spite of all the security? Terra Nova has way less security than that.

In spite of being an escaped criminal from a maximum security prison (why was he in maximum security for having an extra kid?), Shannon gets a wrist-slap from the coolest character in the show, General Taylor, played by the coolest actor from Avatar (Stephen Lang).  Shannon's wife becomes the local doctor, who uses giant leeches.  We aren't told why frontier medicine from 2149 has degenerated back to leeching, but it has.  Shannon, after a brief stint as a farmer, gets a gun and becomes a cop again even though he recently broke out of a high-security prison.  His son goes predictably emo and tells dad he hates him for no reason in particular.  His daughter meets a hunk who gets approximately 45 seconds of screen time.  And in the second-best sequence in the whole two hours, his illegal and adorable daughter Zoe (Alana Mansour) feeds a Brachiosaurus.  Aww.

We get some hints of goings-on that indicate paradise is not all it's cracked up to be.  Some rebels have formed their own colony with the goal of bringing down Terra Nova, apparently with the help of some backers from the future.  The rebels have a curious above-average tendency to get et by dinosaurs, and they do so in the show's third- and fourth-best sequences.  Somebody or something is also lurking out in the jungle and doing something or other high-techish.

The show goofs when it decides to focus most of its attention on teenagers sneaking out, getting drunk, and getting attacked by dinos.  That leads to some decent dinosaur-fighting and some decent human-munching, but it's a stupid subplot that places most of the attention on the show's weakest actors.  It also means almost everything in the episode is driven by its characters' boneheaded choices.

On the plus side, the thematic focus is on family.  It's all about sticking together, learning to live with one another even in the midst of difficult situations, and about telling Big Brother we'll have as many kids as we want, dammit.  Also, little Zoe brings the cute child mascot back to sci-fi television, and I had thought, after Boxey mysteriously disappeared from the lust-ridden remake of Battlestar Galactica, that the child mascot was gone for good.  Everyone who's read the Dinotopiapicture books knows that cute little girls are supposed to feed dinosaurs, and fortunately, someone making Terra Nova has apparently read the Dinotopiapicture books.  On the whole, I can't complain, and I see chances of improvement since there are hints of subterfuge and hidden agendas and conflicts to come in later episodes.  I just hope the writers can do family-themed stories without falling back on the drunken-teenagers-get-chased-by-monster shtick they relied on in the pilot.

Content:  Fake-looking dinosaurs get the munchies.  People get sliced and chewed on-screen.  Surprising amount of blood for what's been billed as a family show.  Not really excessive, but some parents may be uncomfortable allowing small children to watch it.  The small children themselves, on the other hand, will probably love it.

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 9: 110 min

The machine gun vs. dinosaur fighting isn't too bad, but it's still not quite as good as the similar scene in My Science Project.  The plot is entirely stupidity-driven; everything happens because somebody is an idiot.

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 8: 95 min

That was much too short a segment.  Stuck in a disabled land vehicle and shooting submachine guns at killer dinosaurs is good.

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 7: 90 min

Stupid teenagers played by thirty-something actors brew moonshine, get attacked by dinosaurs.  Someone gets et.  Script is sluggish, situations are awkward.  All the good worldbuilding seems to have gone into the future in the early scenes, rather than in the 85 mya past that makes up the bulk of the show.

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 6: 75 min

Yep, definitely increased frequency on the commercials.

Idiots from the future can't figure out how to mine.  Meteoric iron comes from a "quarry"?  CGI dinosaurs and environments look fake.  Stephen Lang stares down a dinosaur.  Doing donuts in an armored vehicle while shooting a dinosaur with a machine gun is pretty cool.

This show hovers in that strange space between super cool and hella lame.

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 5: 65 min

Wait, it hasn't been that long since the last update.  I think the commercials are coming more frequently.

Trouble in paradise.  A second, evil settlement wants to destroy the first one.  Sweet.  Hey, wait, is that tough guy in charge of the colony the same guy who played the only cool character in Avatar?  Hey, yeah, it is!  That's Stephen Lang!  That guy rocks!

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 4: 60 min

Everyone who travels to the past can drink nothing but buttermilk for weeks.  Girl strips down to bikini.  We Are Not Alone.

If the aliens turn out to be evildoers who will provoke the heroes into riding dinosaurs mounted with laser rifles in order to fight them, WIN.  If the aliens turn out to be underground-traveling pseudo-hippies who teach the bad humans about being kind to the environment, FAIL.

Bring back the cute little girl feeding the dinosaurs.

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 3: 45 min

Teenage boy goes emo again.  "I hate you!  I wish I were never born!"  Okay, he didn't say that, but close.

These high-tech physicians from the future use giant leeches.  Leeches?  Is that supposed to be funny?  Or believable?

Awkward expository sequence explains why colonizing the past doesn't change the future.  Makes a forced and non-clever "Sound of Thunder" reference.

It's losing steam.  The first fifteen minutes are the best so far.  Bring back the cute little girl and the dinosaurs.

'Terra Nova' Up-to-the-Minute Update 2: 30 min

Escapee from high-security prison gets off with a wrist-slap (sweet!).  Teenage boy goes emo.  Adorable little girl feeds Brachiosaurus (I want a Brachiosaurus).  Idiots don't know how to build the walls around their settlement to keep the dinosaurs out.

Still enjoyable, but they really don't look prepared to deal with dinosaurs here.  The biggest weapon I've seen is a carbine, and the wall is too short and has not moat or other deterrent.  These guys are less prepared than Jurassic Park was.

So far, with the flakey polution message and the dinosaurs, it's sort of like Dinotopia with guns.