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.