Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Noooo!!! George Lucas Does More to Wreck 'Star Wars'

According to Giant Freakin Robot, which ought to know, George Lucas in his infinite wisdom and infinite meddling has decided that a Big No, similar to the one that made hash out of the ending of that awful trilogy of prequels, needs to be dubbed into Return of the Jedi. You know . . . because. Just as a note, I don't have this finally, actually, definitely confirmed, but what's the Internet for if not for spreading rumors?

Here comes the footage:


As a fan of the original, untarnished, pre-"Special Edition" Star Wars trilogy, I don't know what to say to this except . . . Nooooooo!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Upcoming Movie: Apollo 18

I actually wanted to watch Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame this weekend, but I'm presently stuck somewhere where I can't find a showing.

So for my next act of movie reviewing, I give you Apollo 18, another movie using the now worn-out gimmick of pretending to be found footage, this time of a top secret additional moon mission that ended, presumably, with the astronauts getting et by aliens. My stomach is already churning; I cannot help but notice that, at present, there are no reviews for Apollo 18 at Rotten Tomatoes, which probably means it was withheld from reviewers, which probably means it's pretty bad.

Watch the trailer at your own risk; this is one of those trailers that shows almost the entire movie, so if you're planning on seeing it and want to be surprised, skip it.

What I'm watching:


What I wish I was watching:

Monday, August 29, 2011

News from the Fish Bowl

It's me, Lucky, here again with a soggy keyboard and your weekly news!


Bill Trojan Passes Away at Worldcon


Book dealer Bill Trojan, who appeared frequently at conventions, died at Worldcon in Reno, Nevada.  Dean Wesley Smith presents a remembrance at SF Signal.


Cyborg Filmmaker Works on Video Game


As reported by Mike Wehner at Tecca, filmmaker Rob Spence worked with Square Enix on the game Deus Ex:  Human Revolution, a cyberpunkish action game.  Spence himself has a cybernetic eye:

After a firearm accident left Spence without one of his eyes, he took the bold step of having it replaced with something a little more robotic. Now, housed within his eye socket is a small camera that allows him to stream and record his daily life wirelessly. In the short documentary, Spence showcases some of the cool features of the camera, including being able to stream his own vision to a handheld display. [more . . .]

NASA Works with Tor/Forge on Novels


Now that NASA no longer has to worry about actually running a space program, the agency has more time for science fiction.  NASA is teaming up with publisher Tor/Forge, as reported in the Los Angeles Times:

NASA is teaming up with publisher Tor/Forge to help create what sounds a little like an oxymoron: science-based science fiction. But getting the science wrong can make a science-fiction novel fall flat on its face. Now, novelists in the Tor/Forge stable will have access to NASA scientists to get the facts of their fiction right. [more . . .]

I hope the guy who wrote that "oxymoron" thing isn't a regular book reviewer. I have so totally never ready any science fiction based on, you know, science.


Samsung Uses Sci-Fi to Attempt to Block Apple's Patent


Samsung, whose products we at The Sci Fi Catholic are now going to boycott out of sheer irritation, is attacking Apple's patent on the iPad because it vaguely resembles a high-tech gadget depicted in one scene of 2001:  A Space Odyssey, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

Samsung, along with a motion that is still under seal, on Monday filed a declaration in federal court in San Jose, Calif., by a lawyer for the company suggesting that the basic design of the iPad was already envisioned by such popular works as Stanley Kubrick’s seminal movie, which came out in 1968. [more . . .]


Scientists Discover Truth Behind Comic Sans

And lastly, I give you this. This explains a lot, actually.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blog Maintenance Day

Having now tweaked the "share" buttons nobody uses for the thousandth time, the page should load about half a second faster. Isn't social networking wonderful? On the bright side, I think I've cleaned out most of the dead links and bad code. At the very least, that mysterious white block that appears across the screen with "Invalid User ID" in it should no longer show up.

Blog maintenance = no real content

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Conan the Librarian!

In (dis)honor of the new Conan the Barbarian movie, which, according to all sources, suxx really hard, I would like to recall to your mind what I think of as the real, the original, the only "Conan the Librarian." You probably think this gag originates with Weird Al Yankovic's UHF. Oh, no. According to undoubtedly accurate online sources, it originates with You Can't Do That on Television, but I think of it as coming from ye olde classic of children's TV, Reading Rainbow, starring Geordi La Forge. Because of that show, I was scared to death to get a library card when I was a kid because I thought I would have to talk to Conan and pass the test to receive the sacred Card of Library . . . and when I did get a library card, I was, ironically, disappointed because I didn't get to talk to Conan.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the clip, so . . . *sigh* . . . I present the UHF version. Internet, you have failed me for the last time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Catholic Apologist Gets Dinged for Writing Fan Fiction

As always, we are late on news.  In fact, that might be our new byline.

Lucky referred this to me while she was preparing her news post for this week, but I thought it worth discussing in its own post.  The Catholic News Agency (not to be confused with the Catholic News Service, which is run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) recently ran an article entitled "RealCatholicTV's Voris had 'no idea' about internal problems."  The article has two parts; it focuses on RealCatholicTV's non-profit status, a subject about which I know nothing and will refrain from commenting, but then goes on to attack RealCatholicTV's senior executive producer, the aforenamed Voris, because one of his employees, a certain Simon Rafe, had written Star Wars fan fiction and a role-playing game called "Castle Dracula."  "Castle Dracula" apparently has some erotic content involving an elf goddess, and the Star Wars story apparently depicts a lesbian relationship.

I claim no familiarity with Rafe's work, either apologetical or fictional, but I do find it disturbing that an organization can get criticized for one of its employee's artistic hobbies. It reminds me of my time in Canada some years back when I could open the newspaper and read about a long-time employee being fired from a job on the subway because somebody read his blog and found content disparaging of homosexuals.  Of course, Canada now has Big Brother-like laws and a review board responsible for persecuting outspoken individuals who don't toe the party line, but it gets my dander up to see Catholics trying to institute an informal version of the same sort of thing here in the U.S.  The CNA's attack on Rafe is analogous to a news reporter digging into a novelist's book, finding some seamy content on page 346, writing an article announcing to the world that said novelist should be fired from his day job, and further insinuating that the employee's boss should be thoroughly familiar with all the non-work-related hobbies of his staff.  Personally, I'd be bugged if my boss read my short stories and brought them up at my performance review.

Rafe has an extremely contrite and repetitive apology up at his blog, and from the look of things--the few things that are available to look at, anyway--the CNA is making a mountain from a very small molehill.  It's impossible to say for sure, because the allegedly offensive works are no longer online, but a close look at what the CNA article does and doesn't say, coupled with Rafe's explanations, makes the CNA article looks suspicious.

The CNA says, without elaboration, that Rafe wrote "fan-fiction depicting homosexuality in the Star Wars universe."  That leaves the reader to imagine that Rafe has written pornographic slash.  His apology, however, suggests otherwise:

. . . the Star Wars story (characterized by the article as introducing lesbianism into the narrative) was an attempt to introduce genuine love into the narrative. Star Wars is a story of selfless individuals (the Jedi) who do not express real love - they lack a Catholic understanding of the virtue.  They can be cold and logical, somewhat unfeeling and motivated by the end result. The changes I made to the narrative of Star Wars to write my story were to inject love into key characters, and allow them to grow positively as a result.

The lesbian characters are shown as deficient in love (the story was incomplete, so the final denoument of the piece is not seen) but gradually grow in love and realize the incorrectness of their position.  The main heroine of the piece has a very clear growth from selfish lust to genuine love (and even motherhood).  [more . . .]

Just think: if you work for a Catholic organization in the U.S., writing fiction that depicts characters growing from selfish lust to genuine love can now get you publicly embarrassed and get your job threatened.

Stronger than the indictment of his fan fic is the indictment of his role-playing game, "Castle Dracula."  Again, as any readers are free to point out, I'm hobbled by being unable to access the work of the guy I'm trying to defend, but the difference between what the CNA says Rafe wrote, and what Rafe says Rafe wrote, is striking.  Here's the CNA:

As recently as August 15, the website batcave.co.uk hosted the text of “Castle Dracula: A Tunnels & Trolls Solo Adventure by Simon Rafe.” Signed and dated “Simon 'The Darknight' Rafe, Baptism of Our Lord, 2010,” the work contains a paragraph vividly describing a sexual encounter with “a beautiful Elven woman” revealed to be “Asrel, the goddess of love, life, health, healing, beauty and sex.”

Rafe gives the player a series of options in the scenario: “If you would like strength and vitality, turn to 70. If you would like health and life, turn to 383. If you would like true love, turn to 467. If you would like sex appeal, turn to 203. If you would like sexual potency, turn to 366. If you would like make love to the goddess (even if you are female - Asrel is an equal-opportunity lover!), turn to 11.” [more . . .]

That sounds tacky, yet I can't help but suspect the CNA has made it sound worse than it is.  I note the use of the word vividly, which could mean anything, but again leaves the reader to imagine Rafe has written pornography.  I note also that we are left to imagine what happens if you turn to any of those pages:  For all we know, the goddess smites you for your presumption on pages 11, 203, and 366.

Here is Rafe's explanation; please pardon the long quote:

The specific piece of work in question is an interactive adventure set in a fantasy universe similar to that of Tolkien's Middle Earth. The theme of the adventure game (the objective of the game, if you will) is to fight and defeat a group of evil vampires terrorizing a village. The work is based on the novel "Dracula" and other classic horror stories.

As is common in these stories, the vampire is used as a metaphor for lustful, inappropriate sexuality. Throughout the work, the hero is encouraged to fight against these vampires both with combat and intellect, and also with moral resistance to their seduction. The vampires attempt to seduce the hero character and - if they succeed - then the player has lost the game. His character is destroyed by the vampires.

Set against the evil of the vampires - a debased sexuality which takes and does not give (a contracepted and barren sexuality) is a figure of love; the goddess Asrel. Within the logic of the gameworld, she is the author of all life on the fictional planet as well as the source of goodness and love - the very antithesis of the undead vampires.

The portrayal of this figure in an erotic manner may seem appropriate for the genre, but it is something which is inappropriate to do. Certainly, to portray the character with such a lack of morals as I did is completely wrong.

I do not offer the above explanation as a justification or a defence, but rather simply as an explanation.

The article describes the writings as "sexually explicit". This is a description I would not have used, although the way I wrote the piece was certainly inappropriate and is it definitely "vividly" written (as the article says). The work does not contain explicit descriptions of sexual acts as I would define the term. Obviously, this is no defence - what I wrote was wrong to have written - but I feel the article may give an erroneous impression of what I wrote. [more . . .]

Rafe, being holier and more charitable than I would be in his circumstances, is careful to avoid blaming the CNA, yet in spite of his obviously real contrition, he appears throughout his blog post to be struggling hard to come up with anything for which to be contrite.  He admits he wrote "vividly" (how else is a writer supposed to write?), and he admits that he portrayed a love goddess "in an erotic manner" (how else would he portray one?).

Mark Shea has already gone all anti-Calvinist on CNA.  While not entirely unpersuasive, he resorts to guesswork about the CNA's motives and a lot of huffing at imagined enemies, though he too is handicapped by inability to access "Castle Dracula" and give it some genuine moral criticism.

Since none of us in the Catholic blogosphere are working on anything here besides the inadequate CNA article, a lot of guesswork, and a lot of emotion, I suppose I'll throw in my own worthless guesses and emotions.  What Rafe is probably guilty of, if anything, is making public ill-advised works that would be unable to see the light of day if it were not for the new possibilities of self-publication on the Internet.  I have certainly written things that it is better if few people, or no people, see.  I have written works with good intentions such as those Rafe had, which nonetheless mutated into horrific monsters--monsters bigger and nastier and uglier than his, I'll bet--because I was too unskilled to do what I was attempting or because I was off-base in my way of doing it, or both.  Most of these have fortunately never gone beyond the rough draft stage.  I have also, as a blog owner, written things on the Internet that it would have been better if I had not written.  I suspect most budding writers have done these things.

Certainly Rafe's goals and intentions in his "Castle Dracula," as stated in his apology, were not wrong, but he chose for himself a project that would be quite difficult to execute well.  It is not wrong in itself for a Christian to produce "erotic content" (if anyone doubts, I commend him to a re-reading of the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's), but it is difficult:  chastity is a fragile thing, easy to destroy; it takes a light touch, and in the hands of a boor, an amateur, or a philistine (though Rafe may be none of those), it can fracture and become pornographic, or at least disgusting, or at least silly.  Of course, even amateurs can evaluate their work and edit, or just not publish--unless of course they've already posted it to the Internet.

The Internet has not only made it much easier to publish ill-advised work, but has also made it easier to tear people down:  now a CNA reporter can, with his web browser, his word processor, and a few mouse clicks, ruin a man's reputation without even leaving the comfort of his office.

RealCatholicTV has an official response. The issue of non-profit status is apparently a very minor one, inaccurately represented by CNA.  Voris returns the favor by claiming the CNA is behind on its own non-profit paperwork, a claim that is apparently also inaccurate.  Rafe, on the other hand, is getting hosed.

Voris also rails against his enemies, bemoaning "vicious personal attacks" and in the same speech comparing his critics to "sniveling schoolgirls."  Hm.  I note that Voris blames the CNA article on some vaguely defined enemies of the liberal camp, while Shea in the above-posted article blames RealCatholicTV's own ultra-Traditionalist crowd.  To me, both of them appear to be shadow-boxing, merely guessing at motives they don't actually know.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour

Here we go again.  Our tour this month features the e-zine Residential Aliens, which I have read so you don't have to.  Er . . . well, you know what I mean.  This e-zine features non-fictional essays on the controversial subject of immigration reform.

No, I'm kidding.  It's a sci-fi e-zine.  And here comes a review of Issue 4.11.  They told me it was supposed to be Issue 5.5, but that's not what I got when I clicked the link. Now here come my comments on the five stories contained therein:

"Petition" by L. S. King

All you need to know about this can be found in the first four sentences:
The soft crunch of boots through the snowdrifts signaled intruders behind Alcandhor. His spine stiffened. Could he not have a few moments alone at his father’s crypt to grieve the fresh loss?  He turned to face a group of Rangers.

And behind the Rangers were a Paladin, a Thief, and a Half-Elf.  No, not really.  Alcandhor, he of the unpronounceable name, is, due to the death of his father, the new Thane (yes, capitalized even when not in front of or in place of his name) of the Rangers.  Besides being the guy in charge, he can read emotions because of some extraterrestrials who interbred with his family in the distant past, and he wants to find a way to open the ancient wormhole portals left behind by the extraterrestrials so he can travel to other worlds . . . but that has nothing to do with the plot, which is about Alcandhor making a mildly clever judgment in a criminal case.  The story is clunky, and it kept distracting me with randomly capitalized words.  It lacks polish, has little plot, and it's bad in a classic sword-and-sorcery kind of way, though not really bad.  The central conflict is too simple, the intended message laid on too thick.  Also, I don't know why these people are called Rangers when they are never depicted Ranging.

"The Fluttering Flies" by Gary Raven

This story is much better, but kind of depressing; its hero is an Irish lorry driver who sees weird shapes no one else can see.  His condition is dismissed by his opthomologist, but soon he can smell, feel, and hear the weird images.  Raven uses a flurry of playful, unexpected metaphors to describe the protagonist's bizarre sensations.  It's fun, but the story offers little explanation and ultimately reads like little more than a description of an acid trip.

"Plague Ship" by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

It's a breezy little thing about a fast-talking spaceship mechanic who gets a full-body prosthesis after he's blown up real good, and then gets stuck on a planet full of supercomputer-worshipping religious crazies who are all dying from a plague, to which his all-mechanical body is of course immune. Intentionally gruesome with lots of snappy dialogue and a few words blown about that might be futuristic slang terms, it's a lot of fun. A very quick read, very enjoyable.

"Full Moon Gala" by Lachlan David

Not a lot happens, but it's pleasant enough--a ghost story that's not the least bit scary, but instead bubbling with joy, it might lighten your mood.

"Tarzan at the Earth's Corps" by Walt Staples

I was pleasantly surprised to encounter this story by a friend of mine, who not only puts an sf pun in the title but starts off by quoting H. P. Lovecraft, and that can't be bad. The story involves a soldier in what appears to be either the future or an alternate universe, having a very, very bad day. Also, there's a zombie invasion, sort of. The aim is humor, and the story succeeds, though only with a lot of implausibility on the part of its plot and incompetence on the part of its characters. Very entertaining.

You can see the ResAliens blog here.

Now here comes your blog tour:

Noah Arsenault, Brandon Barr, Thomas Clayton Booher, Grace Bridges, Beckie Burnham, Jeff Chapman, CSFF Blog Tour, Carol Bruce Collett , D. G. D. Davidson, Dean Hardy, Katie Hart, Ryan Heart, Bruce Hennigan, Jason Joyner, Carol Keen, Shannon McDermott, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Lyn Perry, Sarah Sawyer, Jessica Thomas, Steve Trower, Fred Warren, Phyllis Wheeler

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Anime Review: 'Gosick'

Gosick, directed by Hitoshi Nanda.  Starring Aoi Yuki, Takuya Eguchi, and Hidenof Kiuchi.  Studio BONES, 2011.  24 half-hour episodes.  Not rated.

At time of writing, Gosick is only available in English via live streaming through Crunchyroll.

It's me, Snuffles T. Dragon, and after a long hiatus because Deej had the computer with him in a mountain fotress guarded by trebuchets . . . it's a long story . . . I'm back.

I have just recently finished making my way through the 24-episode run of Gosick, based on a series of light novels by Kazuki Sakuraba.  Kalium at MegaTokyo describes it as more or less the best new anime series of 2011; I don't know if that's true because I don't waste quite that much time watching anime (I have to reserve some time for reading manga, listening to death metal, and shredding the Deej's American comic book collection, after all), but one way or the other, it's pretty darn good.  Gosick attempts to blend three genres:  murder mystery, political thriller, and more-or-less standard-issue magical girlfriend romcom.  These three often jostle each other on stage and frequently fail to get along, and the show's well-meant attempt at Deep Meaning™ ultimately falls flat, but the visuals are consistently beautiful and Gosick succeeds exactly where it might be first expected to fail:  In spite of its use of shop-worn tropes, it is an excellent love story.  Though weak in some areas, it accomplishes its main goal and does it with an unusual amount of class.

Our heroes.

The year is 1924 in an alternate universe where the timeline of the 20th century has been condensed for plot convenience, and the place is a fictional francophone European country called Saubure (or Sauville in some translations).  Like most anime, the story is set in a prestigious university-like high school with a curiously invisible faculty, in this case St. Marguerite Academy, which pulls in a large number of foreign students.  Our hero is the good-natured but somewhat befuddled Japanese exchange student Kazuya Kujo (Takuya Eguchi), more commonly known as the Black Reaper because the superstitious, ghost story-addled student body has decided that his black hair and Asian features mark him as the harbinger of death.  While exploring the academy's towering library (which has visuals apparently borrowed from the moving staircase of the Harry Potter films), Kujo discovers an arboretum on the top floor, which is inhabited by Victorique de Blois, a very weird girl with a nasty personality and an addiction to candy and books, who wears Victorian dresses and smokes a pipe, and who receives regular visits from her dimwitted half-brother Inspector Grevil (Hidenobu Kiuchi), who uses her superior mind to solve murder cases.

Kujo quickly becomes Watson to Victorique's Holmes, and true to the dire label he has received from other students, he has a remarkable propensity for witnessing murders, finding corpses, and getting otherwise caught up in intrigue, which Victorique is happy to solve as a way of staving off her perpetual ennui.  With a great deal of patience--and a lot of sweets--he also gradually manages to get on Victorique's good side, largely by taking beatings to protect her whenever their adventures get them into scrapes.

The softer side of Gosick.

Gosick likes to keep at least two muder mysteries going at a time and generally takes about three episodes to wrap up one story.  As the series progresses, the overarching plot involving a political battle between Saubure's Science Academy and its Ministry of the Occult starts to take over and by about the middle of the series, Gosick only faintly resembles a mystery show.  We get a lot of backstory involving Victorique's diabolical father, the Marquis de Blois (Takayuki Sugo), who kept Victorique locked in a stone tower through most of her childhood, as well as her mysterious mother Cordelia Gallo (Miyuki Sawashiro), whom the marquis apparently chained up in a basement and raped repeatedly (that's probably a spoiler, but I figure it's only fair to warn you about that one).  On top of that, World War II threatens to start a decade ahead of schedule.  The Marquis and the Ministry of the Occult have big plans to use Victorique as a pawn of some unspecified sort in a power grab involving alliance with Germany, and as she and Kujo grow closer together emotionally, they are nonetheless repeatedly torn from each other by events outside their control.

Whew.  I got tired just writing that.  Gosick is big and bold:  it wants to do everything, and it wants to do all of it in a mere twenty-four half-hour episodes.  That's innumerable murders, a love story, a lot of intrigue, several head-spinning plot twists, and a world war that have to be dealt with in only twelve hours, including commercials.  I don't know about you, but that's more than I've gotten done today.

Gosick's biggest fault is that it's rushed, which causes its various elements to bump against each other in such a way that they don't get developed properly.  Heck, even world politics get rushed in this show, with Germany invading Poland in 1925.  Some murder mysteries are solved so quickly and off-handedly that it's a mystery why they were introduced at all, while others suffer from an excess of complexity (and implausibility) delivered at too rapid a pace.  The overarching story has a few serious plot holes:  most importantly, we never learn what exactly the Marquis de Blois wants to do with Victorique, except use her as a sort of mascot or figurehead, which is nonsensical, considering that the marquis considers her mental prowess to be of such importance.  And though Gosick does a great job with its two central characters (more on that in a moment), it fails to develop any but one of the others.  The marquis is a mere cardboard villain, committing evil for evil's sake, and Cordelia Gallo gets few scenes and little exploration.  The most underused character is the blonde, blue-eyed, and bubbly English exchange student Avril Bradley (Noriko Shitaya), who develops a crush on Kujo, but, instead of becoming a proper third leg of a love triangle, ends up being merely a third wheel, getting no development and having little role in the story.  Only Inspector Grevil gets rounded out, turning out to be more than the buffoon he appears to be at first.

Anyone who holds his wine glass like that has got to be evil.

But even though Gosick leaves much to be desired in some departments and even fails to satisfy completely as a murder mystery show, it has such slick visuals and succeeds so well in developing its two protagonists that the failings barely matter.  This is surprising--or maybe predictable, depending on how you view things--since Kujo and Victorique are both pulled from the grab-bag of ready-made anime stock characters:  Kujo is the standard good-natured, bumbling Japanese schoolboy with inexplicable babe magnetism, and Victorique is the standard high-maintenance tsundere girlfriend with a magic power, though her "power" in this case is a knack for solving mysteries.  With a great deal of patience, chivalry, fortitude, and physical endurance, Kujo manages over time to break through Victorique's chilly façade, which we soon learn is not merely a romcom plot device, but the outcome of a lifetime of abuse.  Their relationship is never clearly defined as romantic and physically extends no further than hand-holding, but thanks to some sharp writing, excellent character design, and impressive voice performances, by the time the last half-dozen episodes roll around and Kujo and Victorique are struggling, perhaps in vain, against a combination of national politics and global war just to be together, their plight is both deeply moving and entirely believable.  You can, so to speak, feel the love.

This works so well in large part because the show is clearly in love with all that inspired it.  It gives unabashed nods to Sherlock Holmes (most particularly in Victorique's pipe) and without either snidery or lampshade-hanging, draws in classic murder mystery scenarios and Gothic trappings.  The environments are painted with beautiful detail, and Victorique's array of elaborate dresses shows evidence both of careful research and of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in the animation department.  The show eschews fanservice and cheap gimmicks, and Kujo, while a bit thickheaded, consistently behaves with old-fashioned gallantry toward Victorique, sometimes suffering some severe beatings to protect her.  Some of the most simple and touching scenes are the ones in which Kujo picks up Victorique and carries her to avoid or escape some danger.

If Gosick is strongest in its wholesome display of love, it is probably weakest in its attempt to deal with Deep Meaning™ and Larger Issues™.  As is customary in murder mysteries, all supposedly supernatural happenings are exposed as fakery and parlor tricks, but as the main plot takes over, we get a battle between the Ministry of the Occult and the Science Academy, with the ultimate message, delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, being that Way Smart People don't believe in magic because SCIENCE!  That would be less annoying if the show could resist using magic as a plot device:  We learn that the Ministry of the Occult had, thanks to an especially gruesome form of augury, accurately predicted the outcome of the Great War, and when Victorique and Kujo are told by a necromancer channeling spirits that another great war is coming "many years from now" (which in Gosick's collapsed timeline apparently translates as "next month") that will separate them forever, they both believe it without question and rage against fate rather than dismiss it as poppycock.  World War II is even blamed on an excessive credulity toward fairy tales, and the show ends with a paean to science, technology, and progress, delivered unironically after scenes of aeroplanes carpet-bombing cities.

This war between science and magic is artificial; C. S. Lewis, who ought to know, points out that the two grew up together.  Besides that, this championing of technology is oddly misplaced, since the story occurs in an era when global war dashed naïve optimism in vaguely defined progress.  And let us not forget that eugenics, which the Nazis finally made unpopular, was widely accepted by the scientific minds of the day as sound science.

I would pass over this with a mere hand-wave except Gosick's war between Science and Occult always places religion in the Occult camp. This may be due to the same innocent ignorance that informs most depictions of Christianity in anime; it may be that some Japanese men looking at the West have a hard time distinguishing a Christian from a magician just as Western men have had notorious difficulty parsing Eastern religions and traditions.   It's also worth noting that Gosick evinces little interest in religion as such and only rarely mentions it directly.  Still, I find it unfortunate that the archvillain insists on dressing in a white cassock with a crucifix, and that one of the strongholds of occultism in the show is a Catholic convent (with the un-convent-like name of "Beelzebub's Skull," no less).  At any rate, this is backwards:  the Catholic Church has tended to take a high view of science and a low view of the occult; if a political battle occurred between the two, it's not hard to guess which side she'd be on.

Content:  Here's the little section of the review made with the Christian parent in mind.  We've decided we don't much like the "laundry list" style of describing potentially objectionable content, so please be patient as I deliver more essay.  Gosick contains no cheesecake or other prurient sexual content, and is in fact most restrained exactly when it has most opportunity to be exploitative.  As a show about murders with homages to Gothic fiction, it of course contains a variety of outré deaths, including beheadings, stabbings, poisonings, and so forth; violence is generally both brief and quite brutal, but not what I would consider excessive.  Rape, kidnapping, and child abuse are recurring themes, but are implied rather than directly depicted.  It's probably not for the smallest children.  Gosick's pro-chivarly stance and (apparent) anti-religious stance look about equal in my mind, so I leave it to the informed reader to make up his own mind about it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Real-Life BioShock

Thanks to a reader for sending me this:  according to Liz Goodwin with The Lookout, Peter Thiel, founder of Pay Pal, is investing money in creating a Libertarian state on a floating platform out in the ocean:

Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch--free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be "a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons."
"There are quite a lot of people who think it's not possible," Thiel said at a Seasteading Institute Conference in 2009, according to Details. (His first donation was in 2008, for $500,000.) "That's a good thing. We don't need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don't think it's possible they won't take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it's too late." [more...]

More funny than the article are the comments following, including my personal favorite, "I think this is a great idea! And when the first tropical storm wipes out your 'looser building codes' don't cry to the U.S. for aid."  Also, I like the comment, "I think they made a game like this called Bioshock. Everyone dies. . . ." I happen to own a copy of that game, having asked for it for Christmas after I read a glowing Catholic review that neglected to emphasize just how gruesome it is. I have so far managed to play approximately one minute and thirty seconds before getting too grossed out and/or frightened to continue. Also, I can't seem to find the wrench I'm supposed to pick up to beat that mutant to death before she eviscerates me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

News from the Fish Bowl

Hi, it's me, Lucky, and I finally can use a computer again!  I'm so happy.  A few months ago I sprained a fin and couldn't type, but now I'm typing.  It's hard work because I have to jump out of the bowl while holding my breath and bang the keys until I have to breathe again, and then jump back in, but I'm bringing you Monday news anyway!

Intel Hires Science Fiction Writers

In an interesting marketing move, Intel has hired sf writers to produce an anthology of stories based on Intel's projects, according to SFGate, which actually stands for San Francisco Chronicle, but nonetheless frequently features articles on another kind of SF.  Here's an excerpt:
The chipmaker is trying to speed along the change by reaching engineers in a language they understand: science fiction. Last year Intel hired four sci-fi writers to study the company's latest research projects and produce an anthology, "The Tomorrow Project," envisioning how cutting-edge processors might be used in the near future.
Published online in February, the book supplements a series of short stories about artificial intelligence by Brian David Johnson, Intel's resident futurist. His latest story, "The Machinery of Love and Grace," about a grieving space station, was published online in late July. The goal of both projects is to help Intel's engineers design chips tailored to specific consumer uses with wide market potential.  [more...]

You can read that online anthology here.

Science Fiction Fools Australians

According to Darren Osborn with ABC Sydney, a new survey indicates that many Australians think extraterrestrial microbes have been discovered, or that humans can be successfuly frozen and resuscitated.
ANSTO's Discovery Centre Visitors Centre team leader Rod Dowler says the results were a surprise.

"This survey has confirmed that willingly or not, we believe in science fiction movies more than we realise," he said. [more...]

That's what you call "jumping to conclusions," since there could be other reasons people are misinformed about these matters. Perhaps they remember the real-life flurry over a particular Martian rock and forgot to follow up on it after the sensation died down. And I happen to know a person can be resuscitated after, if not freezing, at least drowning in very cold water--because I saw it in The Abyss.

NPR Lists Top 100 SF Novels

But what do they know? Glen Weldon discusses the voted-upon list, which is artificially skewed because it rejects YA fiction, making it a peculiar monster with The Lord of the Rings in the number one slot, followed, sadly, by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, followed by Ender's Game, which now of course would be considered YA fiction.  You can see Weldon's commentary on the list here.


World Science Fiction Convention--

Is Wednesday to Sunday in Reno, Nevada.  Jeremy Bloom comments.  One of the programs offered is entitled "A Trip to the Creation Museum," which is unfortunate, as it will almost certainly consist largely of self-congratulation, smugness, and ridicule.  Admittedly, a small amount of ridicule might be hard to resist after a trip to the Creation Museum, but that doesn't make it nice.  Another title is "Life, the Universe, and Everything:  Science, Science Fiction, and Religion."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

John C. Wright on Christians and Fantasy

John C. Wright, an author I admire, has written two essays on a subject of perennial interest to this blog, the question of how Christians ought to treat fantasy literature.  He is reasonable and better-versed on the subject than most who take up pen to write about it, being learned not only on the subject of the fantasy genre but also on the subjects of Gnosticism and occultism, the two bogeymen most often conjured when this topic is on the table.  On top of that, while he defends fantasy literature, he treats its Christian critics with respect and takes their objections seriously.  All of that together make these two essays some of the best on the subject.  They deal, inevitably, with the Harry Potter books, but mention them only briefly, having a wider scope than that particular controversy.

Here are the links:

"Harry Potter and the Christian Magicians"
"Harry Potter and the Christian Magicians II--Baptizing Dumbledore"

Friday, August 12, 2011

Underappreciated Sci-Fi Movies

While you're waiting for my next act of brilliance . . . ahem . . . I refer your attention to Ryan Britt's list of unfairly derided sf movies over at Tor.com. I more-or-less agree with his list, except I didn't see The Chronicles of Riddick but liked the set pieces, and didn't see Equilibrium but liked the idea, and I thought Superman Returns really did suxxor just like everybody says. I mean, seriously, Superman as fornicator who runs out on his illegitimate kid just does not work, nor does copying all the best scenes from the previous movies.

I do agree with his placement of The Island on this list, which Michael Bay tried to completely wreck with nonsensical action and misplaced humor, but failed in this instance, the result being forgettable but not awful.

Readers have naturally enough suggested additional titles in the comments (and, to my delight, trashed Superman Returns). One title I particularly concur with is Lost in Space, which is nearly swamped by its CGI but nonetheless captures the campy fun of the original.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interview with Sigmund Brouwer, Author of 'The Canary List'

The Canary List: A Novel
Some of you, some very few of you, may remember that many moons ago I produced a review of Sigmund Brouwer's Broken Angel.   That review was long and came across as mostly negative, but in reality it's only books I thoroughly enjoy that get such an extensive treatment.   We hurt the ones we love. Brouwer was such a nice guy after I wrote that review, and the book was so well-paced and generally likeable, that when an e-mail from a publicist landed in my mailbox advertising his new novel and offering an interview, I thought, "Why not?"

Why not, indeed? Brouwer's latest offering is The Canary List. As I looked over the review copy in preparation for the interview, I thought perhaps I was going to regret this, as Brouwer had certainly chosen a hot button for the premise of his latest and even wrapped a conspiracy theory around it, but our conversation put my mind at ease.

The Canary List is built around the oft-repeated quote of Fr. Gabriele Amorth suggesting that satanic conspiracy lies behind the child abuse scandals.   In The Canary List, Brouwer has decided to run with that, depicting a satanist cabal in the heart of the Vatican complete with all the '80s Satanic Panic trappings--Black Masses, kidnapped children, D&D games, all of it.

Some minor confusion preceded the interview, which had to take place over the phone when both of us had to make it hasty, but though my journalism skillz are sub-L33t, I hope Mr. Brouwer will agree that I caught the essence of what he said even if, alas, I caught only a few exact quotes.  So these are paraphrases.  Here we go:

D.G.D.:  Can you briefly describe the premise of your novel?

Brouwer:  The premise is is mainly based on a comment the "chief exorcist" made in the London Times (though I realize that is a title given him by the media, that the Vatican does not really have a chief exorcist exactly) . . . intrigued that someone that high would blame troubles in the Catholic Church on demon possession, I decided to explore, as a novelist, the nature of demons, and I thought about how demons appeared in scripture, particularly in the gospels.

D.G.D.:  Of course, you presumably realize I write a Catholic blog, so could you describe your own relations with or opinions of the Catholic Church?  And could you describe your religious background?
Brouwer:  Certainly.  My denominational background is Christian Reformed Church--Calvinism at its finest.  My view of the Catholic Church is one of admiration.  The Catholic Church has so much going for it, deeply rooted in both faith and intellect.  The Catholic Church grapples with matters of science and astronomy, and I appreciate the advances that Catholics have made in areas of astronomy, in the Big Bang Theory, and so forth.

Some critics have suggested that this book perhaps portrays the Catholic Church negatively.  However, I would say the negative part is a minor part of a whole.  As a character in the novel puts it, the negative part is like a fire burning in a great and glorous mansion, but people are so focused on the fire that they forget to look at the mansion.

D.G.D.:  I remember when I read Broken Angel I was under the impression, perhaps wrongly, that it took some digs at the Catholic Church. In particular, I was interested in the Big Brother-like religious leader who at least in passing seemed to be compared to the pope, and to the diabolical way they put drugs in the communion wafers to keep people addicted to church--

Brouwer: That wasn't intentional. I was writing as an Evangelical, but I could see how someone comng at it from a Catholic perspective could see that. I was really thinking of the church I grew up in and its practices . . . had I thought about the connections with the Catholic Church, such as in the use of the term "communion wafer," I wouldn't have put it in there--

D.G.D.: Actually, I wanted to see that drugs-in-the-communion idea developed further.

Brouwer: I was really thinking of it as something like, you know, purple Kool-Aid. I was thinking about Evangelical Churches that put so much faith in a single charismatic leader. Broken Angel criticizes large Evangelical mega-churches. My main gripe with American politics is the way it tends to gather people under a single banner and insist that they all believe exactly the same way. That's what I was going for.

D.G.D.: Back to The Canary List, I have to be more vague than I want because you tell me it could be a spoiler if I were too specific, but I'd like to know if the "Canary List" of your title is your own invention or perhaps an idea you came across in your research.

Brouwer: That's entirely my own invention. . . . I was researching some of, you know, the bad popes, and I thought to myself that if I were Satan, I would definitely want to get into the inner circle of the most powerful faith-based organization the world has ever known, which is the Catholic Church, and the Canary List is based on that.

D.G.D.: Okay. I promised you a hardball question, so here it is.

Brouwer: Okay.

D.G.D.: Alright, issues of corruption and abuse in the Catholic Church are clearly complex, and different commentators have interpreted the situation in different ways and placed blame in a number of places . . . do you think it is helpful to explain the situation with a Satanist conspiracy, or could someone suggest that your're taking advantange of the situation to sell a book?

Brouwer: Someone could--

D.G.D.: I wouldn't, really, but I wanted to ask it anyway--

Brouwer: From my perspective . . . when I read this statement that came from the chief exorcist, he was basically ignored. I wanted as a novelist to explore the subject. The final answer to that question is I think at the end of the book. . . . I hope you find tha tth enovel is a very balanced argument for and against demon possession. Some readers have even expressed disappointment that I didn't tell them what to believe at the end of the book. Depictions of demon possession in The Canary List are very restrained. I wanted to get away from the more crazy head-twisting stuff.
[END]

Right about there, we lost our connection, so that wraps it up.