Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I blame Anne Rice. Vampires have become quite popular. From Lestat to Angel we've seen quite a progression of the genre. And now it seems like books are popping up everywhere that feature vampires and other beasties like werewolves and even demons. Once upon a time supernatural fiction seemed to be the purview of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Though you'd probably run into aliens or genetically enhanced nightmares in their novels rather than vampires. And the Anne Rice came into the picture and reminded us why we liked Dracula so much. But why the explosion in this particular genre now? Paranormal romances are big right now; really big. But you can look in the sci-fi/fantasy section of the bookstore and see just as many that don't focus on the romance aspect. In fact, I'm reading Blood Bound right now by Patricia Briggs and it doesn't have any more romance in it than your typical fantasy book; lots of blood and guts though. And maybe I'm weird, but I really like it. But I do wonder, are we going through a phase? Is it doomed to fade away like the hair metal bands of the 80's? If this was only a romance genre, maybe I could see people losing interest; though that might be a bit prejudiced of me. But I believe not that long ago people were certain that sci-fi was a phase that would soon be forgotten. And really, I do want to know why there has been such a strong surge in this particular genre? If you go to the bookstore there are tons of authors that specialize in this kind of fiction now. If I go to my used bookstore they now have a section all to themselves. Kelley Armstrong, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris (lots of women authors for some reason) all pretty much specialize in this type of book now; and they're not all romances. Are we no longer satisfied by Stephen King and Dean Koontz? Or are we just looking for more ways to scare ourselves? Or do you think it's just going to burn out and fade away........
Monday, January 29, 2007
I was crusing the net in an attempt to find something to blog about, and I came across this in a Variety Magazine article. Pickup -- "Babylon Fields," an hourlong zombie-themed hour described by CBS as a "sardonic, apocalyptic American comedy-drama where the dead are rising and as a result, lives are regained, families restored and old wounds reopened." Gerald Cuesta and Michael Atkinson wrote the pilot and will serve as supervising producers. Michael Cuesta, who directed the pilot for "Dexter," will exec produce and helm via 20th Century Fox Television. A zombie themed comedy-drama?? What are the chances that this is going to last? CBS is apparently in a sci-fi/fantasy frame of mind though, they also picked up another show called "Twilight" that appears to be based on the P.N. Elrod series "The Vampire Files" though it isn't credited in the series description. Pickup -- "Twilight," a drama about a vampire/private eye who's dealing with the fallout from being immortal, his foes in the vampire world and a budding love for a mortal. Joel Silver is exec producing via Warner Bros. TV. Trevor Munson ("Lone Star State of Mind") and Ron Koslow ("Beauty and the Beast") wrote the script and will exec produce. Twilight is so close to "The Vampire Files," that if the series isn't credited I expect to see a lawsuit. Soon.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
I've been in a reading lull lately. A funk. I can't really find anything I want to read. Does this ever happen to you? I've got shelves full of books, most of them I've read, but there are quite I few that I've only thumbed through, or read a chapter or two. I know I'll go back and re-read a lot of them in the future, and probably like a lot of them. But right now? Nothings appealing. What do you do when this happens? Do you keep on in search of that perfect book? Or do you go back and read an old favorite? I'll tell you what I am going to do, I'm going to ask for recommendations. From you. First, let me give you an idea of what I've read and what I like. I've read pretty much everything written by Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, J.V. Jones, Dennis Lehane (not fantasy but awesome)-- same goes for John Sandford, Stephen King, Charlaine Harris (yes, I said it Stewart), Anne Bishop, Lynn Flewelling,-- Okay this is going to be a long list. Never mind. I really like fantasy, but I'll go for a good detective novel or thriller. What rocks your world? Really. Tell me what to read.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
The other day one of my kids was listening to an older song, "Killing Me Softly" by the Fugees. I asked if he had ever heard the original. He replied, "What original?"
"The one by performed by Roberta Flack," I said. He shook his head and said: "The Fugees wrote that, man." Another kid disagreed, "No, it was Lauryn Hill."
Kids do that, they take and adopt that which is part of their culture, tagging it as something new and original, regardless of its source. However, in the process, it is easy to lose sight of the giants who truly influenced the movements of the present.
Some names need to be recited over and over again, otherwise there is a danger that they will be overlooked in a culture driven by derivative entertainments based strictly on market share and demographics. Bradbury, Asimov, Bloch, Heinlein... keep saying them, don't let their accomplishments be obscured by their literary descendants.
Consider Richard Matheson. Mention some of the books and films with which he has been involved as a writer and people will instantly nod recognition. Yet, the name is hardly pounded out there to remain in our short memoried culture.
I've mentioned his works to people, and they nod, but the man? It seems only a true fan of the genre knows his name. Consider these titles: "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (made into a film of the same name), "I Am Legend" (one of the novels that paved the way for a new take on the vampire myth; also made into two films, with a third remake planned, the first two being "Last Man On Earth" and "Omega Man"), "What Dreams May Come" (made into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams),"Hell House" (made into the film "The Legend of Hell House"), and "Bid Time Return" (made into "Somewhere In Time" with Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymore). Not that Matheson has stopped writing. This last year he just published a new novel: "Woman", a story about a literal battle between the sexes.
And his work in film and television? Matheson helped launch the career of Steven Spielberg. "Duel", which first appeared as a made for TV movie starring Dennis Weaver, was based on his teleplay and his short story. Other television credits? One of the ultimate episodes of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone", "The Beast At 30,000", a classic starring a young William Shatner. He also worked with Roger Cormon, helping to craft that director's best features with Vincent Price, based on the work of Poe. "House of Usher", "Pit and the Pendulum","The Raven", and "Tales of Terror" were all Matheson, drawing from Poe for inspiration.
One last tip of the hat. Matheson wrote the teleplay for one of my favorites: The Night Stalker.
So while we may laud the work of George R.R. Martin, give saluatory nods to the likes of the undeserving Jim Butcher, and crown the wunderkind of the fifteen year old author of "Eregon", let's not forget those who should continue to be nudged into our consciousness. Let's read their work if we haven't read them, let's and let's speak their names, a litany of giants who have helped create the texture of our genre. Bradbury, Heinlein, Herbert, Matheson, Bloch, Asimov, Tenn, Simak, etc...
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Sean Connery. He was the quintessential Bond until Daniel Craig finally gave him a run for his money. And we love him don't we? It doesn't matter how many bad movies the man does (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen anyone?) this 76 year old still manages to make women love him and men want to be him. What gives him this power? This charm? Perhaps it's the Scottish brogue. Or maybe it's simply the fact that the man has managed to be in quite a few movies. I tried to find a full filmography on the actor and it was kind of hard. Some lists show 85 movies or so and others only went to 60-something. But if you think about it, he's been in a lot of movies, many of them big hits. Obviously we probably best remember him as Bond. The Goldfinger Bond with none other than Pussy Galore. Could any other actor of his time have managed to pull off using that name and make it sound anything other than pornographic? Somehow, I doubt it. And being a sci-fi site, I couldn't very well not mention films like Highlander or Time Bandits, but I also loved The Untouchables and The Hunt for Red October. And then of course, there's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yes, to many people, Sean Connery is THE MAN. I don't know many people who don't like him or his movies. And no matter how many bad movies he makes (The Avengers, - Zardoz) we'll still pay good money to see him in a movie. So here's to the original James Bond. Long may he make movies, good or bad.
Monday, January 22, 2007
I ran into an interesting article while scanning the sci-fi channel's site. Apparently HBO is planning on producing their own fantasy show based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series. HBO Playing With Ice and Fire HBO has acquired the rights to turn George R.R. Martin's best-selling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire into a dramatic series, to be written and executive-produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Variety reported. Fire is the first TV project for Benioff (Troy) and Weiss (Halo) and will shoot in Europe or New Zealand. Martin, a former TV writer, will write one of the episodes himself. The rest will be written by Benioff and Weiss. The series will begin with the first book, 1996's A Game of Thrones. Each season to follow will be based on one of the subsequent novels, which average about 1,000 pages each. Martin has nearly finished the fifth installment, but won't complete the seven-book cycle until 2011. The author will co-executive-produce the series along with Management 360's Guymon Casady and Created By's Vince Gerardis. Ice and Fire is a period epic set in imagined land, in the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Martin's characters, from seven noble families, aren't as clearly good or evil. The book has a decidedly adult bent, with sex and violence comparable to series like Rome and Deadwood, the trade paper reported. "They tried for 50 years to make Lord of the Rings as one movie before Peter Jackson found success making three," Martin told the paper. "My books are bigger and more complicated, and would require 18 movies. Otherwise, you'd have to choose one or two characters." Hmmm, interesting. I wonder if HBO will handle a fantasy series better than the sci-fi channel? Martin's books do seem like a big project, but I really did like the first two books that I read before I began to fear the series may never end. So any fans of George R. R. Martin out there? If so, what do you think?
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Not too long ago Stewart wrote a post about the Dresden Files, a series of books written by author Jim Butcher. And now the Sci-fi channel has debuted their TV show based on the popular series of books. For those not familiar with the series, it's based on the character Harry Dresden, a private eye who lives in Chicago and has the added benefit of being a wizard. The real kind, not a sleight-of-hand magician-- and who just happens to have a listing in the yellow pages under wizard. I agree with Stewart when it comes to his assessment of the books; entertaining but not profound fiction. And I guess you could say the same about the TV series. Though to be fair, I liked it. The season premier introduces us to Harry and gives us a little bit of information on his background. We learn that he inherited his wizardly powers from his mother's side of the family and that his father earned a living as a stage magician, though he didn't have any powers of his own. The premier is mainly about a little boy, who happens to be a whole lot like a young Harry. The boy is a wizard who has not come into his powers and yet is already in danger of being found and exploited by those who would use his abilities. The boy only knows that he is being followed by "monsters" and comes to Harry for help. Harry dismisses the boy initially, but circumstances, and the prodding of a ghost that lives in a skull, intervene and Harry ends up trying to help the boy. At this point the series seems to be attempting to build up the back story as much as trying to present an interesting show. In some ways I like that, but it does tend to take time away from the main story and that ends up taking away from the build up and tension. Maybe I'm being a bit picky since the show only had an hour for the premier. That's not a heck of a lot of time to grab the viewer and they did a pretty decent job of gaining my interest. I haven't deleted the season pass, and that always a good sign. I also like the actor that plays Dresden, Paul Blackthorn. He has a way about him that makes him easy to like, not a bad quality for a guy you're building a show around. But he seems like he could be a private eye. He looks fairly young, but his face has the lived in quality of someone who's seen a lot, as we assume Harry has. So at this point, I'm giving the show a tentative recommendation; with the hope that as the show builds up the back story they won't take away as much time from the main story in the future. And for someone like me, I'm happy to have a show on television the features a little magic, it is one of my favorite things after all.
Friday, January 19, 2007
A friend of mine checked in on my blog and told me he was a bit disappointed there weren't any Battlestar Galactica posts. What can I say? The man is right! So Battlestar starts again this week, only they've changed the day on us. It now airs on Sundays. Over at Sci-fi Signal they mentioned that the day change may have to do with sliding ratings. *gasp* Is this true? Granted, I don't think this season has been quite as good as in the past, but come on! It's still probably the best sci-fi show on TV. Where the heck are the viewers? Aren't there enough of us sci-fi geeks to keep the show afloat? Several people have mentioned that the sci-fi channel is kind of ruthless when it comes to their shows. Even high rated shows don't get the budgets they deserve and can get the ax fairly easily. Should we be worried about BSG? Is there anything a fan can do? It seems like sci-fi shows always get short shrift in television. So many good shows never seem to get the run they deserve. I loved the show Firefly and still harbor the delusional hope that the show may still come back someday. What do guys think is going to happen to BSG? Do you think the writers can bring the show back to its original excellence (maybe re-writing Starbuck's character would help) or do you think it'll end up fizzling out sooner than we'd like. Is there anything a fan can do? I don't want to lose my favorite show.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Oooh, this is fun, is it working?
The e'er delightful SQT has kindly invited me to bore you all to floods of tears with a post comparing various systems of magic in Fantasy books. Gracious, you are no doubt by now thinking, what an awful lot of time he must have on his hands. And you'd be right. But inspiration will not be denied, and thus, inspired by SQT's post on the general subject of magic, I thought I'd get a little more specific. Our starting point is that we're reading Fantasy literature, here, so we have already suspended our disbelief (like, uhhh, as if a Hobbit could kill a troll, Prof. Tolkien!), so we're not talking about how believable an author's system of magic is, but rather how coherent and interesting it is. I think this might take more than just the one post..
Having trouble sleeping? Read on....
Let's start with two of my favorites, Robert Jordan's 'One Power' and Katherine Kerr's 'Dweomer'; both of which rely heavily on the trad-pagan elements of fire, earth, air, water, and spirit. For my money (of which, gentle reader, there is shockingly little) Jordan's is probably the best worked-out system in contemporary fantasy. In his Wheel of Time series, existence depends upon the turning of the (aptly-named) 'Wheel of Time'. The Wheel is turned by the One Power, a power to which certain humans can have access - an ability called 'Channelling' which is either inborn, or can be learnt. The One Power is divided vertically into male and female halves (saidin and saidar) and horizontally into the five elements. Channellers (known as Aes Sedai) then weave those elements together to perform various acts of magic - so weaving fire and air makes lightening, whilst air, water, and spirit can heal etc. etc. Jordan has managed to sustain this system over 11 (11!!!) exceedingly long books so far, and system only seems to get more internally coherent. He has established rules for Linking (more than one Channeler working together) Stilling/Gentling (loosing the ability to use the One Power), Travelling (teleporting) and a heap of other magic 'tricks' which makes the operation of magic in his world seem all the more solid and convincing. I find the sex-division of the One Power (the male half is violent and agressive, whilst the female half is all about submission and acceptance - igggh!) more than a little silly, but it seems to float RJ's boat. He's also very good at letting his readers know about comparative strengths of his magic-users, without resorting to anything so crude as a top10 chart (though for anyone who wants to know if Nynaeve could take Lanfear, look here!)
Katherine Kerr's 'dweomer' system in her gorgeous Deverry series seems more connected to the Celtic roots of the five elements than Jordan's 'One Power'. In her system, magic users are able to call upon the powers of a variety of 'wildfolk' (sprites for air, goblins for earth, salamaders for fire, sylphs for water, etc.) in order to wield magic. It's considerably less twee than it sounds. Kerr always does a good deal of historical research for her books - obviously not into the actual existence of magic, but into what Medieval (her rough time period equivalent) people believed about the way the world operated, which grounds her magic system in a bloody, gritty reality. The 'dweomer' is a far less world-shatteringly powerful magic than Jordan's 'One Power' - as Kerr says:
"One thing I most definitely did NOT want in my books was the utterly irrational "ZAP! you're dead, orc!" magic you find in gaming systems." With the 'One Power', you could literally end the world, with the 'dweomer', you can work very hard to alter events and nature - but you can never utterly control them. The split between apocalyptic systems of magic, and more localised ones is something people might want to discuss - which do you prefer? The grand or the modest?
That'll do for now - next, though, I'll take a look at two completely different systems of magic: Steve Erikson's 'warrens' in his Malazan Book of the Dead and R. Scott Bakker's variety of systems in The Prince of Nothing.
Can you possibly wait?
I am at a bit of a loss for words right now......My husband read this last night and almost had a heart attack. You read it and let me know. Dan Simmons USED to be one of my favourite writers. When you read this....replace 'Islam' with 'Judaism' and think about what sort of reaction you or other people would have. Thinking like this is WHY we will have a Century War. edited to add.... I don't know if the next letter helps explain or make it worse. I think his point is still the same. Sometimes reading Simmons is like being in the most dense Philosophy class at University.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Monday, January 15, 2007
Here it is, my all time favorite thing about fantasy books. Magic. I like it in all forms. I love how author's play with the idea and come up with so many variations on the same idea. I love the idea of focusing the will, or saying some special incantation to achieve the desired results. When I was younger, one of my favorite authors was David Eddings. Now that I'm older his style doesn't appeal as much, but I still think he came up with one of the best depictions of magic in his series The Belgariad. He called it "the will and the word." Simple and accurate. In his world there aren't a lot of wizards or sorceresses, but the one's who do exist focus their will and release it with a spoken word. The gathering a releasing of power causes a psychic noise of sorts that only other magic users can hear. The more powerful the person, the louder the noise. Simple huh? But the fact that he came up with a whole theory behind the magic adds so much to the story in my opinion. Mercedes Lackey is another favorite author of mine. She also took the time to explain how magic occurs in her Valdemar series. What I especially like about Lackey is that she explains that there are many ways to be a practitioner of magic. One type of mage draws power from "nodes" that are natural occurring focal points of magical energy. Other types of magic involve invoking demons through the use of various spells and artifacts. I tend to prefer when an author clarifies where magic comes from. As enjoyable as Harry Potter can be, it always strikes me as a bit inconsistent. Anyone, whether born into a wizarding family or not, can be born with the ability to perform magic. Sometimes the wand is needed-- to focus the power I suppose-- and other times all that is needed is a special word. But author J.K. Rowling never really offers us a clear idea of the magic or its boundaries. The movies aren't half bad though. But magic in fantasy runs the gamut. The power has so many sources. It can come internally, from within the magic user, or from any number of outside sources. It can come from harnessing the elements or drawing on magical energy wells that only a magician can feel. Magic is only limited by the author's imagination. More and more authors like Jim Butcher are also bringing magic into the "real" world. Most of the authors that write these kinds of books seem to think that the best fit for magical creature in our world are in the form of vampires and werewolves. Maybe they're right, after all, those creatures come from our own superstitions. Judging from the number of fantasy books out there, I am not alone in my fascination with magic. And why not? The world of magic is full of possibilities and wonder. I don't know about you, but it's my favorite escape from the mundane.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
This will be the first of a series on this topic. Warning, some political discussion follows in this atypical lengthy posting. So, dear reader, be warned.
In a writers group to which I once belonged, whenever I mentioned politics and fantasy, or politics and science fiction, I was quickly chastised and to some degree censored. "We don't talk about politics here," someone said. What the hell???
Science fiction and fantasy grew up in a nursery where politics replaced rattles and hobby horses.
Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" , while wonderful fantasy, was also merciless satire attacking aspects of British culture and political thought. "Alice In Wonderland", also had deeper meanings. Dodgson, the author, on the Governing Board of Christ Church, involved himself deeply in such matters as the extension of the voting franchise and the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons. Naturally his politics inevitably found their way into the subtext of the work.
That political and social commentary has continued to play an important role in modern literature, and by modern, let's qualify that as post WWII, is an indisputable fact. Some of today's best work, from "Lord of The Rings" by Tolkein to "Ender's Game" by Scott Orson Card, are either highly influenced by political and social elements, or outrightly advocate a specific point of view. Likewise some classic examples of the cinema fantastic were also deeply political: "Planet of the Apes", "Logan's Run", "Farenheit 451", "Clockwork Orange", "The Matrix", "Blade Runner", "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" were all ensured a higher degree of relevance through passing years due their political themes or subtexts.
The most brilliant work is work which thematically addresses controversial issues, either directly or through deliberate subtext.
Let's highlight an example: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".
Written by Jack Finney during the late fifties, the novel is a study in paranoia. The plot involves an alien invasion by a life form that mimics the appearance of a human before replacing the individual altogether. Once the replacement is complete, the alien assumes the life of that human, without major outward change in function and behavior other than a subtle shift to conformity.
Finney's novel and the motion picture which was based on his work were a statement on McCarthyism.
For those few people who may not understand this reference, Senator Joe McCarthy, during the fifties, made numerous specious statements and outright lies about Communist infiltration in different United States institutions such as the State Department. His accusations created a wildfire of paranoia and led to massive investigations. To be accused of Communism was a kiss of death for many, and they found themselves jobless and isolated, without real recourse or the ability to defend themselves. Amazing, considering that the claim and practice of Communism should be considered protected under the Bill of Rights, but still.
Removed from the era, it is difficult to understand how such paranoia could be spread (wink wink...Patriot Act..9/11...wink wink...Bill O Reilly...nudge nudge...Cheney), but a people who worried about immediate nuclear war and the spread of Communism through Asia and eastern Europe were easily manipulated. It's astonishing to think someone has written a book defending McCarthy, and that that book has been published in the last ten years. Who could have written such an absurd text??? Hmmm..Ann Coulter.
Now, patient reader, all this being said, here is the crux of this posting..the first cinematic version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was an amazing work. Filmed in black and white, starring deslily's Kevin McCarthy, it was smothering, claustrophobic, and paced so that the audience felt each tightening of the wrench. Brilliant. The pod people were the McCarthyites, advancing mindless conformity, ferreting out and destroying those who dared to be individuals. Or, some people would argue that the film was about the spread of Communism and the pod people were mindlessly following that leftist ideology. The fact that both interpretations can be argued is a testament to the depth of the film.
However, the second cinmeatic version, made in the 1978, and starring Jeff Goldblum and Donald Sutherland, filmed without the political overtones, received in the context of that time, was a meaningless thriller that received the lackluster reviews it received. Without the political teeth, "Invason of the Body Snatchers" had become a pod.
Looking at such contemporary fare as "Eragon", "Independence Day", and "War of the Worlds" one wonders how much those films might have been elevated had they had within them something more than the disposable mindset given to Saturday afternoon movie fare aimed at adolescent males. I adored "Batman Begins", but what made it rise wasn't the action, but the character development and the subtext of the individual fighting against the corporate state.
Friday, January 12, 2007
The beautiful Yvonne De Carlo, best known for playing Lily Munster on TV's The Munsters passed away yesterday at 84. Considered one of the world's great beauties in the 40's and 50's, De Carlo was still best known as Lily Munster, especially to a kid like me. I still go back and watch The Munsters from time to time. I love the sweetness of the show and of course, the humor. So rest in peace Lily, we'll miss you.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
I just love the post Stewart put up a couple of days ago about the feasibility of comics, in particular Superman's ability to procreate. What fun discussions those posts generate. But isn't that what's great about fantasy and sci-fi? Wondering what if? I remember when the first Matrix movie came out. That was a fun scenario to ponder wasn't it? I kinda makes me want to do the Keanu Reeves "whoa." It's not that I think we're all flesh and blood batteries or anything weird like that. But I like the idea of tweaking reality a little bit. Or wondering if there are other realities out there that we just aren't aware of. For example, I mentioned time travel in an earlier post. Who hasn't thought about the feasibility of time travel? Do you think we'll ever have the ability to bend time in such a way that we can go back and change history? And what happens if we do? Will our collective memories change? Will certain people cease to exist? The mind boggles at the potential paradoxes. Movies like the Sixth Sense make me wonder if there are really folks who "see dead people" or if they are all a bunch of charlatans. I kind of like the idea that maybe, just maybe, there is a spiritual plane of existence that is reaching out to ours from time to time. I still think most would be psychics are quacks, but who knows, maybe one or two are legit. I also wonder what space travel will be like in the future? Will it be like Star Trek or not even close? Will we make huge technological advances enabling widespread space travel in the near future, or is it something that is going to take hundreds of years, if ever? And you can't talk about feasibility without mentioning all the movies and TV shows that have contact with creatures from outer space. From E.T. to The X-Files we love to contemplate what would happen if we made contact with intelligent life from another planet. Of course, there are those who think this has already happened and it's all being covered up by The Government in a big conspiracy. Me? I tend to think our government is too disorganized for any kind of quality cover-up, but maybe I'm just naive. So when you think of sci-fi or fantasy, what is your favorite topic to discuss? Are there any movies or TV shows that get you to wondering? Or we could just go back to wondering if Superman can have sex, that's good too.
Monday, January 08, 2007
While the comments rage below in "Superman Can't Have Sex", allow me to review a movie which is coming out today on DVD. Fortunately, having been presented an advance copy for screening, I missed this at the theaters, I can say that once you lay down the cash for your own copy, you will be wondering how you missed this during it's first run.
"The Illusionist" asks us about the nature of magick. Presenting us first with an enigma in the character of Eisenheim, an illusionist plying his trade on stages throughout Eurpore in the early 1900's. Portrayed by Edward Norton, he is a manifestation of lost love and innocence while at the same time the keeper of secret knowledge. Are his stage illusions slight of hand? The stuff of smoke and mirrors? Or is he, the son of a poor carpenter, returned from a sojourn in the forest, something greater? No easy answers here. No simple resolutions. This is fairytale and metaphor filmed in sepia.
Paul Giamatti, who is quickly becoming the hardest working man in show-business (he was involved in six projects in 2006 alone, including the disasterous "Lady In The Water), plays Chief Inspector Uhl who is in a cat and mouse game with Eisenheim, hoping to outwit the magician, to prove whether or not all is illusion. A moral man, representing reason, Uhl also represents the necessary impossibility of trying to impose logic on the illogical. He does so out of loyalty to the Crown Prince, whose lady is currently surrendering to a love triangle with the mysterious Eisenheim, and to his station in life to maintain social order.
I liked this tremendously, and have yet to see the other film that came out this year about magic, "The Prestige". I do look forward to that DVD release as well. "The Illusionist" though has made a strong first impression and will be difficult to follow. Gorgeously filmed, lovingly crafted, this is going to be worth several viewings. If only to watch again next to "The Prestige".
There are two reasons nerds shouldn't drink, the first involves drool and the second involves magic marker. Well, there's a third...they sit around and talk about the feasibility of Superheroes. Oh yeah.
It can't be helped. Sit us around and get us to talking about comics and soon you'll hear such gems as:
"Dude, Superman can't have sex."
"Dude, why not?"
"Dude, involuntary muscle contractions would kill her...not just that..."
"Yeah, that too."
"Dude, do you think Power-Woman is real?"
"Yes, I've written a poem for her: 'Power-Woman, all dressed in white, I'd like to take you out tonight'"
"Dude, that's so lame."
I can't tell you the hours of discussion involving such matters as: "You notice in the original comic, Spidey had to take off his shoes to stick to a wall? How is it he can stick when he's wearing his red spidey boots?" "What's the most damage Wolverine can take before he can't heal himself?" and of course, "She-Hulk...how come she doesn't get all ugly and stupid like her cousin?" Wait...I'm still thinking about She-Hulk. Wait...still thinking. Okay.
Recently, the BBC did a show called "The Science of SuperHeroes" in which some basic questions about the enhanced humans were answered (they also did one about the science of James Bond). I suggest going to the website and looking around. Interesting stuff.
Let me give you an example of some of the material covered. We'll focus on the science of Superman. What follows is an excerpt from the website:
From Krypton's size and mass, and a few equations, its gravity works out to be at least ten times as strong as Earth’s. Since lifting an object on Earth would take ten times less effort than on Krypton, Superman could lift a car as easily as we lift a wheelbarrow. It’s the same reason astronauts on the Moon can take 25 metre jumps and lift huge objects with ease. Their muscles have adapted to work in the Earth’s gravitational field. So the Moon’s weaker gravity (one sixth the strength of Earth’s) doesn’t pull them back towards the surface as much.
Superman apparently gets some of his tremendous energy directly from our Sun. The yellowish light that comes from the Sun contains more energy that the red light that bathed Superman’s home planet. Also, Krypton was probably a lot further away from its sun, since larger planets are more likely to orbit their stars at a greater distance. Other descriptions of Krypton suggest that it had a very dusty atmosphere, which would also block sunlight from reaching the people living on the surface. So while Superman is on Earth he receives much more solar energy than on Krypton, making him much more powerful.
You see what I mean? It's nerd crack. It's the sort of stuff that gives us something to dream about while significant others are off watching "American Idol" or "Desperate Housewives".
So, check it out. It will give you something to fall back on the next time you and the crew get together and start arguing about the X-Men. And if you're going to a convention any time in the future, well...it will just be assumed you know this stuff.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Where is everyone? Have my posts been that boring? I hope everyone is okay. Crunchy gets a pass because she really is dealing with some health issues. So if you don't want to comment here, be sure to check in on Crunchy and give her your well wishes.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
When I posted my review of The Cylons' Secret a few days ago, several people mentioned author Peter David. Now I know why. Sagittarius is Bleeding, a Peter David book based on the TV show Battlestar Galactica, is quite a bit better than it's companion book. I didn't hate The Cylons' Secret, but I might have if I had read David's book first. David seems to be well known to sci-fi fans for previously authoring several books based on the TV series Star Trek TNG. I had read some of David's other work, such as Sir Apropos of Nothing, which is a decent read. But I hadn't read any of his Star Trek books. Peter David clearly has a good sense of how to take a character from television and make them believable in a book. That, I think, is the main strength of this book. The story itself is a little more complex than the one featured in the The Cylons' Secret, though it isn't really any more complex than any story line we've seen on the show. Laura Roslin, the President of the colonies, is featured heavily in the book, though we also get a chance to read about Adama, Starbuck, Sharon Valerii (still pregnant at the time this was written), Tom Zarek, Gaius Baltar, and a new character named Boxey-- who may sound familiar to those who remember the original Battlestar Galactica. The main story centers around Laura Roslin, who is having graphic hallucinations where she sees lots of blood and keeps hearing the phrase "Sagittarius is Bleeding." Not knowing if she is going crazy or if there is some significance to her visions, Roslin tries to continue on with her duties while coping with ever increasing uncertainty about her own sanity. At the same time, Tom Zarek has decided to champion the cause of a group of religious extremists called the Midguardians, who are looking for equal status within the colonies. One of whom also decides to appoint herself as Sharon Valerii's attorney seeking "equal rights" for the pregnant cylon. David does a good job with the book. The story line is complex enough to be interesting and the dialogue is really good. I often felt that I could see the characters saying the lines and believing David's portrayal of them. I think he proves that a good author knows how to get inside the head of a character, no matter who actually created them. But my favorite part was when he wrote about Gaius Baltar. He did such a good job of portraying Baltar's disjointed conversations with people and his constant distraction with the blond cylon known as Caprica Six. Again, this is a book for fans of the series, but it's worth the read in my opinion. If you're picky about TV-series-based books, skip The Cylons' Secret, but pick this one up.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Got your attention didn't I? One of my favorite aspect of fantasy books is the idea of sorcery. I love the idea of being able to cast a spell, or concentrating one's power to achieve the desired result. It's so much easier than having to be a scientific genius isn't it? But when I look around my little world, I realize that most of us are quite skilled illusionists without the use of sorcery. Women are masters at this. We use make-up to make our faces appear brighter and flawless. We use clothing to push-up certain assets or tuck in other parts we wish were a little smaller. And if that's not enough, we can even go so far as to make the changes permanent. For example, I grew up with a mother who had surgically...ah...enhanced a certain part of her anatomy. Now, if I was a sorceress I could simply cast a glamour that would make me appear any way I wished. But in the "real" world, people are often opting for more lasting changes. And isn't it a tempting thought? I wouldn't mind the easy route toward slimmer thighs, though the idea of lipo scares the bejeesus out of me. So far I have not done anything surgically to myself, and I doubt I ever will. I mean, look at Burt Reynolds for Pete's sake, he looks like a scared jackal after all the face lifts he's had done. But I wonder if the glaring faults I look at everyday are what feed my desire to escape into the world of fantasy. Maybe there's a part of me that's looking for a more perfect world, an easier way of getting what I want. Maybe that's what we're all looking for, but we go about it in different ways. I escape into fantasy fiction, or sci-fi movies, while someone else might choose a romance as an escape. And I also wonder why some people are content to live with their imperfections while others spend thousands of dollars trying to improve upon nature? Are those of us with a rich fantasy life maybe lucky that we have an escape into another world? Personally, I tend to think so. Whenever I have a bad day, or like many women, have a "I'm feeling fat" day, I can curl up with a good book and kind of lose myself for awhile. I think that's a lot better than losing myself in some celebrity rag that only encourages things like anorexia or excessive plastic surgery. I've been asked why some people like sci-fi and fantasy and others don't and I have no idea why that is. But in an odd way, I feel lucky to be the sci-fi geek I am. It gives me a much needed break from the real world, and if I didn't love it so much, I wouldn't have met all of you, my beloved blogger friends.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
This is probably going to seem silly to most of you, but Stewart over at House of Sternberg got me thinking again. (dangerous, I know) He mentioned in a post he put up yesterday that libraries have been pulling classics off the shelves because no one is reading them anymore. Yikes! That's upsetting to me to say the least. But what I also wonder is what impact that's going to have on would-be writers like myself? I'm sure many of you have noticed, but there is no shortage of blogs being authored by aspiring writers. I like to cruise them from time to time and read what people have to share. Obviously some are better than others but clearly there are a lot of talented people out there. I admit, I'm always a little intimidated at the thought of trying to get something published. I don't know how well I'll handle the inevitable rejection letters. Add that to the fact that there are already so many others out there trying to do the same thing and sometimes it seems like an impossible goal. And that's without taking into consideration that the classics apparently can't even hold on to shelf space. And on top of all the problems already listed, the short story magazine industry also seems to be going the way of the dinosaur. So I can't help but wonder, is it going to just keep getting harder to get anything published? People talk about online publishing and I know a fair number of also publish their own work if they can't sell something. But I'm not talking about that really. I'm talking about main-stream publishing. Are we going to have to adjust our expectations or are we simply going to have to make sure to cater to what is popular in order to see our work in print? Speaking for myself, I don't think I can write something that isn't interesting to me just to see my name on the front of a book. I'm not a huge fan of "chick lit;" you know those books that cater to what modern women are supposed to like to read. And frankly, Oprah's book club usually leaves me cold. Yep, my taste is kind of narrow. My blog is evidence of that. I have made a few friends in the blogoshere, but generally speaking, the only one's who return regularly share my love of sci-fi. So what do I do? Plug away and hope for the best? Or change what I write about and seek some way to appeal to the masses? Can one consciously do that? To be honest, I doubt I could. I think I would start doing one thing and it would inevitably morph into what I usually do. What about you other writers out there? What is your plan for success? Oh, and sorry this isn't sci-fi related. But I guess it's okay to go off topic once in awhile. Isn't it?
Monday, January 01, 2007
It's been a few years since I've read a book based on a TV series. Back when Star Trek TNG was on, I actually read quite a few based on that show. But I hadn't been tempted to read any others until I received an offer I couldn't refuse from my new friend Carey Tse in the form of free books. I'm not immune to the temptation of free entertainment, that's for sure. So I have finished the first of two books that he sent me; The Cylons' Secret, by Craig Shaw Gardner. I understood from the description on the back of the book that the story was going to be taking place several years prior to the storyline on the TV series. But I did expect it would feature the Cylons we have come to know on the show because the Six model is shown on the cover of the book. Perhaps it is a nit-picky on my part, but I was kind of bugged as I got further into the book and it became apparent that the human-like Cylons were not going to be a part of the story. However, there are a few surprises in store that made up for my earlier disappointment. First, let me back up a little bit. The book is set 20 years or so prior to where the TV show picks up the story. If you are familiar with the story, then you know that when the TV show starts the Cylons have not been seen by humanity for 40 years following the first Cylon War. As far as the human population knew at the time of the initial uprising, the Cylons were machines that have become self-aware and nothing more. As the book begins, humans have fought the Cylon machines but have no inkling that the Cylons are developing any kind of cyborg technology. Bill Adama is a much younger man that we know now, though he has already been assigned to the Galactica as second in command. Saul Tigh has followed his longtime friend into service on Galactica and is a Captain on the ship. The only other character in the book that we have seen in the series is Tom Zarek, who is known to us all on the show since he is played by Richard Hatch; the original Apollo. I don't want to give too much away since there are those of you who may yet want to read the book. It's a fairly basic story to tell the truth. If they wanted to go back in time and tell this story, it could easily be done in one episode-- two at most. The crux of the story is that a long abandoned outpost in space has been discovered. It's original mission was to develop the relationship between man and machine, creating a society in which Cylons and man could live in a cooperative society as equals. Somehow the outpost appears to have remained neutral from the original Cylon wars, and has finally been discovered. The first to discover the outpost are a group of scavengers, Tom Zarek among them. And not long after that, the Battlestar Galactica also discovers the isolated post. The main mystery at this point in the book is regarding the Cylons who inhabit the outpost with the few remaining humans. We don't know if these Cylons are aware of the earlier war or how self-aware they are. Mostly the book works. The problem I usually have with books associated with TV series is that they are never as able to make the story as in depth as I like. I'm sure they are unable to due to the constraints put on them by the producers of the show; after all, they can't reveal too many secrets can they? Another small nit I have with the book is that the author doesn't spend much time describing the characters. We already have an idea in our head of what Adama and Tigh look like, we only have to imagine them a bit younger. But I can only think of one other character in the book that is given much of a physical description. But other than that, I did enjoy the book. The story is a fast read and there were some revelations in the last chapters that made it worthwhile in my opinion. The dialogue is brisk and mostly believable. And ultimately it does attempt to answer some questions I have had all along about the Cylons and the progression from pure machine to something almost human. Don't expect a book that is especially deep, but expect to be entertained. It is better if you know the series before you read the book, though it probably is possible to read it and understand it otherwise. But like most books associated with a TV show, a certain amount of knowledge about the subject matter is expected. I do think this book is pretty much purely for fans of the show as it isn't a terribly in-depth story. I remember when I read the Star Trek books, some were better than others. This one isn't bad, but I doubt it'll rank as the best in the series.
Before Harry Dresden appeared on the SCI-FI channel this month, I wanted to read one or two of the novels upon which the series, The Dresden Files, would be based.
The series, both the television show and the books, take place in Chicago, following the exploits of Harry Dresden, a wizard who finds himself fighting supernatural threats in a world of people unaware of their existence.
Hmmm.Harry, Harry....where have I heard that name before?
As a character, Dresden is a loner who often finds himself at odds with a group known as the White Council, a gathering of wizards who have come together to keep order in the world of magic.
Keeping a low profile to avoid their strict security force known as the Wardens, Harry stumbles and boxes his way through one complicated situation after another to untie tricky plot lines seeming to defy resolution.
Hmm..White Council, Wardens...where have I read all this recently???
The good news is that the Dresden material is a fun read. Author Jim Butcher can string together sentences with wit and ease, and has a sense of timing.Don’t kid yourself though, Butcher’s stuff will never be mistaken for anything with originality or literary merit.
The Dresden series is disposable fiction. If anything, the publishers should print it on paper which deteriorates minutes after being exposed to air.The book I read was the first Dresden book to be printed in hardcover, apparently number seven in the series. “Dead Beat” is about a group of necromancers attempting to find a spell that will allow them to become godlike. The narrative moves quickly, but this IS NOT a stand alone novel. At times Butcher’s writing is lazily thrown onto the page with a carelessness that reeks of smugness. There are plot twists that will have you shaking your head and the appearance of characters that are woefully explained to the uninitiated. If you are going to read Butcher’s stuff, you better start with the first in the series.
What will more than likely happen is that Butcher will develop a following who will stumble through conventions this summer, dressed in large coats and carrying staffs. They’ll meet the Harry Potter fans at the information table as they are en route to take on the Tolkein fanatics.Then, all three groups will bludgeon one another into a stupor while the Whedonites look on with satisfaction.
I will write more on the adventures of Dresden once the television show has been broadcast. I will also give Mr. Butcher another go, reading the first three books of the series and holding off any further criticism of his work until I’ve had a chance to develop an opinion from a different perspective.