Category Archives: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Movie Night

We saw Cowboys and Aliens last night. It was a fun movie, as we expected. Take a traditional western with all the usual western cliches and add scary aliens. How could that not be fun? If I were to complain about anything it would be that the aliens were inconsistently hard to kill. Sometimes they would be shot over and over and still keep coming and other times a single shot or a stab with a knife would kill one of them instantly. But that’s just being nit-picky.

The whole thing was pretty well done I think. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were excellent. It was a different kind of role for Ford. It still seems funny seeing him playing old man roles especially when I see the famous lopsided nervous grin on his now grizzled face.

I have long thought that westerns and science fiction (at least, space opera) are not as far apart as most people think. In both the viewer or reader is taken to a world that we can never experience in reality and there are heroes, bad guys and action. Putting the two together can work very well.

Old Sci-Fi

A while back I downloaded several science fiction stories and books from Project Gutenberg. Here are some thoughts on a couple of them that I read recently.

City of Endless Night by Milo M. Hastings was actually pretty interesting in spite of being outdated. It was written shortly after the end of World War I and it has WWII not happening until the 1980′s. The story takes place many years after that. It is easy enough to read it as an alternate time-line story and you can almost forget how old it is.

The world is united under a single government, except for Berlin, which is enclosed in a single armored structure with no windows. An American manages to sneak into this city and takes the identity of a dead scientist. He is accepted without suspicion because no one even imagines that it is possible for an outsider to get in. The government of this alternate Berlin is totalitarian and the society is very structured and rigid. The people have been bred to be perfect for their jobs. A laborer is born to be a laborer and can’t imagine doing anything else. A scientist is born to be a scientist and so on. Our American hero makes friends with a group of people who are not happy with the way things are but, aside from sharing a few banned books, have not tried to rebel because they felt that it would be impossible.

A Trip to Venus by John Munro was first published in 1897. It is not only scientifically outdated, it seems extremely naive by today’s standards but it is a charming and delightful tale if you are able to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Three men and a young woman, the daughter of one the men, build a spaceship and travel in it to Venus where they find a tropical paradise populated by humans who are as too good to be true as the planet. In a modern story you would expect the dark side of these saintly people to come out but this is the 1890′s so they are genuinely as good as they seem – the perfect example of what humanity should be.

For chapter after chapter the book mostly goes on and on about the wonders and beauty of Venus and its people. I can’t resist an excerpt:

Most of the highest peaks and ridges, as well as the deepest valleys and
ravines, were covered with the embowering forest; but here and there a
huge boss of granite or porphyry reared its bare scalp out of the
verdure like the head and shoulders of some antediluvian monster. The
gigantic palms and foliage trees, all tufted with air-plants or
strangled with climbers, were literally buried in flowers of every hue,
and the crown of the forest rolled under us like a sea of blossoms.
Every moment one enchanting prospect after another opened to our
wondering eyes. Now it was a waterfall, gleaming like a vein of silver
on the brow of a lofty precipice, and descending into a lakelet bordered
with red, blue, and yellow lilies. Again it was a natural bridge,
spanning a deep chasm or tunnel in the rock, through which a river
boiled and roared in a series of cascades and rapids. Ever and anon we
passed over glades and prairies, carpeted with orchids, and dotted with
clumps of shrubbery, a mass of golden bloom, or tremendous blocks of
basalt hung with crimson creepers. Butterflies with azure wings of a
surprising spread and lustre, alighted on the flowers, and great birds
of resplendent plumage flashed from grove to grove. A sun, twice the
diameter of ours, blazed in the northern sky, but the intensity of his
rays was tempered by a thin veil of cloud. The atmosphere although warm
and moist, was not oppressive like that of a forcing-house, and the
breeze was balmy with delicious perfume.

There’s little in the way of adventure until near the end when a mechanical failure threatens to strand the travellers. And there is a bit of romance of course – sweet, old-fashioned romance. It’s the Victorian era you know.

I fear that most readers would quickly become impatient with all this beauty and sweetness but I enjoyed it. It’s a “happy place” kind of book – the perfect escape from the stressful real world and I think it’s a bit sad that so few people are able to let themselves enjoy this sort of thing. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I like violent adventures and weirdness but there’s room for sweetness and light too.

This ‘n’ That

7 Obscure Children’s Books by Authors of Grown-up Literature – I had seen the one by Mark Twain somewhere else but before I got around to mentioning it I found this. Of course I feel deprived for not having any of these as a child and I want them even though I’m “too old” for them.

I found The Adventures of Roberta X linked somewhere but I forget where it was. I haven’t taken much time to read it yet but it looks like a very nice, literate, all-around blog. And she reads science fiction! She also has another blog, Retrotechnologist, which I’ve just barely looked at because I just now found it but the title alone is enough to almost give me goosebumps. Two keepers I think.

Img to CSS – Hmmmm… I might try that sometime.

I found this June 21 post at Dustbury in my bookmarks which means I meant to link to it and say something about it but I can’t remember ever mentioning it. And how could I have forgotten?! Christina Hendricks as Wonder Woman? Yes! Please please please please make it so!

Sketchy-G’s Photostream – great architectural drawings, including many of buildings and structures in Oklahoma.

Awesome Firefly poster. By the way, I bought these. I mainly wanted the Miranda and Persephone posters but you have to buy the entire set of five. I need to get frames for them and two frames might end up costing more than all five posters since they didn’t have any the right size at Wal-mart. Today or tomorrow I think I’ll go to Hobby Lobby and see what they have. I’m procrastinating because, as you might have noticed, it’s fracking* HOT out there. The highways are buckling it’s so hot! I’m not usually one to complain about the heat – I like summer – but this summer it’s making me lazy and frying my brain.

* Yes, I know, I’m mixing universes.

Reading

I recently finished reading Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery. I expected it to be interesting (or else I wouldn’t have read it) but I was a little surprised by how unputdownable it was in the first half of the book. The later chapters were mainly about speaking tours and fund-raising for the Tuskegee Institute and was less interesting to me.

Overall it was a worthwhile, educational read. You get from it a slightly different picture of the era of slavery and the first decades after emancipation. Of course, Washington himself may not have had the complete picture even though he was there. He seems to have been well-treated by white people. In his writing he comes across as a polite and optimistic person. In some ways also, he seems naive but I don’t think he actually was. He just saw the value of looking on the bright side and believing that the near future would be much better. Here are a few quotes:

The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of race.

When bills are on the eve of falling due, with not a dollar in hand with which to meet them, it is pretty difficult to learn not to worry, although I think I am learning more and more each year that all worry simply consumes, and to no purpose, just so much physical and mental strength that might otherwise be given to effective work.

No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.

No man who continues to add something to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is long left without proper reward.

* * * * *

Last week I downloaded, from Project Gutenberg, several classic science fiction books and stories. The Burning Bridge by Poul Anderson is a fairly simple story but, though it is over 50 years old, it does not seem especially dated. A group of political dissenter colonists are on route to their new home when they receive a transmission from Earth informing them that there has been a change in leadership and that they should turn around and come back to Earth so they must decide whether to return or continue.

Two nights ago I started reading City of Endless Night, a novel by Milo M. Hastings. It was written after the end of World War I but well before the beginning of WWII. It has WWII not happening until 1988. The action takes place decades after that. And it seems the Germans are still the bad guys. That’s about all I know so far. More after I have finished it.

Reading

I finished reading Kraken, by China Mieville, a couple of days ago. For the first several chapters it seems to be a fairly ordinary real-world mystery story. The crime is rather odd – a preserved giant squid is stolen from a museum – and the cops are something of a comedy act but there is nothing, other than the author’s other works, for those familiar with them, to suggest that there will be anything especially odd or fantastic about it. But then, as the story is ambling merrily along it suddenly takes a sharp left turn down WTF? Lane. You stop, and you think, “Wait… What just happened?” and go back several paragraphs and read them again. That was my reaction even though I was warned.

From that point on the book is a fantastic ride full of weird religions, bizarre fantasy creatures and everyday objects come to life. The stolen giant squid is somehow connected to the end of the world which is supposed to happen within days, or perhaps hours, and the protagonists search for it, navigating through a weird alternate London where anything can happen and anyone or any thing could be either a friend or an enemy. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy or anyone attracted to weirdness.

* * *

Before I started Kraken I had been reading Moby Dick and had planned to continue but then slacked off, skipping days and finally just dropping it but I’ve picked it up again. This is my second attempt. Actually, I shouldn’t say “attempt” because I did finish it the first time but it’s my second attempt to figure out what’s so effing great about it. I am 81 percent of the way through it. (I’m reading it on my Kindle.) Ignorant, semi-literate review coming soon eventually.

Never, Ever, Ever, Ever Give Up

Wow! That surprises me quite a bit. To be honest I already have given up. I gave up when I saw how Serenity ended. I thought, “Well, that’s that. Damn.”

I’m really skeptical about anything ever coming of this. Maybe another movie, at most. But I love the Internet and I love it when people “take up arms” against the big media powers-that-be. Perhaps it’s a bit silly. Perhaps it was “just a TV show”. But it still feels like it was more than just a TV show and even if all fans can do is give Fox executives headaches all this activism will be worth the effort.

Cuddly

Don’t they look sweet?

Cold Weather Friends

Most of the time these two ignore each other but when the weather turns cold they get all friendly and cuddly. The sock is there on purpose. Dax (the tortie) luuuuves my husband. She loves him so much that if she was human I’d have to… well, never mind. We don’t want to go there. If she can’t be on his lap she will lay on anything that is his so we started putting a pair of his dirty socks on this pillow to keep her happy.

Book lovers and sci-fi fans may notice our bookshelf in the background. It is not in any kind of order, as you can see. I didn’t like Roma Eterna at all. I just haven’t got around to getting rid of it. And The Man-Kzin Wars is more my sons’ kind of thing. I think I started reading it but never finished. I can’t remember for sure.

Movie: Knowing

WARNING: SPOILER

Back on December 4th, in our hotel room in Branson, I was channel surfing and stopped when I saw Nicholas Cage and a young boy staring at several glowy aliens. I soon realized that I was seeing the end of what looked like a very good movie. Later I figured out that the name of the movie was Knowing and I knew I wanted to see it even though it had been “spoiled” and last night I got to see the whole thing. I was not disappointed. In spite of having already seen the ending, I thought it was a great movie and didn’t feel that it had been all that badly spoiled. But I don’t want to spoil it for you so if you don’t want to read a spoiler stop reading now. Watch the trailer instead.

* * *

At the beginning of Knowing an elementary school class opens a time capsule buried fifty years earlier by another class at the same school. Inside are letters from the students in the earlier class. Each of the kids in the current class is given one of the letters. One boy, Caleb, gets a page full of apparently random numbers. The other kids think it’s “boring” but Caleb wants to know what it means.

His father, a widowed astronomy professor, played by Nicholas Cage, dismisses it at first but then starts looking at it and discovers that the numbers are the dates of disasters and the numbers of victims. And there are three that have not happened yet. Caleb starts hearing whispering voices and seeing mysterious men watching him from the shadows. Caleb and his dad meet up with the daughter of the girl who wrote the numbers – and her daughter who is, conveniently, the same age as Caleb – and together try to figure out what’s up with the numbers and the mysterious strangers.

I think this is a very good movie and I’m surprised that it’s not more popular. I’m not sure how much seeing the ending first might have changed the way I saw it. We are used to movies in which the hero saves the day in the end, no matter how impossible the situation. That didn’t happen in this movie. But were there subtle clues? Might I have realized at some point that this wasn’t going to end with everyone dancing a happy dance? I think that’s likely.

Overall, I think the movie was well done and well acted. I especially want to praise the very effective use of the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony near the beginning and again at the end. But I can’t say it was perfect. You can probably find plenty to pick on in this movie if you’re the type who’s more inclined to nit pick than to just sit back and enjoy the ride. To start with, if the aliens had known about the coming disaster for fifty years how come they could only save two children? And why the f**k couldn’t Dad have come along too? Would that really have been so impossible for powerful, glowy aliens who can whisper to you inside your head? I don’t think so.

One more thing, about the movie itself, I think they could have done a better job on the CGI for the planet they dumped the kids on, but overall, really, really good movie.

Random Linkage

The butler did it. – Or did he?

A little wire, a little imagination…

Myke Amend – Steampunk and fantasy art. Has some nice skins for phones and laptops.

Victorian Star Trek – Several cool images. I think Scotty is my favorite. The one with Chekov and Sulu is rather memorable too. Scroll on down for some fun with Chewbacca and more.

More great steampunk art – Beautiful desktop backgrounds

Wallbase – … and even more backgrounds

Megastructures – Speculative engineering

“The Inner Light”

To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this. This music is from my very favorite episode of Star Trek: TNG. The original is just perfect and it doesn’t need to be messed with by some guy showing off on a weird early twentieth century electronic gadget. However, I was wrong. This is very nice. (thanks)

…but this is still the best:

TV: What I’m Watching

Ah, September… that time of year when, for a short time, we are filled with hopes of being entertained every night for the next six to nine months, only to have those hopes dashed within two months when most of the best shows are canceled. I’m happy that a few of my favorites from last season are back and I’ve watched a few new ones that seem promising. In no particular order…

Chuck (NBC) – This is a fun show. There were a lot of changes late last season and it looks like there are more to come. Changes on my favorite TV shows always make me nervous but so far Chuck remains fun and the surprises help to keep it fresh.

Castle (ABC) – Nathan Fillion. Need I say more? Well, I guess I could. This is pretty much a formula cop show but it has some great actors and writers. There’s drama, action and humor. If you pinned me down and forced me to pick my current favorite TV show this would be it.

Fringe (Fox) – Sort of an X-Files reboot. I enjoyed this show a lot last year but I’m not sure I like the direction the story arc seems to be headed. Less soap opera and more weirdness, please. And more Walter. I like Walter.

Warehouse 13 (SyFy) – It just finished a season and is on hiatus now. The whole “H.G. Wells was really a woman,” thing always bothered me a little bit and then first she was bad, then good, now bad again to keep us guessing but I’m still enjoying this show. It’s fun and quirky and of course I like the little steampunk touches. The season ended with a good cliffhanger. Hope that turns out okay!

Survivor (CBS) – Yes, darn it, I’m watching it again. It’s been several seasons since I’ve watched it and I think I only ever watched two seasons all the way through but I decided to start watching again because Jimmy Johnson is on it. Not that I like him exactly but I was curious. I’m already getting bored with it though.

Ice Road Truckers (History Channel) – A soap opera with eighteen-wheelers. Not as fascinating as the first season but still somewhat entertaining. Only one show left this season.

Swamp People (History Channel) – LeeAnn once referred to the people this show is about as “feral south Louisianans.” Strangely fascinating.

The Defenders (CBS) – A new show starring James Belushi and Jerry O’Connell as attorneys who fall somewhere between stereotypical slimeballs and selfless heroes of the courtroom. So far I’m really liking this show a lot. Fortunately, I have never had the opportunity to observe the goings on in a real criminal court but to me this has a feeling of realism. It’s more about the behind the scenes deal making than it is about tense courtroom drama and moving speeches. It has a generous helping of humor with enough drama to keep it realistic.

$#*! My Dad Says (CBS) – It’s been about 10 years since I’ve watched any sitcom. I got bored and disgusted with all of them but when I heard of this one with William Shatner I had to give it a try. So far I like it. Shatner plays the grouchy old man role disturbingly well and the writing is very good. He gets some very funny lines.

This is not an all-inclusive list. I’ve probably forgotten one or two I wanted to mention. There are several returning shows that I’m looking forward to including The Good Guys (Fox) and Memphis Beat. (TNT) I’ve been seeing ads for Stargate: Universe. I have mixed feelings about that one. It’s sci-fi; it has a starship. That’s almost enough right there to insure that I will watch it but, on the other hand, it’s dreary, not very interesting and often seriously annoying. So, I don’t know if I’ll waste my time on it anymore.

Reading

Mary Shelley is best known as the author of Frankenstein. I did not know much about her or what else she wrote but I was browsing science fiction titles available for the Kindle and came across another of her books, The Last Man, and I was immediately curious to see what else the author of one of our most enduring tales had imagined.

The Last Man, after a rather silly and pointless introduction, apparently intended to give a sense of reality to the tale, takes place in the late 21st century. This is the only thing that qualifies it as science fiction. Technology and society are essentially identical to that of the early 19th century, though there are political differences.

It is written in the first person. The narrator is Lionel Verney. In the first half of the story he tells about his personal history, his wonderful family and near perfect life, in flowery and often highly emotional language. If you did not know that this was the reminiscing of someone who believed himself to be the last man alive on Earth it might be rather dull or even sickening, but I was surprised to find myself enjoying it quite a bit. It sort of reminded me of some of my early childhood fantasies of living in a castle, happy all the time and having nothing to do but read and have fascinating conversations.

Life isn’t all perfect. There are affairs and political intrigues but the overall focus us joy, joy, joy, joy. A strange plague, the nature of which is not fully explained, is at first far away but it eventually reaches England. When there are only a few hundred people left alive in England it is decided that they should all migrate to southern Europe where they think life for such a small population will be easier. This all takes place over a period of several years. Finally, as the title suggests, there is only one man left alive in all the world, though he still hopes that somewhere there might be others.

I usually don’t care for end-of-the-world stories but I liked this one. I think it helped that this book was written over 180 years ago and there’s nothing at all futuristic about it so it feels more like an alternate history than a possible future. Another reason is that in spite of the gloomy subject it was actually a somewhat hopeful and positive story and, it seems to me, presented an accurate portrayal of the human psyche. Even amidst the deepest grief and despair the characters are able to appreciate beauty and find moments of peace and even happiness.

* * *

I have never read Frankenstein. I’ve thought about it but it’s never been very high on my “Must Read” list. I think I will read it someday but not immediately. Now I think I will move on to something more recent – something from the last century at least. But I do want to read more classics – I mean the Great Books, the ones that everyone has heard of – but it’s hard to decide where to go next.

If Only…

This really should be bigger on the inside. Now that would be worth forty dollars. I mean… can you imagine? What I really need is a refrigerator that’s bigger on the inside. Or perhaps not.

Janis Ian Science Fiction

Janis Ian writes science fiction. Really? I had no idea. I need to get out more. Or perhaps, less. Back in the 70′s I liked her song At Seventeen but other than that I know absolutely nothing about her. At first I was excited about the science fiction but then I read some of the excerpts and I think I’ll pass. Or maybe I’ll decide I have to torture myself for the sake of curiosity. I’m strange like that. Anyway…

…he loved her fecundity, the womanly wealth that thrived on and gave nourishment to the holy seed within her, and spewed Him forth in a river of…

But no, I can’t finish that sentence. I won’t have it on my site. Actually, not all the excerpts are that bad but that one sort of leaped out at me and shouted, “Be wary!”

What To Wear While Saving the Universe

Fantasy fashion trends. Heroines are starting to wear more sensible shoes these days and their weapons are more compact. Damsels in distress have almost disappeared but cleavage is here to stay.

Well thank goodness heroines are wearing more appropriate footwear these days. I feel better about the future of the universe already. Seriously, I’ve never been too hung up on the accuracy, or even the plausibility, of fantasy and sci-fi cover art though I do appreciate good cover art. The worst covers, in my opinion, are those that are too simple, lacking in detail. It’s nice if it appears to be somehow related to the story inside but mostly, just give me something fun to look at.

Thanks

UPDATE: Oops. I think I must have typed this in my sleep. Fixed two really, really stupid errors.

Reading

This morning I finished reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer. For quite a while, I had been thinking about reading it but the reviews and descriptions of it made me think that it would probably be not exactly my cup o’ tea. But it’s considered an “important” book so I kept thinking about it. Then Thinkgeek added it to their list of stuff you can get with Geek Points and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. (I still have lots of Geek Points)

It turns out that I was right about it being “not exactly my cup o’ tea”. (My cup o’ tea being space ships, strange planets, bizarre aliens and so forth, though I do enjoy something a little different once in a while if it’s good.) For nearly the first half of the book I considered giving up on it but I have often read books that took that long to get interesting so I kept going. It did get somewhat more interesting and I’m glad I stuck it out to the end. My biggest problem with it is that I didn’t care about any of the characters. I just couldn’t really feel anything about them. I expect a book to make me love the good guys and want to help them and then hang out with them after the adventure is over and hate the bad guys and want to participate in their destruction. I did not like any of the characters in Neuromancer but I couldn’t really hate them either. They were just blah.

I’m not sure about Neuromancer‘s status as an “important” book. I don’t really care. I’m glad I read it because now I know. It was not bad. It had some good ideas and an okay story.

Next on the reading list? I think I’ll go back to Andre Norton for a while. Because it’s there.

Another Sci-Fi Trope

Yesterday I mentioned that nearly every sci-fi TV series does a rapid aging episode. Both Warehouse 13 and Haven did it in the same week a while back. Another common sci-fi trope is body swapping. (Or mind transfer) Last night’s episode of Warehouse 13 had Pete’s and Mika’s minds transferred into each other’s bodies. (That’s not a spoiler since they showed that much in the commercials but I won’t say any more.) Now I’m wondering what this week’s Haven will be about. I think Eureka has already done a body swapping episode but I can’t remember anything about it.