Thursday, September 30, 2010

Titanomachina


"This music video is a story about a world ravaged by war and technology. The few remaining humans must gain access to a cave inhabited by an ancient war machine. The humans must break their sacred rule to never use old technology, and capture "Ultima Speranza", the Wandering Titan."

I think this vid would be even better accompanied by mr jazzman's drumstep beat "Iron God: Sakupen Hell Yes" but that remix hasn't happened yet.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Latour on Avatar

The big news today is the official announcement that the Star Wars films (aka The Darth Vader Saga) are being reworked in 3D. This is an obvious case of "keeping up with the Joneses", or in this case the Camerons. Since Lucas is inviting comparison with Avatar it's a good occasion to consider sociologist Bruno Latour's reflections on that film.

If I had an agent, I am sure he would advise me to sue James Cameron over his latest blockbuster since AVATAR should really be called PANDORA’S HOPE! Yes, Pandora is the name of the mythical humanoid figure whose box holds all the ills of humanity, but it is also the name of the heavenly body that humans from planet Earth (all members of the typically American military-industrial complex) are exploiting to death without any worry for the fate of its local inhabitants, the Navis, and their ecosystem, a superorganism and goddess called Eywa. I am under the impression that this film is the first popular description of what happens when modernist humans meet Gaia. And it’s not pretty.

The REVENGE OF GAIA, to draw on the title of a book by James Lovelock, results in a terrifying replay of Dunkirk 1940 or Saigon 1973: a retreat and a defeat. This time, the Cowboys lose to the Indians: they have to flee from their Frontier and withdraw back home abandoning all their riches behind them. In trying to pry open the mysterious planet Pandora in search of a mineral —known as unobtanium, no less!—, the Earthlings, just as in the classical myth, let loose all the ills of humanity: not only do they ravage the planet, destroy the great tree of life and kill the quasi Amazonian Indians who had lived in edenic harmony with it, but they also become infected with their own macho ideology. Outward destruction breeds inward destruction. And again, as in the classical myth, hope is left at the bottom of Pandora’s box —I mean planet—because it lies deep in the forest, thoroughly hidden in the complex web of connections that the Navis nurture with their own Gaia, a biological and cultural network which only a small team of naturalists and anthropologists are beginning to explore. It is left to Jack, an outcast, a marine with neither legs nor academic credentials, to finally “get it”, yet at a price: the betrayal of his fellow mercenaries, a rather conventional love affair with a native, and a magnificent transmigration of his original crippled [sic] body into his avatar, thereby inverting the relationship between the original and the copy and giving a whole new dimension to what it means to “go native”…). I take this film to be the first Hollywood script about the modernist clash with nature that doesn't take ultimate catastrophe and destruction for granted — as so many have before— but opts for a much more interesting outcome: a new search for hope on condition that what it means to have a body, a mind, and a world is completely redefined. The lesson of the film, in my reading of it, is that modernized and modernizing humans are not physically, psychologically, scientifically and emotionally equipped to survive on their Planet. As in Michel Tournier’s inverted story of Robinson Crusoe, they have to relearn from beginning to end what it is to live on their island —and just like Tournier’s fable, Crusoe ultimately decides to stay in the now civilized and civilizing jungle instead of going back home to what for him has become just another wilderness. But what fifty years ago in Tournier’s romance was a fully individual experience has become today in Cameron’s film a collective adventure: there is no sustainable life for Earth bound species on their planet island.

From the prologue of  'An attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”' which you can read on Latour's site.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cosmic Engineers

Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak was originally serialized in Astounding Science-Fiction in 1939 and was later revised in 1950 for book publication. It's often mentioned along with Doc Smith's Lensman, Edmond Hamilton's Interplanetary Patrol, and Jack Williamson's Legion of Space as an epic space opera. It's a sweeping cosmic adventure that compares well with those more famous works and differs from them in some interesting ways.


In the year 6948 reporter Gary Nelson and photographer Herb Harper are en route to Pluto in their small ship, The Space Pup (which is propelled by space warping "geosector" engines) to stop hotshot pilot Tommy Evens from taking off for Alpha Centauri in an experimental FTL ship. As the two vector to the scene they spot a strange object. Gary investigates and discovers it's a small, derelict spaceship. Inside is a woman in suspended animation.


After reviving her they discover she's Caroline Martin, who has been in suspended animation for a thousand years. She was a scientist at a time when war was raging between the inner planets and Jupiter. She developed a new weapon, but its use would have endangered the entire solar system. She refused to turn it over to the military and so was branded a traitor and imprisoned in the ship. She contrived the suspended animation equipment, but her mind remained conscious and she nearly went insane. However, she also developed telepathic powers and received messages from vast intelligences outside the galaxy.

The trio resume course for the outpost on Pluto where they discover that Doc Kingsley has been receiving strange messages from beyond the galactic rim. Caroline confirms that these are from the same source as her telepathic communiques. They are messages from beings that call themselves the Cosmic Engineers who are warning of a grave threat to the universe. They transmit plans for a device that will open an FTL portal and urge the humans to join them. When the Earth government gets wind of this they dispatch ships to stop them, but the five make the journey.

They discover that the Engineers are metallic humanoids of vast intelligence. They have assembled aliens from all parts of the galaxy to help avert a natural disaster. Our universe is but one of many, and another is about to collide with it. Both will be destroyed unless some means is found to avert the catastrophe. They are opposed by the Hellhounds, malicious reptilians who want they universe to be destroyed. And so our protagonists much struggle against overwhelming odds with the fate of the universe in their hands.


This is an interesting book for several reasons. The first is that Caroline is the most intelligent and developed character in the book and plays a leading role in the plot, something that was rare for the time. Another is that the characters aren't called upon to fight a galactic war as is usually the case, but to solve a scientific problem. There's also a scene in the book that anticipates both Fredric Brown's later classic "Arena," and the Star Trek episode based upon it. And the idea of universes in collision is surprisingly similar to some aspects of today's cosmological M-Theory.

Even so this is a somewhat crude novel. The writing is patchy, probably a result of both the serial format of the original and the later re-write. Aside from Caroline the characters are sketchy as was typical of most early pulp sf. And while the plot holds together it's comprised of a rather uneven string of incidents.

Cosmic Engineers lives up to the "cosmic" promise of its title, vividly conveying the staggering scope of the inter-universal scale of the story. It's a minor novel, and Simak would go on to write much better works, but it captures the grandeur of the early "scientifiction" in a fairly original way. While mainly a curiosity today, if you're a fan of the pulp space operas then this is one you'll probably enjoy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chant of Autumn

by Clark Ashton Smith



Like the voice of a golden star,
Heard from afar,
Perishing beauty calls
Out of the mist and rain;
Like the song of a silver wind
When the night is blind,
Murmuring music falls,
Never to rise again.

Voice of the leaves that die,
Whisper and sigh
Of ruinous gardens waning
Rose by ungathered rose.
Dolor of pines immortal,
That guard the portal
Of a lonely mead retaining
Blossoms that no man knows!

Voices of love and the autumn sun,
In my heart ye are one!
Fairer the petals that fall,
Dearer the beauty that dies,
And the pyres of autumn burning,
Than a thousand springs returning....
O, perishing loves that call
In my heart and the hollow skies!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rollerball (1975) trailer



This movie did for J.S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" what Excalibur (1981) would later do for Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana". And it makes me want to go to the roller derby.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Hire

(Cover by Emsh showing "Mercury's Solar Weather Station".)


"New Hire" by David Dryfoos

"Very admirable rule: Never do tomorrow what you can put off until after the age of forty!"



Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Robert Cicconetti, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The DNA Cowboys

The DNA Cowboys series by Mick Farren is a group of four novels, The Quest of the DNA Cowboys (1976), Synaptic Manhunt (1976), The Neural Atrocity (1977) and The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys (1989), the latter forming a coda to the saga. Although sharing the sensibilities and themes of New Wave sf, there is little of the stylistic experimentation that characterized many novels of the period. The books are mistakenly listed in the ISFDB as the "Jeb Stuart Ho" series, although Ho only appears in two of the books (Synaptic Manhunt & The Neural Atrocity).


The eponymous DNA Cowboys are Billy Oblivion, Reave Mekonta, and their on-again, off-again companion The Minstrel Boy, an experienced traveler who has the rare talent of being able to navigate his way through the nothings (as we later learn this is thanks to a lizard brain implant). The nothings are the psychedelic chaos that separates the fragmented human communities that are all that remains of a world where reality has broken down. After some adventures (including being drafted into Sauron's army) Billy and Reave eventually end up in the company of the patrician libertine AA Catto, a woman whose emotional immaturity is reflected in her permanently adolescent body.


Things really pick up in the second and third novels, when the assassin monk Jeb Stuart Ho enters the picture. He's been dispatched by his order to bump off Catto, and he strong-arms Minstrel Boy into acting as his guide. Ho soon runs afoul of the policeman, Bannion, and Catto, Reave in tow, gets wind of his plans as does Billy. The chase is on and it soon becomes clear that the reason Catto is such a danger is that her egomania has become a full-blown Napoleon complex. She's determined to wreak havoc in her mad pursuit of world domination.

Simultaneously with all of this we follow the progress of She/They, a tripartite female entity that holds humanity in little regard.


The fourth book tells a similar tale as the DNA Cowboys, accidentally reunited, reluctantly take a stand against the warlord Vlad Baptiste and his cohorts as he lays waste to the remaining pockets of humanity in the course of his fanatical vendetta against the haughty Metaphysicians.


The DNA Cowboy books are best seen in their context as a part of 1970's pop-culture. Reading them is like watching a Ralph Bakshi movie, full of swirling colors and counter-culture allusions. It's a world where Kwai Chang Caine rubs shoulders with Kojak and Elvis finds himself out of his element. The references range from The Lord of the Rings, TV Westerns, Dune to rock and roll (including Farren's own songs). While competently written, these aren't Farren's best books (David Langford was unsparing in his review of them). The fourth novel finds Farren a more assured writer, and involves a bit of retconning. It also seems to have been written at a time when his fascination with military history was running high. It provides a satisfactory conclusion to the tale of the DNA Cowboys allowing them to find either apotheosis or go out in a blaze of glory. If you want to find out which they choose you'll have to take a hit of cyclatrol and follow the DNA Cowboys yourself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Delayed Action



Delayed Action by Charles V. de Vet

"This planet gave him the perfect chance to commit the perfect crime—only he couldn't remember just what it was he had committed."



Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Robert Cicconetti, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Klingon Opera

Here's some amateur footage of the opening moments of 'u', "The first authentic Klingon opera on Earth."



It's just too bad Jerry Goldsmith wasn't still alive to write the musical score.
I wonder if the Sontarans have operas?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Swag

I went to a big booksale yesterday and made some good finds. My best score was all four of James Blish's Cities in Flight novels.


I've read about these books before, but never read the novels themselves. I also picked up Stanislaw Lem's The Investigation, Harlan Ellison's Alone Against Tomorrow, Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Visions, and John Brunner's A Maze of Stars. And I got a couple more of Chalker's Well of Souls books, two more of Laumer's Retief books, plus a couple of Mack Reynolds novels, Satellite City, and Galactic Medal of Honor. I also nabbed James H. Schmitz's The Lion Game, which has one of the sexiest Kelly Freas covers ever.


What else did I get? A bunch of Foster's Star Trek Logs, and Joe Haldeman's Trek novel Planet of Judgment. (I don't normally go for media tie-ins, but I do have most of the early Bantam & Ballentine Star Treks) There are several other books I picked up, including William Harrison's Roller Ball Murder. This was the inspiration for the movie Rollerball, and I admit I got it mostly out of curiosity.


All in all it wasn't a bad haul for $30.

Friday, September 17, 2010

HRP-4 robot



HRP-4 is the latest advance in robotechnology. It stands 1.51 meters tall and masses 39 kilograms. It displays remarkable agility, but can it take out the trash or fold sheets?

[via Pink Tentacle]

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sym-Bionic Titan Trailer



Tomorrow is the premiere of Genndy Tartakovsky's new series, Sym-Bionic Titan, which looks promising. As you can see it's emulating your standard mecha anime. I hope it also reproduces the involved plot and detailed characterization of most anime. However, given that this is a prime-time Cartoon Network show, chances are it's going to be tame shonen fare.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lycanthropus



Lycanthropus

By C. EDGAR BOLEN

The jellied night has oozed its miry black
From out the hills to fill the valley floor.
Atop the ragged hills the torn cloud-wrack
Is lightning-limned into a hellish door.
A gust of wind across the sky is hurled—
The gods of old are loosed upon the world.

Age-old, the blood-lust wells within my throat;
Tensely I wait, and feel my body shrink;
My hairless hide becomes a furry coat.
Blood-hungry, through the opened door I slink;
I raise my head and howl in horrid glee—
And from the plain a howl comes back to me.



Produced by Greg Weeks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

The Lost Temples of Xantoos


The Lost
Temples of Xantoos
By HOWELL CALHOUN

Celestial fantasies of deathless night,
Enraptured colonnades adorned with pearls,
Resplendent guardians of crimson light,
Expanse of darkness silently unfurls
Among colossal ruins on this shore,
That once was purled by Xantoos' rolling seas;
Nothing remains upon this barren core
Of Mars, but your palatial memories.

Your altars and magnificent black gods
Still flash beneath the sapphire torches' flames,
The fragrant ring of sacred flowers nods
Beneath the monstrous idols' gilded frames.
Your jeweled gates swing open on their bands
Of gold; within, a lurid shadow stands.



Produced by Greg Weeks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

R.I.P E.C. Tubb, 1919-2010

Locus has reported the sad news that space opera doyen E. C. Tubb has died.

Edward Charles Tubb was born October 15, 1919 in London. He became a fan of SF before WWII, collecting magazines as a teenager and helping to found the British Science Fiction Association. He married Iris Kathleen Smith in 1944, and is survived by their two daughters, two granddaughters, and a number of great-grandchildren.

Tubb wrote many sf stories and novels, but his lasting legacy will probably be his famous Dumarest Saga, which tells the tale of the rugged, Eric John Stark-like Earl Dumarest as he quests throughout the galaxy searching for his birthplace, a mythical planet called "Earth."


The series ran for over thirty volumes and exerted a strong influence on the classic SFRPG Traveller. It's sad that he has passed but he'll be forever remembered by his fans for the entertainment he has given us.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Go Team Venture!

 Tonight's the premiere of the new season of The Venture Bros. It looks awesome as ever.



Jackson Publick tells us what we can expect.

For those of you who didn't like the last eight, well...I can safely say these new ones have more of the things you thought were missing from the last ones, less of the things you thought there was too much of, and quite a few new and unexpected twists .

Maybe I'm easy to please, but I didn't have any complaints about the last run of shows. Sure, I would have liked to see more Brock, but Sgt. Hatred's personal anguish was so funny that I didn't miss him too much.

No show skewers pop-culture like TVB does. While the show is mainly a send-up of Johnny Quest (who is a Rick Brant knockoff) they also parody superheroes, and tonight's episode, "The Diving Bell Vs. The Butter-glider," has a plot right out the movie Fantastic Voyage (1966). I can't wait.

The Venture Bros theme

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Classic Movie 'Avatar' Updated For Today's Audiences

The Onion reports on the latest Hollywood remake.

LOS ANGELES—Paramount Pictures confirmed Monday the Dec. 23 release date for Avatar 2KX, a remake of the beloved 2009 sci-fi thriller Avatar that will bring the story into the modern era with faster-paced action sequences and cutting-edge visual effects. "Avatar was a true classic of its time, but today's audiences demand a state-of-the-art immersive experience that goes beyond the kitschy charm of the original," said Paramount CEO Brad Grey, who ordered producers to cut 40 percent of the original script's dialogue, simplify the moral so that the humans are now the protagonists, and add several Na'vi sex scenes. "Our hipper, bolder, and updated movie is sure to resonate with younger generations and older fans alike." Grey had no comment on speculation that Avatar 2KX would feature cameos from one or more of the original film's surviving stars.

"There is many a true word spoken in jest." -- George Bernard Shaw

Starcrash (1979) trailer



Starcrash (1979) is best remembered for Caroline Munro running around in a leather bikini and The Hoff swinging a lightsabre, but it's not without its Easter eggs.


Seeing a cheesy Spaghetti Sci-Fi flick like this give a nod to Murray Leinster isn't as unusual as it might seem. Authors like Edmond Hamilton and others saw their later space operas first published in Italian magazines like Urania.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tales of the Wonder Club


Tales of the Wonder Club, Volume 1 (1899) by Alexander Huth (as by M. Y. Halidom)

"The chief delight of this club was to tell or to listen to stories which were all more or less of the marvellous class, and which each took it by turn to relate to the rest, the strictest silence and order being preserved during the recital."



Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Plinkett reviews nuTrek





Yesterday was the 44th anniversary of the premier of Star Trek, so to celebrate here's everybody's favorite serial killer turned film critic, Mr.  Plinkett, who's taking a break from slagging off Star Wars prequels to review nuTrek. Surprisingly he likes it, but not surprisingly he get's a little long-winded. However, he makes some good points, and the bit about the Enterprise's elevators is not to be missed. He even gives us some solid analysis, explaining why Star Trek is different from Star Wars and why nuTrek requires a "Star Wars mindset." [via Bam! Kapow!]

And the RiffTrax crew has given the film the MST3K treatment which is hilarious as usual.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Year When Stardust Fell


The Year When Stardust Fell (1958) by Raymond F. Jones

"The story of man is the story—endlessly repeated—of a struggle: between light and darkness, between knowledge and ignorance, between good and evil, between men who would build and men who would destroy. It is no more complicated than this."



Produced by Greg Weeks, Roger L. Holda, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

A Republic Without a President


A Republic Without a President and Other Stories (1891) by Herbert D. Ward

UNPRECEDENTED CALAMITY!
AWFUL MYSTERY!
THE PRESIDENT AND HIS WIFE SPIRITED AWAY FROM
THE WHITE HOUSE!
TWO SERVANTS FOUND GAGGED!
NOT A TRACE OF THE DISTINGUISHED COUPLE!
THE COUNTRY AGHAST AT THE DREADFUL POSSIBILITIES
OF THIS DISAPPEARANCE!


Produced by V. L. Simpson, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team via The Internet Archive

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Secret of the Ninth Planet



"Earth Alert!" by Kris Neville

"What defense could she raise against mutant science—telepathy, invisibility, teleportation—especially since Earth was not aware of its danger!"




The Secret of the Ninth Planet (1959) by Donald A. Wollheim

This is a novel for all the Pluto lovers. "I think that the first men to land on Pluto are going to make some very astonishing discoveries. But I am also sure that they will never go there in rockets. They will have to make the immense trip by some more powerful means—like the anti-gravitational drive."



Produced by Greg Weeks, Roger L. Holda, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

The Mysterious Stranger

The other day Frederik Pohl posted his essay "Mark Twain and the Law of the Raft" which offers an interesting take on the book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). He makes some very good points and if you haven't read the post yet you will probably want too. He cites several of Twain's works to support his position and this is where I have a minor criticism. Not of Fred, or his essay, but one of the books he cites: The Mysterious Stranger. That's because it is something of a hoax.


It was certainly published as by Twain back in 1916 but much of it had been written by his literary executor, Albert Bigelow Paine, who omitted a quarter of the text and invented the character of the astrologer. Project Gutenberg notes this in a prefatory note:

"The Mysterious Stranger" was written in 1898 and never finished. The editors of Twain's "Collected Works" completed the story prior to publication. At what point in this work Twain left off and where the editor's began is not made clear in the print copy used as the basis of this eBook.

That's a bit of an over simplification since Twain rewrote the manuscript a couple of times, with the third and final version being called No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger: Being an Ancient Tale Found in a Jug and Freely Translated from the Jug. That version was finally published in 1982 as part of The Mark Twain Library Series. It's considered the definitive edition, and is probably what Twain would have published himself.


So if you have read the bogus Paine version of the work you might want to head to the library and get the restored version to get an idea of what Twain really had in mind. After you read Fred's essay, of course.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

仮面ライダー Henshin!



 Is it just me, or are those early Kamen Rider transformations kind of psychedelic?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Starbarians

A short by HappyHarry

"MEET KILLGAR AND HOGSTRONG; THE STARBARIANS!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pharos, The Egyptian



Pharos, The Egyptian (1898) by Guy Boothby

A novel of the supernatural in which artist Cyril Forrester meets a weird personage known as Pharos the Egyptian and his surpassingly beautiful companion, Fräulein Valerie de Vocxqal. What is Pharos' secret and why is he so determined to get the mummy that Forrester keeps in his studio?



Produced by Suzanne Shell, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lovely Angel's movie club


Krull, Ladyhawke, Aliens, Lifeforce, Hitcher, Creepshow, Police Squad!, Airplane!, Top Secret!, Ninja III, Poltergeist ---Kei and Yuri are either taking time out of their mission to check their movie queue, or they're about to assault the weirdest secret lair ever.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nekojin roundup

Yesterday SF Signal reported on Ryan Britt's posting over at Tor about Cat-People in SF (which mercifully didn't take the form of a Top 10 List). I meant to comment but I got distracted, which goes to show my own cat-like nature. Or something. Anyway, there are a few more nekojin I can think of that didn't get mentioned.


Andre Norton's  Plague Ship (1956) featured the felinoid Salarik along side the ship's cat.



Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry (1966) had the Tigres as major players.


Marion Zimmer Bradley gave a nod to Lerry Niven's K'zin in her book Hunters of the Red Moon (1973) by including the fierce K'zimm. I don't know what I was thinking. Those nekojin were called Mekhars.



How can I not mention Aisha Clanclan (エイシャ・クランクラン) from Outlaw Star (1997-today)? There are hordes of nekojin in manga and anime, but she's one of the most memorable.

UPDATE: I forgot Alan Dean Foster's felinoid Tran and the related Golden Saia from his Icerigger Trilogy.