Friday, December 30, 2011

Fukushima: Truth and Consequences

One of the most significant events of the year was the natural disaster that struck Japan which precipitated a catastrophic triple meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Although the Japanese government has engaged in the charade of declaring a "cold shutdown" the crisis is far from over. In the most recent episode Radio Ecoshock host Alex Smith does a good job of cutting through the disinformation. The show cites Japanese blogger EX-SKF, who provides hard to come by details about the situation, and Kazuhiko Kobayashi who exposes the cronyism that is preventing the government from acting in the public interest. Smith also scrutinizes the sensational claim made in a recent scientific paper that 14,000 Americans were killed by fallout. As you know, correlation does not imply causation and the study does not establish a link between the meltdowns and the spike in mortality. As Alex rightly observes, "Given that doubt, I find the headline for the study press release misleading. We don't know Fukushima fallout caused 14,000 American deaths." We don't need overinflated claims like this distracting from the real tragedy. As a recent NPR report detailed, the damage caused by these meltdowns is so terrible and long lasting that it has turned Japan "into a nation of guinea pigs."

Radio Ecoshock - Fukushima: Truth and Consequences (1 hr)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rusty Hevelin (1922-2011)

Longtime sf fan Rusty Hevelin has passed away. If you ever attended an sf con you know who Rusty was. He was a fixture of fandom and his passing will be deeply felt by all. The first memory I have of him is of him sitting on a panel discussing noteworthy sf novels, and me taking mental notes for future reference. Goodbye, Rusty. We'll miss you.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Elly's Christmas

Elly the robot (Hikari Mitsushima) learns the meaning of Christmas with a little help from Ultraman Max and friends. メリークリスマス!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Hanukkah

What better way to celebrate the Festival of Lights than with the traditional human centipede menorah?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wake, Watch, Wonder

Speak of the devil. No sooner did I mentioned Robert J. Sawyer in my last post than I found this short Bookbits interview with him talking about the latest volume in his WWW Trilogy.

Wonder - The final book in Sawyer's trilogy about The Singularity (05 mins, 54 secs)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Neanderthals who say "Ni!"

Did Sawyer cover this in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy? I can't remember. But at least the mystery of the Neanderthals' fondness for shrubbery has finely been solved.

[via Dangerous Minds]

Monday, December 19, 2011


Even the kaiju are getting into the holiday spirit.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Trek Nation

I did watch Trek Nation, but I haven't blogged about it before now because I wasn't overly impressed. Aside from a few celebrity interviews there wasn't much that we haven't already seen in Trekkies (1997). It was enjoyably, but not overly impressive.

The angle of the documentary is that Gene Roddenberry's son, Rod Roddenberry, explores his father's legacy. There are some short interviews with people like Seth MacFarlane, super-fan Bjo Trimble, Stan Lee, and George Lucas, et al. However, for the most part it retells stories we've heard before. Nichelle Nichols talks about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being a fan of the show. They suggest that the shows' optimism appealed to people, etc. Rod does deserve credit for portraying his father warts and all. He covers his philandering and his clashes with screenwriters like Trek mainstay D. C. Fontana. In addition, some interesting trivia gets covered. Rick Berman, who took the helm after Roddenberry died, kept a blindfolded bust of Roddenberry on his desk to express his opinion that the Great Bird of the Galaxy would not approve of the changes being made to his franchise. The most intriguing new angle highlighted was the possibility that Wesley Crusher was something of a surrogate son for Roddenberry. As if he tried to compensate for his disappointment in his real son, Rod, by creating an idealized fictional child. Unfortunately that reading isn't explored in any depth, and Rod's meeting with Wil Wheaton is all too brief.

"How do you like me now?"

Another interesting bit of trivia clarified the notorious "Wagon Train to the Stars" thing. The way Rod tells it, his father's original pilot, "The Cage", was rejected by the studio. When Roddenberry asked why it was turned down he was told it was because they wanted a western. So he re-shot a new pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", added a fistfight at the end, and pitched it as "Wagon Train to the Stars". This time the studio gave the green light. For me this dispells the common opinion that Roddenberry set out to make a western set in space. On the contrary, it validates my opinion that calling it "Wagon Train to the Stars" was just a ploy to frame the show in a way that would appeal to studio executives. Unfortunately Rod immediately undercuts this interpretation by immediately repeating the tired saw that Kirk was a cowboy, the ship was his horse and the phaser his six-shooter. Then what about Forbidden Planet (1956)? Was that a western set in space? But it was based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Does that mean Shakespeare wrote westerns? The way I see it Kirk has more in common with Horatio Hornblower than with Hopalong Cassidy.

The most disappointing thing about this doc was that there was little or no mention of the wider science fiction genre or even the science fiction authors who worked on the show. It's a baffling omission since one of the things that sets Star Trek apart from most TV sf is that Roddenberry hired professional sf writers to pen many of the episodes. And it was all the more aggravating because in the course of talking about how the show was aimed at an adult audience rather than being another kiddy show they flashed a scene from "Arena". Yet there was no mention that it was based on the classic story by Fredric Brown. And when you consider that it was Theodore Sturgeon who wrote "Amok Time" which did so much to define Vulcans it's really an inexcusable oversight. When Roddenberry was trying to bring the show back to the airwaves he solicited a script from Norman Spinrad, and for his record Inside Star Tek (1979) he sought out Isaac Asimov for comment. He seems to have had a respect for sf writers that's rare in Hollywood.

For the most part Trek Nation stuck to a familiar script. Not disappointing, but also not much in the way of new revelations. It's the kind of show that's most likely to appeal to those who are unfamiliar with the backstory of Trek or to die-hard Trekkers who can't get enough of Roddenberry's world.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Lonely Ones (1953)

"The Lonely Ones" by Edward W. Ludwig

"The line between noble dreams and madness is thin, and loneliness can push men past it...."

Produced by Frank van Drogen, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We're Civilized! (1953)

"We're Civilized!" by Alex Apostolides and Mark Clifton

"Naturally, the superior race should win ... but superior by which standards ... and whose?"

Produced by Frank van Drogen, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Here Comes Gojira Claus

There's nothing like a giant, radioactive theropod rampaging through a shopping mall to get you into the holiday spirit, is there?

[via Disinfo]

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Now Show -- in spaaace!

The discovery by NASA's of the planet Kepler-22b gave Britain's topical news program The Now Show an excuse get a little spacey. Get ready to laugh at some Star Trek and Star Wars references (and brace yourself for an unexpected defense of that clank-head Clarkson). The show will only be up for a week, so enjoy it while you can.

The Now Show 9 Dec 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jerry Robinson (1922-2011)

Jerry Robinson has passed away. He was one of the first artists to work on DC Entertainment, Inc.'s Batman title, and is widely credited with creating the Joker.

Here's a short video of him at New York Comic Con 2009 talking about the origin of his iconic villain.

10 Billion Days And 100 Billion Nights

I was pleasantly surprised last night to hear NPR book reviewer Alan Cheuse covering "perhaps the greatest Japanese science-fiction novel of all time", Ryu Mitsuse's 1967 book 百億の昼と千億の夜 (Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights). (Usually the only sf he pays attention to is of the Stephen King/Michael Crichton variety.)

The premise of the novel is reminiscent of the kind of extravagant metaphysical drama that Roger Zelazny was known for, and its psychedelic overtones reflect the zeitgeist of the time. Here's how the publisher's blurb describes it.

Ten billion days—that is how long it will take the philosopher Plato to determine the true systems of the world. One hundred billion nights—that is how far into the future Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha, and the demigod Asura will travel to witness the end of all worlds.

Sounds trippy. This is one of the few works of Mitsuse-san's to be translated into English. Another is his novelette, The Sunset, 2217 A.D., which was included in Frederik Pohl's anthology, Best Science Fiction for 1972. Let's hope we see even more in the future.

10 Billion Days And 100 Billion Nights reviewed by Alan Cheuse

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Darrell K. Sweet (1934 - 2011)

R. I. P. Darrell K. Sweet (1934 - 2011). While he did many classic sf covers, in my mind he'll always be associated most strongly with Alan Dean Foster's "Flinx" books.

[pics via ISFDB]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Unstuck in Time

Mind Over Matters recently featured an interview with Prof. Gregory Sumner, author of Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels.

Prof. Sumner clearly has great respect for the author and makes a good case for his continuing relevance. Unfortunately he's also eager to conspire with Vonnegut in distancing him from the dreaded label "science fiction." Vonnegut had no problem publishing in magazines like Galaxy Science Fiction and If (then being edited by Frederik Pohl), but the minute he hit the big time he did everything he could to renounce any connection to the genre. It's an understandable if not entirely admirable stance to take, and it's too bad Sumner didn't do more to set the record straight. The fact is that Vonnegut relied on sf tropes throughout his career, no matter how hard he and his biographer may try to deny it.

Interview with Prof. Gregory Sumner

Friday, December 2, 2011


As you may know, the prestigious science journal Nature features a science fiction story in each issue in a section called "Futures." The stories are always very good and are usually by people actually working in the sciences. In 2007 editor Henry Gee published an anthology of the short fiction, Futures from Nature.

Nature also has an excellent weekly podcast and they've recently added an extra in which Henry Gee reads the sf story from the current issue. This week it's "Gifts of the Magi" by Anatoly Belilovsky, who has been described elsewhere as "a New York pediatrician who learned English from Star Trek reruns." (You can find the previous podcast stories in the archive.) They're soliciting feedback from their listeners about this extra, so if you enjoy it and you want to hear more sf along with your science news shoot them an email letting them know.