Friday, February 26, 2010

Planet Earth

It was a Christmas gift from my pal Ron. Not the Earth itself. THAT is somewhat older. No, the BBC series 'Planet Earth' which my wife and I recently finished watching.
I'll tell you, I've gained a greater appreciation for what a startling, lush, and beautiful planet this is. And I don't want that to change.
Barnes and Barnes had the right idea in their song 'Don't Up The World'. It includes the rather important reminder: "You Came Here, It Didn't Come To You".
So, yeah, if we do manage to suffocate, burn or smother ourselves in our own garbage, well, civilization might just collapse. I guess if civilization collapses and we return to the world of beasts I probably won't have to worry. Sure, I'll be out of a job. Not gonna need bloggers. Who'll need bloggers? Bloggers won't last that long. I'll be somebody's bitch, somebody's burger, and somebody's warm winter coat, hopefully in that order and after I'm dead.
Meanwhile, the best thing humans can do right now seems to be taking a serious look at our greed levels. How many creature comforts do you have? Can you reduce them at all? If you can't even do that, at least don't reproduce.
The facts are these: Earth is overfull of us.
Your church or your family or your ego may be telling you that you want to have a baby. The thing is, we don't NEED another soldier in the fight against communism/Taliban/Imperialist pig-dogs.
'Pumping out another unit' is not necessarily the best course of action these days. George Carlin said it best about 7 minutes into this link from his pants-crappingly hilarious 'It's Bad For Ya': "Have you pictured what this planet is gonna be like in 40-50 years? It's gonna be a giant, flaming, stinking ball of shit! That's what's gonna happen... it's irresponsible to have more than one kid. Replacement value for yourself only. Don't even replace your husband."
Am I too alarmist? Damn it, sometimes you really DO have to look up and check whether the sky is falling. And what you might be doing to help it stay up!
Too preachy? TOO BAD.

Next week: Nothing relevant, I swear...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Favorite Character Duo: The Fifth Element & Her Plus One

She was blasted out of the heavens. He drove up from the slums. When they found each other it was adventure throughout the worlds between!
Maybe it's a little late in the month for this, but The Fifth Element has what may be my favorite love story of all moviedom. It's all due to the appealing characters of roguish Korben Dallas and warrior Leeloo.
When we meet him, still-youthful Korben has grown weary and numb in an exciting, eclectic, but exhausting future world.
Although she is an ancient and powerful being, Leeloo has the delight of a child as she rediscovers the world after many centuries away.
Dallas has left the life of a soldier for the subsistence living of a cabbie. Though loaded down with cynicism he never stops trying and makes a brave journey in the service of his perfect woman.
Leeloo is full of energy and vigor, renewed in her mission to save the world. But all she learns of the history of humanity plummets her into despair.
They end up saving each other and the light of their love saves the Earth into the bargain.
The kindness, warmth, compassion and especially humor they share warms my leathery old heart every time I see this movie.
I'm not saying Love has been like that for me... O.K., yes, I am! You got me.
So here's to these characters and to all of you real world folks, too. Keep Clear and keep trying until "the perfect one" falls into your life. Shine your little light of love for all you're worth, and until then this is Ruby Rod screeching: "AAAH! WHAT'S WRONG WITCHOO?!!!"

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Hugos: Double Star

I like having a regular review to do, it means I don't have to rack my brains for something to write: I just write about the next Hugo winner! 1956's 'Double Star' by Robert. A. Heinlein is aces with me, by jingo! Regular readers of my blog know that I cannot name a Robert Heinlein book I didn't like. He won several of these little spaceship-shaped awards and he deserved every one of them. I checked Wikipedia and discovered that James Blish, Hugo winner, Futurian, and New Jersian apparently considered THIS the only Heinlein book to that point with a well-written protagonist. Frankly, the man who wrote 'Spock Must Die!' has problems of his own, and may be discredited thereby.
Wait, who said that? Captain Complainy!?
But... but this is MY blog. Mine! Gushy McFanboy.
(Sound of Gushy McFanboy, forcing mental doorways to the Dark Dimension closed)
Whew, sorry, folks. I guess some people aren't satisfied by constantly upbeat critiques of classic science fiction! And speaking of people who look just like you but share none of your values, back to 'Double Star'.
It's basically Kevin Kline's 'Dave' in space.
Or at least I like Kevin and Sigourney Weaver for the leads. There's mistaken identity, actors pretending to be presidents, dastardly ruffins, equal rights for Martians, and what have you.
Look, what do you want? It's a Heinlein. You know I'm giving it 4 out of 4 stars.
Or perhaps that should be 2 Double Stars!

Friday, February 19, 2010

When Good Adaptations Happen

It must happen sometimes, right?! Bookmonkey had a cool post today praising three fine films that did justice to their source material. I racked my brains for three more in my sci-fi baliwick. You know, it was not that easy? Either my standards are too high or this is a very tall order. I guess what a book or comic can achieve inside the reader's imagination will always remain beyond the limits of film. But they can get close!
My buddy Ron says L.A. Confidential is tops as an adaptation.
I have my suspicions that 'Enemy Mine' is a good one, but I've yet to read Barry Longyear's original story. Likewise, I can't be sure about 'Bicentennial Man', but I sure liked that.
'Millenium' is great but the budget required to really do justice to John Varley's novel with the Titanic's rusting hulk, Roman legions, mid-air collisions, cyborgs and a vast time machine just wasn't there. Nobody's fault really. Gotta try again someday. So I choose...

3. DUNE- the David Lynch one, weird as it is, is still pretty good. The John Harrison epic version comes closer in terms of scope and detail, but damned if I didn't wish Lynch's cast had starred in it. Maybe some technical genius can make that happen for me someday, smushing the two together in a computer somehow and enhancing them both. A miniseries is probably the MINIMUM requirement to do justice to most books, and certainly to Dune.

2. WATCHMEN- I can name a guy who disagrees, and if the author isn't on your side, well... that hurts my case. A lot. Alan Moore went on record that he'd never go to see it. Seems like a shame, 'cause it was pretty much what I saw in the comic brought to life. No pirate comic, no squid, but otherwise... pretty frickin' sweet.

1. STARSHIP TROOPERS- I wonder if the ones I like are the ones the authors wouldn't? He's not around to ask, but I have a sneaking suspicion Heinlein might not have approved, either. But, then again, I know he liked nudity! And since Heinlein's Dizzy was male, I prefer Verhoven's version of her. For that matter, I prefered Verhoven's cynical view of war, soldiering, and patriotism to Heinlein's entirely sincere take on those subjects... as a lover, not a fighter I'm pretty glad I have the right to vote even though I'm not willing to kill to defend abstractions like my 'rights'. Contrariwise, I'm willing to kill bugs... because the only good bug is a dead bug.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Hugos: They'd Rather Be Right

Back in the year Dr. Emmett L. Brown met Marty McFly, Mark Clifton and Frank Riley won the Hugo award for best sci-fi novel. Wikipedia is aware of its existence, and as of today, not much else. If I could remember it better I would expand their article stub. Then I'd be important! Or something. Anyway, there's a review I read that linked off it, and the guy wasn't exactly cheering. I think he goes so far as to call it the most controversial Hugo win. But I don't see any other nominees listed for 1955, so what was the controversy?
It tells a succinct (173 pages) and conceptually intriguing tale of two guys who build a computer that makes pretty girls... Gary and Wyatt then go on to have Lisa the Genie grant their skeevy wishes and hilarity ensues... oh, wait, that's WEIRD SCIENCE.
THIS story, also known as 'The Forever Machine' has a device that can literally make you as young as you feel. As long as you are willing to toss out your prejudices, preconceptions and mental baggage, you'll be much healthier, goes the gist. And while everyone wants to be young and pretty, almost no one wants to rethink the deeply cherished belief bullpucky that keeps them old and weighed down with falsehoods.
I'll go out on a limb and give it three stars out of four, because I remember it fondly. It's short, it's a cool idea, and if the characters were thinly drawn and lecture-y, so what? It's over before you can get bored. Now, if you don't mind, I'm trying to erase all the multiplication tables I memorized back in school. I'm hoping some of my grey hairs will turn brown again. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Favoririte Characters: True Blue

My suffering is rooted in desire. Desire to own and play Star Trek Online, released last week. But it's going to cost me. Time. And money. And that's AFTER I buy it.
Meanwhile, speaking of Star Trek characters, I bring you Pava Ek'noor sh'Aqabaa. Brought to life in 1997 by Chris Cooper, Chris Renaud, and Andy Lanning for Marvel's late, (lamented?) and unfinished Star Trek: Starfleet Academy comic book, Pava was invented as a supporting character in the Academy life of Deep Space Nine's loveable Ferengi Cadet Nog. The Andorian lady cadet was later co-opted into the Star Trek: Titan series of novels. She's still serving under Captain Riker... only not serving under him the way his wife Troi does. Presumably.
Plotwise, Pava is not much more than the guy who stands at the transporter going 'energizing, sir', but that's how Miles O'Brien started out, too. And Worf, come to that. Frankly, I LIKE the little guy. Not that Pava should be described as little. She's BIG. And blue. Like the Tick, but less crazed. She's quick with a quip, fierce to her foes, loyal to her friends, embarrassed by her mother (a holo-romance writer), and with a heart as big as the Alpha Quadrant beating in her big blue bosom for the bad boy Klingon Kovold. (Not only was their relationship doomed from the get-go, he killed her friend and she had to swear vengeance!)
Ahh, it was during the Dominion War, everybody was a little intense there for a while.
Her future on Titan is uncertain: struck down, seemingly comatose. Will she be killed for dramatic purposes? No matter what happens next, (if anything) Pava was bright spot of levity while Star Trek was spiralling down into darkness and obscurity. Damn you to Sto'Vo'Kor, 'Star Trek: Nemesis' et al!
Seriously, I'm jonesing for Star Trek Online. Is it any good?

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Hugos: The Demolished Man

1953's Hugo winning novel was by Alfred Bester. (pictured at right) It's a police procedural with telepaths! I remember being very happy with it at the time, not least because the entire PsiCorps subplot in TV's Babylon 5 appears to have its origins here. The book features Classes of telepaths who can overpower one another, forming a clandestine and malevolent thought police, and the breeding programs in use to create more such ESPers. It is fitting that B5's recurring role of wicked psicop was given the name Alfred Bester. B5 also borrowed the ultimate fate of the book's villain for its own future justice system.
For Green Lantern fans such as myself, it is apparently a popular legend that Bester wrote the famous Green Lantern Oath: "In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, no evil shall escape my sight"
Only the Lanterns know for sure.
Since the Hugo project took me three years I only have the vaguest recollections of the book: it was a quick read, a taut thrill ride, with disturbing characters and chilling concepts. A decadent and bizarre glimpse of a 24th century Captain Picard wouldn't have recognized but Captain Sheridan would have found all too familiar. Three out of four stars.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ultimatum will Stand the Test of Time... At Sucking

Ugh. O.K. So, I'm not the first to read it, dislike it, or review it. I wouldn't even have read it this week if not for Linkara, who is planning to do a (probably) much funnier video critique quite soon. But it wasted MY time, and in turn I will waste yours.
Ultimatum by Jeph Leob and David Finch is a crossover event touted as the "end" of the Ultimate Universe, a Marvel comic superhero world originally invented as a 'hot, young, trophy wife universe' for every hypothetical reader who wanted to read superhero comics (thanks to seeing the movie versions) but didn't have the time or balls to read 40 years of continuity. The Ultimate X-Men did well for a while, so did the Ultimate Spider-Man. (I'm proud to own all of U.S-M, Brian Bendis is a fine writer) But, all good things and stuff, so, ergo... this happened.
'Ultimatum' is very well drawn and deeply stupid. Spoliers now.
It's a senseless orgy of death and destruction, serving primarily to kill dozens of knock-off versions of superheros I mostly didn't care about one way or the other. Which, doubtless, is why it sold so well. And, doubtlessly, was exactly what the editors had asked for.
Magneto drowns millions in an instant, disaster covers the face of the earth, resulting in mayhem, explosions, eviserations, and so forth. Sounds fun, right?
But, what's it all in aid of, exactly? What are we left with? What can we take home?
Knock-Off Ben Grimm kills one culprit, Knock-Off Dr. Doom, in cold blood. Damn. Was that ever dumb. I was thinking not AN HOUR before reading this that mainstream superheroes like the Fantastic Four and Superman have so MUCH power that if they ever allowed themselves to kill they would become instantly unsympathetic.
And it's true. How do I like Ultimate Thing now? Ben's meant to be the idol of millions, not Wolverine. I'm personally baffled why Wolverine is anyone's idol. But... oh, that's it. His butt. Girls and some guys like his rump.
Pursuant to the notion that crossing the line to killer is death for my interest in a superhero character, if Ultimate Cyclops was going to blow Magneto's head off anyway, why bother explaining the secret origin of mutants to him?
Also, and I must ask this, what is ANYONE'S motive here?
Why does Ultimate Blob eat Ultimate Wasp? Was there no smashed-up deli within reach? The character wasn't a cannibal previously. The disaster is only HOURS old!
Why does Ultimate Hank blow himself up? Granted, it couldn't happen to a bigger douchebag, but suicide should have a motive, right?
And Ultimate Dormammu squeezes Ultimate Doctor Strange until his head pops like a zit. While grisly, the scene made so little impact on the plot that I had to turn the pages back to remember who got killed that way. And all I have left is the mystery of WHY.
Because it just amounts to a cavalcade of Killporn. It's like a death checklist where the only imagination goes into the shock value. 'How should we snuff Dazzler?' and so forth.
Jeph Loeb is better than this, I swear. He's no Heinlein, but he's better than this. As my friend Ron put it: he probably just held his nose and took the paycheck.
Bad as 'All-Star Batman'? You bet.
Bad as 'Countdown'? Nope. At least this didn't mess with the 'real' continuity, right?
I'm grasping for a silver lining in this cloud. No, no that's a death wave. My mistake.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Favorite Characters: Galactic Granddad

I'll start by saying I love my Grandpa Ernie. He's a great guy who knows what's what. Like most Grampas! And in the amazing TV world of Doctor Who, there's an excellent and ordinary grandpa character that everybody can look up to: Bernard Cribbin's Wilfred Mott. A good-hearted retiree with a passion for astronomy, Wilf is at first only peripherally involved with the alien time-traveller The Doctor. When Wilf's granddaughter Donna Noble befriends and journeys with the Doctor, Wilf encounters him too. And Wilf becomes subtly but powerfully present in the last adventure of the Tenth Doctor. He's an old soldier, dogged and determined, devoted to his daughter and her daughter and her Doctor. It's just a very powerful performance from Cribbins, packed with bittersweet moments, enormous warmth, and if he doesn't bring both a smile to your lips and a tear to your eye, I'll eat my hat. Er, one of the smaller ones. The cookie hat, in fact.
Mr. Cribbins has had a great career in British comedy, and I've only seen the tip of that ice-Bernard-berg. He's awesome as the reluctant lead sailor in 'Carry on Jack'. He's a real hoot as the first astronaut from the sleepy Duchy of Grand Fenwick in 'The Mouse on the Moon'. I enjoyed his turn as Peter Cushing's Doctor Who companion in one of the 1960's movies. Apparently he was a womble too? There's nothing I've seen with him in that I DIDN'T like. Not to mention (but I will) that I have some of his songs from days of yore on my ipod and he's a heck of a crooner. Here's 'Right Said Fred'. Sensible, straightforward, and just stupendous.
Here's to Bernard, Wilf, and all granddads everywhere.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Hugos: Farmer In The Sky

Sometimes I think Robert A. Heinlein's work is the greatest justification for the entire genre of science fiction. The second retro Hugo award winning novel, written 1950, awarded 2001, was 'Farmer In the Sky'.
I give it an unabashed 4 stars out of 4. I never met a mid-20th century boys' space adventure by this guy I didn't love as much as a cuddly Martian flatcat.
The protagonist, Bill Lermer, is a boy scout helping colonize and terraform Ganymede with his family. BOY, HOWDY, DOES ADVENTURE ENSUE!
While I found it difficult to like the characters in most Asimov books (except his robots, I loves me some robots!!!) I have loved RAH's characters since I myself was a boy scout, grinding up rocks and futzing about with composting on an airless moon of planet Jupiter back in the distant future (probably the 1980's)
Bill's character is no exception. He's tenacious and willing to work hard to achieve his dreams. Maybe I was like that once. Nowadays I feel more like the lazy, bitter, entitled Mr. Saunders, blaming his failures on everything under the Big Red Spot.
Heinlein was gung ho for the pioneer spirit. It's partly due to his influence that I find myself inspired by it as well. Exploration, discovery, intrepidity... other... names of spaceships.
If I'm lucky, I could live to see a human on Ganymede. MAYBE. Here it is 2010 and nobody even bothers with the Moon anymore, let alone Mars. Maybe we could all stop blowing each other to bits for a while and look up. Get out. Pioneer.
Of course, the dark side of pioneering, historically, would be the indigenous people who get crushed. While I agree with RAH that, long term, the only hope for our species is to spread out to more than one solar system, I hope we don't plan to wreck up the place when we get there.