Wednesday, September 29, 2010

TV REVIEW: No Ordinary Family

The new TV season is underway with a vengeance and I'm glad I love me the sitcoms.  Because there are LOTS of them.  I really enjoyed 'Mike & Molly'.  'Better With You', 'Running Wilde', and 'Raising Hope' are also promising.  

Returning programs make me happy, too. I love 'Community', 'The Big Bang Theory', and 'How I Met Your Mother'.  I like 'The Middle', 'The Office', 'Modern Family', and '30 Rock'. Perhaps surprisingly, I think 'The Good Guys' is awesome.  I mean surprising because it's not sci-fi, and it's only fantasy in a 'this is total fantasy' sense.  Dan rules!

There's stuff that mattered less to me, and stuff I gave up on. I really don't recommend '$#*! My Dad Says'.

And yesterday, there was 'No Ordinary Family'.  The live-action 'The Incredibles' or 'Fantastic Four'.  (I know there was already a live-action Fantastic Four.  THIS was less compromised.) If this is genuinely Smallville's last season (Sweet Rao, let it be so, let my prayers be answered, release me from torment at last... yes, I'm still WATCHING it.  GEOFF JOHNS might write one this year!) then it's my latest shot at a GOOD superhero show.  (Yes, I was excited about 'Heroes' at first, too.  Sigh.)

'No Ordinary Family' is both well written and well acted, with unashamed super-powered folks and their mighty feats, a good sense of humor (VERY welcome) and interesting drama.

It's got Ben Grimm married to Darla the vampire only she's not a vampire; she runs really fast, and Conrad from 'Weeds' is not a pothead anymore, instead he's Ben Grimm's friend, plus one kid who's got mind powers and the other kid's got mind powers also!  Mind powers are INEXPENSIVE powers, folks.

I have no complaints whatsoever with the pilot and I hope it goes well. Which means it'll last half a season, go straight to DVD, earn another half season with zero budget and most of the cast missing, and vanish forever.  Still, it's got good reviews besides mine.

It's important to me that this show does well.   Writer Greg Berlanti is the screenwriter of the upcoming Green Lantern live-action movie with Ryan Reynolds and it would be nice for everyone if that wasn't a piece of garbage.

What I'm saying is check it out.  If you can see past the forest of excellent sitcoms and the drain clog that is everything else.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Hugos: The Left Hand of Darkness

Many of you may find this hard to believe, but it happened forty years ago, before sexism was eradicated...

Ursula K. Le Guin was the first woman to win a Hugo for best novel. It was in 1970, for 'The Left Hand of Darkness'.  Amusingly enough, it is chock full of ideas about gender, culture and politics in a sci-fi setting.

It is the year 4870 on the planet Gethen, where the humans have no sex. 
Yup, a whole culture of 'It's Pat' from Saturday Night Live.  Shudder now, both at the idea of THAT and the fact that Gethen is deep in an Ice Age.  Chilly!

Enter Genly Ai of planet Earth, an ordinary sort of dude with a wang and everything.  He hopes to convince the isolated world to join the advanced planets of the Ekumen, an interstellar community with a great cellphone plan.  Their ansible device allows instant calls up to 170 light years away.  But even if Genly succeeds in convincing them to join the larger society they won't visit much: they live in one of those dull, plodding Newtonian physics universes where nothing can go faster than the speed of light.  BAHRING!!!

The redoubtable Le Guin presents a well-realized fictional world with its own language, myth, social structure, incomprehensible customs, and what-have-you.  The physiology of the Gethen people was the only thing I remember as particularly interesting, but then, I am a pervert.
For a few days each month, their sexless bodies flip a hormone coin and they pair up to mate fervently.  Any individual can be both a father or a mother at different periods of their lives.

There's really not much sex in it for a book about gender.  Nor does it have much in the way of a satisfying conclusion, just some random thoughts about stuff.  It's got political intrigue and man vs the elements, though.  It didn't resonate very well with me.  I gave it 2 stars out of 5 on goodreads, proving only that the Hugos went downhill once they let GIRLS start winning them.

(I'm SO kidding!  This author wrote 'A Wizard of Earthsea' which I LOVED as a kid, and 'The Lathe of Heaven' which I LOVED a couple months ago.  Either of THEM would get a Hugo from the Mike's House of Not-Really-Having-Any-Hugos-To-Give-You.  Sorry.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Hugos: Stand on Zanzibar

I gave the Hugo winner for 1969 2 stars out of 5 on Goodreads.  

Pointless even doing the review, right?  I mean, that's a pretty low rating that says: it was o.k.  

That's MY bad.  I like fun, sexy sci-fi.  Short, swift books (ideally comics) where guys with atomic powered rockets visit exotic worlds and teach alien women how to LOVE!  Or robots.  To love.

But, see, this was not a book built for fun, sexy times.  John Brunner took home the Hugo in the summer of love by reminding everybody that free love in 1968 equals 7 (with a Capital B) Billion hungry hat-wearing monkeys in 2010.  It's called 'Stand on Zanzibar' because that's where we'd have to stand shoulder to shoulder so as not to drown, unlike the metaphorical 3 Billion standing there with a joint in each hand on the Isle of Wight back in the sixties.

Anyway, what was Brunner so worried about?  Here it is, 2010 already, and we've ONLY got 6.8 Billion peeps!  See?  What's 200 Million less of us between friends?  And we COULD have had it down to 6.5 if condoms weren't so sinful!  And break-y!

Brunner's characters of 2010 are selfish, drugged up, semi-illiterate jerkholes and his predicted world is a worn-out misery.  So, overall pretty accurate!  Just not any fun contemplating.

Overpopulation is a controversial subject, of course, and I shouldn't treat it so flippantly.  I guess it comes down to trying not to breed beyond your means if you like having air and water. 

Brunner's 'The Sheep Look Up' continued his wallowing bleak-fest with a look at how Earth's ecology will fail before we'll notice we're dead.  Oh, oh, stop!  My sides!  This guy!  Ha! (wipes eyes)

I kid. Why am I so hard on Brunner?  Is it because prophets of doom are usually right and I can't think of any other response but to belittle his desperate efforts to educate us, possibly averting our hideous fate?  

Or is it because I love my species and I keep persisting in thinking we have turned out better than the often dystopian Hugos make us out to be?

I think it's because when I did an image search for this post I found a picture of a cute kitty!
See?  It bees okay.  (Sez da kitteh.)

What can I say?  I'm not profound.  I gotta watch 'The Good Guys' now.
Be magnificent!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Movie Review: The Dr. Goldfoot Duology

I think sometimes I have to be hit over the head with things other people find hurtfully obvious.

Case in point: would you watch a movie called 'Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine'?
Sadly, I answered yes.

Now, having not really enjoyed that, would you watch the sequel 'Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs'?
Sadly, I answered yes again.

I mean, have you SEEN the TV schedule?  With all the gazillions of returning & brand-new shows, where's a fixated guy like me supposed to find some TV sci-fi?  Oh, Stargate Universe is DAYS away!  NO, not Smallville! It's not sci-fi! It's barely a show!  (Yes, I'll still watch it.)

So, yesterday I endured Vincent Price's two worst movies.  Probably.

My copy of Videohound's Sci-Fi Experience rated the first one 'two bones' and called it 'harmless fun'.  That might be high praise, but yes, if you found the delightful sixties-era 'Carry On' movies FAR too stimulating either intellectually or physically, perhaps this is the 'comedy' for you.  

Mincing looney Goldfoot sends fembots out to bilk rich bachelors out of their dough while hapless spy Frankie Avalon fails to break into song. (I read it was almost a musical which couldn't possibly have hurt.  Only the catchy title theme remains.) It lurches between illogical sci-fi, goofy horror, and dopey 'laffs'.  Director Roger Corman isn't really a master of subtlety, but... what the hell, it's not the worst thing I've ever seen.  Which also, unfortunately, tells you a lot about ME.

Now, on the other hand, there is such a MARKED DECREASE in quality in the second one that I had a hard time believing anyone involved was even making the same movie as anyone else.

If 'Bikini Machine' is dumb fun then 'Girl Bombs' must rank among the top thirty human atrocities.  Even if, like me, you are the sort of masochist who'll watch things BECAUSE they are reputed to be terrible, DO NOT see this movie.  Easy enough, since the only DVD release is the Italian version.  WHICH YOU ALSO SHOULD NOT SEE.  So I hear.  Awful dubbing, very dull sound.  No laughs of ANY kind, nothing beyond the swimsuit-clad stalwarts to hold male interest, and the stupidest lead duo I can now imagine.  Apparently they were the Jerry Lewises of Italy.  To me? Unwatchable excrescences.
And yet I can't find it in my heart to blame Vincent Price.  That dude can sit with his dignity (more or less) intact atop a flaming dung heap.

Please don't suck this year, Stargate. You're all I've got left.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Hugos: Lord of Light

The last Zelazny review I did was not complimentary.  Read it here!

Of course, I was overheated and sick to my stomach then.  On this; a soothing grey, cool, fall day I can't possibly be as crotchety.  Too bad!

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny won the 1968 Hugo award for best novel.  It neither left any great impression on me nor inspired my ire. It just was. 

My splendid co-worker Carlos, a lover of fine myth and religion could do it better justice than I.  In words borrowed from my excellent co-worker Ron: I found it too lofty, too cerebral.  I also could not find a character to like, though it DOES have a groovy concept:

What if a bunch of future assholes with future asshole science subjugated a planet and pretended to be gods?  Then one of them tries to be less assy for a awhile.  

He's called Sam, he's the protagonist, and Jack Kirby thought he'd look like this in his 1979 concept sketches for the proposed 'Lord of Light' movie:

But not even Jack Kirby could make me care about Sam's exploits: although they'll probably try again to make this movie someday.  A big damn effects-stravaganza.  

Like 'Clash of the Titans' but with Hindu gods instead.  Maybe it's just my lack of knowledge of religion, but I didn't find me any of the juicy stuff I likes in that there paper dvd.  Yes, back stabbing, betrayal, fornication, battles to the death, reincarnation via brain downloading... it's all very well.  

It just seemed very dry to me. 

And unlike Clone High's Gandhi, I don't like my humping dry.  

When I read LofL I had already read the (written later) Dune books of Brian Herbert with their humans-using-science-to-be-titans and really enjoyed those a lot more.  So there's no accounting for taste.

I gave LofL "ok" as a rating at, 2 stars out of  possible 5.  You can read some of the 5 of 5 reviews on that link or ask DoctorTeeth about Zelazny.

You know, the SAME year Zelazny wrote 'Damnation Alley'?  
It had the benefit of being shorter, cooler, and successfully made into a decent movie with George Peppard, the TRUE definition of any book's intrinsic value!

Go watch THAT.  It has giant scorpions.  So does 'Clash of the Titans', and 'Dune: The Machine Crusade', come to think of it...

Maybe SCORPIONS are the definition of intrinsic value!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Comic Review: Life With Archie- The Married Life

Speaking of affable cartoon redheads (like Venus Jones), I'd like to do a post in praise of a comic book I've overlooked for a lot of years.

Archie Comics Are Cool!

OK, OK. but I didn't KNOW that!  The only Archie comic I ever bought before last month was 'Archie Meets The Punisher', and the last time I read an 'ordinary' Archie comic I was less than 10 years old.  I've gravitated to the same things in graphic novels that I do in non-graphic novels: sci-fi, superheroes, sex, something to smile about, and story, not necessarily in that order, but mostly in that order.  I guess now I can add another 'S' to the list: soap opera.  

SPACE opera, sure, THAT I knew I liked.  But it turns out there's an Archie comic for my specific tastes:  Archie, now with parallel universes!

It is fitting that my lovely wife led me to this discovery: she hoped I would buy the wedding issues 'Archie In- Will You Marry Me?'.  In case, like me, you live under a rock with your fingers in your ears, it's the story line in which Archie travels up Riverdale's Memory Lane, exploring two roads diverging in Yellow Wood, visiting his futures in five years: one as Veronica's husband, one as Betty's.  At the end he strolled back to his perpetual teenage life.

But those futures STILL exist.  

(In the sense that everything that can be imagined exists.  Not in the sense that Archie is a true living entity in OUR dimension.  I'm not talking crazy.  Unless you've met him or something...)

'Life With Archie: The Married Life #1' by Michael Uslan, pencilled by Norm Breyfogle (both big Batman fans, I see) continues the parallel tales of married early twenties Archies alpha & beta (or perhaps Ronnieverse and Bettyverse?).  Ronnieverse Archie has a lot going for him, but selling out for a job at father-in-law Lodge's semi-malevolent company may have cost him his old friend Jughead. Bettyverse Archie is living on love and his wife's paycheck in New York City, struggling to get noticed as a musician.

I'm fascinated (and a little surprised that I care at all) that the supporting Ronnieverse characters have skewed toward a career focus, (Moose is running for Mayor on a Green Platform) and the supporting Bettyverse characters have skewed toward matters of the heart (Principal Weatherbee is engaged to Miss Grundy).

I was more fascinated and (a little incensed!) that Ronnieverse Mr. Lodge plans to buy Yellow Wood, while Bettyverse Mr. Lodge plans to buy ARCHIE back for his jilted daughter!  DA DA DAAAAAAA! 

Finally, the discovery that intrepid young nerd Dilton Doiley can pass between the parallel worlds, and the tempting implication throughout each story that there are many more than these two worlds.

Aliens? Superheroes? Spies & pirates?  Everything from Little Archie to Archie 3000 awaits in an Archie multiverse...
My co-workers have assured me that this is NOT news.  Archie's a caveman now?  Sure, that's ALWAYS been a thing.   

Me? I'm seeing INFINITE possibility on a limited palette.  Along with the knowledge of something I already knew: Marriage IS a wonderful thing!  Thank you, comic book!  

What will happen next to these silly and wonderful super-powerless young married characters with their similitude of life?  I actually give a crap!  That's more than Joe Quesada could manage with recent Spider-Man.  Uslan and crew offer me, maybe for the first time in living memory, TWO young married comic book couples with something to live for, something to lose, the smell of success and the simulation of change and progress.  Suck it, Marvel!
Here's to the ordinary!  So to speak. The new one goes on sale next week, by the by. That's four bucks that won't be putting a pulled pork sandwich in Joey Q!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Favourite Characters: Venus Jones

Speaking of distant, inhospitable worlds and the dregs of humanity forced to live and work there (like Luna in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress) there's my new favourite computer game and current obsession SPACE COLONY from Firefly Studios & Gathering (see the trailer here).

Yes, I'm so far behind the times the times are beginning to lap me. In fact, the Time magazine called this the fifth best new game of 2003!  A year or so after that glowing endorsement (but never having heard of it) I bought the thing at Value Village for a buck because its cover says: "If you like the Sims and Sci-Fi, You're Going to Love Space Colony".

I only ever owned PC computers, so this MAC version sat unplayed on various shelves.

Six years later, and I have an old eMAC.  So I dusted 'Space Colony' off and tried it. 

Electric Playground was right. I love it!

Set the future machine for 2153, where Blackwater Industries ('Putting Profits Before People') is establishing cheap domed mining settlements across the galaxy and conning the sort of random people you might find unconscious in a bar into working for them.

The guy or gal at the keyboard acts as a combination of city planner, construction crew, manager/director and (possibly for eugenics purposes?), a matchmaker. (A recent mission requirement was to get Dean the neat freak medic to hook up with Candy the apprentice space chicken farmer.)  

It's a quirky and fun 'hole-in-the-bucket' game, more strategy than action, and I cannot get the infectious title track 'You're So Gangsta' by Montreal electro-funk band Chromeo out of my head. Yes, in a good way.

If you can't keep your colonists happy and turn a tidy profit... well, I understand they die.  I haven't had it happen yet, but all ten of my little sprites have caught a pernicious virus from the cuddly space rodents they keep letting in the airlocks because they're so CUTE.  The fools!  The tiny, non-existent fools!  They vex me so!

Except Venus.  Healthy as a Ridley's xenomorph and twice as dedicated, Venus gets the job done with far fewer grisly kills than the Internecivus raptus, as well.  Go humans!

Affable, average, with no particular burning desires save doing a good job and going home someday, Venus Jones is therefore my favourite character in this game. More social than Stig the Scandanavian biker dude, less drunk and lazy than Tami the cowgirl, and with far fewer glaring personality disorders than Vasilios (the guy who thinks he's a robot and won't work more than 15 minutes a day unless you buy him an observatory).

I understand the game features alien combat later, too, and I imagine Venus will take to it like a tiny, red-headed computer-generated Ellen Ripley.  I also imagine Vasilios will die.  Very horribly.  Possibly from 'friendly fire'.

Space Colony: best dollar I ever spent on a computer game. Period.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Hugos: The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

I took a pretty long break from Hugo-winning novel reviews, but like a dog with a bone or a Holmes IV neuristic computer with self-awareness I've returned to my obsession and I'm sharin' it with you!

So, first off, I like Robert Heinlein's books a lot. The 1967 Hugo award winner 'The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress' is no exception.  Therefore, if you want me to tell you it's a flawed depiction of revolution from the mind of a kooky patriot who glorified war and despised all governments just a smidgen, then, I won't.  It is really very thoroughly enjoyable and amazing.  

You can keep handing your Vernor Vinge with his big concepts and his awful, listless characters these Hugos, but I'll never quite believe he isn't sleeping with someone on the committee.  Or maybe offering to NOT sleep with them.  One of those things.

Because I LOVE Heinlein's characters!  Yes, they expound a lot and they're stock characters (here we have Manny the Comptent Man, Professor Bernardo the Wise Old Mentor, Wyoming the Gorgeous Woman, and Mike the lovable young AI troublemaker who runs the joint (Mike is short for Mycroft Holmes; the HOLMES IV computer).  And they're very awesome.  

They live in the moon in 2076, a frontier colony descended primarily from convicts Australia-style.  The Loonies are troubled by increasingly greedy demands from Earth for more hydroponic foodstuffs that the moonfolk can ill afford to lose: Mike predicts cannibalism before the decade is out.  A plot to throw off the shackles of Good Ol' Earth's despotism is hatched, involving dropping BIG FRICKIN' ROCKS on those jerks with all their OXYGEN and their outdated COUPLE marriages!
 (Pictured here: Mr. Heinlein and Ginny the Gorgeous Redhead to whom he was married.  They're on the moon, but not involved in a polyamorous or mixed-race marriage like all those moonfolk.)

The Professor in particular has a lot to say on the subject of 'rational anarchism', a philosophy that a appears to boil down to doing whatever the heck you want and staying out of other people's Bid-ness.  If other people don't like it, DROP A FRICKIN' ROCK ON THEM.  Repeat as needed.

But nothing is ever that simple, as the phase made famous by this book implies: TANSTAAFL... 'There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch'.  True freedom and independence are not easily forthcoming and sacrifices must be made.

It's an action-filled, funny, and moving tale and I gave it 4 moon rocks out of 4.  Suck on that, Flowers For Algernon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ancient Enemy of Man- You Must Pay!

A fine long weekend began for me and my wife Trisha with a 20 minute drive out of our city and 250 MILLION YEARS BACK IN TIME!!!

Lacking a genuine TARDIS, we relied upon the robot dinosaur craftsmen of the Jurassic Forest exhibit in Gibbons.  (No, the craftsmen were humans, not actual gibbons.  As far as I know.)

We paid our 13 bucks and set forth on our adventure.  

The exhibit is still being assembled, and we caught glimpses of the creatures taking shape behind the scenes.  The man-sized bird Gastornis was a particular monstrosity, not to mention the pony-sized Triceratops.  It's fully mobile and quite rideable (if you are a child and not simply a giant man-child).  I wanted to ride this Ankylosaurus, but again, giant man-child.
As anyone who has read 'A Sound of Thunder' by Ray Bradbury could tell you, you must stay on the path while on dino excursions, and that's also required here.  But all our shooting was done with cameras and there weren't fascists running the world when we got back. Any more than usual.

I got a good picture of the Edmontosaurus.  A local fellow.  He seemed the sort who would enjoy a nice Tim Horton's coffee.

It's all just REALLY cool: take a peaceful, beauteous nature walk and be confronted with the re-created beasts of unfathomable ancient times.  Their plastic hides may well contain molecules of the original creatures.  Processed, yes, but no less fearsome!  O.K., less fearsome, I can't say I'd stick around to get a picture of a pterosaur or something if it wasn't bolted to the (also plastic) tree.

Trip the motion sensors and the robo-dinos move, and roar.  Read up on the scraps that are known about them and the reams of speculation.  Be boggled by how little you know.  (Or is that just me?)  What caused their various extinctions?  Were they endotherms or ectotherms?  Feathered or not so much?  
Why did they wear flannel shirts?

We live in a pretty cool time and place.  I was just in a dinosaur gift-shop when only a couple of hundred years back you could have been in a lot of trouble for daring to believe a dinosaur EXISTED.  Then again, the creationist parks of 2010 still take an embarrassingly biased approach (Man and saurian co-existing in the Garden of Eden and what have you).  
But who ISN'T biased?  Not me.

I LOVE dinosaurs- (from an epochs-long-dead sort of distance), and I love sharing my love of dinosaurs with my wife.  And, now,  her love of dinosaurs with all of you.  SO CUTE!