Friday, June 30, 2006

Supping the barbeque of freedom

I'm heading out of town and possibly away from the Internet for a few days to celebrate the Fourth of July with my family. Happy Independence Day!


Why the World Needs (Another) Superman (Movie)


Lots and lots of spoilers below:

Saw Superman Returns last night and liked it a lot more than I expected to. I went into it kind of wondering what the point is. If you're going to use the same designs as the Christopher Reeve movies, and the same music, and hire an actor who looks and acts like Christopher Reeve... well, as much as I miss Christopher Reeve, I've already seen four of his Superman movies. Why not do something different?

Now that I've seen it, I appreciated the homages: Clark's clumsy and geekish uneasiness; Lois' smoking and inability to spell; Lex's delicate balance between legitimate menace and dramatic ham; the tension between Lois' overt sexual attraction to Superman and his hesitant reaction to it. Roger Ebert claims that Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth lack the chemistry that Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder had. I'm not sure I agree with him, but my not noticing a lack of chemistry may be because I was superimposing Reeve and Kidder's performances over Routh and Bosworth's. That may be cheating on the filmmakers' part, but it worked on me. Besides, I disagree with the premise of Ebert's review.

Ebert asks, "When the hero, his alter ego, his girlfriend and the villain all seem to lack any joy in being themselves, why should we feel joy at watching them?" He's right about the fact that this is a gloomier Superman movie than we're used to, but who said it had to be joyful? Actually, I can probably answer that. It would be the same folks who think that superhero comics are only for kids and shouldn't be allowed to tell stories with dark subject matter. But that's not me.

Superman Returns isn't a dark movie, but it's contemplative. We get a profound sense of how lonely Superman must be. People worship him (more about the "Superman-is-Jesus" theme below), but he has no close friends. I got the feeling that his clumsy Clark Kent persona was a chore for him to put on. The only person who really knows him and loves him completely is an old woman on a farm in Kansas, and everyone knows that it's wonderful to be loved by your mother, but it doesn't take the place of being accepted by your peers. The closest friend he has as Superman is Lois, but she's moved on while he was away. It's a tragic story and it's no wonder that Superman flew into near-orbit several times throughout the film for no other reason than to get above everything and renew his perspective on what he was supposed to be doing. As Ebert says, "It's no fun being Superman. Your life is a lie, there's nobody you can confide in, you're in love but can't express it, and you're on call 24 hours a day." The difference between Ebert and I is that I respect that take on him. It's not the Christopher Reeve take. There were elements of it in Reeve's movies, but you always got the feeling that deep down he was having fun with it.

Something else that Superman Returns does differently from Reeve's movies is that it adds something to the overall mythos. Assuming that everything you see and hear in the movie can be taken at face value, Superman now has a son. I didn't initially like the idea of Lois' having a kid, but for some reason, I like it better knowing that the boy is Superman's. That probably says something horrible about me as a person, but there it is. Time will tell if the "Son of Superman" is a good idea or bad, but it could be good, so I'm not going to be upset about it. The only thing I don't like about it is the feeling that they threw it in there so that they could have a line about Superman being both the Father and the Son -- another Jesus reference.

I didn't much care for the Jesus comparisons, mainly because I don't see the point. Superman saves the world by giving up his own life and falls to Earth with arms spread wide. Then he lays in the hospital with a flatline for what I imagine must've been about three days before a nurse comes in and discovers the empty bed. I expected two Kryptonians to be sitting at the foot of the bed explaining, "He is not here." It's a clever analogy, but again, I don't see the point of making it beyond showing that someone was clever for coming up with it. What does it say about Superman? Or Jesus?

Back to the Son of Superman, though. I don't really think they threw that plot element in for the Father/Son line. The Jesus/Superman analogy had already been good and beat into the ground by that point. Without Lois' son, she doesn't have an excuse to dump her current boyfriend at the end of the movie and run into Superman's arms. The relationships are a lot more complex this way and I like that.

So, as much as Superman Returns may look like a fifth Christopher Reeve movie on the surface, it's not. They did something different. There was a point to making it after all.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

We thank you for your help, Baltar. Your time is at an end.

Cross-posted from Comic World News:

Newsarama's got an interview with Rick Remender about the upcoming comic based on the classic version of Battlestar Galactica. Two interesting things come out of it.

One, Remender's been purposely not watching the new version of the show on the SciFi channel in order to keep himself untainted. He's heard good things and is curious, but he's suffering for his art. Good man.

Second, the comic series will be placed "between existing episodes of the show" and will "fit perfectly into continuity." That's also pretty cool.

Remender's the right man for this job. Anyone who's heard him talk about the reason he created Fear Agent knows that. What I'm obsessively curious about -- and can't believe Newsarama dropped the ball and didn't ask -- is whether or not Remender's going to explain how Baltar the Betrayer (for whom Remender's got "big plans") was beheaded in the two-hour pilot and inexplicably re-appeared with his head in the regular series.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Manga to movie

The first manga I ever read wasn't actually manga at all because it's Korean (making it technically manwha). It was Min-Woo-Hyung's Priest about a monster hunter in the Old West who turns out to be something of a monster himself. It's good, spooky stuff with a ton of atmosphere.

Variety reports that Screen Gems is making a live-action adaptation of it directed by Andrew (The Amityville Horror) Douglas and possibly starring Gerard (300) Butler. Douglas and I have different ideas about what constitutes scary, but I'm holding onto some hope that it could be good. At least it's not Stephen Sommers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

No more Rose



The BBC has announced that Billie Piper is leaving Doctor Who at the end of the second season, which is currently running in the UK. Writer and Executive Producer Russell T. Davies says that "the Doctor Who team have had a whole year to plan this final scene and have created a stunning exit for Rose Tyler." He adds, "The Doctor lives a dangerous life and when Rose joined him on his adventures she was aware of this. With a series climax called 'Doomsday' on its way, I can't guarantee who will survive and who won't, but I can assure you the TARDIS is going on its scariest journey yet!"

That sucks. Her final episode airs on the BBC on July 8th.

Freema Agyeman from a British soap called Crossroads is reportedly going to be in the last couple of Billie's episodes, so rumor has it that she'll replace Billie as the Doctor's next companion.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Writing is Hard: Hassle Your Heroes

One of the best pieces of storytelling advice I ever got was from an unlikely source: a role-playing game. I think the game was Fading Suns, but regardless, one of the tips it gave for running an effective campaign was to really put the players' characters through the ringer. Do everything short of kill them and they'll love you for it.

Players think they want to breeze through a gaming session just collecting rewards without having to risk anything, but they don't. You give them that and you'll bore the crap out of them. Storytelling is all about risk and excitement.

The indispensable Gail Simone applies this principle to fiction writing in her blog: "How many stories have you read, where in the end, you felt that the writer was pandering to you, giving you exactly what the message boarders say they want, giving you the empty calories of, 'Here, this is what you asked for. I've written it just as requested.'

"...I'm a writer. It's my job to lie and cheat and deceive you. To trick you, to upset you, to make you feel bad at times, to make you dislike the characters we both care about so much. Anyone can give you an X-men issue full of 22 pages of fastball specials and Wolverine killing robots. It takes a writer to have Wolverine do something stupid or awful, and let you feel a little bit of that, and still (hopefully) bring you back."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Return of the Shadow

And Doc Savage. And others.

My buddy Joe sent me this press release from the Coming Attractions web site (which is a really cool site for pulp-related news, by the way):

The Shadow and Doc Savage are returning to thrill fans old and new. Anthony Tollin has acquired the license to reprint the original Shadow and Doc Savage pulp novels, and will be publishing trade paperback reprints in partnership with Nostalgia Ventures, Inc., a leader in the field of radio and television nostalgia. These Shadow and Doc Savage volumes are officially licensed by Condé Nast, the owner of the famous properties.

"This is a dream come true for me," proclaims Anthony Tollin, the former DC Comics professional who is also a leading pulp and radio historian. Tollin co-authored Walter B. Gibson's The Shadow Scrapbook in 1979, and has long desired to get Gibson's Shadow novels back in print. "We're reissuing the classic pulp stories with the original covers and interior art, with the type reset for clarity. We're initially releasing the stories in a double-novel format. Our first volume, already at the printers, reprints Walter Gibson's 'Crime, Insured' and 'The Golden Vulture,' a Shadow novel that Lester Dent wrote in 1932 that was later revised by Gibson and published in 1938.

This is the Shadow novel that won Lester Dent the Doc Savage contract. Our first story, 'Crime, Insured' is recognized as Walt Gibson's greatest action thriller, in which a criminal organization penetrates The Shadow's operation and captures his major agents, and The Shadow is trapped as the entire New York underworld invades his sanctum."

This series of trade paperbacks is the first licensed publication of The Shadow novels in 22 years, and the first authorized reprinting of the original Doc Savage pulp novels in 15 years. The Shadow Magazine debuted in 1931 and launched the 1930s hero-pulp boom, inspiring dozens of characters including the Phantom Detective, the Spider, the Avenger and the Green Lama. Bob Kane and Bill Finger cited The Shadow as a major influence on the creation of Batman, while Clark Savage Jr., the Man of Bronze, was a major influence on the creation and development of Clark Kent, the Man of Steel.

"If Street & Smith had not published The Shadow and Doc Savage, there might never have been any Superman or Batman," observes popular-culture historian Will Murray, who collaborated with Lester Dent on seven posthumous Doc Savage novels. "Between them, Walter Gibson and Lester Dent created the archetype of the superhero, and most of the fiction formulas and trappings of the eternal battle between superhero and supervillain that has come to dominate popular culture in the last 75 years. I like to call Lester Dent 'the Father of the Superhero' because, while Superman and Batman had other influences, both borrowed liberally from Doc Savage, the original owner of the Fortress of Solitude."

The first volume of The Shadow is at the printers and will be at selected specialty stores in mid-July, and shipping from Diamond Distributors in October. Each paperback will retail for $12.95 and contain two complete, unabridged pulp adventures of The Shadow, with covers by George Rozen and interior illustrations by Edd Cartier. The reprints can also be ordered directly from: Anthony Tollin; P.O. Box 761474; San Antonio; TX 78245-1474 (Add $3.00 for postage and packaging) or from Nostalgia Ventures.

The first volume of Doc Savage will follow in November and will contain "Fortress of Solitude" and "The Devil Genghis." These are the two pulp adventures that pitted the Man of Bronze against master-villain John Sunlight. Rounding out each volume are historical articles by pulp historians including Tollin and Murray. A second volume of The Shadow, reprinting "The Chinese Disks" and "Malmordo," will also also be released in November. "And that's only the beginning," Tollin adds. "The Shadow and Doc Savage aren't the only classic pulp characters I've been licensed to reprint. I think fans of classic adventure heroes are going to be very excited by some of our future projects."

Happy Midsummer Night's Eve!

Drink some love potion and turn someone's head into a donkey's.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Writing: Ellis on the blank page

In addition to a blog, comics writer Warren Ellis has an email newsletter in which he updates about projects and shares his thoughts on a variety of topics. In his latest one, he talks about the stage fright writers face when they know they have to perform and aren't sure they're up to the job.

"It's the blank page thing. Aaron Sorkin talked about it a bit, at the top of one of the WEST WING scriptbooks. The blank page is the only critic that can hit you where you live. In one of the episodes, in fact, a journalist asks Sam why writing a major speech is hard, and Sam says, 'Because it's a blank piece of paper. It knows all your secrets.' In Sorkin's words, it sits there and hisses, 'I know how you've been scamming all those people all these years, GIFTLESS. You wanna dance with me?'

"And we really don't. We stare into space for hours, running themes and structures and settings through our heads. And in my case the blank page sits there and says, 'You've done that. That's old. You've said that before.' And it drives you mental."

I certainly know what he's talking about. I haven't been at this long enough for anyone or anything to tell me that I've said something before; my blank pages accuse me of rifling through other people's ideas. The thing is -- and I think Ellis would agree -- that voice is what makes you better. If you ignore it, you do end up repeating yourself or mimicking someone else. It's hard work to sit there and take the self-mockery, but it forces you to come up with new stuff to say.

And people think writing is easy.

Review: His Kind of Woman

Cross posted from my personal journal:

I watched His Kind of Woman starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, and Vincent Price the other night. Mitchum plays a gambler who gets invited to an isolated Mexican resort full of strange characters. He doesn't know why he's there, only that he's being paid a lot of money to go, so he has to figure out which of the resort's employees and guests are connected to his situation and which aren't. It's a great noir mystery, spoiled some by the fact that we know a little more about what's going on than Mitchum does. I like figuring this stuff out along with the main character.

Jane Russell demonstrates why she was such a sex symbol in the day. Growing up in the '70s, I only knew her as the aging woman in those advertisements for bras that fit "full-figured girls," but she had it going on in the '50s. Macao was just on, but I haven't watched it yet, so I'm looking forward to seeing her again in that. She's flawless in His Kind of Woman. I don't mean physically (though that may be true too), but her performance is perfect. She's completely convincing as a woman torn between her goals and her heart.

Vincent Price plays a movie star who takes a liking to Mitchum's character. He hams it up too much towards the end, but other than that he's the most interesting character in the movie.

Pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr isn't very convincing as a mob boss, but that may be because I kept thinking of him as Perry Mason.

Mitchum is Mitchum. And that's all I need to say about that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reviews: Fantasy comics

Reviewed some fantasy comics over at Comic World News:

Arcana Studios Presents #3 (Arcana)
Artesia Besieged #1 (Archaia)
Mouse Guard #2 (Archaia)
World of Aspen #1 (Aspen)
Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #2 (Image)
Wonderland #1 (SLG)
Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere #7 (Vertigo)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Amazing Screw-On Head cartoon debuts in July?

If you think Hellboy is the best thing Mike Mignola's ever done, it's because you haven't read The Amazing Screw-On Head. And I love Hellboy.

The SCIFI Channel's been talking about making a Screw-On Head cartoon for a while now (with Paul Giamatti voicing the title role and David Hyde Pierce as his arch-nemesis Emperor Zombie), and though SCIFI isn't confirming anything yet, Comics Continuum is reporting that it's targeted to debut on July 27th. Mark your calendars.

Monday, June 19, 2006

30 Days of Night Movie Update: Josh Hartnett

Apparently, Josh Hartnett is in final talks to "topline" the 30 Days of Night movie. I presume that means he'll be playing Eben Olemaun, the sheriff of Barrow. With Sam Raimi producing, Weta on effects, and Hartnett in the lead, this has just officially become an "A"-list movie.

On his message board, 30 Days creator Steve Niles says that he thinks Hartnett's a great choice. "I thought he was great in Black Hawk Down and has that quiet brooding thing about him that Eben has. I can see him in Alaska wearing that parka."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

New Conan movie

Word is that Warner Brothers has signed up Boaz Yakin to write and possibly direct a new Conan movie for them. He was the director of Remember the Titans and is apparently a big Robert E. Howard fan. SCIFI Wire is saying that Yakin's take is more faithful to Howard's stuff than the Schwarzenegger films were. Which is good, I guess, because those movies contradicted just about everything that Howard wrote about Conan's early life.

Still, I've been looking forward to a Schwarzenegger King Conan movie since the end of Conan the Barbarian and he's just the right age to play that character now. It's frightening to think that to get a more faithful movie about young Conan, I'm going to have to swallow having a pro-wrestler or someone in the role.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

To See: The Last Kiss

If you're Zach Braff, how do you possibly find a movie to be in that'll equal Garden State? You find one written by Paul Haggis.

Zach's got an exclusive teaser trailer for The Last Kiss on his website. I don't even know what it's about. I just know that it'll be a brilliantly written, touching story about sympathetic characters, one of whom will be played by the King of Sympathetic Characters. And that I'll be there opening night.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Writing: My GOD she's awesome. She even has a blog!

That's right. Comics writer extraordinaire Gail Simone has a blog. And as you might expect from Gail Simone, it is good.

Take this post about finding the truth in whatever scene you're writing. She knows what she's talking about. Lots of people can write a fun, imaginative super-hero romp. Gail's one of only a couple of people I can think of who makes you believe in it. Ed Brubaker's the other. Where's his blog? (Okay, maybe Brian K. Vaughan too.)

Even if super-heroes aren't your thing, her advice applies to whatever you're doing. It's the difference between caring about your work and being a hack.

"The point is, find the truth of the scene, even if that truth only makes sense to you. Craft is important, vitally important, and nothing to be ashamed of. But if you haven't, in the end, got some truth in the script...why did you bother writing it? Let someone else write Steven Segal's movies. Let someone else write the next shitty sitcom. You have work to do."

Friday, June 09, 2006

IHG Award nominees announced

The International Horror Guild just announced the list of nominations for its 2005 awards. The IHG's picks have been useful in the past for finding me new stuff to read. For example, this year's pick for the Living Legend award, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, wrote the Count Saint-Germain series of books about a heroic vampire. Vampires-as-heroes don't usually interest me (they make much better bad guys), but I'd like to give the concept another shot after failing several times to get past page 50 of Interview with the Vampire.

The IHG's Illustrated Narrative (i.e. comic book) nominations always make an interesting list. Nice to see that Dark Horse's Book of the Dead, from their always-good series of horror anthologies, made the cut.

NOVEL
• Brett Easton Ellis. Lunar Park (US: Knopf, UK: Macmillan/Picador)
• Elizabeth Kostova. The Historian (US, UK: Little, Brown)
• Hilary Mantel. Beyond Black (UK: Fourth Estate, US: Henry Holt)
• Peter Raftos. The Stone Ship (Australia: Padanus Books, US: University of Hawaii Press)
• Carl-Johan Vallgren (Translated by Paul Britten-Austin). The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot, His Wonderful Love and His Terrible Hatred [UK: Random House/Harvill Press (US 2006: HarperCollins)

SHORT FICTION
• Rick Bowes. "There's a Hole in the City" (SciFiction 06.15.05)
• Brian Evenson. "The Third Factor" (Quarterly West #60)
• China Mieville. "Go Between" (Looking for Jake)
• Steve Rasnic Tem. "Invisible" (SciFiction 03.02.05)

MID-LENGTH FICTION
• Laird Barron. "Proboscis" (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb 05)
• Jeffrey Ford. "Boatman's Holiday" (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Oct 05)
• Joe Hill. "My Father's Mask" (20th Century Ghosts)
• Caitlin Kiernan. "La Peau Verte" (To Charles Fort, with Love)

LONG FICTION
• Laird Barron. The Imago Sequence (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 05)
• Gary Braunbeck. Kiss of the Mudman (Home Before Dark)
• Joe Hill. Voluntary Committal (20th Century Ghosts)
• Kim Newman. The Serial Murders (SciFiction 10.05.05)

COLLECTION (Single Author)
• Michael Cunningham. Specimen Days (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
• Joe Hill. 20th Century Ghosts (PS Publishing)
• Caitlin Kiernan. To Charles Fort, with Love (Subterranean Press)
• Kelly Link. Magic for Beginners (Small Beer Press)

ANTHOLOGY
• No Award

PERIODICAL
The Book of Dark Wisdom (William Jones, Editor/Publisher: Elder Signs Press)
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Gordon van Gelder, Publisher/Editor: Spilogale, Inc.)
Postscripts (Peter Crowther, Editor/Publisher, PS Publishing)
SciFiction (Ellen Datlow, Editor: SciFi.com)
Subterranean (Bill Schafer, Editor/Publisher: Subterranean Press)

ILLUSTRATED NARRATIVE
The Black Forest 2 by Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell, Neil Vokes (Image Comics)
The Dark Horse Book of The Dead edited by Scott Allie (Dark Horse Books)
Memories by Enki Bilal (Humanoid/DC)
The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Will Eisner (Norton)
Plucker by Brom (Harry N. Abrams)

NONFICTION
• Christopher Frayling. Mad, Bad and Dangerous? The Scientists and The Cinema (UK: Reaktion Books, distributed in US by University of Chicago)
• Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, editors. Horror: Another 100 Best Books (Carroll & Graf)
• S.T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz, editors. Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia (Three Volumes) (Greenwood Press)
• Denis Meikle. The Ring Companion (Titan Books)
• Norman Partridge. Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales (Subterranean Press)

ART
• Clive Barker for Exhibition: Visions of Heaven and Hell (and Then Some), Bert Green Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA
• Tim Bradstreet for 2005 Hellblazer covers (Vertigo/DC)
• Caniglia for Exhibition: World Horror Convention 2005, New York City, NY
• Alex McDowell for Production Design of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
• Elizabeth McGrath for Exhibition: Altarwise by Owl-Light, Billy Shire Fine Arts, Culver City, CA)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

And speaking of trailers (and Paul Giamatti)...

There's a new trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water out. It doesn't spoil the movie, but if you're like me and already committed to seeing it regardless of what it's about, it does tell you more than you probably want to know.

To See: The Illusionist

The only thing better than a good, supernatural mystery story is a good, supernatural mystery story in an historical setting. So sign me up for an August 18th showing of The Illusionist, in which a magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna falls in love with a princess and uses his powers to destabilize the royal family and try to win her from the prince she's engaged to.

And the cast? How about Edward Norton as the magician, Jessica Biel as the princess, Rufus Sewell as her fiancé, and Paul Giamatti as a police inspector trying to figure out what the heck's going on.

You can see not really a trailer, but a series of scenes from it here.

Reviews: Mystery and Horror comics

I've got a comics review column that I do at Comic World News and I'm experimenting with organizing each article by genre. This week, I reviewed a bunch of mystery and horror comics:

Mystery
Fell #5 (Image)
Pat Novak for Hire (Moonstone)

Horror
Revere #1 (Alias)
Honor of the Damned #1-3 (Americanime)
Katharsis #1-3 (Americanime)
B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine #2 (Dark Horse)
Frankenstein #1 (Dead Dog)
Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse -- The Taster (IDW)
Spawn #154 (Image)
Haunted Mansion #3 (SLG)
Necromancer #5 (Image/Top Cow)

Artesia interview

If you like quality fantasy and you can stand comics at all, you really need to read Mark Smylie's Artesia series. In lieu of coming up with new words to describe it, I'll just quote from and link to a review I did of the first volume: "Complicated but not inaccessible, Artesia is a story with several layers to it and it's wonderful going through it and discovering things hidden behind other things. It's beautiful to look at too. Smylie's art is as colorful and striking as his protagonist. He has an excellent sense of anatomy and making people look like people rather than comic book clichés. His style contributes a sense of realism that elevates Artesia above other fantasy material and gives it a mythic quality. If not actual events, Artesia at least reads and feels like actual legends.

"It's a book that haunts when you're done. You'll want to go back and read it again, not because you didn't get it, but because you want to spend more time with it, soaking in the art and getting to know the enigmatic main character better."

There are three graphic novels (Artesia, Artesia Afield, and Artesia Afire), and the first issue of what will eventually be collected into the fourth graphic novel Artesia Besieged just hit comics shops last week. Mark has also written his very own role-playing game based on the world of Artesia.

Aaaaand I tell you all that to tell you that I just interviewed Mark at Comic World News and that you should really go read it because he's a fascinating creative mind and one of the best fantasy writers/illustrators around.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sexy Sci-Fi (or To Read: Century Rain)

My apologies if I've posted about this before, but I've discovered that my taste in science fiction is more refined, yet less sophisticated than I thought it was. I wrote about it in my personal journal at the time, so some of these thoughts are borrowed from there.

I like Battlestar Galactica. I like Star Wars. I like some Star Trek; mainly just Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. I like Firefly. I like Doctor Who. But a couple of months ago I started wondering if I really like science fiction. I was reading a complete collection of Isaac Asimov's robot stories and was bored to death. And I usually like robots.

I also like spaceships and blasters and aliens and dogfights in space. But those are kind of the superficial trappings of science fiction. Battlestar Galactica is as much drama as sci-fi. Star Wars is a pulpy adventure story. I liked Next Generation because of the character development and Deep Space Nine was a political thriller/war series. Firefly was a Western and Doctor Who is a comedic adventure. None of the "sci-fi" I like is actually about the future or technology or anything like that. They're just other genres that are set in outer space.

I started to think that I didn't really like science fiction and the realization sort of rocked my world. (I decided that it was possible that I just don't like Asimov, but I'm not sure you're allowed to like real science fiction and not like Asimov.) Fortunately, Star Wars artist extraordinaire Grant Gould came to my rescue and coined a new term for me to describe the sci-fi that I'm into. "Sexy Sci-Fi."

Another writer pal of mine, Shara Saunsaucie, pointed out there are many kinds of science fiction and that perhaps I just don't like the "hard" stuff, stuff that's about the technology. That makes sense to me too.

Most of Asimov's robot stories are mysteries and I kept figuring them out too soon. I thought about the reason that the stories are all so similar and figured out that it's because he keeps pounding on the Three Laws of Robotics over and over again. Or, to use a different metaphor, he keeps circling around them and examining them from every which way. I think it's because he's fascinated by the idea behind that technology: what would make an artificially intelligent robot work? And other people who are fascinated by that will probably like the stories much more than I did. For me, once I figured out the mystery, I was done. I'm bored by the science and technology aspect.

"Soft" sci-fi is more in line with my interests because of the focus on people and relationships and social structure. I love Farenheit 451 and Logan's Run, for example (though not 1984, which I found to be too slow).

It'll come as no surprise that space opera is another appealing sub-genre, but I'm surprised at how much space opera I hear about that bores the crap out of me. That's why I like the term "sexy sci-fi." It doesn't describe the theme of the work so much as it does the way it makes you feel. It's exciting. It's the difference between 1984 and Logan's Run.

Unfortunately for me, most blurb writers for science fiction books don't use words like "exciting" and "adventure." They're more interested in "original," which is an important trait, but doesn't tell me whether or not I'm going to like it.

I was reminded about all this when I recently read about Alastair Reynolds's Century Rain. The word "adventure" does actually appear on the front flap of the hardcover, but it's in the same sentence as "hard science fiction." The back flap describes it as "hard SF space opera," which seems to be another contradiction in terms, but probably just further makes my point above. "Hard science fiction" tells me that it's about technology, "adventure" and "space opera" suggest that it'll be sexy. One tells me what the book's about; the others tell me how I'll feel about it.

The summary of the book goes like this:

"Three hundred years from now, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable due to the technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust.

Archaeologist Verity Auger specializes in the exploration of its surviving landscape. Now, her expertise is required for a far greater purpose.

Something astonishing has been discovered at the far end of a wormhole: mid-twentieth century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Somewhere on this alternate planet is a device capable of destroying both worlds at either end of the wormhole. And Verity must find the device, and the man who plans to activate it, before it is too late -- for the past and the future of two worlds..."

That sounds cool, huh? An archeologist-adventurer going up against an evil madman with the fate of two worlds in the balance? Indiana Jones with some Stargate thrown in.

Very sexy.

Blog@Newsarama


I've been contributing to a comics blog called The Great Curve for a while now. That site is no more. We've sold out to the Man and are now the Official Blog of comics monster-site Newsarama. Pretty cool.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Sitting 'round the table; talking X-Men

I've avoided posting my thoughts on X-Men: The Last Stand because I knew they were going to be posted on The Great Curve, which is a comic book blog that I contribute to.

And now they are.

Mini-Review: The DaVinci Code

Saw The DaVinci Code yesterday. I'm underwhelmed.

I got tired of all the puzzles. I got tired of them in National Treasure too, but at least those guys looked like they were having fun. The DaVinci Code was so dour and serious; yet not dark enough to make it interesting the other way. It should've been either a rip-roaring adventure story or a sinister thriller. Either Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or Se7en. Mixing elements of both, it became neither. What it is, except for the very likeable performances by pretty much everyone in it, is dull. I liked the characters; I just didn't care what happened to them. I don't know how that works either. By the end of the movie, I was just trying to figure out what the point was.

Lucy Honeychurch casts a spell

I fell in love with Helena Bonham Carter after seeing A Room with a View. I don't know what it was about her. Maybe I have some weird Edwardian fetish.

Actually, that makes sense because I kind of lost interest in her after she quit playing E.M. Forster heroines. Although that was also about the time when she was standing a bit too close to Kenneth Branagh when he and Emma Thompson divorced. And I was a big fan of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. Still am.

I'm dangerously close to losing my point for posting this, but I'll add that the last scoop of dirt on the grave of my Helena Bonham Carter crush was her again standing a bit too close to Tim Burton when he and Lisa Marie broke up. Not that I'm huge fans of either of theirs; it just got me thinking.

My point is that Helena Bonham Carter's name in the credits still gets my attention. The Edwardian fetish is actually related to my love for historical stories of any medium, and Helena still conjures up images for me of England and Italy and the sound of "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's Gianni Seicchi. There's also the fact that she's a great actress.

Which is all to say that I'm glad she got the role of Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I haven't read the Potter books -- I'm just enjoying the movies as they come out -- so I can't comment on her appropriateness for the role. All I know is that I have no problem at all seeing Helena Bonham Carter playing a character named Bellatrix Lestrange.

Incidentally, the role originally went to Helen (Count of Monte Cristo, Casanova) McCrory, but Helen is pregnant and will be pretty far along in the process by the time her scenes are ready to be shot.

All of this Potter news comes to us courtesy of Cinematical, who also reports that the last Harry Potter book is scheduled to come out next year.

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