Thursday, December 22, 2005

Alternative Ending to V for Vendetta

(Or, I Can't Be The First Person To Think Of This)

We enter the scene with Finch, the detective assigned to track down V, staggering into Victoria Station. He's heavily under the influence of LSD, a drug he took to try to understand the enigmatic killer, and although it's exacted a heavy mental toll, it's done its work well. He's finally close to V's lair...and its secrets.

He heads down into the abandoned Underground. At last, he spots V himself. He pulls out his gun...prepares to fire...

And suddenly a vast dog leaps past him, spoiling his aim! The dog, some sort of breed of Great Dane, lets out a strange and poignant howl. In Finch's drugged state, it almost seems as if it's calling out, "Roverrr here!"

V turns. He spots Finch, but seemingly just as importantly, he spots the massive dog. He moves towards the pair with a swift, gliding motion, and Finch knows they're both doomed...

When suddenly, a giant net drops from the ceiling onto V, entangling him! Finch stares in utter confusion as four people step from the shadows, four civilians who've managed to do what the entire British government could not--capture the terrorist known as V.

"Good work, Scooby!" they chorus, as one of them, a young man dressed in green, scratches the dog's head. Another, dressed in white, steps forward to V, who's only managed to free his head from the weighted net. "And now, let's see who V really is!" With a flourish, they remove the mask.

Everyone, even Finch, gasps. "Old Man McAllister!" they shout. The girl with spectacles nods knowingly. "Of course. He was using the V costume to frighten people away from organized governmental authority...and the old mill!"

"That's right," snarles V. "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for you meddling kids...and that dog!"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Getting an Idea Out of My Head

As is usual when I have what I think is a really great idea that I have no way to convey to the people who could do something about it, I'm just going to blog the idea and hope that someone who has some power to do something about it sees it. It's sort of like setting a bottle adrift at sea, except that that a bottle adrift at sea has less chance of being found by a person who was really just looking for porn sites.

So, with that in mind, and hoping that Joss Whedon Googles his own name just to see what people are saying about him (I can't be the only person who does this), I suggest:

A Firefly line of novels.

Seriously, the movie apparently didn't do enough business to bring out another $25 million film, and that seems to be the end of it...but unless I've been lied to repeatedly by a variety of different publishers, authors of TV tie-in books don't get paid 25 million dollars. I think that there's definitely a devoted following of the series that's willing to shell out regular dough for a series of decently written books, and that it could be sustained as a profitable line. And one of the advantages of writing a book based on a TV series is that TV series are designed as "story machines"--ie, the setting and characters are meant to generate a large number of story ideas, just because they need to have a large number of stories over the lifespan of the series.

So. Let the word-of-mouth campaign spread from this tiny little blog, read by a bare minimum of people (and probably fewer since I post so infrequently now.) Let it become a vast tide of public opinion which will reach the ears of publishing houses everywhere. Firefly: The Novels! Or Serenity Joss Whedon Nathan Fillion Universal ...let's see, what other keywords would get me hits?

Right. Hot Asian shaved.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Jazz Textures

Something I was wondering tonight at work, when someone tuned to the "smooth jazz" station...

Are there other textures of jazz? Like rough, abrasive jazz, which you can put on in the background, but it'll eventually wear away at your nerves and make you tense, irritable, and in the mood to fight.

Or sharp jazz. You'll be listening to it, it doesn't really register much, then BAM! You suddenly get a big jagged chunk of jazz straight in your ear. (Presumably necessitating a tetanus shot.)

Or perhaps, moving in the opposite direction, soft downy jazz. Jazz so inconsequential it puts you to sleep.

Liquid jazz, which presumably conforms itself to any listener's contours...

Gaseous jazz, jazz so inconsequential you don't actually notice you're listening to it. (This last jazz is, of course, a purely theoretical jazz texture, as by definition, it's impossible to notice the existence of true gaseous jazz. In fact, I could be listening to it right now.)

All of the above is, of course, "free jazz" when heard over the radio, and only becomes "expensive jazz" when heard in concert.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Oh, What the Heck...

(The "sporadic posting" continues, and will continue for some while--my hours have ramped up at work, and that's just how it is. I'm used to it now, I'm even more used to the nice extra money, but it does bite into Mr. Free Time a bit. Anyhow, away from my boring life...)

On the radio a few weeks back, they had an ad for a jewelry store that said that they had wedding rings that "scream how you feel about her." It's an ill-chosen metaphor, but when thought about literally, it paints an even more disturbing picture...

CUSTOMER walks into jewelry store. There is an unearthly din all around, as though he has walked into a pet store that sells only trained parrots. A SALESMAN walks up to him.

SALESMAN: Good day, sir. Are you interested in a wedding ring?

CUSTOMER: Well, yes, I am. (Looks around.) What's with all the--

SALESMAN: Perhaps this one might interest you? (Holds up a small velvet box, and opens it.)

RING #1: I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I--

CUSTOMER (hurriedly pushing box closed): No. No, I don't think that's the sort of thing I'm looking for at all. In fact, I--

SALESMAN: Say no more, sir. Perhaps this one is more to your taste. (Opens a second box.)

RING #2: I JUST DON'T WANT TO DIE OLD AND ALONE! I JUST DON'T WANT TO DIE OLD AND ALONE! I--

CUSTOMER (closes that box as well, by now looking utterly horrified): No! I just want--

SALESMAN (with a knowing nod): I understand perfectly, sir. (Holds up another box.)

RING #3: I KNOCKED YOU UP! I KNOCKED YOU UP! I KNOCKED YOU UP! I KNOCKED YOU UP!

(Ring continues to repeat as panicked customer flees shop.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Review: Superbeautifulmonster (Bif Naked)

Latest by Bif Naked, and it's nice. I'll admit to being a bit flat on 'Purge', her sophomore effort, but this one hits a lot of the same notes that 'I, Bificus' did. Very much in the mode of Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, and other female vocalists who weren't afraid to display emotions beyond "love" and "worrying about the man you love". She's capable of showing anger ("Let-Down", which is a snarky anthem for every garage-band kid in America), sorrow (an excellent cover of "Nothing Else Matters"--I hated covers when I was a teenager, but I've come completely to the opposite view and think that a good cover song is a thing of beauty), and she's not afraid to admit that she's got a sex drive as healthy as most guys. ("Funeral for a Good Grrl" contains a few lines that made me blush--"I don't want your diamonds/just a necklace of pearls" and "You be the kid and I'll be the candy store" being two of them.)

And "The World Is Over" is a song so damn good that it should be playing hourly on every radio station in America.

So, yeah, this is another very good album from a very good artist. Go. Buy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

L'Esprit D'Escalier

I didn't get a chance to say this at the time, but to the woman who wrote the column in my college newspaper, back when I was a student, talking about how everyone was too quick to label independent woman as "angry", and who wrote the line: "Everyone's talking about Alanis Morrisette as an 'angry young woman' just because she wrote about having flies in your champagne"...

No, dear, I think it was the one about "Every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back I hope you feel it" that got her labeled as an 'angry young woman'.

Nice to finally get that off my chest.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Great Bad Movie Lines, #3

Not so much a bad line as a bad delivery, really. In 'Day of the Dead', the helicopter pilot is rebelling against the evil (well, not so much evil as cracking under the pressure) soldiers. One of them pulls a gun on him, but the leader realizes that the helicopter pilot is the only one who can fly them out of there, and stills his men with the command, "Wait. We need his ass."

Unfortunately, he doesn't say, "We need his ass," suggesting that they can't do without him and have to keep him alive. No, he says, "We need his ass," suggesting that perhaps the remaining body parts are expendable, but that fine ass of his is just too important to lose.

It's not much surprise that the pilot makes a run for it, really.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I...Still...Function...

Yes, two Transformers references in three posts. I'm on fire!

Watched 'Land of the Dead' for the second time last night, and I'm still struck at how the whole thing is a huge allegory for the need for the working classes to revolt and set up a communist society inside the United States. You have the two sets of underclasses, the living (led by a white guy) and the dead (led by a black guy) set against each other in an irreconcilable conflict so that neither side will notice how they're both exploited by the rich. Cholo (John Leguizamo) is someone trying to get ahead by doing the rich's dirty work, but he'll never get anywhere because he's Hispanic and the rich are all racist under the skin.

Eventually the whole system breaks down. Cholo tries blackmail and terrorism, but these tactics are morally reprehensible because they threaten the underclass he should be supporting, and fail. Only when he dies (and joins the underclass in spirit as well as body--"I always wanted to see how the other half lives") can he truly make progress in the People's Struggle. Meanwhile, the living and the dead set aside their differences and slaughter the true source of all evil--the rich. Once that's completed, the dead leave the living in peace and the underclasses prepare to live a new live in their socialist Utopia.

It's a blatantly obvious reading--I'm just amazed he was able to get away with it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Light Posting...

...because of floods, home repairs, 52-hour workweeks, and if there's a plague of locusts headed towards the Midwest, you now know why. Will get back up to speed later, assuming no meteor strikes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Junkions

Anyone remember these guys? From 'Transformers: the Movie', made out of discarded bits of other robots, leader voiced by Eric Idle (as part of a surprisingly star-studded cast that included Leonard Nimoy, Orson Welles, and Robert Stack...OK, it's surprising for a movie about "robots in disguise")...but the main thing was the way they talked. Just as they were made up of discarded junk, so too was their entire culture, the way they spoke and acted, made up of nothing more than discarded one-liners, old pop culture references, and quotes from TV shows and movies.

Sometimes I think we're turning into them.

Only without the ability to turn into a motorcycle and also with way too few laser guns.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Partial Review: Hitch-Hiker's Guide

Watched as much of the 2005 film as I could stand (up through the scene where all the main characters meet on the Heart of Gold), and so, here's a review.

The facetious version: Watching this movie unfold is like being a pregnant woman, going into labor and being wheeled into the delivery room, fully aware of the magnificent potential of the nascent and beautiful life to come...only to have the nurse say, "Your regular doctor is unavailable, so we've brought in Leatherface to deliver your baby. He knows a lot about anatomy, right?"

The lengthier, more accurate version: It's like watching the real Hitch-hiker's Guide movie, as re-enacted the next morning by the guys around the office who were pretty drunk when they saw it, aren't necessarily sober now, and don't remember it really well. The film tries to "improve" on the original (in all its various forms) by botching punchlines, snipping those long talky bits in favor of a romance between Arthur and Trillian, taking great descriptions and turning them into unfunny sight gags, and then having the whole thing be performed by a cast of actors who wouldn't be able to make the cut in a high school production of 'Our Town'.

Martin Freeman completely misdelivers one of the best lines in the story ("We've met") so thoroughly that you have to believe it was on purpose as a means of showing his contempt for the other actors, Mos Def delivers each line as though he expects the director, at any moment, to shout "ACTION!", and I'm firmly convinced that Sam Rockwell is trying to kill me, using his acting as the murder weapon so that the police won't suspect him. His delivery of the line, "Hey baby, is this guy boring you? Why don't you come and talk to me, I'm from another planet," is eye-bleedingly, tooth-grindingly, hideously, Shatnerianly bad, and he just gets worse from there. Zooey Deschanel is decent enough as Trillian, but her character has suffered the most from being rewritten, to the point where we're actually supposed to believe that a smart, clever, witty woman usually asks guys she's just met 15 minutes ago at a party to quit their job, sell their home, and travel to Madagascar with them...and thinks the guy's boring when he doesn't do it. Yeah, something tells me that's a recipe for perpetual disappointment.

Oh, and Marvin looks like a stormtrooper who's just swallowed a weather balloon.

I'm still of the opinion that a good Hitch-hiker's movie can be made. But this is as far from it as you can possibly get short of having it be a one-man show starring Carrot Top.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Actual Review: Hitch-Hiker's Guide

Thoughts, in no particular order:

1) This is talking about the six-episode BBC series from 1981, not the recently-released movie. Don't have much interest in the recently-released movie, probably will never bother to see it. It's not exactly to the book what 'I, Robot' was to Asimov, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the bits I saw nonetheless.

2) Sandra Dickinson is probably the single biggest factor in dragging this series down...but it's not really her fault. She's been saddled with an outfit that makes her look like one of Ming the Merciless' concubines, her hair is just relentlessly 80s in a painful way, and the director has told her to deliver all her lines in an American accent that a) she can't do, b) doesn't make sense for a character from Islington and c) makes her sound like Vanilla Whore in 'Scott of the Sahara'. All that together, and her ability to be convincing as an intelligent, centered astrophysicist dies upon hearing her first line (and it doesn't help that her first line is one that you'd expect to be delivered by an air hostess.)

3) The other big factor is, of course, The Other Head. Yeesh. The actor playing Zaphod does the same awful cod-American accent as Trillian, but it works better on him than it does on her, because he's meant to be larger than life, silly, and not too very bright.

4) The actor who plays Ford Prefect would make a good Doctor, if you went into a parallel universe and took the part away from Colin Baker. (Not that I dislike Colin Baker in the part.) He does have a tendency to underplay every line, delivering them all with this sort of weirdly soothing drone, but he gets the sensibility of Ford right, and that's what counts.

5) The actor who plays Arthur seems a bit too arch for my tastes (it's as though I want to take him and Ford and hook them up to a giant "Charisma Transference Device" and just take a little off the top for him and give it to Ford) but does do what he needs to do for story purposes.

6) Marvin is, of course, magnificent.

7) Production values are low, but then again, it is early 80s BBC. And they get lots of positive style points for keeping to the story's digressive, excursive, ramblingly brilliant style. The general myth about 'Hitch-Hiker's' is that it's horribly plotted, but very funny; the actual truth is that it's cleverly plotted, but that the plot is mostly going on while the characters aren't looking and they don't necessarily notice the plot even after it's happened.

8) It really bothered me at the time that they went straight from the Magrethea stuff to the Milliways stuff, instead of sticking to the source material. You may all now laugh at my youthful ignorance.

9) The actor playing Number One (of the Golgafrinchians) didn't understand he was in a part that was, by its very nature, impossible to overact in. He's way too subdued. (Although, again, this could be the director.)

10) I really, really miss Douglas Adams.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Spoiler-Free Review: Serenity

So they do the thing, with the--the zoom, and the whoosh, and the big--omigod, and they--oh, wow, and the bit with the fight, and when the guy does the--and that scene where Mal--it was SO COOL!

It's not the kind of movie you can give a spoiler-free review of. Go. See it for yourself. I'll just give you one line as a bonus.

"Doctor, I'm taking your sister under my protection here. If anything happens to her, anything at all, I swear to you I will get very choked up. Honestly. There could be tears."

Friday, September 30, 2005

Depressing Geek Thought #3

(For some reason, a lot of these seem to come out of 'Star Wars'...)

So let's get this straight. Jango Fett is the template for the Clone Troopers, later Stormtroopers (which means Boba Fett is just a glorified stormtrooper. Sheesh. No wonder he gets dropped by a blind guy with a stick.) They ask him what he wants for his payment--payment for using his genetic material as the template for the new Imperial Army, and for essentially giving the Sith the means to conquer the galaxy. You have to figure the sky's the limit here. And what does he ask for?

"I want a little boy. And I want him to look just like me."

Ynnnngahh. I do not think there is even a term in the DSM IV for the mental disorder that makes you want to clone and molest a younger version of yourself. No wonder Jango ran so fast when Obi-Wan showed up. He thought he was from Child Protective Services.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Land of the Insane

While there's always going to be a certain debate about where the line falls between eccentricity, non-conformity, and actual mental instability, I've always thought that a useful working definition is to ask, "Is this person acknowledging reality?" That is to say, do their beliefs actually coincide with the facts? A mentally ill person might believe that all dogs are secretly surveillance robots there to spy on him. This is provably untrue; ergo, this person is not sane.

The direction political debate has taken in the United States leans towards insanity. As with so many things in life, it can all be summed up in a Doctor Who quote: "The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't adjust their views to fit the facts. They adjust the facts to fit their views." As of late, people have adjusted the facts to fit their views.

Go onto any set of right-wing blogs, read a description of an event, trend, or movement. Go onto the left-wing blogs. Read the same descriptions. They are not describing the same things. It's no longer a question of interpretation--they literally do not apprehend the same reality as one another. Debate cannot continue when neither side acknowledges that the other side is accurate in basic factual contentions, let alone their views on how those facts should be interpreted. It's hard enough deciding what color to paint the house when we can't even agree on what "blue" is, let alone whether or not it's a nice color.

It's an extremely tricky problem to fix, too, because each side thinks the other has the problem. I think it's the right. I think they've been systematically devaluing the very concept of "fact" because all too often, the facts don't support their viewpoint (evolution, poverty, the economy, weapons of mass destruction, who declared a state of emergency when and where in Louisiana, going all the way back to "how many votes did the Republicans get in Florida?") But I can't be sure, because I'm on the wrong side of the viewpoint gap to see whether or not the left is distorting things.

But it's something that has to change. The news media have to be more cautious in fact-checking (especially in checking politicians' speeches--if they lie, the media have to catch it quick) at every level, from CNN down to individual blogs. Facts are too important to be subverted to ideology. There's never been a situation where you can ignore a fact to support a belief and have it not come back to bite you someday. That's why we call these people "insane" and not merely "eccentric" or "non-conformist". Because while other people might be willing to bend to accomodate your eccentricities, reality doesn't.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Saying Goodbye

I received an email this morning that Kelly O'Guinn, aka Kielle, died of cancer recently. I hadn't heard anything about her in years, but she was such a wonderfully vivid personality that my memories of her sprung to mind immediately.

It was about nine years ago, when I'd only recently discovered things like "the Internet", "fanfic", and had barely started to form the idea that I could construct plots, prose, and dialogue together into stories. I wrote a couple of things--a Doctor Who story, a Green Lantern fanfic, a big dumb DC cross-over to cancel out another big dumb DC cross-over that had irritated me--and I more or less dumped them onto the Internet with a thud.

Kielle loved them. She sent me praise, and since at the time she hosted a huge fanfic site, she made a couple of them "stories of the week" which made other people read them and send me praise. She sent me email encouraging me to write more, she laughed at my jokes and told me so, she at one point fell off her chair laughing at something I'd written, or at least she claimed to. We didn't keep in touch, but she was a wonderful person at the exact time when so many writers need wonderful people and too many don't find them. I believe I owe her a lot.

She's dead now. I didn't want to believe it, because she was just too alive a person to be dead. People like her shouldn't be allowed to die.

I don't think I've got any more words about this. I think this is the point where words run out, because you either know this place personally and they're not needed, or you don't and they're hopelessly inadequate.

So goodbye, Kielle.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Obvious Questions, 28 Days Later Edition

1. Why don't they listen to the scientist when he's screaming, "It's infectious! If you let it out, you'll kill us all?!?!?!"

2. Why, when they ask the scientist what it's infected with, does he give such an utterly crap answer? "Rage." Yes, that'll be nice and convincing to the ALF.

3. Why don't the infected attack each other?

4. How does the virus spread, given that anyone infected is now mindless, vomiting blood, and probably has severe injuries from where the infected were beating the crap out of him/her? Seriously, these guys would have a lifespan measured in minutes, hours at best. Even if we were talking "starved to death" (and it'd actually be dehydration, since they don't drink either,) it'd be no more than a day. And again--vomiting blood.

5. If the infected are nocturnal, why are they attracted to bright lights? (Yeah, OK, moths, but it's still annoying.)

6. How does a coma patient survive four weeks in the middle of an evacuation of London and its degeneration into total chaos?

7. How is it that Christopher Eccleston's character doesn't know that the infection is localized to the British Isles, given that he's commanding a military unit with access to radios, satellite communications, and helicopters? (And his actions in the film only make sense if he truly believes his group is the last outpost of humanity.)

8. How does a recovering coma patient and professional bike messenger manage to take on two or three SAS squaddies in hand-to-hand combat?

9. No, seriously, how? It's like he suddenly turns into Batman for the last half-hour of the movie.

10. ...the hell?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Great Bad Movie Lines, #2

From 'A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 5: The Dream Child':

"They say she hung herself...but they never found the body."

What exactly did they find, then? A note, a rope, and an overturned stool? This isn't like throwing yourself into the river, people. You hang yourself, and you're pretty much guaranteeing that people will find the body.

Of course, what happened was that someone wanted to bring in the idea that Freddy murdered his mother, but was hampered by previous films' continuity. So they came up with this line to retcon it...but the noble attempt failed, leaving the horror community a richer, and sillier place.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Old and Sentimental

I've been reading a few blogs from Iraq lately. I started with:

http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/

and I've picked at scattered others. They're very hard to read, because they're all about people suffering to varying degrees and both they and I know that the suffering was caused by my government. They make me feel angry and sad and defensive and apologetic and guilty and protective, and that's a lot of emotion to feel when I'm basically just surfing the web. But I can't stop checking them.

Because as long as they're updating, that means they're still alive.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Things I'd Like To Write Someday, #2956837249438

(Or somewhere near that.)

I always thought that Frank Miller was really unfair to Superman. I mean let's face it--in a fight between Batman and Superman, giving Batman as much Kryptonite as he can carry really just evens the odds to the point where Batman might actually see Superman before he gets leveled. But in 'The Dark Knight Returns' (and its sequel, 'The Dark Knight Gives Superman A Wedgie' or whatever it was called,) not only does Batman get to beat up Superman, he also gets to seize the moral high ground. Let's repeat that--a man who regularly dresses up as a bat to re-enact his childhood revenge fantasies gets to seize the moral high ground over freaking Superman.

I think that needs to change. So I'd like to write a 'Dark Knight Returns' style comic, only done from Superman's worldview. (Not, I stress, show the events of 'Dark Knight Returns' from Superman's POV.)

In this story, Superman has retired--essentially, all the work he's done for humanity over the years has finally paid off to the point where he's not needed so much anymore. Weather control is a science, advances in agriculture and energy have resulted in abundance for all, which has substantially reduced the war quotient, all the super-villains are either reformed, imprisoned, or just generally gone for good--even Gotham's now relatively tame, although there are still parts of it you wouldn't walk into at 2 AM. Clark Kent is enjoying a relatively restful career as editor-in-chief at the Daily Planet, and a happy marriage to Lois.

Then his old enemies start returning. Braniac comes back, in defiance of several intergalactic treaties Superman helped negotiate. Metallo escapes. Doomsday returns. One by one, all the villains from the bad old days start coming back, and Superman has to return to the skies to stop them. And all the while, he's trying to figure out "Who's behind all this?" It can't just be coincidence. It's never just coincidence. He goes to former President Luthor. He hunts down Vandal Savage. He digs up Darkseid. And always the same answer: It wasn't me. Clark runs himself ragged trying to save everyone and discover the truth, but when he finds it, he wishes he hadn't: Bruce Wayne is behind all this chaos.

Ultimately, peace did what decades of ceaseless struggle never could--it snapped Bruce's sanity. Bruce has discovered that he never wanted to end crime, only to fight it. The only way he could stay sane was in being Batman, and without a purpose for Batman, Bruce had to grow up. It took a different kind of courage than dodging bullets and fighting the Joker, and Bruce just didn't have it. So he started breaking out the old villains, and deep within the Batcave, he was preparing to resume his illustrious career.

Superman isn't pleased. But Batman knew he wouldn't be.

The two of them have a final, apocalyptic duel on the Wayne estate, but Bruce finds out that all these years, all the times he's put one up on Clark, all the little battles that they've fought in an unspoken rivalry that went hand-in-hand with their close friendship...Clark always let him win. Those little victories had meant so much to Bruce, and the little losses meant so little to a man who could stand in the heart of a hurricane and wring diamonds out of coal. This time, when there's something real at stake, when innocents are in danger...Clark's not playing around. Bruce is just another bad guy now. And what does Superman do, if not beat the bad guys?

And the ending is just the opposite from 'Dark Knight', as well. There, Bruce digs in to expand his personal crusade to the armies of Gotham's underclass. He's looking forward to fighting for the rest of his life. Here, Clark averts the crisis and restores peace--and he's happy to do nothing more than set aside the cape and return to his normal life. He's always wanted the best for us, and ego doesn't enter into it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Depressing Geek Thought #2

As we all know, there's a whole huge vast pile of books detailing exactly what happened after the end of 'Return of the Jedi' in the Star Wars universe. But let's face it--they were all written before Lucas redefined the terms of the game with the prequels, and a lot of the assumptions they made about the series have turned out to be wrong. (Just try reading Timothy Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy" now, in light of what we've learned about the Clone Wars. Attempting to reconcile the two will destroy your brain.)

So let's think for a moment about what we might see in a post-'Jedi' universe now that we know everything. It all revolves around Luke...and I don't think he's destined for a happy life.

Think about it. In addition to seeing the ghost of his dead mentor, a ghost only he can see, he's now apparently being followed around by the ghost of Yoda and the departed spirit of his father. And Yoda, well, he's gotta be bitter. Luke basically took his whole philosophy of the Light Side/Dark Side dichotomy and jammed it into a toilet and gave it a swirlie; he's going to have to reprioritize his entire philosophy, and that's something that's very hard to do when you're a) 800-plus, and b) dead. Yoda's probably just going to sit there bitching at Anakin all the livelong day, stopping only to scream at Luke for training Jedi wrong.

Meanwhile, Anakin and Obi-Wan will be having their own problems. Anakin was never very likeable--smug, whiny bastard, really, and being the only one of the three who's mastered the "blue ghost" technique well enough to get a young, handsome ghost body won't help--and there's bound to be a lot of bickering there. And from Anakin's point of view, the same two schmucks who trained him so well that he wound up falling under the sway of the Dark Lord of the Sith for decades are now giving great advice to his son, too. That's going to go over real well.

Then there are the other ghosts. Oh, sure, we didn't see them--but we've learned that this is a new technique that Qui-Gon learned. At the very least, Qui-Gon should be wandering along soon, and we know he never got along with anyone on the Jedi Council. At worst...well, imagine Luke screaming "Shut up! SHUT UP!" at thin air while to his eyes, hundreds of Jedi push at each other to tell him best how to re-establish the Jedi Order. Sure, he's a respected military hero (despite spending several months effectively AWOL over the course of 'Empire'), but how long before he's committed to a sanitarium "for his own good"?

That's the ultimate death of the Jedi order. Not extermination at the hands of the Sith, but Luke, straitjacketed in a forgotten institution somewhere in the Outer Rim, begging Mace Windu to stop yelling at his dad for the whole hand thing.

Then they start in on Leia...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Under the Hood: Quest of the Delta Knights

Now this time on 'Under the Hood' (an irregular feature in which we examine how to remake and improve MST3K staples), we'll be looking at a movie that gets more airtime on the Sci-Fi channel than 'Stargate' repeats and made-for-TV movies about giant animals combined: Quest of the Delta Knights. For those of you who haven't seen it, this is a movie about a young boy/man/quite-possibly-girl who's mentored by a wise old David Warner until he's of age to find the Lost Storehouse of Archimedes (because this really all takes place in the real world, honest) with the aid of Leonardo da Vinci (because again, this really all takes place in the real world, truly) before the evil David Warner and the wicked queen he's pledged his service to (queen of where? Of somewhere in the very, very real world, because that's what this takes place in) can find it and use the Doomsday Device Archimedes apparently invented. (Oh yeah--the whole 'Delta Knights' thing is a secret society that all the good guys belong to.)

We've got our work cut out for us today, boys and girls.

In terms of production values, this one actually ain't too horrible. They filmed it at (possibly several) Renaissance Fairs, so it has somewhat of an authentically medieval look to it. However, we can use some serious acting upgrades, since they blew their entire budget on David Warner. In fact, they blew so much of their budget on David Warner that he winds up playing both the good guy and the bad guy--yet there's no reason for it in the script at all. So our first step is, charisma transfusions to both our leading men, stat, and toss out one of the two David Warners (probably the villainous one, because Warner does amazingly well at playing the Wise Old Mentor role.)

The next step is, actually ground this sucker in some history, or else give up the whole "historical setting" idea. In the movie as it's currently constituted, the name of the kingdom/state/country/land/place they're in is never given, no ruler is ever named, and the only things that wind up being from real history are Leonardo and Archimedes. Oh, and their "journey" to find the Lost Storehouse looks like it takes about fifteen minutes, because they don't have the money for two units' worth of location filming.

So let's see--if Leonardo was a young man, that'd put this at about 1470. During that time, the English were involved in a nasty and protracted war between the descendants of the House of Lancaster and the House of York, known as the Wars of the Roses. Sounds like a good starting point for a bad guy. Henry VI, who was Lancastrian, was unpopular, hung out with unpopular nobles, and was mentally unstable to boot. Sounds like a better point. So we've got our evil monarch, Henry VI. Our hero is raised and mentored by the Delta Knights (still not crazy about that name) to go find the Lost Storehouse of Archimedes and retrieve its knowledge for the enlightenment of mankind (since this is after all the Renaissance, and rediscovering the knowledge of the ancient Greeks was huge back then.) Leonardo, who's also secretly a member of the Knights, agrees to help him on their trek to Greece. But Henry captures the Wise Old Mentor and extracts the information from him. He then sends one of those aforementioned "unpopular nobles" off to trail him to the Storehouse, and seize anything good out of it.

From there, it's a good old-fashioned road movie. There's loads of real estate between England and Greece, and travel back in the 1470s was the kind of thing you did if you were rich, crazy, desperate, foolhardy, or some combination of the four. We can ditch the horrible subplot about the barmaid/whore who turns out to be the Princess of Thieves (which didn't make it into my above summary because, well, it doesn't have a goddamned thing to do with the plot) and focus more on our heroes' journey, and on the people who aid/hinder them along the way. Eventually, our heroes find the Storehouse which contains anachronistically high levels of technology, the evil noble (who we won't bother making historically authentic, because let's face it, who cares about every single minor noble?) realizes that this can turn the tide of the war, and our heroes have to make a choice--give a mad king the power over life or death for an entire country, or destroy discoveries that could revolutionize the world?

They choose the latter, blow up the Storehouse and the noble with it, and Leo goes on to paint seven Mona Lisas and write backwards, while Henry the Sixth dies in the tower of London in 1471.

It's still a little vague, but compared to the original, it's Waterford fucking Crystal.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Minor Admin Matter

Just to let the few people who've left comments know, I've turned on that irritating word verification thing--mainly because it's less irritating than two spam comments showing up in under an hour.

Great Bad Movie Lines, #1

From 'The House of the Dead':

Hero: You did all this, killed all these people, just to become immortal?! Why?
Villain: To live...forever.

You get the feeling that in the script draft, this conversation might have gone on for hours. "But why did you want to live forever?" "So that I could prolong my life indefinitely." "But why--" et cetera.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Last Vampire Story Ever

Baron von Karkus advanced on the terrified young woman, baring his fangs as she backed into the corner. With a defiant gleam in her eye, she raised the cross that Father Moran had pressed upon her with his last breath, and thrust it out at him.

"Fool," he said, knocking it aside with a single powerful sweep of his arm. "Did Father Moran fail to tell you? That cross is a symbol of the Christian faith. It only has power for a Christian...and I can sense, you are not."

"It's not the symbol?" she squeaked out, her eyes fixed on his fangs as he slowly reached out at her, savoring the moment of terror. "It's the faith?"

"Precisely, my dear. And you will have an eternity by my side to--"

"Why didn't anyone say so?" There was an instant of pain for Baron von Karkus, an instant of shrieking agony he knew that every vampire, everywhere shared with him. "I'm a Unitarian."

Friday, September 16, 2005

Zombies: A Love/Hate Relationship

There aren't a whole lot of things in "horror" movies that scare me, but I'll admit--just about every zombie movie I've watched has given me horrible nightmares. The Romero films--I don't know if I'll ever be able to watch 'Day of the Dead', the other three were grueling experiences for me. The remake of 'Dawn'--I couldn't finish watching it the first time around, I had to turn it off because it was freaking me out too bad. The comedy ones--I've watched 'Shaun of the Dead' three, four times easily, and I love it to death (I consider it the best zombie movie ever, in fact)...but I had trouble sleeping for days after watching it. Even the crap zombie movies like 'Resident Evil' and '28 Days Later' (and don't let anyone kid you, '28 Days Later' is a crap movie, despite Chris Eccleston doing yeoman's duty in trying to make his character's internal logic work) still scare the hell out of me.

So what is it that scares me about zombies so bad?

Three things. One, I think, is the theme of infection and corruption. The idea of something that can be passed on, something that slowly robs you of identity, is very chilling. Two, which is intimately tied into one, is the end result. You don't die when you become a zombie, you're not that lucky. You lose your mind, your personality, you just become a shambling vegetable that doesn't understand anything except killing and eating. As someone who values their mind, it's pretty damn scary. And three is the sense of scale involved. It's not just one person, or even five or six. It's not like the 'Friday the 13th' movies (or the slasher film of your choice), where you can say, "Well, why did you go out to the deserted summer camp where the last 75 counselors have been murdered? DUH!" It's happening everywhere, there's no escaping it, it's the whole world. Romero doesn't just kill people, he murders civilization itself.

But what always frustrates me about zombie stories is that they skip over the interesting bit. 'Dawn of the Dead' has everyone hide in a mall while they watch the interesting bit happen on TV. '28 Days Later' just has the character wake up from a coma and the bad stuff has already happened. Ditto with 'The Walking Dead', a comic that essentially takes the same starting point, but keeps going with the characters on an ongoing basis. Nobody ever asks the question I want to ask:

How hard would we fight to preserve what we have?

Romero treats it as a foregone conclusion. He thinks that the act of re-killing our loved ones, our friends and family, is just too instinctively revulsive and terrifying to achieve. In 'Dawn of the Dead', the few who insist that the walking dead have to be killed no matter what are greeted with scorn and anger, and the zombies overrun us as a result. We don't even see it, really; we're hiding from the war with the survivors, the people who've shut themselves away because fighting back isn't even an option.

I think fighting back would be an option. That's the story I'd want to tell; not what happens after the end of the world, but why the end of the world doesn't happen for another day. Someday, I'd love to tell it (and anyone who owns a publishing company and has money going spare, feel free to pay attention to that.) It'd be the 'War and Peace' of killer zombie movies.

Until then, though, zombies will continue to scare the crap out of me.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Some Potential Unmade Doctor Who Stories

The Death of Fear
Daleks of the Daleks
Terror of the Fear
City of Webs
The Planet of Hands
The Curse of Robots
Planet of the City
Web of the Daleks
Cybermen of the Daleks
The Mind of the Enemy
The Face of the Hands of the Mind of the Evil Death Robots
Daleks

Getting Some Perspective

In 1936, the Spanish military declared a coup against the (relatively) legitimate government of Spain, starting a civil war that would drag on for three long years. One of the principal points of contention was the role of the Catholic Church in the Spanish Republic; the military quickly gained support of Catholics, and territory they controlled was considered to be highly religious.

In the Republic-controlled territory, things were quite the opposite. The military's identification with the Catholic Church inflamed already-high tensions against the Catholic hierarchy and faith in the Republic; as a result, over the course of the war, over 7000 priests were murdered by angry citizens and militiamen. Bodies of Catholic priests and nuns were disinterred and displayed publicly. Churches were burned by the dozens, even hundreds. Angry militias broke into private homes, removed crucifixes and bibles, and burnt them. Thousands were killed for their faith by the time Fancisco Franco finally completed his overthrow of the Republican government in 1939. (Franco was guilty of his own set of wartime atrocities as well, including the bombing of civilian cities such as Guernica and the mistreatment and murder of hundreds of military prisoners.)

Think about this the next time you hear someone claim that liberals are trying to "outlaw religion" by asking that the Ten Commandments be removed from a public courthouse.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Stargate: SG-10

"Welcome to the Stargate Exploration Teams," General Hammond said to the group of new recruits. "Now, I'm sure you're eager to explore new dimensions, so if you could just all put on these uniforms and head on out?"

"Sir," asked one of the new recruits, "why are our new uniforms all red jumpsuits?"

"Good question, Corporal Whoever," Hammond barked out. "And one you can answer by putting it on and going through the Stargate. We'd send SG-1, but they're on an assignment right now to find out what happened to SG-3. They went through the Stargate to an uncharted dimension, and never reported back."

The recruits looked at each other. They shrugged. "It could be worse," one of them said. "We could be new students at Sunnydale Senior High."

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Jinx Is Complete

Vikings lost home opener. Now declaring a national day of mourning.

(The jinx in question would be seasonal; the Timberwolves and Twins, respectively the basketball and baseball teams for MN, both went into this season favored. Both underperformed spectacularly and missed/will miss the playoffs. The Vikings are going into this season heavily favored. I don't want to say, "Oh, God, no, please make it stop," but...)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Billion Dollar Idea

And I'm giving it away for free. Why? Because you'd need 500 million dollars to fund it, that's why.

It'd be a chain of stores that sold DVDs, like Suncoast; however, when you went in, there wouldn't be any physical DVDs. Instead, there'd be catalogs/displays/empty cases to browse through, filled with listings of movies and TV shows. When you knew what you wanted, you'd walk up to the counter, and tell the salesperson...

And they would connect to a (highly secure) server on a high-speed line, burn the DVD for you, print out a sleeve and slip it into a jewel case, and you would walk out with it.

Think about the huge advantages. No DVD would ever be out of print. Inventory management would be just a question of, "How many blank discs do we need to stock?" You could continue to reap profits on films that have been out for ages, because you wouldn't have to estimate demand. It's got all the bonuses of Print On Demand for the book industry, only it's quicker, easier, and it's what the public is already practically doing. Plus, you could allow people to select and add as many special features as they want ("that comes with the commentary track, would you like to add on a theatrical trailer and 'making of featurette'?") You'd have a lower overhead, and thus would be able to sell DVDs cheaper than any other chain in the industry.

Of course, there are issues. One, the "highly secure server". You'd need to make sure it was very, very, very highly secure. Securing the server and keeping it secure would, in fact, be your highest ongoing business expense. Two (and two is the reason I'm giving the idea away), you'd have to get at least one major studio to sell you the rights to its film library for use in this fashion (or lease, hire, rent, or whatever agreement you'd care to come to), and probably several if you wanted to have the kind of selection you'd need to have to compete with Suncoast and Best Buy. And the money you'd need to do that...well, I'd estimate nine figure sums, and probably a percentage of the profits as well.

But once you got the astronomical start-up costs out of the way, wow, would it be a money-maker.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Apartment Search

(Just a fragment, don't have time for more, but may follow up later)

Janice took the young man up the steps to the door. "This is one of our two-bedrooms," she said, smiling politely at him as she took out the keys. She unlocked the door, and opened it with a flourish as she gestured into the foyer. "As you can see, it opens onto an en suite kitchen, and up the stairs, you'll find the bedrooms. I can--"

"It's perfect," he said, as he stepped through the doorway. "Just what I'm looking for. Cozy, affordable, zombie-proof...does it have a laundry hookup?"

"Why, yes, it..." Her brain finally caught up with his sentence. "Zombie-proof?"

"Yes. It's the stairs, you see. Zombies have real trouble with steps. And the door is nice and sturdy too, but I don't really expect them to make it up here, not with the ground-floor tenants so appetizing and accessible."

"Oh." She wasn't really sure how to follow that up.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Loving the Muppets

...no, this has nothing to do with Skeeter. This is a strictly platonic love.

What I love about the old Muppet Show (1976-1980) is the way it preserves a little slice of history for us to remember. Not the history of its time, although there's plenty of zeitgeist stuck in there (Florence Henderson? Crystal Gayle?) But the way it actually snatches away little bits of history while they're still on the dim fringes of living memory.

Vaudeville is pretty much dead in the year 2005. I dont think this is a controversial statement. We no longer know what it's like to go to a theater and sit with a crowd, singing along to classic old songs, listening to comedians with well-worn, time-tested material, and watching song-and-dance routines from famous touring performers. We don't need to. TV, movies, video games, plays, the Internet, and CD music have pretty much obliterated the set of cultural conditions that brought about the old vaudeville circuit. But Henson realized, in some way, that the actual material of vaudeville needed to be immortalized.

Through the Muppets, he did. Fozzie Bear is an old Borscht Belt comedian in fur. The songs are classic vaudeville standards--I learned the words to 'Lydia, the Tattooed Lady' from Kermit the Frog. And as for song-and-dance routines from famous touring performers: Ethel Merman, Ben Vereen, Sandy Duncan, and Gene Kelly, and that's just to dip one's toes in. And that, in turn, is the even more beautiful thing about the Muppet Show; the list of guest stars was so eclectic as to become a spectrum of the human achievements in art. They didn't go for whoever was hot, fresh, and young; they went for people who were quirky, unique, and in their own way immortal. Gene Kelly delivers a truly awe-inspiring rendition of 'Singing in the Rain' one week, and Alice Cooper sings 'School's Out' the next. And all delivered to Jim Henson's immortal rules of comedy: If you can't figure out how to end a sketch, have one character eat another, blow something up, or start tossing animals around.

It's beautiful that these shows are being preserved on DVD, because they, in turn, are preserving our culture in the only way possible in the pre-VHS era; by repeating it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"Dangerous"

Still sick, so I probably won't do this justice, but...

Anyone noticed the way that homophobes try to couch their opposition to gay marriage in "public safety" terms? The basic assertion is thus: "I'm not homophobic; I'm just trying to protect the institution of marriage." This is a blatant dodge, and I urge everyone engaged in debate with people who are opposed to gay marriage to ask the obvious consequential question that the media doesn't seem to ask:

"So does that mean that you think gay people are dangerous?" Because that's the conclusion. If marriage must be "protected" from gay people, gay people must be dangerous to it. That leads to the next consequential question: "How?" Exactly what do they think that the consequences will be of opening marriage to gay people? How will it affect the institution? I guarantee you, probe at the question for long enough, and they'll be forced to admit that at heart, they're just not comfortable with gay people getting married "just like them". And that's not protection. That's homophobia.

And keep one thing in mind; the people who opposed integration of the public school system said the same thing. "I'm not racist; I just want to protect the children." And the same question had to be, and was, asked then: "Protected from what?"

Monday, September 05, 2005

Quick and Dirty

Feeling tired, feeling sick, no writing yesterday due to standing water in the basement and the resultant plumber-related timesink, and not much today either. (Yeah, I know, I promised not to talk about myself. To quote Guindon, "I don't want to wallow in self-pity, but can I maybe dip my toes in a little?")

So I'll just leave you with this thought: Nature worship would never have gotten started if the human race had come out of Minnesota because nature spends six months of the year inconveniencing us and the other six actively trying to kill us.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Six Most Dangerous Words

And no, they're not "The Bush Administration has a plan." (Sorry, Molly Ivins.)

The six most dangerous words in the English language are, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion." It's one of those stupid phrases people use to end debates, a way to conveniently duck any issues of whether or not they can coherently defend their opinion or articulately explain their problems with someone else's. It's a phrase only used by people who shouldn't use it, and it is, as a concept, devastating to political and cultural motion.

Think about it. I'm a creationist, whose last contact with science was senior year of high school. You're an evolutionary biologist who's spent every day of their lives keeping up with the latest developments in the field, and who knows backwards and forwards concepts it'd take me years to pick up on anything more than the most superficial level. Why should I be "entitled" to an opinion contrary to yours?

I'm a politician who's spent the last three years explaining how the leadership of a foreign nation possessed chemical weapons they could deploy against us, was attempting to obtain nuclear weapons, and was affiliated with a terrorist organization that had made strikes against our country. The evidence clearly and persuasively shows that I'm wrong, and possibly that I'm deliberately lying. Why should I be "entitled" to continue to hold those opinions?

I'm a religious activist with a belief that gay people are "dangerous" to human civilization, and must be dissuaded from their sexual inclination by any means necessary. My only evidence for this is an old book which I believe to be the inerrant word of the divine creator (and my only evidence for that is an old book which I believe to be the inerrant word of the divine creator, and my only evidence for that...) Why should I be "entitled" to hold to that belief?

Understand, I'm not talking about the right to free speech here. If you want to go around saying that black people are inferior to white people genetically, nobody can stop you, and nobody should be allowed to stop you. But that's not an opinion you should be allowed to hold unchallenged, and it's not an opinion you should be free to disseminate unopposed. Because the saying is 100% wrong. Nobody is entitled to their opinion. Everyone has to earn it by thinking about it, studying it, defending it, and considering it. And if you're not willing to do that, then no. You're not entitled to your opinion. But others are entitled to tell you to shut up.

Friday, September 02, 2005

For Something Positive's Kim

The ninja stood, alone, on the rooftop. His mind silently went through the kataguchi-o-nuri meditations designed to keep him in a constant state of catlike readiness, calm yet alert. He knew, though, that he would not need to maintain this pose for long. His foe would be here soon enough.

And indeed, within minutes, he felt rather than heard the approach of the ancient enemy of his clan--indeed, of all ninjas. The spider monkey had arrived.

The ninja drew his sword. The spider monkey unslung a deadly obachi-hikaru from his matted fur, and swung it in a slow, lazy circle. The ninja's eyes narrowed. Few knew how to properly utilize an obachi-hikaru, being hampered by the fact that such a thing was, in actuality, just a collection of random "Japanese-sounding" syllables. This spider monkey was truly a master of his craft.

The ninja stared at the spider monkey. The spider monkey stared at the ninja. The music swelled dramatically.

"This time," the ninja shouted as the two charged each other, "we fight until we are SLEEPY!"

(Inspiration provided by: http://www.somethingpositive.net/sp10082002.shtml)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

D&D Memories

I was thinking about Dungeons and Dragons today, and it turned my mind to the old D&D cartoon from the early 80's. At first, on thinking about it, I decided that the writers knew almost nothing about the game. A few generic fantasy monsters, a few terms from the DMG, and hey presto, it's licenced goodness! But then I started giving it more serious thought...

...and I realized, the D&D cartoon is an almost perfect simulation of the game. Think about it--every gamer has joined a group like this. The DM is a weird, ugly little guy with no social skills; when you show up, he won't let you make your own characters and instead "assigns" them to you to make a more "balanced party". There are a bunch of homebrew classes he made up himself that are either rip-offs of existing classes, but without any of the balances ("You're not a Paladin--you're a Cavalier. It's like a Paladin, but you don't have any alignment restrictions so you can be a whiny little bitch.")...or are absolutely useless. ("You're an Acrobat. It, um...gives you bonuses to Tumbling.")

Then he starts handing out the magic items. Some people get awesome ones ("it's a bow that shoots lightning arrows!"), others get...well, it's a stick. And it gets longer. Yeah, sure, it's a total coincidence he gave that to a female character. And then, of course, the guy who he decided to take an instant, inexplicable dislike to gets the cursed magical item. (Try to tell me with a straight face that wizard's hat isn't cursed. Just try it.)

And then, you start playing. And you've got an objective, like "Let's try to get home," but it becomes really blatantly obvious early on that the adventure is running on rails, to the point that the DM writes himself in as a character to steer you along. You realize you're never going to get anywhere with the story arc, and after a while, you just lose interest.

...and yet, you still have fond memories of it years later. Yep, sounds like a D&D campaign to me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ask An Expert

Today, on "Ask An Expert", we have with us noted diplomat and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

AAE: Mr. Kissinger, please tell us more about the latest research on genetic treatments for cancer.

K: I'm afraid I don't know. My area of expertise is in foreign policy.

AAE: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Henry Kissinger.

Next time, "Ask An Expert" talks to legendary Hollywood director Steven Spielberg about French cuisine!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

They Endure

Seeing falcons perched on the streetlamps forces you to think a little differently about ecology.

People talk about how fragile ecosystems are--and they are, anyone who doubts that should talk for a few moments to the people who work to conserve them--but what we sometimes forget is how durable life is. Survival is a question of adaptation, and living beings have been doing that since we ditched asexual reproduction. Animals are good at hiding, and hunting, and scavenging, and if there's a behavior that helps them to survive, they'll learn it.

Living in Minneapolis sometimes helps me remember that. It seems "urban"; we've got malls, skyscrapers, highways, cars, and people everywhere. But when you drive along those highways and see falcons perched on the streetlamps, ready to swoop down into the grass along the side of the roads and snatch up some small animal you can't even see when you're driving 55, you wonder just how much they even notice us, let alone fear us. When you're driving home, and foxes dart across the road and into the underbrush, or you pass a small herd of deer on your neighbor's lawn, you wonder just how easy it is for even a large animal to hide in "domesticated" suburbia. And when a motion-sensitive camera captures a shot of a full-grown mountain lion in the middle of the night, staring into the night-lens as though it knows full well it's being watched...

You feel a giddy thrill of terror and amazement. We are not the most powerful animals, not even here in our homes. We're not always forcing nature away; sometimes, we're just finding new ways to bring it to us.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Not All Crazy People Are Writers, But...

There's a classic quote from Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman', in which Calliope the muse discovers she's been sold to a new owner by her captor, Erasmus Fry. She says, "But you said that someday, you would grant me my freedom. You promised!" Fry responds, "Writers are liars. Surely you must have discovered that by now?" (Inexact memory might cause me to paraphrase that. A general trait of my writing is I'm a lazy bugger who can't be arsed to look things up, and my memory generally covers for it.)

And yes. Writers are liars. But beyond that, they're clinically insane. How many times have you heard of a writer talking about a story that "wrote itself"? Or a writer who talked about how he planned to do something with a character, but the character "told him not to", or "went somewhere different than I expected." When you read the words of a writer, you are reading the thoughts of someone so utterly delusional that they've created entire, internally consistent personalities inside their head and are channelling them out onto the page. Not just sci-fi, horror, and fantasy writers (generally considered to be the "crazy people" of the profession), but even the most mainstream of mainstream writers are essentially borderline schizophrenic.

So be glad writers can make a living at this shit. Because otherwise you'd be paying to institutionalize us.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

It's Not A Theory!

I think it's time for a unified front in the face of Intelligent Design.

Yes, I know, all sensible people are united in the face of Intelligent Design, because as right-wing looniness goes, it's right up there with the dangers of fluoride in the drinking water and the way video games are corrupting the nation's youth. But I mean, a specific united front. Currently, a big danger for liberals is that right-wing insanity is so all-encompassing, so thoroughly objectionable, and so vastly insane that it's hard to focus on a specific thing to fight them on. (Danger: This may become a Theme of later entries.)

But with Intelligent Design Theory, there is a single point at which I think we all should focus our efforts. Every time the phrase "Intelligent Design Theory" comes up anywhere, I think advocates of...oh, let's just call it "sanity and common sense" should just say, "That's not a theory. It's a hypothesis."

Because it's not. A hypothesis is an idea that a scientist has for a possible understanding of how something works. He then tests that idea in an experiment. Hypotheses that have been validated by tests become theories, which are then retested to refine the theory. Eventually, a theory that becomes fundamental and proven enough is termed a law.

So for ID to be a theory, that must mean there's some sort of test out there that has yielded results which suggest that there is an intelligent force that designed all life. Since ID is just creationism with a fake moustache, no such test exists, but that hasn't stopped people from calling it a theory. I don't think people should let that pass unchallenged. Force them to call it what it is--a wild guess, not a piece of science. Because the essence of science is forcing you to prove your assumptions to be true or else abandon them. The moment you say, "A higher power must have done it," you might as well give up and go back to the caves.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Under the Hood: Time Chasers

This is a thought I've had from time to time: Why does Hollywood always remake good movies? Surely, the movies that most deserve to be remade are the ones that were bad, since they got it wrong on the first try. This is the first in an intermittent series of attempts to look at bad movies and see how they could be made good.

Time Chasers, for those of you unfamiliar with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic, is a film about a science teacher named Nick who invents a time machine, installs it in a light plane, and then sells it to an evil company called GenCorp. GenCorp makes its own version of the time machine (in another light plane), and before long, Nick's discovered that the beautiful utopian future of recycling and fuel efficiency he once visited has been replaced by a back alley somewhere in Vermont that's meant to represent a post-apocalyptic dystopia. So he has to go back in time and convince himself to keep the secrets of time travel secret, lest evil GenCorp CEO JK Robertson use it for...well, evil.

The first thing the movie needs, and the most obvious, is a budget upgrade. Because, wow, is it cheap. The time machines are, as previously noted, light planes. The evil GenCorp is represented in the exterior shots as what looks to be a VoTech college and by the interior shots as what looks to be a local library. Electric drills are pressed into service as guns and nobody seems to notice. The actors are...well, they're not the worst. They're reasonable. But I'm sure that even they would agree that replacing them with Tom Cruise and Maura Tierney would be fair.

The second thing it needs is a logic overhaul for the main plot device--namely, that Nick has managed to develop a home time machine, but that he needs a little spare cash and has to sell the rights to EvilCorp. There's a scene that practically rubs your face in the number of ways you could make insane amounts of money with a functioning time machine, and it occurs before Nick sells the rights. I'd change GenCorp from an evil corporation to a humanitarian foundation, and instead of Nick wanting to make a little spare cash, he thinks that the awesome responsibility of time travel needs to be considered by more than just a high school science teacher. JK could go from being a slick, oily, evil CEO to a Palpatine-style manipulator who tells Nick everything he wants to hear until he can get the time machine for his own personal gain.

The budget upgrade also allows us to highlight something they didn't have the budget to really show in the initial version: It's not that GenCorp does something awful that wrecks the future, it's that they commercialize time travel in ways that cause catastrophic problems. You could get into this a lot more in the high-budget version--our version of JK has sold various time travel applications to major corporations, allowing them to steal their own future patents, dump waste in the far future, and other things that are short-sighted but profitable. (He's been able to do all this in the span of a few days because for him, it's been a year--he's just been taking the time machine and traveling back over the same span of days over and over again in order to get all this done before Nick even knows about it.) JK's being careful not to use the time machine to change history, he's not that insane, but he's perfectly willing to sabotage the future. After all, it's years away. Plenty of time to fix it.

But the future is fighting back. The movie, due to its low budget, could only function with two light planes, but our hypothetical high-budget version could see people from the future with pirated time technology willing to wreck the "no changing history" rule. Nick is the target, not JK, because JK is careful to keep a scapegoat handy. In order to find out why crazy people from the future are targeting him, he zips out there, and sees the devastation first-hand.

Then, things pretty much head along the same track as the film, but higher budget. After a confrontation and narrow escape from JK, Nick decides that the only way to stop things now is to visit his own past self and make sure he doesn't give the technology to JK. JK, in turn, decides that it's time to take Nick out of the picture. The two of them have a "time chase" (you'd probably want to establish, unlike the actual film, that one time craft can track another), which ends with Nick crashing his light plane and JK capturing Nick with the intent of taking him back to the Revolutionary War and killing him 200 years before anyone might find the death suspicious. (He's at this point desperate enough to slightly bend the "no changing history" rule.) The actual sequence in the film is a little weak, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a higher budget and better staging.

However, past Nick finds the ruins of present Nick's light plane, and deduces that his future self had something to tell him. He tracks JK's craft, gets a group of Minutemen to help turn the tide against JK, saves his own future self, and agrees to destroy all info on the time machine. JK tries to escape and keep the technology, but present Nick manages to get on board his time craft and crash it in Revolutionary days, killing both of them. Past Nick, though, refuses to turn over the time tech, and inadvertently saves both his own life and JK's, while preserving the utopia he's seen come to pass.

It'd certainly be better...

Friday, August 26, 2005

An Interview With Dave Good

Fraggmented is proud to present an interview with Dave Good, the so-called "Fifth Horseman" of the Apocalypse.

F: Dave, good to talk with you.

D: Thanks, man. It's good to be here.

F: So let's start with the basics. Everyone's heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, they who will ride at the End of Days bringing with them diverse evils to mankind. You were, in fact, one of these Horsemen?

D: Yeah. Of course, that was back before they struck it big. We used to play small villages, just Death, Pestilence, Famine, and myself. And I tell you, we really killed. I mean, we knocked 'em dead.

F: This would be millennia ago, during the pre-civilized days of the human race?

D: Yeah. I know, I'm an old fogey, right? Anyhow, we were starting to get into the big time, as humanity moved from small agrarian settlements to towns and cities, and the group came to me, and said, "We have to talk." That's when I knew it was over.

F: You were being replaced.

D: They'd been talking, and they felt--and I still can't say I blame them--that they needed someone who was another anthropomorphic personification, rather than a bloke who was reasonably good on horseback. I still remember Death saying, "It just doesn't sound right. Pestilence, Famine, Death, and Dave?"

F: They have a point.

D: Oh, I know. And I don't blame them for it, although War was a bit of a smug git when he took the job. Really pissed me off at the time, but I suppose that was kind of the point, wasn't it? Anyhow, not long after that St. John wrote the Book of Revelations, and they've never looked back. I wish them all the best.

F: So you have no regrets?

D: No, no. I've kept busy, had my own little groups now and again; I played with the Six Deadly Sins, while Lust was off on her solo tour, I did a tour with See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. I've had a good life. And to be honest, fame's not all it's cracked up to be. You've heard about Pestilence, right?

F: Heard what, exactly?

D: Drug problem. I thought everyone knew, it's been around for almost a century now. Started with penicillin, then got onto the hard stuff--now it's antibiotics and antiseptics everywhere you look. Still, I think he's starting to get over it. And Death, War, and Famine have never been hard up for gigs. Hey--War hasn't even had to leave home. He just stays at the Tigris and Euphrates, and new wars come to him like clockwork.

F: So what are your plans for the future?

D: Not sure. I should probably die, at some point. I know Death's been reluctant to bring it up, since we are old friends, but I'm definitely past my prime. But I'll take life as it comes, and so will he.

F: Thank you very much for your time.

D: No problem.

(War, Famine, Pestilence and Death refused to comment on this interview.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Depressing Geek Thought of the Day

So, as we're all well aware, 'The Muppet Show' introduced us to Scooter, the gofer. The equally seminal cartoon, 'Muppet Babies', was a prequel to 'The Muppet Show', and introduced Scooter's (presumably) sister, Skeeter.

Whatever happened to Skeeter?

Because she was around when they were kids, but she wasn't there for the glory days in the Muppet Theatre. She wasn't around when Kermit got his own TV network for 'The Jim Henson Hour', nor for 'Muppets Tonight'. She wasn't seen in any of the movies. Somewhere between their young, idealistic days as carefree youths, and their time at the top, Skeeter just...vanished.

There are any number of suspects. Gonzo...what can you say, the man is known as being erratic, unstable, and having bizarre sexual tastes. Fozzie--sure, he's cute, cuddly, nice, and funny. But he's a bear. Did nature simply rear its ugly head sometime during Muppet Puberty? ("Muppet Teens" would be an entire depressing geek sitcom in and of itself.) Miss Piggy is known for having a violent temper and not caring for other women--did she decide Skeeter was growing too close to Kermit? And, of course, no list of suspects could possibly be complete without including known psycopath Animal.

But, of course, Skeeter might have nobody to blame but herself. She might have drifted in with the wrong crowd. While Scooter was hanging out at the Muppet Theatre, Skeeter might have been hanging out in the back alley giving blowjobs to furries in exchange for a hit of cheap cotton stuffing and some yarn. From there, the inevitable slide to freebasing googly eyeballs and overdosing on foam rubber led her to a stay in Hazelton, but her attempt at carving out her own identity as an entertainer went nowhere. Skeeter was probably found dead in a hotel room at age 24, and we didn't even notice the obit because who pays attention to junkie puppets these days?

Skeeter, the forgotten Muppet. There but for the Grace of Jim go we all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Testing...

Hi. My name is John Seavey, and I'm a freelance writer. I've done some RPG work for a few companies, I write things, but I've been very resistant to doing a blog because I have a fundamental belief that I'm a very boring person. This belief hasn't changed. My life is not interesting. I find blogging, as a phenomenon, weird. I can't understand how anyone thinks their own life is interesting enough to expect loads of other people to want to read about it all the time--and how they don't worry that people they're talking about in uncomplimentary terms might read it and get irate.

But I need to be writing. I need to get into the habit of writing again. I've not been into that habit for a few months now (for boring personal reasons), and I need to get back into it. So this is a blog where I'm not going to talk about myself, I'm not going to talk about other people, I'm just going to try to write a little something every day that I hope will be interesting, just to get back into the swing of writing. Just a little fragment. This blog is "fraggmented". (Because "fragged" was taken.)