Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Naughty Bits Removed

The manga fan community has been wrestling recently with a spate of censoring, in which manga publishers are editing out fanservice in various ways, from digitally drawing a bra over a girl's briefly exposed breasts to digitally zooming in on an inoffensive bit of a panel during a sex scene.

It started with DC CMX's edits to Tenjho Tenge (the petition includes samples of the edits). In Tenjho's case, though, none of these edits compromised the story at all. One prime example is a scene in which extra clothes are added to a girl who's clearly having sex. The added clothes don't hide the fact that she's having sex; they just hide some of the nudity. T himself gets in some good discussion of this on his Meanwhile podcast.

Now, Anime on DVD reports that Viz has added stars on top of the bare nipples shown in I"s and that another character was completely removed from a sex scene in Descendants of Darkness.

I sympathize with DC CMX's censoring, as it removes potentially objectionable content and doesn't really impact the story. But something about Viz's edits bothers me.

Please, Mr. Anthony Head. We will give you money. Please.

And that's what I have to say about the de-Ecclestoning.

The person responsible for the dissemination of "Rose" has been sacked. I still hold out that there's some sort of plausible deniability thing going on here -- the buzz the show got from that leak was amazing. Besides, for crying out loud, inconsistent much?

Who's Next

Fresh off of the stunning success of the first episode of the new Doctor Who series, the BBC announced today that they were commissioning a second series of Doctor Who for next year.

Fresh off of the news of the second series of Doctor Who, actor Christopher Eccleston announced tomorrow that he was quitting Doctor Who, rather than continue the role in the second series.

Billie Piper is already slated to continue her role as Rose; at the moment, the leading candidate for the next Doctor is actor David Tennant, currently slated as Barty Crouch, Jr. in the upcoming Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie. Among the few other names being put forward are Bill Nighy, who plays Slartibartfast in the new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, and Richard E. Grant, who has already played the Doctor in both an animated BBC special, and in the Comic Relief special Doctor Who and the Curse of the Fatal Death.

Best. Fic. Ever.

'The ponies didn't find Aziraphale's accent at all strange as they, like many other brightly coloured species, simply assumed that anyone who spoke with an inexplicable English accent was "the smart one."'

Haven't Seen Nemo, Either

Drawn -- you do all read Drawn, right? -- link to a nifty and quietly powerful ReadyMade interview with Brad Bird. Oh yeah.

I'm so ashamed, actually; I haven't picked up The Incredibles up yet, which is insane. Simultaneous release and everything. Nuts.

Aw, man, T! Maaaan!

Too Much Intelligent Life Here!

Seriously, this blog is too well-covered with too many intelligent contributors for distracted little me to add any more.

I hereby announce my retirement from this particular stage. Those who want to hear from me can do so here.

I'll keep sponsoring the blog and looking in every so often, because it's worth it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Call It "Monday Plus!!!"

Or "Monday++", at any rate; but, since I don't think I'm going to be Tall Tale Capable later, I might as well at least do the whole Media Madness thing now.

Let's start by revisiting an earlier topic: The first episode of the new Doctor Who series, "Rose," was finally broadcast somewhere other than the internets this weekend. It appears to have done quite nicely for BBC1 in the ratings department, exceeding expectations and trouncing rival ITV1.

It might be my imagination, but I think that they did at least tweak the worst bits of the incidental music that both I and Warren Ellis hated so much; and they also used a brand new version of the main title music (the leaked screener copy re-used one of the old versions of the theme music for the opening credits). Their other major innovation with the sound track was to accidentally overdub parts of the broadcast with sound from another new BBC series, Strictly Dance Fever — with the result that, during the tense moments of her initial confrontation with peril, Billie Piper's character, Rose, appeared to be stumbling around a darkened basement, menaced by the unseen hordes of Graham Norton and his studio audience.

"At last!" thought viewers throughout the United Kingdom. "An adversary truly worthy of the Doctor!"

Fans of Masamune Shirow have had a pretty good run the last couple of years. Sure, there's still no sign of the long-awaited fifth volume of Appleseed; on the other hand, there was a recent (and, by all accounts, superior) remake of the OAV which had been ripp'd untimely from the womb of volume two once upon a time. At last word, production was already underway on a sequel, with a third movie planned as well.

And as for Ghost in the Shell, well, it's been difficult to swing a Fuchikoma without hitting two or three different sequel projects: There's the Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface manga, which finally made it to America; there's the unrelated Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence movie; and there's the even more unrelateder Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series, with two seasons under its belt in Japan already.

Needless to say, that's still not enough! Our boundless hunger for Masamune Shirow and all of his works will not be satisfied so easily! We demand more!

Just in time, then, comes word of Tank S.W.A.T. 01, a brand new version of Dominion: Tank Police (or, to be more precise, Dominion: Conflict 1 (No More Noise), its sequel). Unlike the orginal two OAV versions of Dominion, this new one appears to be cell-shaded CG animation. The animator is Romanov Higa, who first made his mark with Urda, a short science fictional World War II spy thriller set in Germany, which he designed, wrote, modelled, and directed himself, posting new chapters on the internet as he finished them. The curious can download a trailer for Tank S.W.A.T. 01 in a variety of sizes and formats, from 2.9MB WMV to 17MB MPEG.

Well, there's only so much madness we can stand in our media, so I'm going to wrap things up now with a couple quick bits of additional information.

Let's start with some DVD news: First, today sees the release, at long last, of The Lone Gunmen: The Complete Series on DVD. But even bigger than that (to me, at least) is the impending release, in America, of the first two seasons of Danger Mouse on DVD. Ah, bliss.

And finally, let's all wish a happy birthday today to Lucy Lawless, Marina Sirtis, and Christopher Lambert.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hugo Award Shortlist 2005

Interaction, the 63rd Worldcon (to be held in Glasgow, August 4–8 of this year) has just released the shortlist for the 2005 Hugo Awards.

From a quick once-over, it looks like Charlie Stross has reasons to be cheerful; like the same writers who fight it out for "Best Short Story" every year are doing so again; and like the folks at Interaction must have some dark, sinister agenda towards the "Best Fan Artist" and "Best Dave Langford" awards, because they bolded the titles of all of the other awards but those.

Oh, and shock horrors, no Enterprise episodes made the "Best Dramatic Presentation" shortlist.

Yeah, I know. Cheap shot.

Hey, one day we won't have Enterprise to kick around any more; so we'd better kick now, right?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Oh, No. It Will Be Just Like Now, Where We Do Not Have A Hobbit Movie.

Peter Jackson will be doing The Hobbit, but not for another three or four years. I think that we will be able to cope with him not rushing onto the project like a person who is rushing onto a project.

Between one thing and another, I'm sure we'll be fine. Adaptations have been the new black for long enough at this point that something else is probably the new black. That said, that something else is probably, itself, an adaptation, such as Joss Whedon's Wonder Woman. Then again, central London is rife with bus posters claiming that lime is the new black, so I wouldn't really be the person to talk to here.

I should apologize for relative inactivity over the past little while -- between one thing and another, there's been some distraction. Will you ever be able to forgive me? I love you too. Let's go for margaritas.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday Fan Fiction

How's that for a scary title?

Don't worry, though: I'm leaving the Jesus Slash to Mel Gibson for now (although the absolute best live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar that I've ever seen did feature a pair of lesbians as Jesus and Mary Magdalene). No, I'm going to try to ease my way back into the swing of things with some fan fiction that won't scar you for life. You know, good Friday Fan Fiction.

We'll start with a pair of Sandman stories with impeccable credentials: They were written, more or less, at the behest of Neil Gaiman, for the Sandman: Book of Dreams prose anthology back in 1994. There were some wonderful stories in that book, and some wonderful authors: Even if the actual story didn't quite live up to the premise, for instance, George Alec Effinger's cross-polination of Little Nemo in Slumberland with the Sandman mythos may well have been one of the greatest ideas in SF since Philip José Farmer had William S. Burroughs, rather than Edgar Rice Burroughs, write Tarzan in "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod."

On the other hand, many of the authors were far from happy with the treatment they got from DC during the production of the book. Several of the prospective authors withdrew their stories, filed the serial numbers off, and reused them; other were unwilling or unable to do so. Two of the authors in question have since posted their stories for free on the web: As a result, Sandman afficianados can now read both Karawynn Long's Delerium story, "The Voice of Her Eyes," and Michael Berry's "Merv Pumpinhead's Big Night Out."

In a radically different vein of Sandman fan fiction, the Oxford University Douglas Adams Society has, for some time, combined two passionate pursuits: LARPing, and pub crawls.

One of their interactive dramas is a Sandman pub crawl, involving a series of meetings at pubs around Oxford that take place across the centuries, from 1294 to 1594 to 1794 to 1994. Hob Gadling is there, of course; as are Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, and Delerium. John Constantine and Johanna Constantine are there, as are Mad Hettie, Coleridge, Roger Bacon, and Cain and Abel. Lucien and Lucifer, too, for good measure.

With the right group of people, this story of the curious and occasionally dangerous things which transpire when Morpheus discovers an artificial intelligence wandering in his realm could be quite an astonishing experience; and who knows — it may even yield the long-awaited answer to Phillip K. Dick's most famous question.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

"Bonk! Bonk! On the Head!"

If you were to do a comprehensive survey of some sort, I suspect that you would find that this site gets a lot more of its stories from Slashdot or Warren Ellis than from, say, Daily Kos or Talking Points Memo.

Shocking! Well, what better occasion than William Shatner's 74th birthday* to begin to correct that imbalance?

And so, it is from Taegan Goddard's invaluable Political Wire that we learn of a Baltimore Sun profile of Diana Schaub, a Loyola College Professor of Political Science and member of George W. Bush's President's Council on Bioethics, an august advisory body charged with guiding the President's views on weighty matters of national policy which don't involve lowering the Capital Gains Tax rate or invading anyone (yet).

The Council is chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, a Harvard and Chicago-educated medical doctor and molecular biologist who is a professor in the rather ominously-named Committee on Social Thought and the College at the University of Chicago. Among his other qualifications, Dr. Kass famously wrote, in The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature,
"Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone - a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive."
...which leads one to be thankful that he was not put in charge of the FDA or Department of Agriculture, at least.

For what it's worth, in the very next paragraph after that curious statement, he tackled other deep stains on the human character, saying "Not just the uneducated rustic but children of the cultural elite are now regularly seen yawning openly in public," before continuing on to target "...sneezing, belching, and hiccuping and even the involuntary bodily display of embarrassment itself, blushing."

Nevertheless, Dr. Kass is, indisputably, a doctor and a molecular biologist. By contrast, one may well wonder about the qualifications of Professor Schaub, who is neither an Ethicist nor a Biologist, to sit on the President's Council on Bioethics. Well, thanks to the Sun, we can now rest easy, secure in the knowledge that she has turned for guidance to two impeccable sources of wisdom: Abraham Lincoln and Star Trek.

She did keep her two influences separate, however, so we don't have to worry that she was talking about "The Savage Curtain," at least. Because basing national policy on the results of a battle between Good and Evil staged by a powerful lava creature would just be silly, wouldn't it? Plus, it's a third season episode — one of the very last, in fact — and we all know what that means.

No, we can all rest easy on that account — her touchstone for moral guidance on issues of scientific research is "Miri" — a first season episode about a planet full of children left orphaned for centuries by the results of a disastrous medical experiment designed to prolong the normal lifespan. The experiment killed all of the adults on the planet while simultaneously slowing down the aging process for all of the children to a crawl.

Now, before you go making fun of the poor woman for basing her views on scientific ethics around (a) a politician who wrote nothing whatsoever on the subject and died before antibiotics, and (b) a Star Trek episode which features a centuries-old prepubescent girl putting moves on Captain Kirk; consider this: Not only was this episode the screen debut of Phil Morris, who went on to play "Jackie Chiles" on Sienfeld; but it also featured the screen debuts of Dawn Roddenberry, Lisabeth Shatner, and Melanie Shatner, making it, like, the Star Trekiest episode of Star Trek ever.

Finally, if Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith had leaned on Star Trek for inspiration, would we have ever dared to interfere in the affairs of a pre-warp civilization?

*Most of this was written on Shatner's birthday, at least. Anyway, he's Canadian, and their days are, like, equal to 18 of our hours, right?

Monday, March 21, 2005

SF&F webcomic news

The start of Gossamer Commons, the promised comic written by Eric "Websnark" Burns and drawn by Greg Holkan. (The "About" description and the teaser pic in Websnark suggest fantasy elements, so I'm putting it in here.)

The return of Carried By The Wind, Mariner's saga of ancient tragedy, 20th Century possession and future disaster.

And the running of Tailsteak's 24-hour comic Sight, which looks like being a dark tale of card-magic.

EXTRA: Graveyard Greg's The Guardians is coming back April 4th with new artist Cara Judd.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Winging it

Cartoonist Rob "Tragic Lad" Clark foresees a new doom upon Middle-Earth.

And Star Wars IV is remastered in Java ASCII animation.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now?

I've spent the last week or so more dead than alive, which is why you've all been mercifully spared my typical barrage of posts showcasing Japanese mud-wrestling game shows or electrogoth vagina dentata festivals from Berlin. You may even escape this week without a "Fan Fiction Friday" entry, just as you avoided a Tall Tale Tuesday and a Media Madness Monday; and my obituary for Andre Norton currently consists of: "Andre Norton (1912–2005)."1

The question remains, however: Is it the fact that I've been half-dead, or is it just my natural affinity for these things that has lead me to share with you this latest evidence of our impending doom2?

1 Well, it's concise and to the point, at least, isn't it?
2 Chain of custody: HereEngadgetBlogheadNushworld

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I Just Want Arcee, Dammit

The Transformers live-action film continues its development apace. God help us all.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Tim Tylor's Sunday Miscellany

Signs that Sega just might be catching the Warner makeover virus: Shadow the Guntoting Morally Ambiguous Hedgehog.

David C. Simpson takes a new angle on Rapture Theology.

And over here in the little UK, the world's biggest scale model of the Solar System.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Bad Prints

Perhaps to make up for my mention of Professor Snape/Witch-King of Angmar slashfic, I figured I'd pass along something I found on Greg Stephens' Zwol: The official covers of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price are now available for the viewing pleasure of the curious and eager.

Like him, I find the British cover to be off, somehow, and the American cover to be vastly superior. The only problem I have with the American cover is that the scene it portrays could almost be from any of the books; the British cover at least looks like something that might be specific to this novel. Still, the British cover just really doesn't work for me.

In related* news, Rowling has revealed to the winner of a charity auction that the 723rd word of the novel is "scrofulous." Film at 11.

* Related in that, like actual news items, it has letters and spaces in it.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Gundam Wang

Aw, what the heck — I was going to save this for later, but there may never be a better time to share it than now (before I have to, you know, leave town in a hurry): via Code Ronin comes Tokyo Damage Report's collection of Japanese Sex Toy Robots*.

With more pictures. And videos.

* The great thing about Japan is that it is impossible to tell in advance whether that phrase means "robots used as sex toys," or "robots made out of sex toys." Knowing Japan, it's even possible that it could refer to sex toys designed for robots.

Friday Night Frights

I have been very sick this week. Fortunately — for me, at least — Fan Fiction Friday represents an excellent opportunity for me to Share the Pain by making you sick, too.

You have been warned.

Let's start off on a relatively inoffensive note, with Something Positive (now there's a sentence I've always wanted to write). R. K. Milholland already did a couple of crossovers of his own, with Aeire's now-completed Queen of Wands (currently in re-runs). However, as far as I can tell, even he never wrote a Something Positive/Queen of Wands/InuYasha crossover.

Of course, that's nowhere near as odd as the thought of slashfic involving Professor Snape and the Witch-King of Angmar, is it?

Still, if we want to truly peg the outrage meter all the way over in the red, we're going to have to go try a little harder. We're going to have to explore the bizarre world of Elfen Lied fan fiction comics.

Elfen Lied is a manga and anime series about the hunting, mutilation, and torture of humanoid magical creatures called dicloniuses (as the name implies, they have two horns on their heads). Obviously, as you no doubt expect, it's a wacky romantic comedy. And it's that same schizoid intensity that drives Nana's Everyday Life right over the Cliffs of Insanity in Thelma and Louise's car, vommiting little mindbombs of gleeful despair in every direction on the way down. It is the comic that caused the normally imperturbable Warren Ellis to exclaim, in linking to it,
I don't know what this is or who did it, but I think I have to quit writing comics now.

I cannot defeat the horrible, life-exterminating glory of this.

The truly, genuinely, impressive thing is that Nana's Everyday Life got more disturbing after that.

Ah, but there's worse yet to come, don't worry.

I have said, many times in the past, that Japanese Horror is scary, but it's nowhere near as terrifying as Japanese Porn is. And when it comes to scaryporn, ecchi manga is even more outré than the live-action stuff; and fan-made dōjinshi makes even the professional stuff look tame. So, with that in mind, I bring you what is surely the ne plus ultra of all things fanboyish and ecchi (WARNING: If you think this link is work-safe, I do not want to know where you work):

...Giant Robot Vagina Laser Cannons!

You had to look, didn't you? Well, don't worry: There's more. Lots more. With technical drawings (of a sort). There's even a pensive character study.

All I can say is, can you imagine how screwed up Shinji Ikari would have been if he'd been forced to pilot one of these?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Licensing Nerd Fun!

Via Anime News Network: Mecha HQ interviews Jerry Chu of Bandai Entertainment. The shiny thing for a lot of people here is the Gundam Seed Destiny license announcement (oh, god, please, US Haro toys!), but stick with it for more than that -- it's a fascinating look at the R1 anime industry from Bandai's perspective.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

It Could Happen.

"Epic." Sorta 1984 for the Google generation. Only "sorta," because it doesn't really go too far in exploring how this new iteration of Big Brother could really do damage to the world. It's more a premise than a story, in that regard. But it is frighteningly plausible.

Post Post Midnight Monday Media Post Postscript

Because you can never have too much Enterprise, a couple of quick hits:

First, there's the widely passed around Toronto Star article about the fan campaign to save Enterprise, and how it compares with other fan campaigns in the past, and, to a certain extent, whether there is any point in saving Enterprise.

The article discusses what fans ask of a show, what they demand of a show, and what they give a show in return. And the Star talks to former Toronto resident Jolene Blalock, who has never hesitated about sharing her opinions of the show (Money quote: "I mean, we started out with 13 million viewers on the pilot, and we somehow managed to drive 11 million of them away."). On the other hand, she has been just as vocally enthusiastic about the quality of the scripts and the direction the show has taken this year under Manny Coto.

Ah, but then there's the last stumbling block: When the news broke that Enterprise had been cancelled, I noticed, buried in the coverage, that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were going to write the finale. Uh-oh, I thought, along with everyone else who noticed that little infonugget. And sure enough, the Toronto Star article seems to validate my darkest fears in that regard:
There is an awkward silence when the subject of the final episode is broached. "I don't know where to begin with that one," [Blalock] finally stammers. "The final episode is ... appalling."

Well! Mark that one on your calendars!

I do have a second Enterprise story to report, however, and it's one that's gotten a lot less play than the Toronto Star article: The Boston Herald is reporting that Spike TV, of all networks, might possibly be interested in picking up Enterprise.

Spike does, of course, already have the cable syndication rights to pretty much every other Star Trek series out there (including, I think, Enterprise itself), so there is a certain possible synergy at work. On the other hand, I think it's safe to say that if Spike TV produced new episodes of Enterprise, there would be a lot fewer multi-story arcs about the seminal events in the birth of the Federation, and a lot more scenes of female crewmembers getting slathered with decon gel.

[I eagerly await the Stripperella crossover episode]

Monday, March 07, 2005

Post Midnight Monday Media Madness Post

Well, Wednesday's also gone and spoiled my big Monday Media Madness news, leaving me with no other option than to write you a review, albeit a fairly spoiler-free one.

Using special remote viewing skills I learned from my dear friend Nino Savatte at the Institute of Electrical Shocks and Psychic Surprises, I watched the episode in question.

And? It was pretty damned good, actually.

There were a few wobbly bits, and the incidental score was somewhat cheesy and intrusive during the action scenes, but on the whole, it left a favorable impression. As in the Paul McGann movie, or the first John Pertwee episode, the Doctor arrives on the scene without a companion. Another similarity to Pertwee's "Spearhead from Space" is that we don't get to see the Doctor's transformation sequence; yet clearly, from his behaviour, he has just regenerated. We get no explanation of why this has happened; indeed, were it not for the typical post facto preening about his new appearance, there would be no hint at all that he had just regenerated. Perhaps it happened a few days earlier, and he was still getting used to his face.

At the very least, we can assume that it was a fairly well-ordered regeneration: Unlike, say, poor Colin Baker's Doctor, he seems in full command of his wits from the very first.

That very first, for what it's worth, doesn't come until several minutes in to the episode. Instead, we are introduced to Our Heroine, Rose, at the start of her morning. The first five minutes or so take her through a typical day as a shop girl at a second-tier department store in London, and are much more like Bridget Jones's Diary or a Mike Newell film than they are like any previous episode of Doctor Who ever.

Pretty soon, though, the plot kicks in to gear, and the tone gets a bit more Guy Ritchie. There's some lovely action sequences (modulo your appreciation for BBC special effects, of course), a nice shift of gears back into domestic comedy, and then the horrid action music starts up again, and we're off.

On the whole, the pace is reasonably brisk; indeed, seasoned Doctor Who fans may find themselves curiously upset at the fact that the whole thing wraps up so quickly. Mind you, all of the setup that needs to be done gets done: We are introduced to the new Doctor, the new Companion, and the same old TARDIS (nice touch: Rose does not know what a Police Call Box is). A couple of juicy hints about larger matters are slipped in to the proceedings, and a good time is had by many (though not all) of the participants.

On the other hand, the amount of plot involved was just about the bare minimum required to achieve those goals. The result is an episode which seems only barely longer than "The Sontaran Experiment" or "Black Orchid", and which features at least four or five fewer plot twists and reversals of fortune than one would expect from a Doctor Who episode.

Hopefully, future episodes will return to the larger canvas and longer format that worked so well for the first twenty-some odd years of the show. And hopefully, they will get some more effective incidental music before "Rose" airs for real.

In the meantime, I'm going to have to remain intensely jealous of those individuals who live in countries where this show will actually be broadcast.

Update: Warren Ellis has a review up as well. He mentions my favorite line of the Doctor's, and he has a slight amount more spoilage in his review than I do above. Looks like he has the same opinion of the incidental music ("ranges from passable to fucking awful") as I do, though.

That Means It's Ready

An episode of the new Dr. Who series has leaked online. Mild spoilers therein, making me wonder who at the CBC is... checking.

The Eyes Have It

In my collection of potential blogfodder is a folder called "Scary Humans." The links contained therein pass the time in fitful slumber, waiting for the hour of their need.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of them had been awakened already by the web-wise wiles of Wednesday White. Curses!

Well, I guess there's nothing for it, then: I'm going to have to release its companion piece to the world at large. Because, after all, if you screw around with your eyes, you're going to need some glasses.

Oh, ewwwwww.

So, if you ever wanted to have sparkly shapes in your eyes like some types of anime characters do? It's being worked on. Cut open the eye, insert a sparkly... thing.


Into the eye.

The eye.

Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew gross. Unless you don't have an eye thing. In which case... don't tell me. Ew! I'm going back to bed.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

I Suppose I Ought To Read This Arc

A fascinating essay wherein Birds of Prey gets matters of religion spot on greeted me this morning from my pile of words. (After a week of sorting through bad pseudoreligion and worse hamhandedness -- not to mention the utter disappointment which was this month's Chick tract -- this was beautifully tonic and reassuring.)

Suspension of Disbelief is a great blog, even if you're me and just completely "what? huh? we start where?" where American print comics are concerned. Stuff like this is why.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

You Have A Relaxing Time

We've had the talking alarm clock Haro, the remote-controlled Haro, the Haro PC case, the Haro keychain, the Haro plush toys, and so on. Why else do we watch Gundam? For the Haro.

Now, you must have a relaxing time with Haromatherapy.

Why do I want one of these? So? Much?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Fan Metafiction

Today's Fan Fiction Friday installment is one of the stranger bits of fan-produced fiction around. It exists on multiple levels: As an adaptation of a well-known fantasy novel; as an expansion upon that novel; as a commentary on the novel; and as a couple of naked chicks in bed.

Those of you who live in San Francisco may know what I'm talking about: Heatherly and Julie's Fantasy Bedtime Hour, which features the literary criticisms of Our Heroines, Heatherly and Julie, as they read and discuss Lord Foul's Bane.

In bed.


Four pages at a time they go through the book, despite being "ill-equipped to handle fantasy novel concepts." To help them along the way, a variety of different experts on the book hop into bed with them and answer their questions. In addition, Heatherly and Julie also direct short dramatizations of the book which help them demonstrate their grasp of the material.

So far, they're up past page 300 somewhere already; and the best part, for those of us who don't live in San Francisco (or Portland, Maine); is that the first twenty-two episodes are available for download, at a heady 64 megabytes or so of Quicktime goodness apiece.

Quatermass remake

The 1950s British TV sci-fi Quatermass was shown live, and not much got recorded, so I only know most of it from the scripts and stills and a few clips. (There's a pretty good Hammer film of the third story, and sorry hammed-up films of the other two.) The scripts were beautifully eerie, full of growing strangeness and menace, and I'd have given a lot to see the full series. I just hope that when they do the new live production, they record it all this time.

Good Heavens.

I have a theory that the total amount of Trekkerism in the universe remains constant. Thus, the smaller Trek fandom gets, the more passionate it becomes.

How else do you explain this THREE MILLION DOLLARS?

THREE MILLION DOLLARS to bring back one of the lowest-rated shows on television. That's TEN TIMES the Farscape fund. In two weeks.

It amazes me that such loyalty to Trek remains (no need to beat my opinion of the show into the ground), but that's almost beside the point now. This is a rather difficult effort to ignore. It may be a watershed moment in the history of television.



if they recycle theme music, i'll be most upset

It's not often that we get things first. Yes, we've been getting things like Harry Potter early, and recent film releases have been near as dammit simultaneous, but Britain is accustomed to a serious lag time where SF is concerned. So, on the heels of the acclaimed new Battlestar Galactica running here months before the US ever saw it -- to which I say, neener neener neener, or I would if I'd been watching it -- it seems we may not just be getting the new Doctor Who early. We may be getting it while the US does not.

Some may count this no great loss. I can tell you that I was going to watch it anyway. If nothing else, I really, really want to know what the new opening credits look like, and to find out how much they've updated the theme music.

Now is probably the time to invest in your grey-market Canadian satellite receiver, folks. You know. If you were going to do that.

Alternatively, I can totally recommend the Lost In Time DVD set for people who have this sort of thing in their past, or their roots (in my case, I was raised by a Whovian, and both parent and child are digital video nerds). The Doctor Who Restoration Team explain what they've done with the Lost In Time box, as well as other episodes which have made their way to video after years of being lost.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stagger

New Scientist is reporting on a controversial new weapons system being developed and tested by the Office of Naval Research and the Universities of Florida and Central Florida. The weapon is a laser system designed to cause a burst of superheated plasma when it hits a target.

So far, so good, of course; that's pretty much what all high-powered lasers would do. It's also why lasers designed to cut through things have to be pulsed: The plasma cloud at the point of impact tends to interfere with the laser beam otherwise; pulsing the laser allows the plasma to disperse in between "shots."

With this laser, however, the burst of plasma is the whole point of the exercise: The expanding plasma carries an electromagnetic pluse across the body of the person on the receiving end, triggering intense sensations of pain. The design parameters are for the weapon to cause excruciating pain to a target up to 2 kilometers distant. Between the EMP and the force of the plasma burst, it is expected to be able to knock someone to the ground and leave them writhing in pain without permanently injuring them.

This is not the only such project under development: Taking a slightly different tack, DARPA is working with an Indiana company called Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems to create what has been described as a "wireless taser" which shoots a column of plasma at a target, and then uses that column of plasma to conduct the electrical charge. Future versions are expected to use — wait for it — lasers to ionize the air between the gun and the target before zapping the electric charge down the column of ionized air.

These weapons are all supposed to be non-lethal; they are primarily designed for crowd control. Critics, however, are understandably concerned about the fact that the job of the Florida researchers appears to be one of carefully figuring out how to make the EMP as painful as it possibly can be. The idea of doing controlled experiments whose purpose is the infliction of maximum pain on the subjects certainly does have a certain air of Josef Mengele to it; and many experts on pain have serious doubts about the non-permanence of the damage involved.

In the meantime, though, it looks like weaponeers have managed to create something which has always been considered purely science-fictional: A laser which can be "set to stun."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The New Model Starfleet

[Okay, so it's Wednesday. I'll try to make up in verbosity what I lacked in timeliness]

How tall is today's tale? Just over a quarter of a million miles tall. And the best part is that it's all true, even if it is eerily similar to a tale told by a man who was, himself, half-fictional.

It all starts around 1638 or so. In Scotland, the National Covenant was pushing back against Charles I of England's attempts to "reform" the Scottish Church. The military and political reversals Charles was to experience would lead, in a few short years, to the "Short Parliament," the "Long Parliament," and, finally, the English Civil War. Into this environment arrived John Wilkins, a young churchman of respectable (if unspectacular) birth and a certified genius for mathematics and natural philosophy.

He also seems to have had a natural gift for not pissing people off, which was no mean feat in those days.

As a result of these gifts, he swiftly progressed from being a small-time vicar to being personal chaplain to a variety of increasingly powerful and influential figures — such as William Fiennes, and the King's nephew, Prince Charles Louis — who were to spend the next several years trying to kill each other. Not only did Wilkins come through that era unscathed, he went on to marry Oliver Cromwell's sister, become a close advisor to Richard Cromwell, and still survive the Restoration with only the slightest of inconveniences (Lavoisier would be so jealous).

Indeed, he is best known today for his accomplishments after the return to power of Charles II: specifically, the founding of the Royal Society, for which he was the first Secretary; and his treatise An Essay Toward a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, which contained quite sophisticated analyses of the ontology of natural language, and its explication in the construction of new, artificial languages (thus demonstrating, of course, that "Ontology Recapitulates Philology").

But just because his main claims to fame came after 1660 does not mean that he was sitting on his hands or kissing up to important people for the first 46 years of his life; far from it. In fact, in 1641, on the eve of the Civil War, he published Mercury, or the Secret and Swift Messenger, the first English-language work on cryptography (which is just the sort of thing that comes in handy during a Civil War).

Even that wasn't his first unique contribution, however: Before it, in 1640, he wrote what might be thought of as the Cosmos of its day, A Discourse Concerning a New Planet, which set forth in layman's English the discoveries and revelations of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and other cutting-edge scientists.

But even that was not his first work: In 1638, he wrote a curious book entitled The Discovery of a World in the Moone, or, A Discourse Tending to Prove That 'Tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World in That Planet. As the title indicates, he felt that the Moon was a simple terrestrial sphere like the Earth, and that, as a result, it was likely to be inhabited.

While he understood that there was no requirement for it to be inhabited, he — like many leading natural philosophers of his time — considered it only reasonable to assume that if God had created a whole great additional world, He would naturally not let it go to waste. And just as humans had spread their presence across the whole of the habitable Earth (and Canada), it was natural for him to assume that the Moon was likewise occupied by its natives.

Being English, however, he went one step further than most individuals who had embarked upon that same course of speculation: He reasoned that creatures living on the Moon represented a vast, untapped market. Just think of the possibilities for trade and commerce! And so, in the third edition of his book, published in 1641, he began to lay forth the steps which would be necessary to undertake such a mission.

He was, as Dr. Allan Chapman described in a lecture at Gresham College, living in "a sort of honeymoon period in the history of science, when immense possibilities were expected and things had not yet started to go wrong."

The previous century had seen tremendous upheaval in the store of knowledge of the world inherited from Greek and Roman sources. Vast gulfs of impossibility had been conquered by the newly-formed armies of Science; brave explorers had discovered new lands where none had been known before; it must have seemed entirely natural that anything might be possible. Enough science was known to allow him to get a good head start on his project; but not enough science was yet known to show him where it was impossible.

He knew that the Earth was a giant magnet; he knew (more or less) that the Earth had what we now call gravity; and he knew that they both operated in roughly similar fashions. It wasn't hard for him to conflate the two into one force. He used trigonometry and careful measurements to estimate the heights of the tallest cloud tops as roughly 20 miles above the surface of the earth; it wasn't that unreasonable for him to assume, therefore, that anything above that point would be free from the magnetic pull of the Earth. Therefore, all one had to do was to somehow make it the first twenty miles straight up towards the Moon, and the rest would be dead easy.

As for the vehicle, he ended up taking a 17th century technological overkill approach to it. In addition to having immense wings coated with the feathers of particularly high-flying birds, it was to involve truly enormous springs, as well as every other cutting-edge gadget he could cram into it to propel it higher. He even played around with using gunpowder — not as a direct propellant, but as a method of applying tension to the springs, using a sort of gun barrel-cum-piston; almost a primitive internal combustion engine.

Goose wings and gunpowder springs: That perfectly encapsulates the heady combination of knowledge and ignorance that existed in the contemporary world of natural philosophy.

In the long run, of course, he never did land on the moon. He never even made a try at it. After all, England was slightly preoccupied with Civil Wars and whatnot until Wilkins was a comfortable middle-aged man with a family; and by the time the Royal Society was in full swing, discoveries by folks like Boyle and Hooke had thrown enough cold water on his earlier speculations to let him know that it was never to be: Outer space was a vacuum; space would be too inhospitable; springs could never be strong enough; and so forth.

It was too late.

And so, John Wilkins, who very nearly founded the first space program in the history of mankind; and who became the first human being ever to turn his gaze from the moon to a desk full of engineering calculations on how to get there; also became the first human to ever be disappointed by the cold equations of orbital mechanics and material science which conspired to keep him earthbound.

It has been just over 32 years now since Apollo 17 lifted off from the Taurus-Littrow valley on the Moon to return home. Looking up in the sky at night, I know how John Wilkins felt.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Twilight of Witch World

I'm going to get ahead of the curve, here, and post something before it's time to use parentheses surrounding two dates in my message title: Andre Norton is in seriously failing health, and has returned from the hospital into hospice care at home, surrounded by the comforts of cats and books and friends.

On February 20, the SFWA announced the creation of the "Andre Norton Award," which will be given out each year, starting in 2006, for the best work of fantasy or science fiction for the young adult market. This came three days after she turned 93, and one day before she left the hospital; and it is singularly appropriate, given how many people have been turned on to science fiction — or reading in general — by her books.

Those of you who might wish to send her cards or letters can do so at:
Andre Norton
c/o Sue Stewart
1007 Herron Street
Murfreesboro, TN 37130

Observer Affects

Who knew that even zoologists need Heisenberg Compensators? Nature is reporting that equipping voles with radio collars — for purposes of tracking their movements — causes changes in their birth patterns, with the ratio of males to females born tilting heavily towards the production of more males.

This also explains why high-energy physics experiments in vole decay regularly yield such apparently contradictory results. Nevertheless, researchers at CERN say they are quite comfortable with their overall statistical analyses, and are pushing forward with plans to build new accelerators capable of producing collisions in the two to three trillion electron-vole range.

In the meantime, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are working to develop a "plasmonic cover," which could render an object invisible by using electron-density waves to prevent the scattering of light from the object's surface. While there are still immense technical hurdles to overcome, scientists around the world are already reported to be intensely jealous of how incredibly cool a name "plasmonic cover" is.