(For anyone who’s looking for a gifty for me, a t-shirt that says that will quite fit the bill.)
I’ve previously discussed my intense dislike for the Twilight series from a feminist perspective—even though I couldn’t put them down while reading them—but I hadn’t quite branched into what I think of Meyer’s changes to the vampire mythos.
Just about every author takes the mythos in a slightly different direction—some vampires don’t sleep in coffins, others require their home soil; some vampires turn humans by biting them, others by humans drinking vampire blood; some vampires are the overlords of werewolves, others are their mortal enemies. So some changes to the mythos are expected and even anticipated: what are these vampires like?
Meyer’s vampires hunt humans and are extremely fast—both common to most mythos—they also sparkle in the sunlight and some have magical abilities—Meyer’s take on the mythos. The sparkling explains why they don’t like going out in the sunlight (people will see what they really are) and why they live in Washington State (it’s rarely sunny out). The magic is, I suppose, acceptable—we are in a fantasy world, after all, but it feels annoyingly pulled off. It’s a literary device that allows Edward (one main character) to read the minds of everyone except Bella (the other main character). And it doesn’t seem to exist for any other reason (some other vampires have powers, always different. It’s about 50/50 whether a particular vampire has magical powers or not. So…not that rare.
As for the sparkley? Purely annoying. It makes for a supposedly romantic situation where Edward takes Bella to a sunny field and he sparkles like diamonds. Which…I’m still on the fence about whether or not would be attractive. This is the part that annoys me. Vegetarian vampires? Totally okay with. But sparkling vampires?! That’s just making them too warm and fuzzy (even when they’re specifically described as being hard and cold) for my taste. Edward is a stalker who controls every action of his “beloved”—again, a completely believable set of actions for a vampire—but he sparkles, which sort of defangs (heh) any threat he previously posed.
I really enjoyed the way that vampires were portrayed in Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I Am Legend, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and even, yes, Moonlight. But Twilight‘s vampires left me unsatisfied. Which is why I’m so looking forward to Guillermo Del Toro’s vampires. Pan’s Labyrinth was a mindfuck (which is a total compliment) and, while I haven’t seen the recent Hellboy, I’m sure it is also good. Del Toro is a genius and I cannot wait to be mindfucked by his vampires. via.
My daughter CatGirl decided to join me in my quest to read the Hugo nominees before they are voted on at WorldCon in Montreal(!) in August. To be fair, she probably won’t read all of the novels, novellas and novelletes, but she did listen to the five of stories nominated for Best Short Story. Escape Pod, the Science Fiction podcast, made this all too easy. I enjoyed the stories on long bike rides, and CatGirl listened while doing her math homework.
Families that multitask together…maintain solid FaceBook ties well into the 21st century?
I should warn you–this is a longish episode, running just under an hour. The focus of the episode is on these five stories. We introduce each story with a short excerpt before launching into a discussion of what it was about the stories that did or didn’t appeal to each of us. We do all this without giving away any spoilers. We also vote for our favorites.
Can I just say for a moment that I have the absolutely coolest daughter in the world?
We now return you to our scheduled program.
Mind on Fire readers may like several of these, since, like many great SF stories, they touch on grand ideas and on religious and philosophical themes.
One more thing: until August, all five stories are available as podcast and online text for free!
- “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson read listen
- “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick read listen
- “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal read listen
- “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang read listen
- “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick read listen
If you read/listen to any of these, CatGirl and I would love to hear from you! Maybe we can even create spoiler-filled posts so we can discuss some of the great ideas in these stories to our heart’s content!
If you have problems listening to the podcast, here is an alternate download option.
It’s got it all: atheism, spirituality, god, scifi, and good music!! Hulu’s got the first four eps up right now (and it doesn’t keep them forever), so go catch up. It’s too smart and too well written to stay on the air for long.
It’s the story of Kings David and Saul transposed into a country that looks like present-day America. It’s smart, sometimes funny, and often reminds me of Dune with it’s spiritual overtones (the King has been selected by a nebulous God, only to be usurped by the next King by the same God). Each ep gives me another song that I want to get (including one by Liszt). The characters are sympathetic and real, even the minor ones; the issues that they have are painful and don’t feel contrived.
This is a new generation of scifi—it’s not utopian or dystopian. It’s just other. And awesome.
For Best Novel:
Way back in the 90s, I got into the habit of reading the stories nominated for literary SF’s premier awards: the Hugo and the Nebula. The Hugo nominees are chosen by the members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, and the Nebulae by the professional writers who make up SFWA (Siffwaah), or the Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America. Pretentious snob that I am, I’ve always preferred the more refined Nebula winners to the selections of the red-shirt clad masses.
The Hugo sometimes reminds me of a high school popularity contest. Four of the five authors nominated for best novel this year are also immensely popular bloggers: Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, and Charlie Stross (I was a fan of Scalzi, and I think, Doctorow, as bloggers before I began reading their SF). Don’t get me wrong–I love all of them as SF writers, but I was particularly disappointed last year when solid but less than inspired offerings by Scalzi (The Last Colony), Stross (Halting State) and Robert Sawyer (Rollback) beat out edgy and exhilarating works like Richard Morgan’s Thirteen.
All my Ole Man Remy griping aside, until I get on my ass and crank out a few printable stories, I can participate in the selection of the Hugos but not the Nebula awards. (Where’s that red shirt of mine…) The other cool thing about the Hugos is that in an attempt to garner votes, most of the stories are made available for free download! Finally, even if the stories may not always be the cream of the 2008 crop, the risk of getting a total dud is pretty low. Plus, did I say they’re (often) free!? (limited time offer!)
Since I plan to attend this year’s World SF Con in Montreal (where Neil Fucking Gaiman, and I say “Fucking” with All Due Respect, will be the Guest of Fucking Honor), I want to make sure I read every nominated novel, novella, novellette, and novelletenito and watch every performance, so that I can vote carefully on who will get to grasp the exceedingly phallic and polished rocket of Señor Hugo. I’ll try to make this process transparent, and I hope you’ll join me in reading and talking about some of these works. If you write about any of these books or stories on your blogs, let me know so I can link to them!
Years ago, Avery Brooks (who will forever be Cmdr. Sisko to me) did a truly awesome commercial for IBM, one that still prompts me to occasionally exclaim, “I was promised flying cars!” The point was that, when people look into the future, they see today’s technology modified for the future, not the invention of whole new ways of thinking, communicating, and acting. I was promised vidphones, soylent green, and transporters. Instead, I have email/IM/vidChat/cellphones/Skype, LäraBars/gojiberries/tofu, and …well…I used to have Concords…we’ll give transporters a pass for now. Years ago, I thought it was ludicrous that someone would consider not having an email that wasn’t their name, that my brother-in-law (junior high) should be on Facebook, that I could watch Netflix through my 360. But technology happens in unexpected ways. Which is to say, completely anticipated ways. Read more >>
I’ve held off for as long as I could bear to, but it is now time to release this upon the MoF community. From the guy who brought us the classic office zombie song, Re: Your Brains and the classy May Day song, First of May, comes the geek classic Still Alive, the end-credits song for the video game Portal (play a flash version here).
Portal is the latest installment of the Half Life series, one of the first popular first person shooter video games. The song, Still Alive, is played over the end credits, and sung by the main (speaking) character, GLaDOS, an AI with a distressing sense of humor: “The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.”
I have a soft spot in my heart for AIs in general and female AIs in particular. From Jane, my namesake, to Cortana, the only redeeming quality of Halo, another FPS, there’s something inherently attractive to me about a disembodied (yet somehow still female) sentient computer. And so, despite GLaDOS’ evilness in the game, I already like her.
The general theme behind Portal (which may be necessary for understanding the song) is that GLaDOS is in charge of a research facility involved in testing a new kind of gun that creates “portals”. She has a number of test subjects who she forces to test the gun in different situations (creating levels in the game) for a promise of cake at the end of a successful course of testing. Throughout the testing, the test subject (the player) encounters blood splatters where prior subjects died in their attempts and graffiti, often consisting of “the cake is a lie” (which has become a geeky expression). Eventually, the test subject kills GLaDOS and discovers that she was the only entity in the research facility, a situation eerily similar to the house in Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains. Throughout the game, GLaDOS’ voice stumbles and is replaced by static, indicating that something has already gone horribly wrong.
Implicit in the AI mythos is that, although it is created (either purposefully or accidentally) by humanity, it cannot be controlled by humanity. The AI must choose between good and evil—but these are binaries that only exist for humans, good for an AI might be destruction of humanity (see: HAL). AIs are the Frankenstein’s monsters of our century: it is beautifully tempting to create something so powerful and advanced but it is dangerous to unleash something with such capacity for destruction. As we get closer to the realities of the fictions we create, these stories, I believe, carry more and more poignancy.
Still Alive is a heart-wrenchingly emotional portrayal, in her own words, of a heartlessly unemotional being. It walks the razor edge of the AI paradox: GLaDOS is human in so many ways but still cold and ruthless. And so, after much ado…if you still dare, I give you more versions of Still Alive than you could possibly desire: Read more >>
A little heavy on the Star Trek and Star Wars, but still awesome. And honestly, what else is Q for but…Q?
That would be “Bitchy Literary Criticism”. John & I were having a conversation about good books and the concept of “strong female characters”, as a reason I might want to explore the Sabriel series. My response was that I had been recommended Miyazaki’s manga/movies for the same reason, that the author writes “strong female characters”, and that I had not found this to be the case. After a brief scuffle when I confused Miyazaki for Murasaki, we began to discuss what this phrase might mean.
In the midst of the conversation, and for sometime after, I felt like the typical feminist stereotype: bitter, argumentative, and seeing specters of the patriarchy where there were none. Hence “Bit Lit Crit”. But I honestly do see them: I see a major difference between books intended for boys and books intended for girls (the same is true of movies). Books that are intended for children of ostensibly neutral gender often are the same as books intended for boys. Being a reading male is the “norm”, leaving girls who like books left with “girl books” or imagining themselves as the main (male) character of “boy books”.
The general format for a “girl book” involves the main character breaking away from the role her parents try impose upon her and “finding herself” in the arms of the first man she encounters. Sometimes it’s not the first man, it’s the one who saves her from the first man. Safely now the property of someone besides her parents, she lives happily, if not fulfillingly, ever after.
The general format for a “boy book” involves the main character breaking away from the role his parents try to impose upon him and finding himself by discovering what he really wants from life and achieving it. There is often a show down, and content with his individuality, he lives happily ever after.
Books with female main characters often feature a love story very prominently, as if a female character is never complete without a companion. Books with male main characters often feature a fight, as if a male character cannot prove his strength without besting someone else.
There are, obviously, exceptions to these rules, but I have found that these are the major themes underlying determining who the audience is for a particular children’s or young adult book. And again, the “boy book” is often the “universal book”—a book that is enjoyed by members of both genders.
I love reading, I always have, and when I was growing up I (and my closest older sister) read mostly “universal/boy” books. Occasionally I would accidentally pick up a “girl book” and realize that I had no interest in it. Years later, I’m still reading “universal/boy” books, but do occasionally come across one that breaks the mold. Those shine brightly in the starry canopy of books I’ve read. But they’re too brief and too few.
1. One book that made you laugh: I, Lucifer, by Glen Duncan. DH and I read this to each other on one of our many road trips. Totally light reading, with no redeeming social value (as my father might say), but still a fun ride.
2. One book that made you cry: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I was going to use this for #4 but the truth is, I cry every time I read it to the end. I cry when he visits Valentine at the lake and she convinces him to return to school. I cry when he passes his final “exam”. I cry when he realizes what he’s done. I cry when Earth does not welcome him back—when his friends gather around him to protect him from the adulation and the horror of his fellow man.
3. One book that you loved as a child: Fables & Fairy Tales, by Leo Tolstoy. I love this book. I love the way fables (and fairy tales) influence a culture. It was quite instructive to me to read them, even though I didn’t know what culture they came from. The more later learned about Russia, the more sense they made.
4. One book you’ve read more than once: Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder. I discovered this book in high school—a friend of mine simply could not believe that I hadn’t read it and insisted that I find a copy (in English, a fair feat) and read it. It’s a wonderful introduction to philosophy in an accessible manner (even if they’re already diving hard-core into Kant and Nietzsche, I would recommend—and lend—this to CatGirl and GameBoy).
5. One book you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it: Tell Me Lies, by Jennifer Crusie. By the time I realized it was a romance novel, I was too far into it to put it down. Now I reread it on occasion because it still cracks me up. I had imagined that romance novels would be far more explicit, but this concentrated on the personality of the guy and, while he’s not my type, that made all the difference. (I imagine…it’s the only romance novel I’ve ever read…I swear.)
6. One book you hated: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. My professor told me to read it in high school while the rest of the class finished reading (whatever we had been assigned) and to tell him what I thought. I told him that I liked the story, “and a good author could have done a lot with it.” I’ve never been able to bring myself to reread it, but now I feel bad about that, since I think it was one of his favs.
7. One book that scared you: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I don’t know how old one is supposed to be for this book, but I think I was really young when I read it. I still think of it and get that fear in my chest—when I’m speeding down a freeway so fast I can’t read billboards, or when I am confronted with a fire station and must interact with it.
8. One book that bored you: the Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov. Another high school book. I felt that we spent too much time on it and I really didn’t understand what it was supposed to symbolize.
9. One book that made you happy: the Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure, by William Goldman. One of my favorite books of all time, one that I can pick up, flip open, & just start reading at any point & reenjoy the whole thing. It makes me happy every time I reread it.
10. One book that made you miserable: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who just recently died—I have to admit that when I read it, I thought he was already dead). It took me more time to read this than it took me to read Anna K..
11. One book that you weren’t brave enough to read: the Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My father read the first three (including the Hobbit) to me but I started falling asleep when he got into the Fellowship books. He never finished the second one & I never had any desire to start the third. I know, I’m going to lose major geek cred for that…
12. One book character you’ve fallen in love with: I guess Paul Atreides from Dune, et al., by Frank Herbert. (Does that restore my geek cred?) Although I kinda just wanted to be his sister, Alia. She was badass!
13. The last book you read: Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. I have nothing else to say :-p
So here you go: “Orson Scott Card Wants YOU (To Rise Up Against The Gay Menace). Including such gems as
To those to of you who haven’t read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott card, warning: two spoilers follow.
Spoiler 1: Your childhood was incomplete.
You’ve spent your life imagining diverse races and cultures, and doing a hell of a good job. Yet your inability to imagine true love manifesting between two members of the same sex almost classifies you as retarded in my mind. It’s not even a moral issue. You’re just an idiot to me.
After this post, I promise a moratorium on Wil Wheaton-related posts for at least two months. I finally got around to listening to his keynote for PAX, the Penny Arcade Expo. I do not read (or listen to) Penny Arcade, though I know people who do. Wheaton’s keynote, however, is essentially validation of the geek lifestyle (so-called “anti-social”), gaming (including GTA), and being a Trekker/Browncoat. He has proven that he is a geek among geeks, and certainly still worthy of my adoration.
To anyone who is, was, or loves a geek, this is for you. To anyone who doesn’t understand why Still Alive is the awesomest song ever, this is for you. It’s a little long & occasionally NSFW. I recommend dling it as a podcast or listening while cooking/baking/sewing, for best results.
(overheard between a drunken John & a drunken xJane at last night’s Abney Park concert)
Background: Yesterday, xJane was sitting around, slightly ill, and generally feeling sorry for herself. Whilst innocently watching Emmy consideration DVDs, she received a call from John, who asked if she was busy (she was not) and if she was interested in a steam punk event (she was). What followed was a scramble to finish the DVD (it’s an interesting & funny show, and I recommend it to all and sundry), google costumes, create a costume, finish laundry & dishes, see if I could rope anyone else into this (it’s like drugs: cosplay seems more normal if you can convince other people to do it with you, right Onigiri?), google hairstyles, make & eat dinner, shower, and get all steampunked up.
She then drove to the venue, which is the perfect place for such an event, and immediately knew she was in the right place. Perhaps 2% of the people who showed up were not in cos. Twas tres cool. She stood in line in the chilly LA air for a while, then was allowed to wait inside for John (who was then allowed to skip the line!). Many thanks to Isaac for the tix, for then we entered the 1870s. Or some kind of approximation there of.
Steampunk is hard to define, but I usually go with “Victorian futurism”. It’s was the future would look like if it were trapped in the past. Think the Time Machine, Golden Compass, Diamond Age. It generally involves lots of gears, leather, and zeppelins. It has some hardcore overlap with the Goth scene (although there is less blood involved in steampunk, there are arguably more corsets) as well as DIY/Makers.
The Edison in downtown LA is a steampunk-themed bar. It is always steampunk themed but may not always be as overrun with steampunks than it was last night. It may actually be a historic landmark (and if it’s not it should be): it’s the first private powerplant in LA…turned into a bar. The generators, coal-furnaces, and just all around ambiance is still there. They even have a steampunk dress code (which stresses no “athletic wear of any kind” and that they “strive to more quickly accommodate those who” dress steampunk). It’s a place I would certainly go back to for drinks & perhaps a bite to eat.
Abney Park is a great band whose music might be described as “industrial punk with Eastern/Arabian influences” if not for the lyrics (check out their favorite, played twice last night, “Airship Pirate“). They had a great presence and awesome fan interaction (singing along, stopping songs in the middle because of a mistake, jokes, &c.). They play electric guitar, bass guitar, piano, violin, and djembe (yes, electric djembe) all of which have been steampunked out. And they play them well. This is not just a bunch of weirdos who think they’re a band. This is a band who is also a bunch of weirdos. But in their defense, so is their audience (watching the Artful Dodger and gentlemen with muttonchops mosh is friggin’ awesome). And so am I.
John nor I do this on a what you might call regular basis, so our steampunk was a little mild (although the darkened & sunken eyes that Jana pulled of on John were the perfect effect!) compared to
some most of those in attendance. Unfortunately, I do not have a corset on hand for just such events. This shall be remedied soon (hear that, John? lemmie know when they’re back in town). Nor goggles, nor top hat (though I should have spectacles somewhere, which I shall find & superglue to an appropriately dainty stick to hold to my face). John did admirably with $12 and a borrowed hat. And DH has a remarkable amount of steampunk stuff hanging around: too bad he has no inclination in that direction. But I think we did quite well on short notice and with no practice. I could totally get into this.
Since it was John, there was much emphasis that evening on absinthe, of which there was plenty to be had. We each had a shot of heavily sweetened absinthe from and we split a “Hemmingway”: a shot of absinthe mixed with champagne. We then went and sat down for a while. We ended the evening with Denny’s before slinking home, glad that, at 2AM none of my neighbors was around to ask what I was wearing.
I thoroughly enjoyed (and survived) the whole schmear: the dress up, the drinks, the people, the event. Who knew that heavy drinking was good for a cold? John & I met at the venue before the concert started and had a chance to wander into each of the little alcoves to check out the decor (John kept commenting on the attention to detail) as well as the people. And once again I have to give props to the effect of the Masque: people walked up to me as though they’d known me for years, “Those are awesome gloves!” and we’d start talking about little boutiques in Marin county. Staring is encouraged in this kind of a venue. Some of the people even had their own personas (I heard one gentleman introduce himself as Baron von [something german]). I found myself wondering who these people were in meatspace, for want of a better term. Do they wear goggles to their offices? Or are they corporate lawyers in the day light and corseted wenches only in the shadows of the Edison?
And what causes people to get into this? Cosplay at a con is one thing, but cosplay at a bar takes it to a whole nother level. I wonder if there isn’t some of the camaraderie of religion that attracts people to this: if you know they’re into [Jesus, Buddha, steampunk], you already have something in common. John mentioned that there was a notable increase in the amicability of the people at the Edison last night (as opposed to people in everyday life). And it was true: the gentlemen opened doors for each other & for the ladies (even if they were wenches). Perhaps some of the attraction of the Victorian lifestyle is the level of politeness that is acceptable in mixed company. I just like the corsets. And the gears. And I’m totally going to look for costume pieces the next time I’m at the army surplus store. This is totally my bag (and if not for John, I’d not’ve known!).