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Preview: No Fear of the Future

No Fear of the Future



A nexus of speculative word and thought



Updated: 2018-03-06T04:10:15.096-06:00

 



On the spaying and neutering of puppies, sad, rabid and otherwise

2015-08-24T11:08:45.739-05:00

The 2015 Hugo Awards have come and gone, resulting in a record five (5) categories where "No Award" was given in response to the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy attempts to game the system and ensure the treasured rocket ship trophy went to those deemed appropriate by their particular clique. Log rolling's happened with the Hugo Awards before, as well as the Nebula Awards, but this is the first instance I am aware of where said efforts were fueled primarily by ideology as opposed to friendship and/or personal desire. To put this in context, there have only been five total "No Awards" in the entire history of the Hugos up to this point. Here are the results (detailed breakdowns may be found here): BEST NOVEL The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)BEST NOVELLA No awardBEST NOVELETTE “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)BEST SHORT STORY No awardBEST RELATED WORK No awardBEST GRAPHIC STORY Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried,” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)BEST EDITOR SHORT FORM No awardBEST EDITOR LONG FORM No awardBEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST Julie DillonBEST SEMIPROZINE Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie YantBEST FANZINE Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. MontgomeryBEST FANCAST Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)BEST FAN WRITER Laura J. MixonBEST FAN ARTIST Elizabeth Leggett By any measure, the Puppies' efforts have been a spectacular failure on their part, but they've been crowing loudly online that blocking otherwise worthy works from making the ballot, hijacking the awards and forcing no award in several categories if victory in their eyes. Essentially, they're gloating at others' misfortune. The whole mess is a blemish on the genre and just makes me sad more than anything else. There have been both Hugo and Nebula winners in the past that I did not agree with--heck, there have been some that incensed me (generally cases where a brilliant central concept or wish-fulfillment element pandered to the SF reader, masking excruciatingly clunky writing)--but never did it occur to me to organize a group to 1) ensure my genius prose was nominated and 2) ensure those other, lesser works rewere not nominated. Awards voting is driven in large part by tastes, and tastes change. Don't believe me? Check out the past winners of the Hugo Awards. Changes in readership tastes are reflected in the winners throughout the decades. If the Sad Puppies are upset by recent Hugo winners, I can only shudder at the thought of their outrage when the New Wave overtook SF in the 60s and started winning awards, or when Cyberpunk went nova in the 80s. Truly, I thought the Puppies' premise fatally flawed and their response misguided at best. I was acquainted with a few involved, but when I tried to broach the subject, it quickly became apparent there were very different worldviews at work. I'm not talking apples and oranges, I'm talking apples and polyester leisure suits. So rather than tilting at this particular windmill, I relegated myself to the sidelines, as I had little hope of changing any minds, not to mention the fact I had no works nominated nor was I voting on the awards this year. My biggest involvement came via reposting some of George R.R. Martin's clear-eyed analyses of the so-called "Puppygate" via my Facebook page. File770 also has an extensive round-up on Puppygate-related links, if that's a particular rabbit hole [...]



Armadillocon 2015 in the rear view mirror

2015-07-27T22:35:23.942-05:00

Armadillocon has come and gone for another year. The 2015 edition was a very good one, indeed. Attendance seemed significantly up from last year, panels were well-attended and an energy permeated the con that had been absent in recent years. Most everyone I talked with seemed to feel the same. The guest lineup--GoH Ken Liu, Special GoH James Morrow, Editor GoH L. Timmel Duchamp, Fan GoH John DeNardo, Toastmaster Stina Leicht and Artist GoH Rocky Kelley--was very active and accessible, interacting with attendees and panelists all weekend. There was an impressive number of new panelists as well, the concom going out of their way to seek out and invite regional pros who haven't attended before. That injected a good amount of new blood to the regular panelists, and the panels themselves were stimulating and thought-provoking. Again, it was clear the concom didn't just recycle the programming items from past conventions, coming up with new topics, or clever variations on older topics, instead. My panels were well-attended and boasted some very intelligent people who all had insightful commentary. For "Researching Your Book," I brought along a huge stack of Venus science books I'm using as reference for Sailing Venus just to scare people a little bit. J. Kathleen Cheney, Jaime Lee Moyer, Cary Osborne, Lee Thomas and Ernie Wood kept things lively and as you might suspect, each writer had different approaches to the question of how much research is necessary. I was then drafted to sit in on the "New Twists in Urban Fantasy" panel, as some of the panelists hadn't made it to the con that Friday. I kind of prattled on about the overlap between urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy, and how they're not necessarily the same. As I hadn't written any urban fantasy in quite a few years, I didn't have much to offer, but thankfully John Moore, Carrie Clevenger and Mari Mancusi knew their stuff. A lot of discussion was devoted to how publishers are declaring certain sub-genres like urban fantasy, dystopia, etc. "dead" and refuse to consider new work in these areas, but such work is still being published under different branding by an array of publishers, and quality work will always make it into print regardless of publishing trends. On Saturday, my fellow panelists for "The Hobbit Movies" were Lillian Stewart Carl, Aaron de Orive, Paige Ewing, Shanna Swendson and Troyce Wilson, and while everyone agreed Peter Jackson had gone off the deep end with silly video game computer effects that went on far, far, far too long in the films, we disagreed a surprising amount on what the worst transgressions were and which additions actually improved the story. That doesn't change the fact that Jackson would've been better off sticking to his original plan for two films rather than three. "Writing a Strong Teen Protagonist" was the first of two panels I moderated, and Peni Griffin, P. J. Hoover, Jake Kerr, Mari Mancusi and Trakena Prevost all had far more experience writing YA than I, which made my moderating job so much easier. And interesting discussion of the differences between YA and Middle Readers ensued, along with some thoughts on the emerging "New Adult" category. Writing teens is hard, simply because teenagers are still figuring out who they are at that age, and their moods are inherently volatile. Writing teens as small adults is a no-go, and writing parents as incompetent boobs is just as bad a cliche. The absent parent--either through death, divorce or indifference--is another recurring trope that's difficult to stomach, but sometimes unavoidable as so many YA books are coming of age stories where the teens acquire their own agency, so to speak. My other panel to moderate, "Speculative Fiction as a Mirror to Religion," went by fast. I mean fast. We started out and the next time I checked my watch, we'd run five minutes long and could've continued another two hours at least. James Morrow was the 800 pound gorilla on the panel, for obvious reasons, and he was wonderfully challenging in the best way possible. But[...]



Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

2015-03-13T10:11:14.310-05:00

Sir Terry Pratchett died yesterday after a battle with early-onset Alzheimers. People far more eloquent than I have eulogized him elsewhere, and the hundreds of obituaries provide far more detail and understanding of the man and his life than I could hope to compete with. So I will just stick to what I know.

I didn't enjoy Pratchett's books. This disappointed me greatly. I remember getting The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic via the Science Fiction Book Club not all that long after they became available in the U.S. and being distressingly unmoved by them. I'm not sure I laughed even once. It's not that I couldn't see what he was doing or the tropes he gleefully lampooned--that should've been catnip for me, and indeed, was what caused me to seek them out in the first place--but the prose lay lifeless upon the page for me. Over the years, as I grew more widely read and Pratchett's Discworld satires grew progressively more sophisticated and cast an ever-expanding net, I revisited his work. Strata, Interesting Times, a handful of others I can't quite recall (Mort? The Fifth Elephant?) remained stubbornly closed to me. I could see the jokes. I could see the biting commentary. I understood what he was accomplishing, and saddened by the fact I could not participate no matter how many of his books I read.

I have exactly one Terry Pratchett story.

Back in 2000, at Aggiecon 31, Pratchett was guest of honor and I was a regional guest. I hadn't been able to get close to him because of the swarms of fans that followed him everywhere, but we had one panel together. Fate conspired to seat me right next to the man. As we introduced ourselves, I said, "I'm Jayme Lynn Blaschke, and I write short fiction because I don't have the discipline to write novels."

Without blinking an eye, Pratchett said, "I'm Terry Pratchett, and I write novels because I don't have the discipline to write short fiction."

He was a witty, friendly and effortlessly funny man in person. I could not help but like him immediately, and count myself fortunate I had the opportunity--however brief--to make his acquaintance.




Babylon 5: The War Prayer

2014-10-21T09:45:10.859-05:00

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out. In Valen's Name: Old friends and relatives dominate this episode, "The War Prayer." Delenn is meeting with an old friend, Shaal Mayan, a famed Minbari poet on her way to Earth for a major artistic tour/performance. She is to give a poetry recital on Babylon 5 later, before she departs for Earth. A Centauri ship arrives with detainees--young-adult Centauri lovers, Kiron and Aria, who are fleeing arranged marriages. They demand to see their cousin, Ambassador (!) Vir Cotto. Finally, Malcolm Biggs, Commander Susan Ivanova's old lover, whom she broke up with years before in order to accept a career-advancing post far away from him, choosing duty over romance. After Mayan leaves Delenn's quarters, she's attacked by the Home Guard--xenophobic humans (think futuristic KKK)--beaten and branded on the forehead. This sets the station into an uproar, with the alien ambassadors outraged. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of suspects, as hatred of the alien races is high amongst the lower-rung humans aboard station, and some of the more powerfully-influential as well. As for the Centauri lovers, it turns out that Vir exaggerated his position just a little bit. Londo is unsympathetic to their pleas, arguing that love is overrated and that he despises all three of his wives, whom he calls "Pestilence, Disease and Famine." Marriages are for political and financial gain, nothing more. Vir grows a little bit of a backbone and argues with Londo, but to no avail. Londo is to weary and bitter about life to care. Kiron and Aria sneak off to the hydroponic gardens to be alone and feel sorry for themselves, and are attacked by the Home Guard. Kiron's shot with a blaster and Aria is stunned with a taser/club. Ivanova has a romantic dinner with Malcolm, who tells her he plans to set up permanent residence on the station so they can be together. Ivanova's surprised, and her stand-offish facade begins to crumble. They head back to her quarters, but before anything lustful happens, Ivanova's summoned back to duty because G'Kar has whipped the aliens up into a riot. Reviewing security video, Garibaldi finds that Malcolm had met with a prime Home Guard suspect--and recruited the suspect into the Home Guard. Ivanova is stunned. Commander Sinclair asks her to introduce him to Malcolm. Sinclair begins treating the alien ambassadors brusquely, to win over Malcolm's confidence. Sinclair rants that victory in the Earth-Minbari War tasted like ashes because the Minbari let Earth win. Malcolm is downright giddy at the prospect of reeling in Sinclair as an ally, but still wary. Sinclair and Ivanova rendezvous with Malcolm at a secret meeting, and many Home Guard appear, having been disguised by Earth Force "black light camouflage" devices. Malcolm tells Sinclair of a plot to orchestrate a mass assassination of the alien ambassadors on Babylon 5, for which they'll need Sinclair to grant them access to secure areas. As a test of Sinclair's loyalty, they bring forth a terrified alien delegate for the commander to execute. Garibaldi's security forces swoop in, and Ivanova captures Malcolm. Malcolm insults her for siding with "them," but man, Ivanova is stone cold, no regrets. She despises Malcolm something fierce at this point. As for the Centauri lovers, Kiron recovers, and Londo informs them they'll be sent back to Centauri Prime where they will enter into "fosterage" with his powerful, ancient family. Fosterage is a rare practice in modern Centauri society, but still prestigious. The fosterage will last until the lovers come of age, at which point they will be free to decide for themselves who to marry. What Jayme Says: The main plot is no great shakes. The symbolism of racist vigilantes terrorizing those who are different from them is obvious and heavy-handed. Part of this stems[...]



Babylon 5: Mind War

2014-09-16T14:19:21.397-05:00

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out. In Valen's Name: Talia Winters' telepath mentor, Jason Ironheart, shows up on Babylon 5, running from the Psi Corps. He had volunteered for Psi Corps research into creating stronger telepaths. It turned out that the experimental treatment was intended to create stable telekinetics, and succeeded in spectacular fashion. Not only could Ironheart manipulate matter and energy with his mind, he could see into the mind of any telepath, no matter how powerful. That's when he discovered his telekinesis was intended to be weaponized, used for covert assassinations and the like, so he killed the program head and fled. Hot on his heels is Alfred Bester, a tough, ruthless Psi Cop intent on taking him down. As Bester rampages through the station (relatively speaking) breaking telepath rules right and left, Talia brings Ironheart to Sinclair. Ironheart explains his discoveries to Sinclair and warns that the Psi Corps is growing too powerful to trust. Ironheart himself is growing more and more powerful, losing control of his abilities as they outstrip his mastery of them. He is becoming a danger to the station. Bester and his team catch up with Ironheart, there's a fight (Bester loses) and Ironheart transforms into a being of pure consciousness or somesuch, infinitely more powerful than before. Then he waves "Bye" and goes off to wherever supremely powerful entities go. Bester intends to bring Sinclair up on charges for harboring a fugitive, but Sinclair threatens to do the same with Bester for all the Psi Corps and telepath laws he violated, so their pissing match ends in a draw. Meanwhile, Sinclair's lady friend Catherine is about to launch a lucrative scouting mission to the abandoned world of Sigma 957 to search for Quantium 40 deposits, a very valuable material used in the manufacture of jump gates. G'Kar warns her not to go, indicating strange things happen around that system. Catherine ignores him, and once there encounters a massive, mysterious ship that vanishes leaving her without power in a decaying orbit. This is the first appearance of one of the elder races of the B5 universe, outside of the Vorlons, of course. At the last moment, Narn fighters sent by G'Kar arrive and rescue Catherine. It's one of the first time G'Kar is shown making a gesture that isn't wholly self-centered. What Jayme Says: I remember first seeing this episode, and being surprised to see Walter Koening guest-starring. I also geeked a little when they revealed his name as "Bester," which of course is a reference to Alfred Bester, author of The Demolished Man which has some influence on this episode. I was a little disappointed when they revealed the character's full name as "Alfred Bester," which pushed the homage into elbow-in-the-ribs territory. This episode is our first real introduction to the active menace of the Psi Corps, Ivanova's hatred of them because of her mother being a bit too removed to drive the point home that the Corps is a menace to everyone, not just unwilling telepaths. Bester is bad news, all the way down to his black, fascist uniform. That said, the teeth are pulled from this episode pretty quickly. Despite warnings of dire consequences to come if she helps Ironheart, Talia helps him repeatedly with no real consequences. Yes, she's mind probed, a painful process clearly analogous to rape, but that comes early in the episode to show how ruthless Bester is, and Talia passes anyway. There are no consequences for Sinclair, who openly defied and obstructed Psi Corps business, and there are no consequences for Bester, who disregarded and broke countless regulations and laws in his pursuit of Ironheart. Realistically speaking, this sorry incident should've ruined all three parties rather than preserve the status quo because of the[...]



The sounds of space

2014-08-07T11:47:01.230-05:00

Welcome to my latest obsession: Sounds from space. I know, I know, space is for all practical purposes a vacuum (unless you're designing an interstellar ramjet) so sound as we know it doesn't exist there. And even if it did in the thin stellar media, we'd need fantastically sensitive microphones to pick up any hint of audio. Well, I thought so, until I stumbled across the "NASA Space Sounds" video below when it was being shared around the interwebz recently. Instruments aboard Voyagers I and II, as well as several other space probes, recorded an array of electromagnetic signals that, when converted to sound (think of it as running it through a space age amplifier) the result is a strange and eerie ambient sound that is utterly engrossing. To my ear, at least, the pieces are evocative of the non-classical music soundtrack from 201: A Space Odyssey. So that's bonus points right there. The sequences sampled below are taken from a series of 5 CD put out by Laserlight in 1990 titled "Symphonies of the Planets" as well as an additional volume a few years later titled "Celestial Love Songs." Long out of print, they're quite pricey to purchase second hand. Fortunately, they're readily available as MP3 (as well as other format) downloads online, the only drawback being the file labeling isn't consistent and therefore it's challenging to keep track of individual tracks. And since all data, audio and video released by NASA is public domain, fans of these fascinating ambient sounds may download with a clear conscience that no copyright is being violated. width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/-MmWeZHsQzs" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Alas, in my obsessive research, I've learned that things aren't so cut-and-dried. Yes, NASA does take collected electromagnetic data and convert it into audible sound, but the raw, unvarnished audio doesn't sound all that much like what we hear on the CDs. That's because Laserlight (or Brain/Mind Research, which handled the production) didn't just take the NASA audio and burn it to disc. They ran it through an intergalactic version of the nefarious Auto-Tune, processing it heavily and looping, over-dubbing and sweetening with synthesizers to the point where many of the actual "space sounds" are tenuous at best. In fact, some pieces, such as the samples of "Song of Earth" and "Voices of Earth" in the video above simply do away with the source material entirely and re-orchestrate it. I guess that make it an artistic interpretation of the data rather than an objective representation (which opens up the whole objective/subjective reality can of worms, but I digress...). What's more, it brings copyright into question. It is clearly established law that what is public domain cannot be subsequently copyrighted (publishers may copyright specific presentations of public domain materials, but not the content itself, which is why you can find free 1920s jazz downloads online, as well as the complete works of Charles Dickens, even though publishers put out new editions every few years). However, derivative works of both copyright and public domain can be copyrighted, but only that which is new and derivative is thus protected, ie the original which is incorporated into the derivation remains in the public domain. In this particular case, I would expect the Brain/Mind Research productions to be fully covered by copyright protection. Being out of print is irrelevant. However (and I'm full of caveats today, aren't I?) their persistent and insistent claims (indeed, the entirety of their marketing and mass appeal) that the audio is direct from NASA, with no claims of alteration on their part would, at least superficially, serve to undermine any copyright protection as, has been pointed out previously, all NASA materials are automatically released to public domain. For Brain/Mind Research to assert their copyright on these works, they would effectively have to admi[...]



That was the Armadillocon that was

2014-07-28T11:51:02.367-05:00

I cannot remember being so exhausted during and after a con as I have with Armadillocon 36 this past weekend. I don't know what was up with that, but despite turning in way early on Friday and Saturday, I operated in zombie mode most of the weekend. Hopefully I was able to cover it up and not infect too many folks I came into contact with. One might think that with such depressed energy levels, Armadillocon would've been a complete bust for me, but surprisingly the exact opposite is true. I had a blast. Despite an asinine, patronizing set of conduct rules distributed to all the programming participants that was relentlessly mocked throughout the duration of the convention (and rightfully so), most folks there seemed in great spirits. The guests-of-honor list turned out to be a great lineup: GoH Ted Chiang, Special GoH Ian McDonald, Editor GoH Jacob Weisman, Artist GoH Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Science GoH Sigrid Close, Fan GoH Michael Walsh and Toastmaster Mario Acevedo. Unlike most years, I managed to spend time with, or attend panels featuring every one of the major guests. They proved to be a witty, insightful bunch that brought their A game. Seriously, they all seemed to be running full steam ahead all weekend. I was fortunate enough to sit next to McDonald during the writers workshop panels on Friday, and learned he's that kid from high school who has a funny retort for practically anything anyone says, ever. It was a struggle to not double over laughing and have everyone in the room turn and stare at me. The workshop portion went well, and one participant, Shlomi Harif, brought a short story that I am utterly convinced can be expanded into a complex relationship novel steeped in strangeness. In a good way. That evening's Pirate Panel lurched along like a drunken schooner--mainly because I was moderator and hadn't prepared nearly enough--but my arch-enemy Stina Leicht, Cassandra Clarke, Dave Hardy and Rob Rogers gamely filled in the gaps. Hardy, in particular, proved to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every pirate who ever lived and could've run a two-hour discussion solo without breaking a sweat. Saturday I brought Monkey Girl along to wreak her particular brand of havoc. After an unfortunate example of impulse control failure at Worldcon last year, the first thing I did was remove her bank card from her possession prior to her entering the dealers room or art show. To buy or bid on anything she had to come through me. She wasn't happy about it, and I know the vendors weren't happy, but we can't always have a geyser of money spraying out as her bank account is emptied in minutes. There were also discussions amongst myself and several other con-goers regarding her decision to stop participating in my Babylon 5 reviews on this blog, mainly because she complained writing her thoughts "was too much like homework." When Monkey Girl learned people were discussing her opinions shared on my blog, and expressing disappointment she was no longer participating, she expressed shock. "Why? I told you people were commenting on the posts. They liked reading what a fresh set of eyes thought of these episodes." To which she responded, "Yeah, but I didn't actually think you were telling the truth." So, she has expressed interests in rejoining the review thing. Heh. The GoH interview with Weisman--conducted in tag-team fashion by Rick Klaw and Scott Cupp, with color commentary by Bill Crider--was an interesting capsule history of Tachyon Publications, enhanced by a liberal distribution of Crackerjacks. Afterward, I got to speak with Weisman--quite a thoughtful fellow, if a little more low-key than most of the other lunatics frequenting Armadillocon--and was able to discuss a side project I've taken on. He was intrigued, yet justifiably cautious. I'm to follow up with him this week on it, and he's promised to offer advice and direction if nothing else. Yes, I know that[...]



Babylon 5: The Parliament of Dreams

2014-07-22T14:35:59.080-05:00

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out. In Valen's Name: Earth Alliance has imposed a week-long religious festival on Babylon 5, so that all races might share the dominant belief of their civilization and learn something about each other. The human contribution to this festival has been dumped on Commander Sinclair with no guidance, and he's at a loss on how to present "Earth's dominant belief system" to the other races. To complicate matters, his on-again, off-again girl friend Catherine arrives, and tension between them mounts. Meanwhile, Ambassador G'Kar receives a courier from the Narn homeworld bearing a message about an impending assassination attempt on G'Kar's life. G'Kar, who has made many enemies, grows paranoid. He suspects his aid, Na'Toth of being part of the plot. An alien bodyguard he hires is promptly executed by the mysterious assassin. Finally, the Narn courier reveals himself, torturing G'Kar, but Na'Toth rescues G'Kar and they turn the tables on the hit man. The episode ends with Sinclair introducing the alien contingent to a host of humans representing the vast spectrum of Earthly theological belief, ranging from atheism to Catholicism to Buddhism and everything in between. The scene pans along the line of humans religious, and fades to black before the end is reached. What Jayme Says: This marks the first of what I call the "Poetic titles" of the series. They're evocative and abstract, and generally can be counted on to be a keeper, if not pivotal. "Parliament of Dreams" isn't necessarily pivotal the the overarching narrative, but it is for the first season in general. This feels like the first episode of Babylon 5 where the confidence of the actors, writers and director really manifested itself in the final product. The main plot of G'Kar's assassination is the least important element in the entire episode. Yes, it's fun to see the bombastic G'Kar squirm and squeal, but when you get right down to it it's a very straightforward narrative with no real jeopardy. G'Kar is one of the main characters on the show, and series never kill off main characters. Right? Sinclair's relationship with Catherine doesn't have much substance, either, but it serves as a nice piece of character development for the commander--and works far better than the similar attempt from "The Gathering." No, the best part of the episode is what we only get to see the edges of, the belief sharing amongst the different species. Through deft use of symbolism, the rituals we see reflect the generalized traits of the various species on the show. The Centauri, generally viewed as a foppish empire in decline, has a raucous, drunken celebration of life that dates back to a time when their people were younger, stronger and fighting for their very survival. By contrast, the disciplined, aloof Minbari have a somber ceremony that quotes their great prophet Valen, and introduces the recurring phrase, "And so it begins." But it's the human presentation on religion that leaves the most striking impression. Having all those faiths lined up drives home the diversity of belief we humans engage in. It was deft, nuanced and respectful, all the more impressive since JMS is, of course, an outspoken atheist. Now, there's no reason why an atheist can't write about religion in a thoughtful way. None. But here my own biases and baggage come into play. I know any number of folks with diverse beliefs--Christian, pagan, Jewish, atheist--and by an large they're just swell. Wonderful people (because I try not to associate too closely with jerks). However, on occasion my path crosses that of an outspoken atheists, and more times than not I've encountered visceral contempt from them directed at anyone who might dare [...]



Babylon 5: Infection

2014-07-07T10:01:03.103-05:00

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series along with my teenage daughter. I have not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run, and Calista was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out. In Valen's Name: Dr. Vance Hendricks, a former professor of Dr. Stephen Franklin's, shows up on Babylon 5 for what is presumably a pleasant reunion with his formal pupil. Down in the station's docking bays, however, Hendricks' henchman Nelson Drake kills a station worker in order to smuggle an alien artifact through customs, which sets an ominous tone. Hendricks explains to Franklin he's returned from an archaeological expedition to the dead world of Ikarra VII, where he's discovered pristine artifacts buried deep underground. The artifacts, left by the advanced Ikarran civilization, are based on organic technology, and he needs Franklin's xenobiology expertise--not to mention advance Babylon 5 medlab--to analyze the find. Despite his misgivings--likening the corporate-sponsored rush to explore dead worlds to grave-robbing--Franklin agrees to help. Shortly thereafter, as Drake is unpacking the artifacts, one discharges, affecting Drake. Franklin returns to medlab and is shot by the transforming Drake with an energy blast, knocking him out. The next day, having regained consciousness, Franklin explains to Commander Sinclair and Garibaldi how it appears the alien artifacts are grafting themselves onto Drake and transforming him into some sort of alien warrior. Garibaldi casts doubt on the idea that the artifacts actually cleared customs like Hendricks claimed, to which Hendricks says, "Yo, that was my evil henchman's job. If he killed your dockworker to smuggle them in, I had nothing to do with it." Meanwhile, Drake/Warrior is getting more powerful, and his battle mode recharge time is decreasing. Franklin, studying the remaining artifacts, discovers what is going on: Ikarra had been invaded so many times that the civilization developed technology to create unstoppable warriors to defend their world. Unfortunately, zealots programmed them to destroy anything that wasn't "pure Ikarran," an ideological definition. Naturally, once the alien invasion was beaten back the warriors turned on the Ikarran population, finding none of them "pure." The only warrior not deployed was, in fact, the one Hendricks had discovered and smuggled onto Babylon 5. Realizing the warrior's mission is now to destroy everyone on Babylon 5, Sinclair arms himself and attacks the Ikarran, luring it into a docking bay where it can be vented into space. Once there, Sinclair begins arguing with the warrior, insisting it failed in its mission to defend Ikarra VII, and instead destroyed the world it was created to protect. The artifact accesses the memories of Drake, who'd seen the dead world, and in grief the artifact deactivates itself and separates from Drake. Hendricks explains to Franklin that the corporation funding his research is actually a front for a bioweapons developer, and that if he could confirm the artifacts' use as weapons technology, he could claim a much higher finder's fee. He offers to split the money with Franklin, but Franklin declines the bribe and two security guards take him away. Later, two agents from Earthforce Intelligence show up and confiscate the artifacts for "research." What Calista Says: Nothing. Calista has declined to provide further written opinions regarding Babylon 5 episodes. "It's too much like homework." Such are the fickle natures of teenagers. What Jayme Says: A run-of-the-mill episode. It's not bad and not great, but relies of many science fiction tropes that we've seen time and again. With a cosmetic rewrite, there's nothing to prevent this script from being used for Star Trek, F[...]



Armadillocon 36 schedule

2014-06-11T12:59:33.609-05:00

Armadillocon 36 is approaching July 25-27, and seeing as how pretty much every other guest has shared his or her schedule via the interwebz, I figured it was high time I do so myself. Fashionably late to the party and all that.

Most of my Friday will be consumed with being an instructor in the world-famous Armadillcon Writers Workshop. This writers workshop is a stunningly good deal for aspiring and neo-pro authors, as it puts them in close, intensive writerly-oriented contact with an array of insanely talented and accomplished authors and editors. I say this having actually taught in the workshop five or six times in addition to pretending to run it twice (you can verify with Patrice Sarath and Melissa Tyler on that last count). Deadline to register and submit manuscripts is June 15, so there's still time to get in. And if my presence isn't enough to win you over, check out the rest of the instructor lineup: Mario Acevedo, Ted Chiang, Nicky Drayden, Mark Finn, Derek Johnson, Claude Lalumiere, Stina Leicht, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Ian McDonald, Joe McKinney, Alex C. Renwick, Kat Richardson, Dr. Anne-Marie Thomas, Martin Wagner, Jacob Weisman, Martha Wells and Skyler White. Boom. Enough said.

Beyond that, here is the official ArmadilloCon 36 schedule for Jayme Lynn Blaschke (* denotes panel moderator):

Friday
9-10 p.m. Beyond the Plunder: Which genre books, movies, shows correctly portray historical pirates?
Blaschke*, Clarke, Hardy, Leicht, Rogers

Saturday
1-2 p.m Autographing
Blaschke, Wells

8-9 p.m. Interview with Ted Chiang

9-10 p.m. Fireside Chat: The quartet talk about anything and much mirth will be expected.
Denton*, Blaschke, de Orive, Lansdale

Sunday
10-11 a.m. Best Cons from Genre Books: Not many people are good at writing capers. Which books do it right?
Webb*, Blaschke, Maresca

2-3 p.m. Contagion: What diseases/syndromes/parasites could kill the entire population of the world if we didn't have current restrictions set. (Not including malaria.)
Blaschke*, Faust, Frater, Leicht, Moore



Kaiju Theater: Godzilla Final Wars

2014-05-22T15:01:38.450-05:00

With the new Godzilla film tearing up the screens worldwide, I thought it apropos to revisit the most recent Japanese Godzilla film that preceded this American production. And that film would be 2005's Godzilla Final Wars. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm reprinting here a slightly edited version of my original review from 2006 for RevolutionSF. Anyone going into Godzilla: Final Wars expecting the second coming of Destroy All Monsters is going to be disappointed. Despite all the hype about relentless monster battles and kaiju assembled from decades of Toho films, this isn't that movie. What this is, rather, is a continuation and culmination of Toho's "Millennnial" series, which started with Godzilla 2000 and continued with Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, Tokyo S.O.S., Giant Monsters All-Out Attack and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. Those fans who hold firm the belief that the series lost its way after the Heisei series of Godzilla films (1984-1995) or even the Showa era (1954-1975) would best be served by moving on. For everyone else, well, Godzilla: Final Wars is an entertaining romp. Flawed and problematic, sure, but entertaining nonetheless. Part of the problem appears to be that nobody -- not Toho and certainly not Sony Pictures -- has really been able to figure out what to do with Godzilla since the big radioactive lizard was first reduced to a pile of bones at the bottom of Tokyo Bay way back in 1954. Ignoring the Nuclear Apocalypse/Force of Nature aspect of the concept, most Godzilla films boast all the plot sophistication of cheap porn -- flimsy, nonsensical plots with even worse acting designed to fill those tedious minutes between beautiful people getting naked and sweaty with each other. Or, in the case of Godzilla, men in rubber suits stomping miniature cities as they act out cockeyed interpretations of professional wrestling's steel cage matches. With the advent of the Heisei series, the plots did become somewhat more sophisticated, while at the same time, paradoxically, remaining an afterthought. Films like Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah shamelessly lifted huge swaths of plot from such Hollywood blockbusters as Little Shop of Horrors, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Terminator. Whenever the pressure is on Toho to come up with something new and fresh for the Godzilla franchise, the first thing they do is look to plunder Hollywood's big vault of cliches. And so it is with Godzilla: Final Wars. With all the wire-fu, shiny black vinyl outfits and throbbing techno soundtrack on display throughout the film, a more appropriate name for the film might be Godzilla vs. the Matrix. Even Masahiro Matsuoka, the lead actor playing mutant Earth Defense Force Soldier Shin'ichi Ozaki, bears more than a passing resemblance to the lean-featured Keanu Reeves (although Masahiro's acting is better. Even when dubbed). The actors spin, punch, kick and fly through practically every scene they have, and there's even a wildly kinetic motorcycle duel on a deserted freeway that owes as much to Tron and Akira as it does The Matrix. Because that's the way this movie is: It's not just borrowing from The Matrix. No, it's effectively borrowing, swiping, pinching, stealing and paying homage to practically every SF actioner ever made. Well, maybe not Ice Pirates. Even so, Final Wars riffs on everything from Star Blazers to Independence Day, and not subtly, either. There's a scene near the end that might as well have been based on the storyboards from Return of the Jedi. And that's not even counting the many Toho films that were "officially" incorporated into the movie, ranging from the obscure flying submarine battleship movie Atragon to the popular Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. This movie doesn't have an original [...]



Kaiju Theater: Godzilla (2014)

2014-05-17T15:25:40.785-05:00

Back in the summer of 2000, one scorching August afternoon I made my way to the crummiest theater in Temple, Texas, because that was the only place showing Godzilla 2000. The film was the first Japanese Godzilla film distributed to American cinemas since Godzilla 1985 15 years before. Growing up watching all the cheesy Shōwa series films on Saturday afternoon TV "Creature Features" and was jazzed to see a modern incarnation of the Big G. But when I got to the theater, they told me the air conditioning was out, and would not be repaired for the foreseeable future. It was at least 100 degrees out, and likely to get hotter before the day was out. What's worse, I couldn't catch an evening show because as a sports reporter, I worked evenings. Knowing this was very likely to be my only chance to ever see a real, for-true Godzilla film on the big screen (even then I dismissed the 1998 travesty completely) I bit the bullet: I bought my ticket, and watched the film, all by my lonesome in the empty screening room in sweltering, 90-degree temperatures. I share this only so readers understand from where I come from. I'm a Godzilla fan from way, way back, and take the atomic age metaphor seriously. Which is why I--and my family--looked forward to this big-budget American production (co-produced by Toho) directed by Gareth Edwards, who gave us 2010's nifty low-budget Monsters. The film opens with an extended setup in which Bryan Cranston's Joe Brody loses his wife, Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) in a suspicious nuclear power plant accident in Japan. Flash forward 15 years, and Joe Brody has become a wild-eyed conspiracy nut, convinced the government is covering up the real cause of the accident and his wife's death. His son, Ford (Kick Ass' Aaron Taylor-Johnson), all grown up and a bomb-disposal expert in the Marines, is just returning home from a tour of duty and desperate to spend quality time with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son, Sam (Carson Bolde). Except he get a phone call that his crazy dad has been arrested in Japan, so Ford flies to land of the Rising Son to bail him out. Once out, Joe convinces a skeptical Ford that the same seismic events that triggered the disaster 15 years ago are repeating themselves, and needs to return to the restricted area around the ruined power plant to recover his records to prove it. Ford reluctantly agrees with the scheme, but once they sneak in, not only do they recover Joe's long-list zip drive discs, they also discover the area isn't a radioactive wasteland. They're promptly captured by security and get a ring-side seat at a MUTO--a giant, vicious insect-like monster that eats radiation and has cocooned itself in the reactor for the past 15 years, breaks out to join its mate and reproduce. The rest of the movie consists of Ford attempting to return home to San Francisco whilst Godzilla pursues the two MUTOs because Big G is the "apex predator" and the MUTOs are his prey. Edwards plays things very close to the vest, withholding any glimpse of any monster until well into the film, and only then offering glimpses. Godzilla himself doesn't show the halfway point, and by then, audiences are primed for some serious kaiju-on-kaiju smackdown. Except we don't get it. When Godzilla confronts the male MUTO in Hawaii, Edwards abruptly cuts away to show news reports of the devastating battle. That's it. What works as a cute joke quickly loses its humor once the audience realizes the break isn't just a brief interlude, that Edwards really isn't going to show any of the fight. I've seen reviewers praise Edwards for making "such a bold choice" but I have to call bullshit. Sitting in the theater, watching Edwards tease the audience over and over without delivering the action, all I could think of was [...]



Keywords of the Zeitgeist

2014-05-13T15:47:10.019-05:00

Bidding now openKEYWORD SEARCH:CTTSO Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office TSWG Technical Support Working Group 360 degree scanningacousticAdvanced Analyticsadvanced technologyAESAFRICOMAirbornealert toolalgorithmalgorithmsAll sourceammoniumAmmunitionAmplifierANanalysis algorithmsanalytic capabilitiesAnalytic platformanalyzeAndroidanonymizing softwareAntennaattributionaugmented realityAutomated detectionautomated visualization capabilityAutonomousAviationavionicsBallisticballistic protectionBehaviorialBiologicalbiological detectionbitcoinblast protectionbombbreachBRITE Biometrics IdentityBuilding Partner CapacityC4ICableCameraCanine K9Capacity BuildingCase Studiescatalogs electronic deviceCBPCBP corpusCBRNEcellularcivil military operationsClass 2Class 3collectioncombating terrorismcommunication deviceCommunicationsCompasscomputer forensicsComputer-Based Trainingcounter irregular threatsCounter SurveillanceCR-80 sizedcredit cardcross matchcryptoCTFCyber-defenseDark WebDay Cameradecision support toolsDepthdesensitizationdetectiondetonabilitydigital imagesdigital videosDisplaydisruptersdistinguish anomaliesDiverDiversionaryDNAdriver's licenseduress systemdynamic motionelectronic evidenceencryptedencrypted videoEncryptionentry control pointEODEvidenceexothermicExpeditionary forcesExplosiveexplosivesExplosives Detectionextracted datafacial identificationFiber Opticfirearm simulatorFlashforensic analysisforensic examinationforensic intelligenceFree Fallgap testgenerate reportsGSMHeads Up Displayhelmethigh risk personnelhigh volumeHMEHolistic Approachesholistic baselineHuman Language Technologieshuman performance technologyidentification cardIEDIHEillicit financeincinerationindirectindirect asymmetric approachesinformation operationsingests device datainnovative training technologyintegrated solutionsintegrationInteragency interactionIO messagingIrregular WarfareISRISRLaserLaser Range FinderLevel BLevel Clive-fireLong Range Surveillancelong-rangeLTEM4marksmanshipMeasures of performancemobile applicationmobile devicemobile learningmobile learning applicationsmobile securitymodular roomMotorolaNavigationnew payment systemNFPA 1994NIJ Level 4nitrateNon-kineticOffensiveOperational Environmental ToolOptical Radar functionalityPACOMParachuteparticulatesPartner Nationpassport cardperformance supportperformance support applicationsPersonnel SystemPhysicalplatformPPEPRCPrecisionpreconcentrationprecursors of instabilityPredictive Analyticalprotectionprotection detailprotective equipmentproteomicPublic Safety BombPyrotechnicradioRadiosRamanRaman spectroscopyremoterender saferepository searchresponses to stimulationrobotSamplingScopesea statesearch and rescueSecureSecurity AssistanceSelf-propelledsensitive informationsensitive site exploitationSIGINT CyberSignaturesimulationsmartphonesniperSocial mediaSocial Media Analysissocial network chartssocio-cultural dynamic modelssoftwareSoundspecial facial characteristicsspeech isolationstrategic communicationsSUASSubsonicSubterraneanSuppressorSurveillance SystemSurvivabilitySystemstabletTacticaltactical operationsTagging Tracking LocatingTargetTechnical Surveillanceterror financeThermal Camerathreat financeTrackingtrainingtraining evaluationtriagetriggersTTP DevelopmentTunnelUASUAVuncontrolled image dataUnconventionalUnderground ReconnaissanceUnderwaterunmanned aerial systemuse-of-force simulatorVacuumvaporsVBIEDvehicle accessvehicle identificationvibrational spectroscopyVideovirtual currencyvirtual detectorsvirtual environmentsvirtual realityweaponweb crawlerWeb-Based TrainingWirelessWork Flow Development[...]



The Singularity Sperm

2014-05-01T23:13:17.191-05:00

Decades ago, James Tiptree, Jr., wrote a disturbing story (did she write any other kind?) titled "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" Not to spoil it for those readers who haven't gotten around to reading it over the past 40-plus years, but the premise involves a crew of male astronauts passing through a spatial anomaly on the other side of the sun, which catapults them far into the future where men have gone extinct, yet human civilization continues as a single-gendered Amazon society. Don't look now, but science is making Tiptree downright prescient: Primitive sperm cells have been cultured in a lab using human skin cells as the genetic source material. Go listen to, and/or read the story now. It's fascinating. In a paper published in the journal Cell Reports, Pera and her colleagues describe what they did. They took skin cells from infertile men and manipulated them in the laboratory to become induced pluripotent stem cells, which are very similar to human embryonic stem cells. That means they have the ability to become virtually any cell in the body. They then inserted the cells into the testes of mice, where they became very immature human sperm cells, the researchers report. Yes, the process is still in its infancy (no pun intended). There are many, many technical hurdles ahead before this technique might be used to produce a viable, mature sperm. And even then, there's no guarantee the technique might conceal some genetic roadblock (shortened telomeres, anyone?) that would make an embryo unviable. But even if this proves to be a genetic dead-end, it is still a tremendous breakthrough that will undoubtedly contribute greatly to other areas of genetic research. But if it does prove to be a practical, safe and stable technique once it is refined and perfected... The story came on the air as I was driving home with my eldest daughter, a 15-year-old as in to science fiction literature as I was at her age. She was fascinated by the story. "What obvious question did they not ask?" I said once the story ended. "They're talking about making viable sperm from human skin cells. Or human hair." "They could make someone's children without their knowledge or permission. That's creepy." "Yes, but take it further. They can make sperm out of any piece of skin, or hair," I said. "What happens if they take some of your hair..." And her eyes got big. I suspect the greatest demand for this process will not come from infertile men, but rather lesbian couples. Any children born of such unions would invariably be female, as the genetic code from the sperm mother could only contain an X chromosome. Beyond that, there is nothing standing in the way of women fathering children with other women. It's easy to forsee lesbian couples alternating pregnancies, with one being the sperm mother for the first baby, and then reversing roles for the second. It's as democratic as the reproductive cycle is ever likely to be. Men, obviously, would then be technically irrelevant, although for practical purposes I expect the Y chromosome to remain in demand amongst a large segment of the female population for some time to come. Step back even farther, and the implications are even bigger: We are already living in the much-ballyhooed "Singularity." Consider the evidence--genetic breakthroughs are coming at a breakneck pace. We're already custom-growing gall bladders and other simple organs in the lab for transplant, and within the decade higher organs such as kidneys, hearts and lungs will follow. Two decades ago, we hadn't confirmed the existence of a single extra-solar planet, and now not only have we charted thousands of them, we're analyzing their atmospheres and marking potentially habitable ones for futur[...]



Entropy filters

2014-04-26T17:12:19.780-05:00

Some musings on Jim Jarmusch ruin porn, and how it can infect your weekend, at my Tumblr.




0 Comments

2014-04-25T07:06:08.652-05:00

(image)

Wow. Real estate + small arms + social media = sovereign microstate.

But what happens when the militia won't leave?




Babylon 5: Soul Hunter

2014-04-17T09:28:07.260-05:00

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series along with my teenage daughter. I have not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run, and Calista was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out. In Valen's Name: The aliens on board Babylon 5 go into a frenzy when an alien known as a Soul Hunter arrives on the station. Soul Hunters have a religious belief that the souls of important figures should be captured and preserved at the time of death. Dr. Stephen Franklin makes his first appearance on the series, and scoffs at the notion "souls" can be captured--listing a number of cyberpunkish alternatives whilst being dismissive of the supernatural. Minbari Ambassador Delenn is particularly troubled, because some years earlier this particular Soul Hunter attempted to collect the soul of a great Minbari leader, but was rebuffed in what is alluded to be a very bloody confrontation. He recognizes Delenn of the ruling Grey Council, and wonders why she's acting as a mere Ambassador. The Soul Hunter claims everything went wrong after he was stopped on Minbar--he's failed repeatedly to collect souls of the important departed from then on. He decides he was drawn to Babylon 5 to collect Delenn's soul and promptly abducts here with the intent of killing her in order to collect her soul. About that time, another Soul Hunter arrives, warning Sinclair that the first Soul Hunter has gone insane because of his failure on Minbar and now is, essentially, a serial killer. Sinclair finds the crazy Soul Hunter in time, turns the soul-collecting machine against him and rescues Delenn. From then on, Sinclair bans Soul Hunters from the station and Delenn releases all the captured souls from his collection. What Calista Says: In this episode, I thought the Soul-Collectors were very misunderstood, but at the same time they were pretty creepy. They reminded me of those crazy religious groups that everyone has a hard time accepting because what they believe in and what they do are so outrageous. I also think that the Babylon 5 captain was right to ban that race from coming on the station. What Jayme Says: This isn't a great episode. It's not awful, but it's too cut-and-dried to really resonate. Part of the problem is that this episode is very much metaphysical, which is at odds with B5's otherwise hard-core science fictional universe. I'll admit giving the Soul Hunters a third eye is a nice touch for the metaphysical aspect (just as Game of Thrones has a three-eyed crow), but still. I understand why the concept of metaphysical souls needed to be introduced as part of the larger narrative, and the fact that this initially seems like such a throwaway episode is a sly way to do so... but still, these ideas are developed in future episodes less ham-fistedly, making "Soul Hunter" superfluous. And the alien race plays no significant role in the rest of the series narrative, save for the stand-along movie of the same name (which we'll get to eventually). Delenn being reduced to a damsel in distress is another problem here, but B5 is less guilty of this than other series/movies on the whole. And we do get our first look at Stephen Franklin, played by the late, likeable, Richard Biggs, so the episode has that going for it. Overall, though, it's mildly interesting at best.[...]



Vanishing Surveillance

2014-04-11T06:25:14.456-05:00

This.

(At my Tumblr, which is where I'm doing most of my blogging these days. Come on over!)




Babylon 5: Midnight on the Firing Line

2014-02-20T15:27:40.843-06:00

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series along with my teenage daughter. I have not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run, and Calista was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out. In Valen's Name: A Narn sneak attack on the small Centauri agricultural colony of Ragesh 3 touches off a round of serious diplomatic tension aboard Babylon 5. The Narn ambassador, G'Kar, initially feigns ignorance, which infuriates Centauri ambassado Londo once he learns the true identity of the attacking force. The issue is personal for Londo, as he'd pulled strings to get his nephew, Carn, assigned to a prestigious research position on the colony. Also, Londo dreams of the days before the Centauri empire was in decline, and once he receives word from his superiors on Centauri Prime that Ragesh 3 is too small and remote to bother defending, Londo attempts to bluff the Advisory Council and League of Non-Aligned Worlds into taking action where the Centauri Republic would not. G'Kar calls his bluff, informs the council that Ragesh 3 was originally a Narn colony seized by the Centauri during their brutal occupation of Narn, and finally share a transmission of Londo's obviously tortured nephew stating that the colonists invited the Narn to annex them because the Centauri Republic had essentially abandoned the colony and cut off support. Whilst all this is going on, Security Chief Garibaldi is tracking down the source of some troubling pirate raids on cargo ships destined for Babylon 5. The raiders have displayed weapons far more powerful of late than they have in the past, escalating the threat they pose. He figures out how they are planning their attacks, and Commander Sinclair leads a squadron of Star Furies out to ambush the raiders. This leads to the capture of the raiders' mother ship, which just so happens to have a Narn advisor on board as the raiders have been using new, more powerful weapons purchased from the Narn. The advisor also just happens to have recordings of the transmissions between the Narn fleet and homeworld that exposes the entire invasion of Ragesh 3 as an unprovoked attack. When confronted with the evidence, G'Kar is furious, but Narn backs down and recalls its forces from Ragesh 3. In the B plot of the episode, newly-arrived Lt. Commander Ivanova spends the episode avoiding newly-arrived telepath Talia Winters. When Winters finally corners Ivanova, Ivanova explains she hates the Psi Corps because her mother was a latent telepath who was forced by the corps to take drugs to suppress her abilities. The drugs caused severe depression, leading to her mother's suicide. Talia is sympathetic, but Ivanova rejects any possibility of friendship. What Calista Says: In this episode I really liked the replacement 2nd-in-command, Ivanova, and the back story about her mother. The special effects were way better than they were in the pilot. I liked the makeup on Delenn in the pilot more than how it was in this episode. In the pilot it was more dramatic. What Jayme Says: This is a good, solid episode--a far, far better introduction to Babylon 5 than the clunky pilot. There's a lot going on here, but JMS' writing and Richard Compton's directing keep everything coherent and clear. The Narn/Centauri conflict is front and center here, not soft-pedaled as it was in the pilot. The raiders are kinda throwaway enemies, but they serve their purpose. Ivanova's handful of scenes with Talia pack quite an emotional punch and are [...]



Babylon 5: The Gathering

2014-02-10T11:56:09.324-06:00

I've been possessed of a desire to re-watch the entire Babylon 5 television series of late. I have not seen a single episode since that groundbreaking series completed its tumultuous run, and am curious as to how well the epic, 5-year story arc holds up more than a decade later. But to up the ante, I've invited my teenage daughter, Calista, to watch it with me. She was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998, so we'll get an unbiased take from a hard-to-please Doctor Who fan who is fairly well-read when it comes to modern YA science fiction. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out. Note: We watched the 1998 edit for this review, which, while still problematic, is an improvement over the version that originally aired. In Valen's Name: The Babylon 5 space station, commanded by Jeffrey Sinclair, has been operational for one full year. It is awaiting the arrival of the ambassador of the mysterious, ancient and powerful Vorlon Empire. After a ruinous war with the Minbari that nearly drove the human race to extinction, the Babylon project was conceived as sort of diplomatic meeting point to prevent future conflicts. Babylon stations 1-3 were sabotaged and destroyed during construction. Babylon 4 mysteriously disappeared 24 hours after going operational. Babylon 5 was only completed after the Minbari and Centauri Republic provided assistance. The main alien races represented by ambassadors include the bald, zen-like Minbari, the foppish, crazy-haired Centauri and the antagonistic, reptilian Narn. Other minor species are present in the loosely-affiliated "League of Non-Aligned Worlds." As the Vorlon ambassador, Kosh, arrives, Sinclair is inexplicably delayed in meeting him. When he arrives, Sinclair finds the Vorlon collapsed, the victim of an assassination attempt. Doctor Benjamin Kyle opens Kosh's encounter suit despite Vorlon communications against doing so in an attempt to save the ambassador. Also in defiance of Vorlon demands, human telepath Lita Alexander enters Kosh's mind to find out what happened, and sees Sinclair attack the ambassador with poison. The Vorlons send a fleet of warships to take Sinclair back to their world for interrogation and trial, but Sinclair figures out the assassin was using a "chameleon net" to alter his appearance. They corner the assassin, who is growing more desperate, and discover he is actually a Minbari who utters a cryptic comment to Sinclar--"There is a hole in your mind'--before blowing up a large section of the station and killing himself in the process. The Vorlons monitor the incident and depart, content that Sinclair is innocent. What Calista Says: The first thing that struck me while I was watching the Babylon 5 pilot was the really sucky special effects. The second thing I noticed was that the Asian lady couldn't act. My favorite character was probably the telepath, and my favorite aliens were the ones who used to be at war with Earth. I really want to know more about them. The aliens with the flowery space ship reminded me a lot of Time Lords for some reason. What Jayme Says: The Babylon 5 pilot, "The Gathering," isn't awful, but lord it isn't good. The CGI effects are primitive even for 1993, and the narrative is ponderous and slow, seemingly lingering over sets and costume design and prosthetic makeup to show the viewer how much was invested in the production. The acting--particularly by Tamlyn Tomita as second-in-command Laurel Takashima--is stiff and wooden. The assassination plot should've been a taut[...]



Requiem for a Muscle Car

2013-11-23T08:23:51.455-06:00

You could only find the Impala by accident. It was way off trail, in the back part of a wetland tucked between an urban river and the woods behind a bunch of light factories. They were the kind of woods and wetlands no one is really meant to explore, made from volunteer trees grown up between the chunks of concrete and demolition debris dumped in this downzoned stretch of interstitial wilderness at what once was the edge of town. The negative space of the metropolis, where nature fills in the gaps and wild animals feel free to roam in the absence of human gazes. When you stumbled across it as you stepped out of the tall water grasses, it looked like it might have been there for thousands of years. But you also could remember when cars like that cruised the streets. Cars with Batmobile lines forged in a pre-apocalyptic Detroit. Cars whose profiles of postwar strength and Rust Belt wonder persist even as they weather into ruin. It was of that certain vintage, after the assassination of JFK and before the resignation of Nixon. Baked by the sun to primer working on gunmetal, with water plants growing up out of the seats and the engine block, guarded by the herons and egrets who filled the secret sanctuary of the wilderness hidden under the roar of the old highway. You couldn’t tell how it had gotten there. It might have washed downriver in a big flood, or been driven down here at some time when the river channel was different. You would go back and look for it once in a while, and it was always there, but every time you went you needed to intuit a different path through the impassable wild vegetation and knee-sucking muck. It manifested different forms with the changes in the river, sometimes almost completely submerged, at other times almost ready to fly off with its steel hood extended like a gull wing. A mystical motorhead Ozymandias that transported you in ways its designers never intended. It’s gone now, pulled out of the muck by newer machines dispatched by the stewards slowly working on cleaning up the edgeland and turning it into a park. Maybe they are right that it didn’t belong there with the birds and the fish and the native plants, so close to the “scenic overlook” that there was a real possibility some Audubon Society folks might see it. But it sure seemed like an indigenous expression to you, an artifact that perfectly expressed the essence of this place. You can still find its digital ghosts, if you know the right place to look on the omniscient maps, but that won’t last long. Curiously, I found love tracking metal Impalas in these uncanny wetlands, another wanderer tuned into the strange vortex of surreal power of the Zona. She was making the wind dance in the windows of an old concrete fire tower while I was paddling against the current in a river out of time. That was five years ago. Yesterday we got married, and today we’ll celebrate with family and friends in this place we ended up making our home. The relics will come and go, but the wonder is always there if you can open up your third eye to it. The power is inside us, and especially poderoso now that we have a pair of magic rings to knock together. Our love is about a lot more than place, but the way we met is what set us on course into the uncharted territories ahead. It’s pretty awesome. [...]



The genius that is Picacio

2013-11-07T12:49:13.959-06:00

The great John Picacio has one of those Kickstarter campaigns under way. If you haven't jumped on board with your support yet, do so now. You've got six days to go. The project's already funded, and stretch goals are adding up, so that's considered a "win-win" situation in common parlance. Have you gotten that taken care of? Good. Now listen up, because I'm not likely to repeat this outside the friendly confines of a SF convention: John Picacio is pure, unadulterated genius. I don't say that lightly. It wasn't enough that the Hand of God reached down and blessed him with a singular artistic vision and talent to match (not taking away from the years of study and effort John put into developing that talent, by the way). It wasn't enough that John is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet--and by that, I don't mean he's "passive nice" in a quietly inoffensive way. No, he's pro-actively nice, in that he uses his success as a platform to try and improve the lot of his peers, his non-peers and strangers who don't know him from Adam alike. He's humble without false modesty. On top of that, he goes out of his way to simply make people feel good. But above and beyond, the man is smart. I don't have access to his inner circle, or have been graced with a peek behind the curtains, but from my vantage point, he is developing his Lone Boy company shrewdly, with a laser-like strategic focus. That is reflected in his Kickstarter campaigns. Now, John has a massive following in the speculative fiction community. He needs a U-Haul truck to cart around all his Hugo, World Fantasy and Chesley Awards. So last year, when he produced an art calendar of his "greatest hits," he had a ready audience. Many artists would be content with this, but not John. He's expanded his playing field a thousand-fold by producing original calendar art based on images from the Loteria card game: This. Is. Genius. Have I used this word too much? Impossible. Look, I've lived my entire life in Texas and grown up as exposed to Tejano culture as a fat white kid from the country can be, but I'd never heard of La Loteria. Now, imagine tens of thousands of other genre fans across the country who don't know tomatillos from vaqueros. They don't know La Loteria either, but they do know gorgeous, fantastical artwork on oversized tarot-style cards. They're all in for a calendar featuring this work. Now pause a moment and consider the tens of millions of Tejanos, Mexican-Americans and Mexican nationals who grew up playing this game and have a deep-seated affection for it? And how would they respond to something many consider kitschy folk art being elevated, if not venerated, as high art? Now it starts to become clear. John is tapping into cultural cross-currents leavened with a generous amount of magical realism that has the potential to turn him into an artistic brand (if I may use so crude and crass a term for something so elegant) with far and enduring reach. And genre fans will buy whatever collectible editions of the game John produces as well, because, damn, have you seen how stunning the art is? A Picacio-designed tarot deck seems the obvious next step, but truth to tell, John's not built himself a successful career by being obvious. At conventions, I'll catch him alone for a moment and ask about an obscure, unexpected or off-the-wall idea that's struck me about his flourishing career, and invariably he'll respond with a sly, "What have you heard?" followed by a quick, "We'll talk later." John literally [...]



Jackson Pollock, Covert Propaganda Asset

2013-09-18T17:11:39.285-05:00

A decade ago I wrote a story about a clandestine group of U.S. psychological warfare operatives who commissioned a piece of post-Frazetta sword & sorcery fantasy art as a secret weapon to influence a Middle Eastern dictator. The story, "Script-Doctoring the Apocalypse," was influenced by the news reports of Rowena Morrill chainmail bikini paintings found by American troops when the captured Saddam Hussein's secret bachelor pads. It was published in Eileen Gunn's The Infinite Matrix, the very week that Saddam was captured in a Tikriti spiderhole. It turns out that Psyop part of the story was more plausible than I had intuited. Jayme Blaschke just tipped me to this amazing story from the Independent (with a byline much older than my story) about how the CIA covertly funded the New York School Abstract Expressionist painters all through the 50s and 60s as a propaganda weapon during the Cold War. On a "long leash," granted, using a variety of intermediaries—but still mind-blowing to consider what role intelligence support had in the mid-twentieth century American avant-garde (to say nothing of cultural products that made postwar anti-communism culturally credible among the intelligentsia—see below reference to the animated version of Orwell's Animal Farm). Unknown to the artists, the new American art was secretly promoted under a policy known as the "long leash" - arrangements similar in some ways to the indirect CIA backing of the journal Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender. The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world. The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell's Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America's anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism.Independent, "Modern art was CIA 'weapon'Where's the gonzo James Ellroy novel about these guys?! Maybe Don DeLillo already wrote about Pollack and the spook and I missed it. [...]



Worldcon report the third

2013-09-10T06:17:00.165-05:00

LoneStarCon 3 was Monkey Girl's first Worldcon. She'd been to several local cons--Armadillocon, Aggiecon and ConDFW--but Worldcon was a whole other animal. She worked at Schlitterbahn all summer, her first job, saving up money so she could buy her own membership and have a little spending money in the dealers room and art show, not to mention the Texas Renaissance Festival later this fall and general goings-out with her friends. She'd shown a bit of responsibility with her money, enough so that her mother and I didn't worry too much about her going nuts unsupervised with her own debit card. Big mistake. Folks, have you ever gotten to a really spectacular buffet line, and your eyes get way too big for your stomach? That's pretty much what happened over Worldcon weekend with Monkey Girl. In just three days, she burned through every single penny she'd earned over the summer with a staggering array of impulse buys--those steampunk shoes to the right being Exhibit A. They cost $150. Cute shoes, if you're into footwear like that, but she can't wear them to school. They're barely wearable at all, and some of the cogs and gears have already started dropping off. Now, I'm sure the merchants were happy with her spending spree, as were the artists in the art show. But there's only so many impractical steampunk shoes, tee shirts, prints and other gee-gaws one can impulsively blow money on before reality sets in and second thoughts rule the day. If you've got teens itching to be set loose in a convention with a lot of tempting buyables beckoning, take my advice and keep them on a very short leash. Other than these issues with my eldest child, the remainder of Worldcon went by in fairly happy fashion. For my literary beer, I found myself a seat beside Mark Finn, and as he held forth on all things Robert E. Howard, I pulled out bottles of La Terrible Belgian ale and Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout, and proceeded to school those folks in attendance on the glories of really dark beers. For the next two days I had people stopping me in the halls, thanking me for introducing them to such beverages so powerful good. Even some self-proclaimed dark beer haters admitted conversion on the spot, so I feel confident in declaring victory in Literary Beer. And I talked some Chicken Ranch as well, lest you think I'm only about the fermentables. Saturday night I took Monkey Girl to the Masquerade. As an aspiring costumer/cosplayer, she drank it all in. It was good exposure for her, and she found much inspiration to be had. The number of entries (30+) was on par with the '97 Worldcon, but apart from the ragged mechanical angel put together by Phil Foglio's crew, there seemed to be fewer high-end, elaborate, hard-core costuming this time around. Lots of whimsy, humor and DIY work on display, though. Afterwards, we hit the various fan/convention parties and enjoyed ourselves a bit before calling it a night around 11 p.m. or so. Gotta set a good example for the child, after all. Sunday started out with a bit of frustration, as the parking garage next to the convention center was full up when we arrived, and I had to park on the other side of the Riverwalk for double the price. By the time we reached the convention center, I was already sweating. Ugh. My reading didn't make. I'd feel bad about this, except for the fact that Bud Sparhawk had the slot immediately prior to mine, and that one didn't make, either. Early Sunday is not go[...]



Reunen Letras Fantasticas

2013-09-18T06:45:14.708-05:00

One of the major national newspapers of Mexico City, La Reforma, published this great piece recently on the World Fantasy Award nomination for Three Messages and a Warning. It helps explain what a big deal it is from the perspective of the Mexican writers included in the anthology to get a major English-language genre award. I thought it worth translating into English. LA REFORMAAugust 27, 2013 COMPILING FANTASTIC WRITING Fiction anthology edited in US Book nominated for the World Fantasy Award—a prize won by Stephen Kingby Rebeca Pérez The streets of Mexico produce interesting literature. Maybe it's because they are the scene of incredible inventions driving to an apocalyptic or technology-filled future, but they also offer settings full of nooks and crannies ready for the imagination. That's the view of the American writer and editor Chris N. Brown, who, together with Eduardo Jiménez Mayo, compiled an anthology of 34 Mexican authors united around fantasy and science fiction themes. Titled Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic (Small Beer Press, 2012), this anthology of stories by authors like Bernardo Fernández BEF, Albero Chimal, Pepe Rojo, Hernán Lara Zavala, and Ana Clavel, has earned a nomination for the World Fantasy Award in the anthology category. This prize was created in 1975, and is the most prestigious of the genre. It has been awarded to authors like Haruki Murakami, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, George R.R. Martin, Alan Garner and Karen Joy Fowler, among others. This year's winners will be announced November 3 during the 2013 World Fantasy Convention in the United Kingdom. While only a nomination, the editor affirms that it is an important validation of the creativity and imagination of the authors collected in the book, as well as an award that could generate greater interest in Mexican literature among international readers and writers. "I think this nomination will lead to more translation of Mexican writers of fantastic literature, and to more anthologies of translated works from other countries and languages," affirmed the Texan writer. "For me, the most valuable thing these diverse Mexican writers share is a recognition that reason alone is inadequate to explain the experience of the world we live in, and that literature provides us the tools to explore and document the uncanny side of life," added the editor. This creation of the anthology began in 2009, when Chris was invited to participate in a binational science fiction conference as part of the Festival of the Historic Downtown of Mexico City. The trip generated many revelations for him. He felt that the Mexican capital was a window into the sprawling city of a science fiction future, and it put him in contact with authors who exposed him to interesting new experiences. "I thought the energetic young Mexican writers were in many respects more interesting than my Anglo-American colleagues, and that my fellow readers and writers in the US would be interested in hearing their voices," said Brown. "The Mexican writers provide an intensely rich and multicultural 21st century voice.  I think that global network access liberates them a bit from the folkloric confines in which many North American readers tend to situate Mexican artistic product.   They are well past the postcolonial.  The writers in the anthology are totally global and uniquely Mexic[...]