messier object


normally i am not wild about TED

but still, I gotta post this:

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praaaaaaavda!

Communists Say Avatar Director ‘Robbed’ Soviet Science Fiction: Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia

Indignant party members say that Cameron, prepared to do anything to execute the command of the White House, surreptitiously entered the mysterious and romantic world of Soviet science fiction, and transferred all the action to his primitive propaganda film and to the Strugatsky-created world of planet Pandora.

Now, I haven’t seen Avatar yet.  But, of course, as we all know, the Strugatskys’ Pandora is a world given over entirely to scientific research giant crayfish hunting where when you try to go there you end up crashing off-course because you got hijacked by a time-traveling Red Army officer and if you try to go back in history you end up being menaced by a skull.  And does this mean Frank Herbert’s The Jesus Incident is also to blame for this?



What man could resist a shaving lotion so laden with futurity?

It’s the future’s future now, but I just want to remind you why you should be reading Brett Holman (who seems to be a nice fellow, too)’s Airminded instead of this blog in the coming second decade of the third millennium*:

Are you going to wait — or be one of the ‘Moderns’? For the sake of your skin and your razor-blades do step out of that rut.

So how is the future invoked here in the pursuit of higher sales figures for Field-day? Most obviously, the city of the future has giant skyscrapers, with aeroplanes (and giant tubes of shaving lotion, ridden by a man who is clearly accustomed to boldly taking charge of his destiny in his dressing-gown) flying in between them. In fact, one of the skyscrapers is also an airport: there’s an aeroplane just taking off from it, and at the top of the tower is a windsock. Aside from the odd heliport or two, downtown airports have failed to materialise, but they remained a possibility in the 1930s. The text mentions such wondrous technological possibilities as glass houses, autogiros, and wrist televisions.

Then there is the rhetorical, almost ritual, use of the names of those two great novels about the future to come out of Britain in the 1930s, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and H. G. Wells’s The Shape of Things to Come (1933) (or rather, the 1936 film-of-the-book, Things to Come). Neither of these can be said to look forwards to the future without any misgivings, however; the one is a dystopia (albeit one masquerading as a utopia), and the other might as well be, at least for the hundreds of millions of people killed along the road to a technologically-sophisticated, tunic-wearing paradise. So they might seem an odd choice for a straightforwardly optimistic (if not entirely straightfaced, perhaps) depiction of the future. But that’s par for the course: the titles of both books very quickly became a shorthand for the unknown future, often with little relation to anything in Huxley or Wells.

Finally, there are all the key words defining the attributes which are to be associated with the future, and with Field-day: it will be revolutionary, incomparably better, different, faster, longer lasting, simple and safe. What man could resist a shaving lotion so laden with futurity? It is indeed the shave of the future, NOW. I do so want to be one of the Moderns, and I’d buy it myself, for sure — except that judging by Google, it looks like neither Field-day nor J. C. and J. Field, Ltd., its manufacturer, actually made it into this future. O brave new world, that doesn’t have such things in it!

*and, yes, I realize we aren’t there yet.



dragon innit

IF IT HAS A DRAGON IN IT IT ISN’T SCIENCE FICTION! THE SOLE DIFFERENTIATOR BETWEEN FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION IS THE PRESENCE OR ABSENCE OF DRAGONS!



“aloha, mars!”

Fun facts from the Futurama complete set’s complete commentaries: not only is “Fear of a Bot Planet” (s1e05) based on a Stanisław Lem short story about an astronaut who crash-lands on a planet of robots where, as it turns out, all the robots are actually just other astronauts who’ve disguised themselves, they wanted to make another episode based on Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts.



old news, apparently

Image comics presents: the Soviet Syd Mead!

But there’s a Soviet SF manga?  As bizarre as it seems to me to create socialist-inflected science fiction in this day and age*, it’s certainly interesting both as an aesthetic (ushankas for everyone!) and as a stylistic experiment.   I think the fact that it’s comics makes it even more fun, potentially, in the former – there’s certainly enough neatlooking abandoned Soviet futuristic hardware. But I don’t know how far it actually is going to go as a style experiment.  In Subversive Imaginations: Fantastic Prose and the End of Soviet Literature, 1970s-1990s, Nadya Peterson wrote that (and I think I agree) “the Stalinist novel and Soviet science fiction are both formulaic structures whose protagonists ‘know or discover the laws governing their social existence, and the ultimate outcome of those laws in a Great Society of the future.’ Which, if you’re writing a Soviet-style science fiction history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, leaves you with a pretty depressing Marxist world-system – something that could be cool, but might not be attractive for most authors.  So will it live up to the maxim**?  I dunno, but I just ordered the first volume, so we’ll see.

*and, yes, I’m not counting China Miéville here.

**so, so hard to avoid a Mac Sim/Strugatskys pun.



Jan’s Atomic Heart (АТОМНОЕ СЕРДЦЕ ЯНА)

Jan’s Atomic Heart (АТОМНОЕ СЕРДЦЕ ЯНА)
by Simon Roy
New Reliable Press, 2009

Frankfurt.
Some time in the far-ish future.

For a science fiction graphic novel set in the distant future, the world of Jan’s Atomic Heart seems surprisingly like our own: the moon may be colonized and people may telecommute as robots, but they still jog, go to egg restaurants, and drink lukewarm coffee.  While it obviously takes design cues from classic cyberpunk sequential art like Ghost in the Shell, the world Roy imagines is different from the Gibsonian dystopias of infinite darkness and a neon light flashing in a human face, forever.  It’s not steampunk, or biopunk, or magickpunk, it’s… normalpunk. (Please, kill me now.)  For all technology has changed, it doesn’t seem to have changed Jan, the titular human waiting for a new body after a car crash teleprojecting into an old android, his mysterious friend, Anders, or the society they find themselves living in. Continue reading



the fringe files: 1×15, “inner child”

Okay, so hopefully I can start to do this a little more often now that things in my personal life have settled down.  That said, let’s talk about TV’s second-most-successful SF show right now, Fringe!  What with the traveling to alternate universes where Leonard “Belly” Nimoy stopped 9/11 or something and the consistent forgetting of plot elements it’s sometimes hard to remember that this show started as – and continues to be – an X-Files calque.

I’ll fill these in later as I go on, but let’s start with the fifteenth episode of the first season, “Inner Child.”  This was the first one to air after the mid-season break, and one of the first not to show any major X-Files influences.  But that’s not to say it doesn’t deal with ground that show dealt with fifteen years ago.

So here we are at “Inner Child,” which has all sorts of fun things – feral children (“Jersey Devil”), serial killers (any number of episodes of any show, ever), introduces the show’s good FBI vs. evil CIA stuff (the Syndicate), and creepy bald psychic kids (Gibson Praise).  The kid also looks a little like the flukeman, but that’s beside the point.   This episode also totally blows, which makes it a lot harder to talk about.  Unlike Gibson or that feral missing link kid the child found in this episode is portrayed as pretty much entirely normal, aside from the amazing abilities granted him by living in an underground rat-filled vault.  Aside, that is, from the fact that he looks like a tiny Observer.  Frankly, about the only interesting thing in this episode is John Noble dancing to Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” the first of the show’s musical interludes – and, I think, a pretty big step in the development of the Walter character as he becomes more comfortably weird than he was in the beginning of the season.  Mostly a forgettable monster-of-the-week otherwise, though.



Man Will Conquer Boners Soon!

So apparently ABC’s bringing back the “hard science of the near future… in space!” form of television they started way back in 1955.  While 42 million viewers is pretty respectable for the Eisenhower administration, I can’t imagine this is going to get too far off the ground.  Even if they do have lots of fucking in space.  After all, we all remember how well Torchwood turned out, right?  And how popular Enterprise was.  And how Farscape totally didn’t get canned.  Okay, so maybe those examples were all over the place.  But still, there doesn’t seem to be much of a place for decidedly futuristic SF on television these days (as opposed to say Lost or Chuck or even Abrams’ X-Files calque Fringe).  Well, maybe expect a liveblog of some sort of the premiere tonight, and maybe I can get into why that is.  It can’t be worse than the last third of Sunshine, after all.

Or Century City.  It totally can’t be worse than Century City.  And I watched that willingly!  Why I cannot say now, because the memories are too terrible for me to retain.  If you care enough, though, you can apparently watch it on Hulu now.



am i high, 1940s?

Membership [in Mister Mind’s Monster Society of Evil]:

  • Mr. Mind
  • Archibald, a satyr
  • An army of termites and worms
  • Artificial bodies Mr. Mind could mentally inhabit, consisting of:
    • A Goat-Man, half-man, half-goat
    • A robot, seemingly indestructible
    • An octopus with a human face, constantly grinning
    • A circus strongman, with strength rivalling that of Captain Marvel himself
  • Bonzo, fanged hunchback with large eyes
  • Captain Nazi, superstrong Aryan warrior
  • Crocodile-Men, a race of humanoids from the planetoid Punkus
  • Dobbin, Mr. Mind’s seahorse steed
  • Dome attendants who tend to Mr. Mind’s undersea base, consisting of:
    • A pig-man
    • A goblin
    • A werewolf
    • An ogre
    • A midget submarine captain, the last of Mr. Mind’s minions to leave him
  • Dr. Smashi, short Japanese scientist and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Dr. Hashi, spiky-haired Japanese scientist
  • Dr. Peeyu, tall Japanese scientist
  • Dr. Sivana, the “world’s wickedest scientist”
  • Evil Eye, monster with the ability to hypnotize
  • Herkimer, Crocodile-Man and Mr. Mind’s second-in-command
  • Herr Phoul, bald Nazi scientist with a monocle and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Adolf Hitler and all the resources of Nazi Germany
  • Hydra, head-regenerating monster created by Mr. Mind
  • IBAC, criminal who sold his soul for superstrength and durability
  • Jeepers, last of a race of bat-monsters
  • Jorrk, greatest scientist of the Crocodile-Men and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Marmaduke, criminal with big ears and a fat face
  • Monster Brigade, undersea monsters under Mr. Mind’s command, consisting of:
    • A sperm whale
    • A giant octopus
    • A hammerhead shark
    • A huge sea-serpent
  • Monster Professors, teachers at Mr. Mind’s Monster School, consisting of:
    • A human,
    • A Crocodile-Man,
    • A fanged monster,
    • A humanoid with the head of a hippopotamus
  • Monster Students, pupils at the Monster School, consisting of:
    • Human tough guys
    • Crocodile-Men
    • A black, horned demon
  • Mr. Banjo, criminal and leaker of secrets via coded music from his banjo, played on a popular radio show
  • Benito Mussolini and all the resources of Fascist Italy
  • Nippo, master swordsman and spy for the Japanese
  • Sylvester, Crocodile-Man and one of Mr. Mind’s preferred gunners
  • Synthetic animals created by Mr. Mind, consisting of:
    • Oscar, a giant lobster
    • Oliver, a giant octopus with human hands
    • Ophelius, a huge ram
    • Oliphant, a dragon
  • Hideki Tojo and all the resources of Imperial Japan
  • Tough guys, generic human enforcers of Mr. Mind’s wishes, notable ones include:
    • A tommy-gun wielder
    • A cloaked swordsman
    • A beret-wearer
    • A stereotypical “Goomba”
    • A Gatsby cap-wearer

Keep in mind, of course, that Mister Mind is a two-inch-tall caterpillar.