messier object


well the view is delightful/but your air is recycled

The Dexateens – “Neil Armstrong” (from Hardwire Healing, Skybucket, 2007)

This song raises some important questions – like what kind of car does Neil Armstrong drive?  It’s probably not a Volvo, if you can go by this inexplicable ad from c. 1975.

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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?



why are the good people dying?

Seriously, this poster is about a thousand times better than the new ones.

So.  They’re remaking The Crazies, Romero’s fourth movie (after his ill-advised dive into romantic comedy).  And as if the “of the Dead” remakes weren’t meh enough – cool opening credits sequences don’t really make up for a mediocre execution – this one looks to be just as middle-of-the-road.  While it’s always nice to see Timothy Olyphant getting work as a sheriff, the concept and apparent execution this time seem to lack some of the wild-eyed paranoia of the original.  That one had a sort of predecessor to the plague-zombies of late – intelligent humans bent on murder by a virus in the water supply, with a possibility of worldwide contamination – while the new one seems, from the viral marketing, to be more along the lines of the X-Files episodes “Red Museum” or “Blood” – evil chemicals make the good people want to kill.  Not that it’s ever a bad time for a Bhopal-referencing horror movie about the terrors of environmental degradation, but… why this one?

When I saw the first trailer, I have to say I was a lot more excited than I am now.  It was, according to Wikipedia, going to be set in Georgia, and when I saw these clips in the trailer it was hard not to think of New Orleans.  We haven’t really had a good Katrina-related horror movie yet, or even a good Southern horror movie that didn’t rely on the Civil War in quite some time.  Sure, there’s Left 4 Dead 2. (‘though I’ve still gotta play that, and, yes, I’m going to extend it to being Katrina-related even if the government is generally competent and not paranoia-inducing just because of where it’s set.  You’ve got to make due with what you get.)  But I thought the ’70s Vietnam-derived paranoia that runs rampant through the original – two of the main band we follow are veterans, and, I mean, it’s a movie about the U.S. Army wiping out a village while under threat from a runaway biological weapon – were going to make a really great match for a Katrina-based horror film.

See what I meant?

Great, then, was my dismay when I put together the slogan on the sign up there and on the header of this viral page meant it was going to be set in rural Iowa.  I mean, yeah, tranquil small-town Americana is a classic horror-within! setting and, sure, pollution impacts us everywhere.  But couldn’t they have just saved that for the eventual remake of Frogs?



a burning ring of fire
2009, December 19, 10:50 pm
Filed under: history | Tags: , , ,
"Love/is a burning flame/and it makes a fiery ring/Bringing hurt/to the heart's desire"

“H32 jet helicopter is propelled by blazing ramjet engines on blade tips at Camp Rucker Army Aviation Center. (1956)”

reblogged from the always-delightful x-planes.



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.



kings & new men

Here’s one of the biggest differences that’s struck me since I’ve started reading science fiction written the the USSR & East Bloc states: the future histories are uniformly – completely uniformly – republican & democratic & optimistic.  Communist, of course, but the rule is always by interested parties who self-select from the masses to engage in rule.  In the west, though, there’s not only a strong, strong tradition of future monarchy (Herbert, Foundation, Pournelle’s CoDominion series where the monarchy is formed out of the leadership of the combined militaries of the United States and the Soviet Union, of all things), never mind Heinlein and his wa-a-acky elitism (which, I think, I will get to later).

Of course, some of these are more anarchistic than others – in the Noon Universe of the Strugatsky brothers, easily the most popular Soviet SF shared universe, rule is essentially anarchistic – there’s a few committes that take care of important stuff that can’t be left to chance, like first contact with aliens or licensing starship pilots, but even those are just made up of interested citizens and seem to have relatively little power, at least in the early stories (the increasing dystopia of the shared 22nd century of the Strugatskys isn’t so much a theme in their work as it is their increasing distress as they realize that their imagined universe just won’t ever work, and can’t actually be a future history – but more on that distinction between imagined future history and fictional future history later, too).

In this sense, it shares a lot with Iain Banks’ Culture novels and more modern western SF generally – especially stuff written after the end of the Cold War.  Meanwhile, everyone on earth seems to live happily in houses on plenty of land and grow food as their good Marxist labor – something the brothers caught a fair amount of flak for, when they weren’t catching flak for being Jews or criticizing working conditions for the intelligentsia or any number of other things.  The houses, that is, not the return to the land – the line was still that, by 1980, every Soviet citizen would have an apartment, so why go rushing ahead with things?

Efremov’s Andromeda shows a governance that is similarly democratic, if somewhat less anarchistic – there seems to be evidence of plenty of freedom of rule, although there is still a world government of some sort, run by all the racial stereotypes of the world.  But everyone seems to be equally able in this far-distant future (some time in the fourth millenum), in distinct difference from western authors of the same period.  And unlike all those western authors, who at some point or another reason that a single strongman has to rule humanity because that’s the only power that can – as Herbert, I think, makes clear in Dune although it’s been a while since I’ve done that book right by itself – humanity has never been ruled by a dictatorial figure since the long-gone ages of capitalism and emergent socialism.

On the other hand, the western SF tradition is full of supermen and monarchs and collapses of great societies and rebuildings, with, well, I can’t actually think of any major exceptions among authors who tried to do future histories – even Le Guin had the Hainish society collapse from some high where they could manipulate whole planets down to their colonies forgetting about each other for millenia.  Why so much more pessimism in the west?  There are a lot of parts, I think, but there are two that I think are especially key – Spengler and, after the Second World War, more open fear of the bomb.

SF, like pretty much all writing in the USSR, had to go through ideological censorship, so it more or less always ended up conforming to Marxist ideas of the progression of the future.  The only real western-comparable pessimistic societies we see come before the harshest censorships or were writings destined for the desk-drawer: things like Tolstoi’s Aelita (where the Marxists lose but there is some hope for a second revolution at the end) and Zamyatin’s We, the direct predecessor to dystopias like 1984.  But all the full-blown future histories, like Efremov and the Strugatskys, had to conform with the constant upwards developement of humanity.

In the west, this was not nearly the most popular idea: even in The First & Last Men humanity rises and falls and rises again, palingenetic, to even higher heights (on Neptune).  While this is getting longer than I thought it would, why?  Partially, I think, because I think a lot of these authors were influenced by early fantasy writers, and because a galatic Empire allows for Galactic Knights and other sorts of Galactic Hero Figures and just strikes you as somewhat alien compared to what you’re used to now; partially because the rise of science fiction sees the end of the last western empires after the First World War.  But I’ll expound on these reasons more fully next time.