Posts Tagged ‘ reviews ’

First Graf: VALIS

2010.08.11
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IN FEBRUARY AND MARCH OF 1974, science-fiction author Philip K. Dick had a series of experiences which might have been psychosis, hallucination or divine grace. Phil often tended toward the last explanation, at least in print, and based a handful of novels (and more than a million pages of exegesis) on trying to figure out what happened to him. VALIS is one such novel; its thesis (in part): through an ancient satellite named VALIS (for Vast Active Living Intelligence System), a rock and roll musical, and a little girl, God or something like It is trying to comfort us all — most especially the broken ones. There’s much more to it, but this — and the fact that Phil once lived around the corner from where I live now — is what makes VALIS this week’s First Graf pick.

Horselover Fat’s nervous breakdown began the day he got the phone call from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself. She was calling everyone she knew. By now, she had fifty of them, but she needed thirty or forty more, to be on the safe side.

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Sizing Science Fiction

2010.06.17
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ADMIT IT: YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED to compare the Millenium Falcon to a Danube-class runabout. Well, they’re about the same length according to Jeff Russell’s STARSHIP DIMENSIONS. SD scales nearly every species, starship and space station in the visual science-fiction universe (I mean, he’s got Robbie the Robot and the whale probe from Star Trek IV and the space stations from 2001 and DS9 and even real vehicles like the Apollo rockets and ISS and and and GoshWowBoyOBoy).

Metaphorager say: 5 beanies. Click ‘em out.

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Pithyism #25,000-Gallons-a-Day

2010.06.10
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BP = ‘BYE, PLANET.

(PS: Check http://www.ifitwasmyhome.com/ for a localizable perspective.)

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5 Thoughts: DS9 Reruns

2010.05.04
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1. SATURDAY NIGHT, STARBASE 33 MINYAN (Ann‘s and my official Couch Potato Lodge) commenced to go where two geeks had lately gone before: the entire seven-season, 149-episode run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We first encountered this most operatic of the Trek offerings less than a year ago, about a day after discovering them through a popular online DVD service[1]; despite being raised on the original and animated series and enthralled by the Next Generation, I/we missed most of DS9 after its premiere back in 1993. Seeing it once through only made us want to see it again — the word “operatic” accurately describes DS9′s scope and themes, and this time ’round we also wanted to pay attention to the detail.

2. Chief among these is the amazing amount of character development: something which the first two series lacked, but without which DS9 wouldn’t be DS9. It’s set on a space station on the edge of civilization, so that unlike TOS/TNG the main characters have to deal with each week’s problems instead of fleeing them at warp speed. (Just like life, at least for those with the courage to live it.) Complex characters call for able actors, and DS9′s ensemble are all Shakespeare veterans of one or another stripe. We don’t have many rules here at Starbase 33[2], but chief among them[3] is that suspension of disbelief doesn’t just happen — even for a well-grounded universe like Star Trek‘s.

3. Apparently, the show’s religious elements — primarily the development and applications of Bajoran theology — honked off a number of otherwise fans. For myself and Ann, the religious elements are some of the most appealing in that they deal with the day-to-day life of “the faithful” without recourse to stereotype (TNG did this when they made Worf a sort of Klingon ba’al teshuvah: he’d been raised by humans and had to learn for himself what it meant to be Klingon). Such characterizations are few and far between (although I’m writing some m’self); religious folks are usually fanatics, and while DS9 has plenty of those (especially among the Bajorans and the Jem’Hadar) the writers are careful not to make that the main aspect[4].

4. One thing that did bother me is the heavy use of homage/derivative stories, especially in the later seasons. We seem to have reached a culutral point where recycled injokery stands in place of creativity. I imagine part of that is due to the intense pressure under which weekly television productions operate, but as a viewer, it just makes me wonder what better line / funnier gag / more interesting effect might have been. In SFnal productions, and DS9 in particular, such homage is hard to spot without the encyclopedic knowledge most fen carry like a business card. Much of DS9′s humor derives from same, in fact — but you don’t need that to enjoy the series.

5. Two must-have, double-bag websites will greatly enhance your viewing experience: Memory Alpha (http://memory-alpha.org) is the online Talmud of all things Star Trek (try this random page if you don’t believe me); Jammer’s Reviews (http://www.jammersreviews.com/st-ds9/s1/) cover TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT and all 11 feature films (if you count Star Trek V). They’re great to read after a strenuous evening’s sedentation.

NOTES:
[1] Name withheld to encourage custom at your local DVD shop.
[2] Three axioms: a) Good science fiction is about ideas. b) Great science fiction is about characters. c) The best science fiction is about the human condition.
[3] Our Prime Directive: If it’s well-written, -directed and -acted, we don’t care what it’s about.
[4] For more on the links between religion and science fiction, see http://metaphorager.net/posse-commentatus/.

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5Thoughts: 21st Century SciFiFlix

2010.04.26
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FROM SOMEONE WHO WAS 15 when the first Star Wars premiered, and has recently been introducing the wife to the pre-1977 fruits of sfnal cinema:

1.) Though splashier, CGI doesn’t provide half the sense of wonder these days as models. “You mean somebody built that? With their hands? WOW.”

2.) Those films have aged least which most successfully combine visceral message with kitbashed production values. (When’s the last time you saw Silent Running, Soylent Green or even Dark Star?)

3. WHAT’S with all the DAMN VAMPIRES? Robots are less pretentious and, unless they’re C3PO, can be just as scary.

4. As we move into the 21st century — my generation’s cultural event horizon; remember wondering whether 1984 would resemble 1984?) — I’m beginning to understand the truth that the past is an inaccessible country. Once upon a time, there was an unanticipatable future to look toward; today, our dreams more resemble the tools we use to construct them. (Which isn’t bad; after all, we’re still dreaming, and doing so with greater togetherness. And yet I miss the hand-drawn days, free of ironic self-commentary, when men were men and “derivative” was still “seminal.”)

5. I’ve finally gotten over not having a jetpack. And a transfer booth. But foregoing a 100-mile-up HoJo lunch: not so much. (And whatever happened to Space Food Sticks?!?)

HoJo, per 2001: A space odyssey

Howard Johnson, c. 2001

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ORL Redux: Interview with Robert Anton Wilson

2010.02.02
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(AS A FOLO TO THE previous post, and at the urging of sinister forces who would prefer I remain nameless, I now present a reprint from the bygone Bulletin of Obscure Research, Far Corner (v1n5, c. 1991): an interview with the late Robert Anton Wilson, who wrote about everything Dan Brown does (and much, MUCH more) but did it first and funnier. He was and is a great influence on both my writing and my thought, and I hope his fans will be amused rather than disappointed by this previously Lost Interview (which is transcribed with errors intact rather than scanned, at least for now). And if you’re listening, Bob — thanks for the cartography lessons.)


THE FAR CORNER INTERVIEW: ROBERT ANTON WILSON

[picture taken from the inside back cover of The Illuminati Papers (1980 ed.)]

Every publication worth its salt must, from time to time, feature interviews with the Heavyweights of the Field. Unfortunately, most of the heavyweights of the fortean/weirdological field do not share the philosophy of the staff here at Obscure Research Labs; and hence, either do not return our polite inquiries or (more often) write us rude letters requesting money. Fortunately, there are exceptions to these stuffed shirts of pseudo-inllectua; and one of the most delightful is the dsitinguished Dr. Robert Anton Wilson.

Poet, scientist, author, guru, wise guy and internationally-known weirdo, Dr. Wilson scarcely needs an introduction to the readers of this publication. He is the author of several books on psychology, conspiracy theory, literary criticism, magick, history, epistemology, sexuality, ontology, fortean study…but is probably best known as either a) The co-author (with Robert Shea) of the Illuminatus! trilogy, b) a frequent contributor to such magazines as Magical Blend and Gnosis, or c) the Inner Head of the Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria, Inc. When we interviewed him, the Good Doctor had been under pressure due to book deadlines and lecture dates; but despite a severe case of eyestrain he graciously allowed us to pester him.

FC: Many publications have interviewed you, and yet it seems that none have asked you what we feel to be some Burning Personal Questions. I realize that you are a busy man, but we’d like to ask you: what did you want to be when you grew up?

RAW: The emir of Kuwait.

FC: Okay. what makes you happy?

RAW: Lotsa bucks.

FC: Is there any truth to the persistent rumour that Illuminatus! will be made into a movie?

RAW: There have been stage productions of Illuminatus! both here and abroad but although it has been optioned for films several times nothing has come of that as yet.

FC: When the Schrodinger’s Cat trilogy was issued in one volume (New York; Dell, 1988) we could not help but notice certain shall we say alterations or differences from the 1979 edition. Could you comment on this?

RAW: Three men in black visited me with editorial suggestions. Glimpsing their tentacles I felt it wise to obey.

FC: Turning back to the personal stuff: What is your favorite food? And do you have any recipes to share with our readers?

RAW: Anything full of cholesterol and sugar which is expensive and accompanied by raw oysters and vodka martinis. Recipes I leave to experts.

FC: Before we leave, are there any Words of wisdom for the aspiring fortean?

RAW: Smash those paradigms and keep the lasagna flying!

We’d like to thank Dr. Wilson for his patience; we’d also like to thank his wife, Arlen, for her help. Incidentally, among other things the Good Doctor is currently publishing Trajectories, an ongoing journal of ideas and opinions. It’s $6 from the Permanent Press, PO Box 700305, San Jose, CA 95170.


More metaphoragings RAW and ORL: http://metaphorager.net/tag/robert-anton-wilson/ and http://metaphorager.net/tag/obscure-research-labs/.

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Happy Bloomsday!

2009.06.16
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105 YEARS AGO TODAY, LEO Bloom took his famous fictive walk through Dublin seeing the same places and eating the same foods as his latterday followers did, will do or have done today. (Me, I’ll be sitting on the floor with Ulysses and crying in my (virtual) Guinness over my small literary pretenses. Joyce uses the same words as the rest of us (okay, he also invented some, but still) — how does he manage to arrange them so? It’s just not fair, but so is Molly, yes she is yes.)

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Invasion of the Sound Creatures

2009.06.03
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TITANIC THINGS ARE LURCHING ABOUT your neighborhood with awful speed and clumsiness — and by the time you finish reading this, you’ll hear them too.

I speak not of the consequences attending long-term medication, nor of some Lovecraftian horror rolling beneath the surface of reality, nor the start of Sonoma‘s tourist season. I speak of the ubiquitous and near-subsonic “swooshhhhhhh-BOOM” which has shouldered aside fanfares and instrumental flourishes in the modern mediasphere.

You’ve heard it. You must have. It can’t be escaped. As the product appears, a bassy “swoooshhhhhhh” as of Cyclopean wings circles the soundscape followed by a deep rumbling “BOOM.” Sometimes it’s just the “BOOM.” Or several in sequence, like an undead Godzilla tipsily shambling toward the theater/iPod/living room.

Or you might not have noticed it during the past terrible ten years; you might have been unwittingly seduced by the infrasonic siren’s call. Seduced into thinking that the product is brilliant. Brilliant enough to swallow every last box-office dollar and make you beg to give it even more.

But no. I am foolish. These … Things won’t bear revelation. They don’t want us to notice, those huge swooshhhing BOOMS with the BOOM and the BOOM and the BOOM and the have a beer commercial. Forget me. In fact, forget you even clicked here.

But don’t forget to listen.

I only wish I could.

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Read This Book

2009.05.31
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THERE IS A Conversation THAT I’ve been having with a friend since we were both in high school, and the initial-cap in that word is due not to the colloquy’s duration but to its content.

Its thesis is simple: that Something Connects All This. Being a spiritual sort of guy, I feel more comfortable describing It in terms not far removed from the religious. Not so my erstwhile colleague and former brother-in-law Ransom Stephens. Ransom’s a physicist by inclination and training — passionately curious about why and how the universe works the way it does — and though we long ago realized that our different takes on the Ultimate Essence stemmed from a subject-not-Object orientation, we’ve never let that get in the way of a good 3 a.m. walk-and-talk.

Not surprisingly, his first novel — The God Patent — deals with those exact issues. As Ransom describes it: “A laid-off engineer trying to rebuild his life gets caught between science and religion in a battle over the origin of the universe and the existence of the soul.” TGP is one of the featured titles on Scribd.com, and clicking on the above link will not only help support a rising Northern California writer but will make it easier for all of those with a book or two in us. Check it out, and tell ‘em Neal sent you.

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Re-Re-RE-Reads

2009.05.27
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SOME BOOKS ARE FINISHED IN a day; others, only when we are.

If books are portable doorways, then stepping into a beloved-since-childhood instant Now every few years can sometimes tell us where we’ve been in the meanwhile. As one of my perennial obsessions is the slippery intersection of awareness and time — e.g., free will[1] as side effect of fore-ignorance[2] — many of my own favored rereads tend to be “quest” stories: people who go in search of something and discover something unimaginably else. Here are five or six:

» Lord of the Rings (trilogy), J. R. R. Tolkien
If you’ve seen the movie, you think you know the story. But if you haven’t read the books, you really really don’t. Tolkien’s words have a different flavor in the mouth than on the page; I recommend reading these aloud, one night at a time, to someone you enjoy. (Takes about a year.) If you can do voice impressions, so much the better.

» The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Space-stranded Gully Foyle was waiting to die until a passing ship ignored his pleas for rescue. His vengeance takes him from the interplanetary gutter to the height of decadent society, but his education elevates him to the next phase of human potential.

» Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll
A chief delight of my 40 years’ acquaintance with Carroll’s endless puzzle has been watching it slowly transform from fairy tale to divine satire. How does he do that?

» Schrodinger’s Cat (trilogy), Robert Anton Wilson
Extrauniversal intrigue among at least three universes next door to this one, all wrapped in a literary Moebius strip. Wilson once offered a quick intelligence test: If the universe is getting bigger and funnier, you’re getting smarter. RAW’s books are for anyone who wants to become smarter — and really, shouldn’t that be everyone?

[1] For the record, I am not smart enough to reckon the “difference” between “free will” and “predestination.” However, I’m fairly sure that it’s my hand — and not God‘s — who’s picking out my socks and entertainment, at least most of the time.

[2] Similar to, but more certain than, “foreknowledge.”

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Why Star Trek Worked — And Lord of the Rings Didn’t

2009.05.14
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THE ONLY THING THAT BUGGED me about the new Star Trek movie — and that only for the first 20 minutes — was that it didn’t look “retro” enough; as though Mr. Abrams’ idea of “early Star Trek” was taken from the first films rather than the original series.

That disappointment was much more fleeting than the one which still accompanies another mythical relandscaping, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Sure, he got a lot right — including the balrog issue — but like many fen I loudly objected to Jackson’s character-monkeying (e.g., the emasculation of Aragorn) and addition of narrative-twisting scenes neither in the book nor appropriate to it. Not because I’m a purist (even though I am); adapting a Beloved Work from text to image, or from older image to newer image, almost always requires sacrifices, edits, and rewrites. And if you’re lucky or good enough to be in such a position you’ll soon split the fan base along love-hate lines depending on whose vision you ruined.

But even though Abrams’ Star Trek employs a couple of revisionist touches in look (2000s sweaty for 1960s antiseptic) and continuity (the planet Vulcan turns out to have been destroyed by time-travelling Romulans before Kirk and Spock can go mano-a-lirpa in “Amok Time”), he didn’t mess with the characters. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, McCoy, Chekov, Sulu, Scotty — they’re played by the next generation (puntended) of actors, but their essential Kirkness, Spockness, et al is intact.

And that contains a lesson for religiospiritual seekers of modern mind and purist bent. I can’t speak for members of other traditional religions who try to balance ancientry with innovation, but Jewish communal organizations have recently been floating a number of well-intentioned “repackaging” initiatives designed to make the old attractive to the new. As Jewish tradition is all about reinterpretation, we have something of a 3,000-year head start on the process. Yet many of these initiatives seem to assume that Judaism can’t speak for itself — that it has to be changed in order to suit 21st Century palates. But at what point, then, does it cease to “be” Judaism?

E. g.: Aragorn a la Jackson. By Tolkien, Aragorn knows exactly who he is: the last son of a line of noble kings trying to restore a united realm and win the hand of his love. By Jackson, he’s just another afraid-of-his-destiny Kevin Costnerism. That may play well in our no-heroes-without-ironic-flaws era. But it’s also inauthentic and dishonest, robbing both character and work of integrity and intended meaning.

An authentic Spock doesn’t need to be played by Leonard Nimoy, or even to have pointed ears — but he does need to struggle with his twin-world identities, just as many Jews do whether they live in the United States, Russia or Iran. Likewise, an authentic adaptation of anything must maintain the source’s integrity — instead of changing it beyond recognition by those who know and love it.

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An Apology to Douglas Rushkoff

2009.03.31
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In my previous, I made a cutting remark about Douglas Ruskoff’s “Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism.” While my opinion remains that the book is deeply flawed, as noted by, among others, Zeek.net), I didn’t intend to be dismissive. For one thing, Rushkoff obviously cares enough about Judaism to want to help keep it relevant; for another thing, his book is aimed at people who don’t know that the tradition wants to be questioned. If “Nothing Sacred” encourages even one Jew to say, “Maybe there’s something to this after all” and start studying on his or her own, how is that a Bad Thing?

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