Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

I'm Not the Man They Think I Am at Home

I've always been a fan of bizarro stuff. Matt and I even spent a year living as a bizarro version of our best friend. I like that, as far as Bizarro Superman is concerned, being bizarro is about not just being the evil version of the original, but also the reverse and opposite of it too. One of my favorite superhero characters is Zibarro, the bizarro version of Bizarro Superman. And he isn't Superman, but he is close.

Although I like bizarrity I don't think I could bring myself to read any bizarro fiction. I'm just not that kind of reader. Not that there is anything wrong with bizarro fiction, I'm just a little more somber, serious, and sterile I suppose in my reading selections. I always have to tell people, it isn't that I think comedic writing isn't good, it can be great, I'm just not a very funny reader.

But I have to admit that the new book Shatnerquake by bizarro fiction author Jeff Burk looks pretty amazing. Here's what Amazon has to say about it~

" William Shatner? William Shatner. WILLIAM SHATNER!!! It's the first ShatnerCon with William Shatner as the guest of honor! But after a failed terrorist attack by Campbellians, a crazy terrorist cult that worships Bruce Campbell, all of the characters ever played by William Shatner are suddenly sucked into our world. Their mission: hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner.

Featuring: Captain Kirk, TJ Hooker, Denny Crane, Rescue 911 Shatner, Singer Shatner, Shakespearean Shatner, Twilight Zone Shatner, Cartoon Kirk, Esperanto Shatner, Priceline Shatner, SNL Shatner, and - of course - William Shatner! "

I know right?! I'm not going to lie, I don't have much to say besides that, because really, what else can be said.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Destiny Hope is a Stripper's Name

Left: Destiny, a stripper from the HBO series True Blood. Right: Destiny Hope Cyrus (A.K.A. Miley Cyrus.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Categorically Opposed

I used to be a fan of genres. Science fiction, fantasy, gothic... but not westerns, no definitely not westerns. I spent countless hours of my youth reading Star Wars novels. I just chewed through them. Some of them were good, some of them woefully mediocre, and some beyond bad. But, I read them because of the name on the front, not for any other reason. It was a trap, one I think far too many people fall into. For in the last few years, I've slowly come to realize the truth: genres suck.

Yes, they can be helpful. There are differences between genres and specifics to each that lead some to gravitate towards certain ones and others to shy away from them. I am a sci-fi fan, there is no doubt about it, but I don't like the vast majority of science fiction books. Several Hugo and Nebula winning books that I have read recently have disappointed me. Others are some of my favorites. What it comes down to is a sense of exploration and newness that science fiction has. It is that idea of a blank slate, of endless possibilities. Truly great sci-fi creates a sense of wonderment that is beyond compare. But, that doesn't mean other genres cannot do the same thing, or invoke different joys in a reader or viewer. Even, explaining why I love science fiction limits the genre, because not all, or even most sci-fi elicits that sort of feeling in me. Just some, and others of my favorite science fiction do no such thing.

So, genres are a nice indicator of certain themes that one might think to expect in a piece of art, but they are frighteningly problematic. When they confine us into little regions of fiction, they are only hindering our enjoyment. For far too long I avoided westerns for whatever reason, but No Country for Old Men was a great movie, and Deadwood is one of the best TV shows I have ever seen. And that only leads me to the question of what a western even is. Do they have to take place in the western United States during the 19th Century or is it specific themes which form a genre? What about The Gunslinger by Stephen King? Is it a western or fantasy? What genre is Firefly?

Even my esteemed colleague here at BSD has been mutilated by this stealthy succubus, claiming he dislikes anime. While, I cannot claim to be all that well-versed in the genre, Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service were wonderful movies and if cinematic Japanese video games count, well... those are some of my favorites. While I may not delve into some genres enough, I have abandoned claiming not to like genres. Genre-ism simply is not helpful. Romance, Mystery, Alternate History, Slasher Films... I can name a book or movie I have enjoyed from most any genre that I can think of. Military? Saving Private Ryan. Romantic Comedy... Groundhog Day (or is that sci-fi too?). Alternate History... The Man in the High Castle. Mystery? Sherlock Holmes. The the only real criteria I have is whether or not it's any good. Isn't that what matters? Just take a step back, do yourself a favor, and do just a little delving. Find something that sounds interesting or is supposed to be great from a genre you thought you hated and let yourself experience something new. Because, really... aren't we all violating the true spirit of that old cliche... aren't we just judging books by their covers?

While these thoughts have been floating around in my head for a while now, what really inspired me to write this (though it has taken me far too long to actually get my thoughts down) was an article in The Guardian by Ursula K. Le Guin late last year. It is ostensibly a review of Margaret Atwood's latest book, The Year of the Flood, but to me read more like a critic of the publishing industry in general and genres in particular. I won't rehash it completely, but in short: Atwood argues she doesn't write science fiction, while Le Guin can't blame her for not wanting to be relegated to "genre fiction", but doesn't agree. Neither do I, to tell the truth and the whole ordeal is a sad state of affairs. I don't believe anything should be called "genre fiction", or maybe everything should be, but either way the title is meaningless. Everything fits into some genre or another, or two, or three or seventeen. You can fit it into some category that will help it reach it's audience, but ultimately it only restricts it. I understand that The Year of the Flood is much better than the average sci-fi novel out there (or would imagine it is, not having read it, but having thoroughly enjoyed Atwood's novels The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake), but it is also much better than the average novel period. Call it speculative fiction or future fiction or post-apocalyptic-dystopian-geneticism... just call it something that is helpful. Because, despite how much I am railing against genres, they are useful if used as descriptors. I like to know a little bit about what I am going to read before I read it. The problem is that genres are limiting us, not helping. Give me the genre and then tell me if it's any good or not and we are set. It's the latter that really matters.

Despite how much I love thrill of the hunt for used books, there are simply too many to sift through by myself. Which is why I rely on reviews and lists, word of mouth and advertisements on the back of milk cartons to decide what I should read. I search for used books all over the place, but I try not to allow myself to be biased by the genre in my searches. Library book sales are unmatched for book hunting, for the simple fact that you can load up on a bunch of books you didn't realize you needed or wanted for only a few bucks, but they are always so hectic. The internet is obviously the most convenient route, but it has it's drawbacks, too. First, you never really know what you're getting... condition, smell, delivery time, all unknowns and I dislike paying a cent for a book and $3.99 for shipping. Ultimately, though, it just feels like cheating. I would much rather have the thrill of finding the book somewhere than giving in and ordering it off of Amazon. So used book stores are without a doubt my favorite. You simply cannot beat the ambiance and smell of them. Recently, I was even a bit disappointed when my favorite store fixed the light over the sci-fi section... I preferred the dimness. Yet even there, in my sanctuary is the horror of genre. Sci-fi, fantasy... mysteries, westerns, romance.... and, worst of all "literature".

Yet, if I am going to be honest, the demarcation is helpful. I avoid the romance completely, not from an aversion to love, but with the the knowledge that anything in that section is going to be dreck. If I'm going to invest the hours it takes to read a book, it's not going to be for smut. That's what porn is for. The well-written love stories are in the normal fiction section anyway, because apparently a criteria for the romance genre is that it must be bad. Which, I don't get at all. If we're going to make these categories, shouldn't we stick with them? Shouldn't 1984 be in Science Fiction? Or All Quiet on the Western Front in historical novels? Or is that not historical because it was written only ten years after the war? I don't even know the rules on these things. But no, those two aren't even in normal fiction, no... they have been exalted to the "literature" section, not that I really know what that means.

Yet, again... I can't say this division doesn't help me. I am a book elitist and much of what I read comes from stuff that would be termed "literature", though from the narrow way the used book stores describe it, nothing written in the last half-century counts. But, literature is not a genre and is far greater than the two shelves worth of Dickens, Hardy, Austen and Sinclair Lewis in the corner of the store. Literature is no more and no less than the art of the written word. As impossible to define as I know that is.

So, I will continue reading literature, which really amounts to anything that is well-written enough to keep my attention, no matter the genre. If you'd like to keep reading uninspired, bland fiction, be my guest, just maybe think about trying a bad sci-fi book or a bad western once in a while. It might surprise you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sodom and Gomorrah

"Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters. And the firstborn said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to use after the manner of all the world. Come, let us make out father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father. So they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she law down or when she rose. On the next day, the firstborn said to the younger, "Look, I lay last night with me father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father." So they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger rose, and law with him; and he did not know when she law down or when she rose. Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son, and named him Moab; he is the ancestor of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and named him Ben-ammi; he is the ancestor of the Ammonites to this day"

I have never really understood the use of Sodom and Gomorrah as an argument against homosexuality, not that I truly understand using the Bible as an argument for or against much of anything. The entire story is pretty crazy... the town is full of rapists who want to fuck anything that moves, yet I'm supposed to believe that the problem God has with the place is homosexuality? I'm not arguing that the passage supports homosexuality, but it's clearly not the focus of the story. But, what I find really interesting are the other aspects of the story, because... well, things get pretty weird.

First, the supposedly righteous Lot is pretty quick (in a scene very reminiscent of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac) to offer up his daughters to the crazed mob as a substitute for the angels, yet is rewarded by being saved, while his wife is turned into a pillar of salt because she decides to look back at the destruction. Furthermore, and correct me if I'm wrong, Lot's daughter's don't seem to incur any divine retribution for raping their father. The usual argument I get when I bring this up to people is that they believed they were the only people left on earth and were trying to repopulate it. But, that doesn't make much sense. First, it is clear that God's wrath is against Sodom and Gomorrah (for, I would argue, being horrible, violent wretches, and having nothing to do with their sexuality) and he doesn't have plans to wipe out all of humanity. Secondly, God sends Lot's family to Zoar, which seems to be another city, and thus should be populated to some extent. This is a bit more tenuous, but only reinforces my point that the whole story is pretty nonsensical. I imagine the entire point was to poke fun at the Moabites and Ammonites rather than be some sort of moral story, but who knows. It seems to me like they both just had some serious Electra complexes. They couldn't even wait a day to get the guy drunk and have their way with him? That's pretty desperate, especially if you think you're the last people on earth.

So, the next time anyone tries to use Genesis as an argument against homosexuality, I'm just going to quote Genesis 19:30-38. You know what... forget that... It's a good passage to bring up in pretty much any old situation. Oh, and... someone get to writing a book from the perspectives of Lot's daughters. That'd be an interesting read.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Green Lantern

Earlier I saw some concept images for the upcoming (2011) Green Lantern movie and it got me thinking...

"Wouldn't this make a better science fiction movie than it would a super-hero movie?"

I know that people will argue that super-hero movies are science fiction movies. But that isn't true. Just the same way that there are horror movies that aren't science fiction. It can take place in space, it can defy physics, it can raise the dead or build a laser- but none of these things make it science fiction.

The problem is of course that Sci-Fi is both a genre and a topic. Because of this the distinction between what is science fiction and what is about an aspect of science fiction is sometimes difficult to tell. Stephen King has a book (Danse Macabre) all about how some movies, like Alien, might take place in space and have astro-miners and aliens but are inherently horror films. The astro-miners are the protagonists but the antagonist, the alien, is a monster. This is much the same way that Frankenstein (1931) is a horror or monster movie and not science fiction, even though it is full of text tubes and has a mad scientist. James Bond movies are full of lasers and space technology but it is pretty clear that these things are plot devices, MacGussins, furthering the plot but adding very little in terms of theme.

But that's what makes a movie science fiction. Theme rather than content is what makes it a genre. However, its common for the dichotomy in science fiction to be taken advantage of. Not jut works borrowing the look or style of science fiction but by the direct degeneration of genre based on its successes. As a prominent literary genre science fiction shares some themes with other genres, as they all do. But too often is a successful piece in this genre re-categorized as Literature, implying something about the nature of science fiction as a genre and the other books under that distinction. (But this, in itself, raises the issue of genres. There is a very strong argument against organizing art by genre. Non-stronger perhaps than walking through a book store and recognizing the complete incompetence of the aisles. Nevermind high and low art. Because Brave New World can be removed from 'Science Fiction' and put in it 'Literature' it should not be a surprise that Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man can be taken out of 'Literature' and put amongst the growing number of black romance novels that are beginning to define the 'African American Lit.' section. But it is a surprise.)

Science fiction is a very difficult to interpret type of story telling because it is a topic and a genre. But it shouldn't be this hard. the themes in science fiction, the true tropes of the genre, are abundant, giving, and clear. The morality, implications, intentions, behind these ideas and how they are used is what breathes life into true science fiction. Traveling through time or flying through space can mean more than just point A to point B. But often it doesn't, and that is why so much posing as science fiction sucks. And it really sucks.

If we are going to hold on to antiquated organizational means such as we have now than new distinctions need to be made. Maybe there is a difference between science fiction and sci-fi and maybe it is high and low. But even if there isn't, is it so much to ask that people at least start to think about it and make some better decisions.

There is a line in the sand. It the past few years I have only seen a handful of truly great and truly science fiction movies made. Moon, Sunshine, District 9. If movies like these want to compete than they need to avoid the Superhero Summers. I have pretty low hope for science fiction at the movies this year. I'd really hoped that the superhero trend would end and that movies like Avatar would start a new trend and like the 80s we could finally get some good science fiction back. But maybe next year or the year after that.

I don't really care about Green Lantern, at all. But, here is an opportunity, a real chance, to do something with the superhero movie as a type. Of all the comic book characters that have been offered the chance at film none of the big names has the clear option to be a science fiction movie more than Green Lantern. As far as a superhero story goes Green Lantern is soft science fiction bordering at times on fantasy. What more could they ask for? How much easier could it be to make this mainstream film science fiction and do it right- making it enjoyable but also provocative. Make a superhero movie sure, if you must, but make it explorative.

photo credit: io9

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mega Man Soccer

Name: Mega Man’s Soccer
System: SNES
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 1994
Genre: Sports

Whether this game is actually any good or not, I can’t really say for sure. I am not too familiar with soccer games as a whole, especially not those on the SNES, but I can tell you that, at the very least, the game is damn interesting.

The biggest problem is that it’s a pretty boring game. Yet, there are a whole host of other issues that I should probably enumerate before I go any further. It is far too easy to slide tackle the ball away from the opponent, passing is difficult, the game switches the player you are controlling automatically so often you end up running away from the ball at times, and your view of the field is so small that it is almost impossible to actually get anything resembling an offense going without looking at the map at the top of the screen, which causes you to take your eyes off the play for a precious second. Yeah… there are a lot of issues, yet for some reason I still really enjoy playing the game. Not for long periods of time, but picking it up every once in a while is a blast, especially if you have an opponent to play.

Scoring is difficult, but it’s soccer so that’s fairly realistic. There are power shots, which make scoring much easier, but you only get two a game. Other than these you can score often enough using one-timers and less often by shooting close to the goal but at an angle. You can compose your team of a variety of different characters and align them in a wide variety of different formations. And despite all of the flaws in the gameplay, there is something undeniably cool about the game. I remember the first time I ever played it was at the house of one of my classmates. I say classmate, because I never really liked him all that much, and the dick wouldn’t even tell me the controls, so I got slaughtered, but I remember coming away from the game thinking how cool it was… It was Mega Man, and while I had never played a Mega Man game before, I of course knew who the Blue Bomber was. And that is the real charm of the game, and perhaps it’s only redeeming quality. It’s a game full of Mega Mans, Cutmans, Woodmans, Toadmans and a whole slew of others who just ooze charm and nostalgia. It is the predecessor to Mario Tennis and all those other sports titles. There is quite simply something grand about a game that pits video games characters against one another in soccer.

The graphics are decent enough for a game of the era, but nothing special and the music is a bit repetitive and can get fairly annoying after a while. Each of the characters have different stats, affecting how well they play defense, kick the ball, and run, among other things. There are several different stadiums, all of which are built like indoor soccer arenas, with boards instead of sidelines, but none of which are any different except for their coat of paint. While a generic soccer game like this wouldn’t even be worth a look back, because it is Mega Man, I still have a special fondness for it. It’s frustrating, difficult and pretty bland, but you can’t tell me that it isn’t cool.

Score: 5/10

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Common Sense

"Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason."

Thomas Paine began his pamphlet Common Sense with the paragraph above. The essay was incredibly influential in Colonial America and helped to stir up revolutionary fervor against Britain that would be instrumental to starting the American Revolution. In it, Paine rails against monarchy in general and the British monarchy specifically, while espousing the virtues of the colonies and urging them to fight against the motherland.

Oddly enough, Paine was born in England and only arrived in the colonies in 1774, before promptly beginning to raise hell. He was a revolutionary through and through, and in the 1790s he found himself in France, you guessed it, to take part in yet another Revolution. He was elected to the National Convention, but managed to get on Robespierre's bad side and was arrested. This was no unusual event at the time (see: The Reign of Terror) and Paine only barely avoided painting, with the help of a little contraption called the guillotine, the Paris streets with his blood.

I was unaware of Paine's involvement in the French Revolution and it only increases my already high opinion of him. The man was an idealist and a rabble-rouser, pure and simple. You don't go around sticking your nose in other people's Revolutions unless you believe in them or are suicidal.

But, perhaps the most interesting nugget of information I discovered about his life, was that while in France, Paine developed a menage a trois with Nicholas Bonnevile and his wife. They slept together for several years and when Paine returned to America, Bonnevile sent his wife and children (who were Paine's godchildren) along with him. From what I was able to gather, this had something to do with Bonneville having been arrested by Napoleon, and though now free, he was still under heavy surveillance.

Throughout his life, Paine always followed his convictions, even if they were unpopular. He was a deist who opposed organized religion, a revolutionary who opposed monarchy and a great firebrand. I think it is overlooked just how radical these movements were in a European age of absolute monarchs. Men like Paine were anathema to the social and political order, because they were against everything that it stood for. Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness... liberty, equality, fraternity... sovereignty deriving from the people... these concepts were so fundamentally opposed to the established order that Revolutionary France was at war with every major power in Europe. To put it simply, Paine was a hero, who fought not for himself, but for the ideals that he so strongly believed in.

Note: Most of the information here is gleaned from years spent studying history as well as several classes I have taken. The information about Paine's personal life comes from a few short notes in Fire int he Minds of Men by James H. Billington, a wonderful study of revolutionary movements in Europe, but probably not a book for those not already well-versed in the history of 18th and 19th century Europe.