Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Comic-con and 'nerd' culture

Interesting article by Wil Wheaton: Is Comic-Con Really Hurting Nerd Culture?

Short answer: no, unless you get stabbed in the eye with a pen.

Onmyoji Fascination

Silly hats: all part of the charm!
In 2001, when I was living in Japan, I happened to catch a preview for a movie that looked intriguing.  Heian period clothing, magic, folklore - right up my alley, in fact.  I had no idea what an Onmyoji was, but I thought the movie might be a good, possibly cheesy, diversion for an afternoon.  And indeed, it was (both good and cheesy).  It also rapidly became one of my favorite movies.  It's not a paragon of film making by any stretch, but the story is a great example of Japanese historical sci fi.

So, what's the big deal?  They took their vengeful spirits very seriously in the Heian period, and the magic of onmyodo was a part of courtly life (in fact, there was a bureau that oversaw the practice and regulation of onmyodo...too bad that doesn't still exist!).  The movie is about a Merlin-like character named Abe no Seimei, who is one of a number of court magicians/spirit exorcists, and the unlikely friendship he forms with Minamoto no Hiromasa, an affable and somewhat bumbling nobleman.  They have a Sherlock Holmes/Watson dynamic, and Hiromasa helpfully provides the audience with  the layperson's view into the dynamics of courtly intrigue and Abe no Seimei's magic.

"Hiromasa, dude....pretty sure you're not supposed to touch that."
The capital has started to become overrun with demons, vengeful spirits, and other badness, and the Imperial family in particular sees the worst of these occurrences.  Seimei and Hiromasa track down the source of these disturbances...and wacky hijinks ensue.  Both of these characters actually existed in history, although it's questionable whether or not they were friends.  

The movie itself is based on the novel of the same name, by Japanese sci fi writer Baku Yumemakura.  Having loved the movie (and the sequel), I wanted to track down the book.  Unfortunately, an English translation doesn't exist (that I know about).  My Japanese is pretty rusty, but I'm hoping to try translating this thing.  It's going to be a fairly slow process, but a fun project.  I'm thinking about posting the progress on twitter as an ongoing saga that gets updated one or two sentences a day.  If I manage to be able to make any sense of the translation, I'll post the link to the twitter account here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weekend DIY Sci Fi

Looking for something to do this weekend?  Well, if you're anything like me, then all you're looking to do first is relax, recover from the week with a good book and a delicious drink.  However, once that's out of the way, some of these geeky DIY projects may interest you.
  1. Miss Portal?  Make yourself a Companion Cube tissue box cover.  If you're feeling bakery, try making the Portal Cake.
  2. Here's something that takes less time: make your own blob (ok, it's crazy putty, but still).  Messy AND cool.  Note: rolling it over household objects will not net you a katamari, but you can make one out of Play Doh like this creative fan.  
  3. Want something to spruce up your lair?  Check out this dragon instructable that you can hang from a wall. 
  4. Feeling dwarven and up to something a little more adventurous?  Make this micro-forge and create some small metalworking projects.
  5. If you're feeling like baking AND playing D&D, why not make this pecan pie d20?  Perhaps not the most practical project on the list, it will certainly meet with approval from your gamer friends.  I'm pretty sure it rolls a critical hit just by existing.
  6. Want to add a little more depth to a campaign, make some art, or just make your manuscript look awesome? Check out this Pages of a Forbidden Tome Make project.
  7. Got someplace geeky to go but nothing to wear? Make yourself a corset (3 part series - might take longer than just one weekend.).
  8. For something cute and also fairly quick, make a free range monster.  Adorable.  
  9. Finally, via Jessica, an easy way to raise the geek-factor of your next get-together: cupcake molds in the form of nomskulls and yumbots.  Cute!

Other fantastic DIY ideas:

The geek alphabet

Via Unreality Magazine: an alphabet for geeks (and other sci fi aficionados).  The other letters are great as well (although W really made me laugh)...check 'em out at the link.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Music Post: Robots!

Today's music post celebrates robots, or at least works as a guide through the different stages of budding robot-icity: denial, anger, acceptance, and finally violent retribution on their human creators.  Now with 100% less Uncanny Valley effect.

Let's work with denial first.  Marina and the Diamonds: I Am Not a Robot

Anger.  The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Acceptance, via Robyn: Fembot

Retribution, Flight of the Conchords style: the Humans Are Dead

I realize there's a lot of other robot-related music that could have gone on this round-up, so I'll probably do another robot-themed music post sooner or later.

Finally, here's an informal poll: who, or what, is your favorite robot (cylons, terminators, fembots, etc - all valid)?  I'm partial to Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but I think my favorite is R2D2.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon

This isn't science fiction (unless you're a conspiracy theorist), but it is neat: 41 years ago today, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon's Sea of Tranquility, thus proving once and for all there are no three-tailed monkeys, rabbits making mochi, or Sam Rockwells up there (yet).

Too bad about the mochi; that stuff is good.

Flashback Reviews: Riddley Walker

Riddley Walker, written by Russell Hoban and published in 1980, is probably one of the weirdest books I've ever read.  In fact, I'm prepared to say that I didn't understand it completely, and there were parts I didn't enjoy.  So why am I reviewing it now?  Of all the sci-fi books I read as a kid, this one has stuck with me the longest.  It's a strange and haunting book, but not necessarily an accessible one.

The story is set in England, long after an apocalyptic nuclear event that has blasted the world back to the stone age.  Humanity has lost its grip on modern civilization, and the current religion is a hodgepodge of Celtic myth and Christian legend, communicated by Punch-and-Judy puppet shows and allegorical fireside tales.  St Eustace (Eusa, according to Riddley) is a prominent mythological figure and the legend of his life inspired Hoban to write the book.

Technology has devolved, and so has fact, the whole book is written in Riddley's thickly accented dialect, words spelled phonetically and occasionally not very close to the original.  I had to read some sentences out loud a few times before the meaning clicked.  This will either fascinate you (as it did for me), or drive you bonkers, so reader beware.

Despite this, Riddley is an engaging narrator; he's clever (or is that clevver), and it's interesting to watch his ideas evolve.  Occasionally he struggles with how to express himself.  At one point, he says:
"I dont have nothing only words to put down on paper. Its so hard. Some times theres mor in the emty paper nor there is when you get the writing down on it. You try to word the big things and they tern ther backs on you. Yet youwl see stanning stoans and ther backs wil talk to you. " (if this quote made you want to claw your eyes out in frustration, then I'd recommend avoiding the book!)
One of my favorite theological discussions in sci-fi literature happens right at the beginning of the book - page 6, in fact.  It's poignant and colors the rest of the novel, giving Riddley surprising depth in a hard-scrabble setting where life is the classic Hobbesian "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."   Riddley may be a product of his devolved world, but he's not primitive.

This book isn't for everyone.  But if you're willing to take it on, there are a lot of gems here.  


Links of interest:

A better summary than I've given
An Interview with Russell Hoban on RW
Riddley Walker Annotations (very helpful - wish I'd had this when I read it.)
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (references the, a Sci Fi Sweetheart recommendation for the sheer camp of it!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Subway Star Wars

Improv Everywhere, only you could be so bold:

Hee!  I love how everyone is amused but basically unfazed.  This kind of stuff doesn't happen on the DC metro (sadly), although we do get participation in No Pants Day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

That's no moon....

Yesterday, the lovely Jessica of Bacon, Baking and Everything in Between made a surprise for my birthday.

It wasn't just any surprise.  This was full of win.  The reason it's featured on the blog?  Just see for yourself:

A mini-Death Star, in cake form!  The laser is a PEZ candy, and the protective shielding is pure cream cheese frosting goodness.  Fortunately, it had no time to blow up a planet (or my desk), because it was devoured by coworkers in about 15 minutes flat.

Our taste buds could not handle taste of that magnitude!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The adventures of Tiny Cthulhu

I recently adopted a tiny cthulhu courtesy of the fabulous Cthulhu Chick.  It was a tough choice picking just one, since there were a lot of cute ones, but we eventually decided on ours.  He arrived a couple of days ago.

At first, he was a bit shy.

But then he got around to meeting the new neighbors:

Introductions were made.

Soon, he was making friends and learning the local customs!

Some of these encounters were not as hospitable as he expected....uh oh!  Fortunately, he was rescued before any misunderstandings could occur (editor's note: no cthulhus were harmed in the making of this adventure).

In no time at all, Tiny Cthulhu was right at home.  Hey, Tiny Cthulhu, what are you doing in there?

Tiny Cthulhu, isn't that MY drink?  Who are you calling?


The reign of terror has begun.

Hee!  Hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed doing it.  There may be further adventures of Tiny Cthulhu at a later date, once everyone has come out of hiding.  In the meantime, here's an outtake.  Cthulhu, The Bitening:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Tesla


According to Wikipedia, Nikola Tesla's Birthday is actually tomorrow.  We're getting the drop on him by celebrating a day early!  I'm sure he won't mind.

History tells us that Tesla was something of an underdog; though famous in his own lifetime, he was considered an eccentric at best and a mad scientist at worst by his peers (not without reason).  He was a friend of Mark Twain, a possible synaesthete, and a proponent of women's equality.  He won the War of Currents against Edison (who was kind of a jerk, seriously - also, the accompanying video is NOT for the faint of heart, you have been warned), but Edison may be remembered better in part for his contributions to the light bulb.  He worked on  inventing the radio, but Marconi (also kind of a jerk, at least as far as radios are concerned) beat him out in the patent dispute and won the Nobel prize for it in 1909.  In fact, here's a helpful comic from Hark! A Vagrant laying it all out: Tesla, Marconi, Edison.

However, he invented other stuff, too.  Take this, for example:

The Tesla coil.  What a celibate rock star!   

Finally, Tesla may or may not have been responsible for the Tunguska Event in his quest to discover a super weapon.   He even has a Cthulhu mythos connection: he might have been the inspiration for Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep (I don't see the resemblance myself).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ready, Set, Shamble

early warning systems: our only chance

If you’re like me, you enjoy a good zombie yarn or two. At their best, they can be a fascinating look into the psychosis of constant terror and the politics of disease and warfare a la Max Brooks’ book, World War Z. As far as monsters go, they’re pretty high on the squick-meter: they’re us, only hungry, ineluctable, lizard-brain us. With more rot. But don’t worry…all they want to do is eat our brains.

I kind of like to think of zombies as the anti-vampire. Zombies, as far as the ‘enemy among us’ trope goes, are a useful palliative against the monster-with-a-heart vampire books that seem to be the recent trend. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those kinds of books every once in a while, and will no doubt talk about some of them on this blog. However, if you want your monsters monstrous and more of the horror staple many of us have come to love, then zombies are a safe bet…and unlike certain vampiric creations, they don’t sparkle (unless they're also radioactive, and then well, you're doubly screwed).

Speaking of zombies, here’s a site that was recently introduced to me (thanks, Benn!): Tales of the Zombie War. The site is a collection of (free!) short stories and poems of zombie-related fiction. While it claims it is not strictly a fanfic site, World War Z does seem to be a major influence. Since it IS a collection of public submissions, however, browser beware – but in general the quality of the writing seems fairly high. At the very least, check out the first and second-place pieces featured.

Other fantastic ways to get your zombie fix, if you're looking for some summer reading:
Feed, by Mira Grant
Every Sigh, The End, by Jason Hornsby 
The Passage, by Justin Cronin