Could be interesting…

Mahalo.com is looking for freelance writers to help them build up their search results. From their website:

Mahalo is a human-powered search engine dedicated to delivering carefully curated search results featuring the highest quality, spam-free links available, alongside helpful and informative Guide Notes and Fast Facts about these search terms. Our motto is ”We’re here to help.”

It looks kind of interesting. They pay $10, and offer four hours shifts, up to forty-eight hours per week. I may apply myself.

More information is available at their website.

Fully Degreed

As of today, I have my degree in Horribleness from the University of Evil-Doing. Next up is my application to join the Evil League of Evil.

Behold, and shudder; click on the thumbnail to see my degree in all its horribleness. It’s a great honor, although I think my friend Jeff probably deserves it far more than I.

(Courtesy of this site here.)

Who Wants to be a Superhero, Part III… Or not.

My sources — otherwise known as Google — inform me that there will not be a Season Three of the Sci Fi Channel’s epic series event, Who Wants to be a Superhero? I’m feeling just a tad ambiguous about this. On the one hand, I enjoyed the first season quite a bit, and was happy that Feedback won. I enjoyed the second season too, though not as much, and I was pleased that Defuser won. What I enjoyed most about this show was that the qualities which were normally required for winning other reality shows — manipulativeness, deceit, and so on — were not required for victory on this show. On the other hand, sometimes it was just nigh on to impossible to figure out who deserved to be kicked off and who deserved to stay, and last year even Stan Lee had to resort to having the participants write up their own evaluations.

I think, though, that the biggest death knell for this show was how Feedback was “rewarded”. During the first season, the Sci Fi Channel promised a Sci Fi Channel original movie featuring the winner. Although having a Sci Fi Channel original movie made of your character is a dubious prize at best (I’m still awfully proud of my Sci Fi Channel Original Movie generator), the fact that Feedback only got, say, two minutes of screen time in Megasnake (a film that was ludicrous even by Sci Fi Channel standards) left a bitter taste in the mouths of a number of fans. So most people I knew who watched the show simply assumed that the winner of Season Two would be treated just as shabbily.

In short, I think the Sci Fi Channel screwed the pooch with how they treated Feedback after Season One, and didn’t do enough to recuperate in Season Two. Besides, Stan Lee has moved on to bigger and better things, like cameo shots in Heroes.

If there is a Season Three of Who Wants to be a Superhero, it won’t be anytime soon. And, really, that’s probably for the best.

In other news, I think a smackdown between Feedback and the Defuser would be awesome. Who would win?

Update: The Defuser himself left a comment over on my LiveJournal on this entry. I checked it out, and it’s really him. Which for me raises the question of how he found my Livejournal entry? The Defuser really does have superheroic powers. Almost makes me feel bad about getting my Evil-Doing Doctorate.

Why I don't read much modern urban fantasy

Some may complain that I’m not being totally fair. Well, in all fairness, this sort of dynamic permeates every fiction genre, so I’m not being exclusionary at all (if you don’t believe me, go hang out with some horror authors sometime… or even worse, a passle of science fiction authors, and then ask them “So, which of you is the real science fiction author?”).

A: I’m an urban fantasy author!

B: You are? Me too! Aren’t we awesome? Let’s blog together!

A: Squee! Yes, we truly are awesome! Let’s congratulate each other on our pure awesomeness in our cowritten blog as we deride anyone who isn’t as awesome as we are!

B: That sounds like fun, as long as you remember than I am more awesome than you!

A: No way, I’m totally more awesome than you are!

B: Don’t be silly, I write about sex.

A: Well, I’m more awesome than you because I write about vampires!

C: Hey, I write about vampire sex! And sex with vampires!

B: ZOMGBBQSUPERCOOLSQUEE! Wow, I have to totally worship you now! Vampires and sex! A dying and boring cliche which I totally love! Come join our blog!

A: C can join our blog but I’m not being worshipped as much as I was before so now I’m going to go start my own blog where other people will totally see and appreciate my pure awesomeness unlike you guys.

B: Well, A’s left the TOTALLYAWESOMESQUEEVAMPIRESEXURBANFANTASYBLOG but we still totally love her and she’s way awesome (if kind of lame because she doesn’t put sex in her vampire scenes like I do and it was totally me and C’s just copying me). Aren’t I awesome?

C: Yes you are (even if you can’t write a sex scene to save your pathetic little soul, you vamp wannabe). And so am I! Let’s congratulate each other on our awesomeness!

A: Hi! Welcome to the TOTALLYAWESOMESQUEEWEREWOLFSEXURBANFANTASYBLOG which is way more awesome than that “other” blog which I will no longer associate with because they’re totally awesome losers.

…and so on.

Really, if certain people would accept that The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster is urban fantasy, just without vampires or elves or sex, then we’d get along just fine.

Remakes that don't need to be made but are being made anyway

I offer the following as proof that Hollywood not only does not care about us, but actively hates us with an intense fiery passion, and laughs at us because we continue to fall for their shenanigans.

  • V. Apparently NBC has been working on a remake of the brilliant 80’s science fiction invasion miniseries, only this time without Marc Singer, Robert Englund, or Jane Badler. The only good news here is that the project has been in development for three years and probably won’t ever see the light of day.
  • Friday the 13th. Not so much a remake as a “reboot”. Granted, an occasional reboot can work well. Think Battlestar Galactica. Most of the time, though, “reboot” makes me think “reimagining”, which rarely works well. Think Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. Think Rob Zombie’s Halloween. I am looking forward to J. J. Abrams’s reboot of Star Trek, because if anyone can bring an original vision to a pre-existing mythology, then it’s Abrams. Then again, I said that about Tim Burton, and we all know how that turned out.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. MTV apparently has this one in the works. Seriously, here all I can think is “What the hell?” I mean that in all sincerity. What. The. Hell. It was an awful movie to begin with, made into a cult classic because people were originally so appalled by its awfulness that they took to throwing toast and toilet paper at the screen, which made RHPS an event instead of a mere movie. You can’t throw a big budget and name actors at an event like this and hope to come even close to the original experience. If this goes anywhere besides straight to the budget DVD rack at WalMart, I’ll be seriously surprised.
  • The Wolfman. It won’t have Lon Chaney. ‘Nuff said.
  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. An iconic 80s movie, made gloriously memorable because of Keanu Reeves and George Carlin. But now Carlin is dead and Keanu has gone on to become a great popular higher paid actor, so what will the new B&TEA have? Pretty much nothing. Why not just remake Weird Science? Or War Games?
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still. Speaking of Keanu Reeves. Keanu Reeves, for God’s sake, in an unnecessary remake of one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. How about Forbidden Planet with William Shatner? Sheesh.

Book Review: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon

Cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
ISBN: 978-1400032716
Published May 2004 by Vintage
[rating:5]

I first saw this book on the shelves when Jennifer and I visited Ireland in May 2006. When we got back I started seeing it on the shelves in America as well. Everybody kept recommending it to me. “Have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time yet?” they’d ask me, and each time I’d have to hang my head in shame as I answered “No”. Then I’d try to perk up and say, “But I’ve seen it on the shelves, and I fully intend to read it!” to which they’d reply, “Yes, that’s what you said last time, Richard.” So finally I went out and bought this book.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I’d like to call this book whimsical, but that isn’t quite right. It is funny at times, and there were a few times when I laughed out loud as I read it. But it is at its core about an autistic teenager who is desperately trying to make sense of the world around him. When Christopher Boone decides, at the suggestion of one of his teachers, to write a book, he decides to write a mystery novel based on the murder of his neighbor’s dog; but as he investigates the mystery, what seems to be a fairly straightforward mystery gets to the heart of who Chris thinks he is and some of the incidents that have defined his whole life.

Where Haddon really succeeds, though, is in presenting Chris’s thought processes and ideas. We get to see Chris figure out the best way of solving a mystery, try to comprehend human behavior when he doesn’t really have the tools to do so, and get into topics of mathematics and logic. Some of these forays into mathematics — such as his explanation of prime numbers and how to figure out which numbers are prime, or certain logic puzzles — may seem irrelevant to the overall story, but they reveal Chris in a way that simple narrative can’t. In spite of Chris’s unusual ways of being in the world, the reader gets caught up in him, and sympathizes deeply with him.

Haddon has been justly praised for his sympathetic and thoughtful treatment of an autistic main character. He has also been praised for his accuracy in presenting an autistic person’s thoughts. While I agree that his characterization of Chris is sympathetic and thoughtful, I’m not sure I can speak to the second point. I’ve only read one book by an autistic person — Nobody Nowhere by Donna Williams — and the way she wrote about her experiences differed greatly than the experiences that Haddon wrote for Chris.

Still, realistic or not, Chris comes across as realistic and sympathetic.

Highly recommended.

Fly Me to a Flying Suborbital Space Platform…

Today, Virgin Galactic unveiled their new spacecraft: the WhiteKnightTwo, christened “Eve” in honor of company founder Sir Richard Branson’s mother. Eve is the ferry craft that will deliver SpaceShipTwo and its passengers and payloads into space. Or at least to very high altitudes.

WhiteKnightTwo on the runway in the Mojave Desert.
WhiteKnightTwo on the runway in the Mojave Desert.

Naturally, I think this is damn cool. I doubt that I’ll ever get to fly on SpaceShipTwo myself (I’ll never have nearly enough money to afford it) but forays into space travel always make me excited. When I was a kid I was pretty obsessed with the idea. I had a toy lunar module that you could turn on and that would scoot across the floor with a loud whirring noise. I still recall the way my heart thudded when I watched the space shuttle Enterprise fling itself off of the ferry aircraft, a modified 747. And I watched several of Enterprise‘s test flights (Enterprise was never meant for actual space flight, of course). And I also watched the live coverage of Columbia‘s first flight. During one of these test launches, I remember the announcer practically screaming with excitement: “And there’s the launch of AMERICA’S FIRST SPACE SHUTTLE!” Of course, nowadays, space shuttle launches are barely noted in the news media. I built models of the space shuttle, and even today looking at pictures of the shuttle fills me with childhood nostalgia.

Space Shuttle Enterprise at Kennedy Space Center launch pad. Note the all white external tank..
Space Shuttle Enterprise at Kennedy Space Center launch pad. Note the all white external tank..

From what I can tell — because I haven’t really kept close track of these things since I was a kid — the SpaceShipTwo passenger vehicle itself has not yet actually been built. But Eve is supposed to tug SpaceShipTwo into orbit, sort of like how the modified 747 carried Enterprise into its test flights.

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo ferrying SpaceShipTwo into orbit.
Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo ferrying SpaceShipTwo into orbit.

See how SpaceShipTwo is slung between the twin fuselages of WhiteKnightTwo?

I’m not sure how long it will be until SpaceShipTwo is ready to start flying people into space. Virgin Galactic plans on being the first company to offer commercial space passenger flights. I do hope that other companies will follow suit, and that NASA keeps up its scientific and research missions as well. I’m a big believer in the necessity of manned space missions, and I’m pretty excited about NASA’s Project Constellation. I think we’re centuries away from interstellar travel or extraplanetary colonization, but I think that, Charles Stross aside, we, as a species, will figure out how to do it.

Plants with Eyes

Inspired by our recent trip to Safari West (where we got to play “Keeper for a Day”, which is why I got to hand feed a giraffe) and by watching The Mist, I’ve been amusing myself lately speculating about future directions of life on the surface of the Earth. Mostly I’ve been thinking about how marine ecology is full of things that sting, bite, deliver venom, lure unsuspecting critters to be food, and things that are just awfully good at hiding from the other things that want to eat them.

Now, marine life has been around significantly longer than surface life. Life on Earth first evolved in the oceans about four billion years ago, but the first land plants didn’t show up until about 475 million years ago, and it took about 75 million years after that for the for surface animals to show up in the form of simple insects and plants that bear seeds. This means that marine life has a significant head start over land life in evolving stinging, biting, eating, and venomous organs. Life underwater is much more fraught with peril than life on land (I know, try telling an antelope on the savannah that spending its life avoiding lions is a lot better than spending its life as a little fish avoiding a Portuguese man of war’s very poisonous stingers). So, given a couple more billion years, what will surface life on Earth look like (assuming that human beings are no longer around, having become extinct or simply gone on to better things)? The earth probably won’t be around in another four billion years, since the sun will become a red giant by then, so my speculations will necessarily be limited to two to three billion years.

Will surface life be just as full of stinging, biting, and muching things as underwater life? Insects, which have been around for a lot longer than other forms of animals, have got a jump on this sort of thing. Plants do it pretty well too. Some reptiles are pretty good at this sort of thing as well. Some simpler mammals have stingers that deliver poison (the platypus springs to mind, though as far as I know only the male of the species does), but most larger, more complex mammals simply rely on their big teeth and their big brains.

I’m not a theoretical biologist, though, so most of my speculations are limited to science fictional notions that I’ve picked up from other sources. In “The Mist”, King presents an alien ecology which is extremely dangerous to human beings, who barely stand a chance against even a relatively small insect like critter whose venom can kill one of us in just a few minutes. And David Gerrold, in his increasingly sparse and decreasingly impressive “War Against the Chtorr” series, presents a future in which the Earth is being “terraformed” by an alien species into an ecology much more dangerous and invasive than our own, and some of the character speculate that the alien ecology is much older than our own, so in its sheer ferocity it more resembles an underwater ecology rather than a contemporary surface ecology.

Of course, it’s also possible that the surface animals will simply continue to develop bigger brains and bigger teeth, relying more and more on those than on other means of hunting each other and hiding from each other. Maybe the future of life on earth will consist of faster antelopes and bigger lions. One thing that struck me as I was learning about the African savannah at Safari West is that Africa is simply swarming with antelopes and antelope like animals. Prey animals, in other words. And prey animals, with exceptions like giraffes and zebras, are usually antelope like (again, though, I have no expertise here, so any qualified zoologist, or any college student who has taken a introductory zoology class, will probably be able to correct me on this point). So maybe future ecologies on the surface of the earth will simply include variations on contemporary themes.

Then again, maybe things will get weirder, like the plants in this video:

Is that the coolest video ever or what? It’s from an animation studio called “1st Avenue Machine” and I like to think that plants in future ecologies will be just as bizarre as these.

Anyway, whether the future of the earth involves just variations on what we have already or something nightmarish like from the imaginations of King and Gerrold, it’s still a fun thing to speculate about. And maybe some day I’ll write a story about this theme.

Tip of the hat to the Weird Universe blog for the video.

Anyone want to play along?

In all the excitement about revamping my website, enjoying our soon-to-be-completed kitchen, working on a website for a local choral group, and everything else, I completely forgot to ask if anyone else out there wants to play along with the “Story of the Week” torture. Come on, it’ll be fun!

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Book Review: "Infected" by Scott Sigler

Cover of Infected by Scott Sigler

Infected by Scott Sigler
ISBN: 978-0307406101
Published April 2008 by Crown Books

[rating:4]

I picked up this book with some pretty high expectations. I’d listened to two of Sigler’s podcast novels, Earthcore and Ancestor, and thoroughly enjoyed them both. They made my daily commute not just tolerable, but something I actually looked forward to. I knew that actually reading Infected rather than listening to it in podcast form would be a different experience, and it was. For one thing, I pretty much devoured it, reading it in a few hours, while listening to it in podcast form would have taken several days.

In Infected, a mysterious disease has cropped up in the town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Victims become psychotic and exhibit strange growths on their bodies. As the CIA and the CDC rush to bring the plague under control and keep it from becoming general knowledge, former college football player Perry Dawson becomes its latest victim. We get to go deep into Dawson’s head as he comes to grips with a disease that seems to be trying to control him, and witness his genuinely frightening slide into insanity.

On the whole, I enjoyed Infected. Its fast pace and graphic descriptions are almost cinematic. Sigler has a gift for conveying paranoia in a way that from within the character’s head seems very genuine, but his strength really lies in his effective portrayal of gore. Make no mistake, Sigler is a very gory writer; the other novels of his that I’ve read have been full of violence, graphically described. The level of gore, compared with the high concepts that Sigler employs, have earned him comparisons with Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk.

Nevertheless, there were some weaknesses to this novel. Many characters felt like stock material, almost trite: the coldly efficient CIA operative, the methodical and overworked government scientist, and so on. This contributed to the fast pace of the book, though, which is part of its appeal. These characters have easily understood motives and behavior patterns. On the other hand, they won’t necessarily stand out as identifiable and sympathetic.

In short: if you want a quick, bloody read full of violence and gore, with plenty of science on the side, I would strongly recommend Infected. It’s a fun read, and there are plenty of times when that’s exactly what you need.