Archive for the Fantasy Category

Theodore Sturgeon

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Things You Should Read with tags , , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

I am fortunate.  A quick browse through a local used bookstore yielded not only a hardback copy of Godbody but a collection of short stories by the same author, Theodore Sturgeon.

Although once widely known and generally acknowledged as a master of science fiction, Sturgeon is relatively obscure today; remarkably so, for a man who was once the most anthologized English author living.  Finding his works in libraries is slowly becoming difficult, except in the ones whose stocks are full of old editions.

My first exposure was when I came across his short work “The Golden Helix” in just such an anthology.  My eye was caught by the editor’s introductory blurb in which it was noted that the story was written before the structure of DNA had been discovered, and furthermore, suggested that the choice of the double helix was slightly spooky in that context.  Curious, I paid especial attention, and found that the story more than repaid the interest invested.

On doing a little research, I found that Sturgeon was not only responsible for, among other things, the “Amok Time” episode of Star Trek, the “Live long and prosper” salutation, and the characteristic Vulcan hand symbol (although its form came from Leonard Nimoy).  I tried to find more of his writings but found them to be fairly scarce, even decades ago – the situation has worsened considerably, it seems.

Like Robert Heinlein, Sturgeon seems to have contributed considerably to what I can vaguely refer to as ‘hippie culture’.  Given the times in which he was writing, and the mores of public discourse involved, many of the concepts in his stories were remarkably ideoclastic and radical.  Many of them seem quite same now, although parts would still shock many if they took the time to think about them.

I think I may write reviews of some of his writings in the near future.

Who really killed Star Wars?

Posted in Blogging, Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews, Things You Should Read with tags , on January, 2014 by melendwyr

Stumbling blindly through the alleys and darkened streets of the Internet, I came across The Caffeinated Symposium, a site full of analysis and opinion on certain aspects of nerd culture, written by David Cesarano.

The tone is a bit more strident than I would prefer, but I found several of the articles quite thought-provoking and well worth the reading – not least among which is “On the Devolution of the STAR WARS Franchise“.  I also found his analysis of why he didn’t like D&D 4th Edition to be useful, if not nearly as polished or sophisticated as the above.

Take a look.

Regarding Star Wars:   I’ve heard many, many people complain about how the prequels (and elements of the original movies, such as the Ewoks) reduced the quality of the series and fell away from what they expected.  The point that they represent Lucas attempting to re-establish his original vision – one that the series moved away from starting with The Empire Strikes Back – is one I’ve come across before. Many people have noted that TESB is dramatically more sophisticated than the first film, and that this was in large degree due to Lucas getting other people to work on the screenplay.  But the link with the “secret history” establishes just what massive fame – and the resulting creative control – caused to go so terribly wrong, rather as happened with Steven Spielburg and his attempts to extend past franchises and even alter the existing versions of past successes.

Quandary

Posted in Fantasy with tags , , on April, 2013 by melendwyr

I’ve put myself in a bit of a pickle.

I normally avoid pop culture – not because I think I’m above it, but because so much of it is terrible, in accordance with Sturgeon’s Law.  So I’m quite uninformed about pop cultural developments much of the time, which makes avoiding it that much easier.  But then came the Internet, which is so good about informing people about stuff that it spills over onto the people who aren’t even trying to be informed.

I recently became aware that NBC has made a series about Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, which leaves me dumbfounded and horrified.  In a bad way.  I’ve been very fond of Thomas Harris and  his novels – although not so much the latest about Lecter’s childhood and early adulthood, which were supposedly written under pressure as another author threatened to bring out his own novel on the subject unless blocked; and not so much the adaptations of his novels, which leave out all of the interesting complexity.  Hannibal was particularly weak, I thought.  And Graham is the most intriguing of Harris’ protagonists, especially as he doesn’t exactly get a happy ending.

Anyway, the series airs tonight.  And the critical reviews are highly complimentary.  Except – publicized and commercialized reviews necessarily show their target in a good light, else they wouldn’t be ad fodder.  Also a lot of television reviews are, shall we say, not quite to my taste.  So – do I watch this, risking the possibility that it’s a shameless money grab sullying the delightfully wretched icon of Harris’ work, or avoid it and risk missing something that I might actually enjoy?

At least this serves to divert my attention from my actual problems.

Brave

Posted in Fantasy, Reviews with tags , on July, 2012 by melendwyr

I’ve just returned from viewing the latest Pixar film, Brave.  And I must say, it’s excellent.  Not quite as wonderful as I found The Incredibles – I am always somewhat annoyed when actual folk tales/beliefs are distorted for the convenience of unfamiliar and ignorant audiences, and a magical tale of old Caledonia has a context from which the movie can depart, as opposed to a story set in a quasi-realistic alternate present/near future – but quite enjoyable.

The story and music are great.  What I couldn’t help but have my attention drawn to is the hair.  Hair is incredibly difficult to simulate and render electronically – the way it interacts with light, each strand carries its own problems.  I was especially put in mind of the ‘gag reel’ from Incredibles and the various problems they had getting Violet’s hair to fall properly.  They did quite well rendering Merida’s curls, although I suspect they used certain shortcuts in doing so, clumping strands into curly patterns and then rendering those patterns rather than calculating each individual hair.

I read several reviews of the film before seeing it, and I can’t understand the complaints about Merida’s unviability as a role model.  The story clearly portrays the short-sighted and careless things she does as disastrous – too much so, to my point of view, stressing that “individual selfishness” is necessarily a bad thing, and ignoring the reality that ‘selfish’ has a positive meaning, too.  I can’t help but think that these moralizing statements in Pixar’s films are meant to pacify and subdue the corporate watchdogs whose approval is required.

There’s a lovely but peculiarly non-comedic short before the main film titled “La luna”, and those who wait through the end credits will be rewarded with the long-awaited dropping of the other shoe.  (You’ll know what I mean.)

For Your Post-Apocalyptic Library Science Needs

Posted in Fantasy, Reviews, Science Fiction with tags , , on March, 2012 by melendwyr

Hillbilly space vandals.  Human-looking aliens with headbands that functioned as PDAs.   Dialog almost worthy of the Eye of Argon.  Hooded Space Wizards who speak in rhyme and place unwise librarians in stasis for a hundred years.  Earth abandoned to a decay that remarkably resembles Mississippi in 1985.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, you may have been forced to watch Tomes and Talismans as a child.  As probably the most well-known product of Mississippi Educational Television, Tomes instructed the young in details of library use, effective reading strategies, and how proper use of the Dewey Decimal System can save the planet.  For these noble goals, countless children trapped in the holding pens referred to as ‘schools’ were induced to watch this program in the hopes that they would suddenly perceive libraries as AWESOME!  Alas, it probably had no effect except to deepen their contempt of reading and further ostracize those kids who publicly enjoyed it.

One irony of the program was that despite being set in a distant future, the technologies it taught were mostly obsolete and largely replaced by computer archive systems less than a decade later.  Another is that, despite the ridiculousness of its plot, most people never got to find out how it ended – seemingly the adults forced to supervise the indoctrination of the young were unable to put up with having to watch the series themselves.   Fortunately, various individuals uploaded the series to YouTube!

For your edification and viewing pleasure, I link you to:  Tomes and Talismans:  Episode One:  Tomes Entombed

(cue eerie music)

Click friend, and enter

Posted in Fantasy, Things You Should Read with tags , on February, 2012 by melendwyr

If you’re a major fan of fantasy, or associated in any way with the Mythgard Institute, you may already be familiar with the Tolkien Professor, also known as Corey Olsen.

I have found his discussion groups and analyses of Tolkien’s various works to be quite interesting and thought provoking, even educational.  The various audio files are certainly entertaining.

A long delay in content updates made me reticent to reference his site, in case something dreadful had occurred, but he’s back now and bigger than ever, so this would probably be a good time to check it out.

 

 

Why I hate C.S. Lewis

Posted in Fantasy, Politics and Society, Reviews with tags , on January, 2012 by melendwyr

One of the problems with having a reputation as a bookish child is that many people expect you to be thrilled to receive their recommendations, which they share with you whether you have requested to hear them or not.  It’s usually best to receive these encomia gracefully – these people do mean well, after all – but this can become awkward when they take the form of actual books thrust at you.  And when these books are gifts, there’s not much that you can do other than accept and smile.

Thus did I receive a complete set of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia one Christmas many years ago.  I had heard of them and wasn’t especially interested in seeking them out, but they were at hand and something new to read.  And they were gifts, after all.  So I dutifully began slogging through them.

Unlike some people, I recognized the Christian subtext fairly early on.  It wasn’t disguised very effectively in the latter parts of the first volume, and it only becomes clearer as the series progresses.  I tolerated it.  The fantastical elements of the books were very derivative, with a lot of material taken from old fairy tales andvarious medieval traditions that I recognized from my reading, but it was stitched together entertainingly enough.

Then I came to the volume entitled The Horse and his Boy.  No spoilers, but there’s a slave boy (with suspiciously fair skin) named Shasta who grew up in a vaguely Moorish country named Calormen and ends up running away to the vaguely England-like land of Narnia, where there are talking animals and dryads and dwarves and so on.  At one point, Shasta has sat down to have breakfast with a group of these dwarves, and they lay out an enthusiastically-described Traditional English Breakfast, with fried sausages and fried tomatoes and eggs and bacon and buttered toast… you get the idea.  The narrator emphasizes that Shasta has only had bread with oil before, and this is presented so dismissively – even contemptuously – that I was immediately brought out of story immersion.

I’ve had good quality bread with good quality olive oil, and it’s delicious.  It was the first form of garlic bread, after all – using butter is a latter variation.  While it’s good with butter, I knew it was also good with ‘mere’ oil.  And so I immediately began to wonder why the narrator was trying to get the audience to see this as a deprivation for Shasta, and started thinking about the story instead of just experiencing it as it went along.

It seemed obvious once I started thinking:  the presented breakfast was something that the intended audience (originally English children) would be familiar and comfortable with, and oiled bread would be something unfamiliar and unknown, and Lewis was trying to link unfamiliarity with a clearly implied judgment of inferiority.  He was trying to get the readers to link their sense of recognition with the judgement that a thing was good, and the absence with a judgment of wrongness.

The moment I saw this, I immediately began thinking of other ways that these ideas had been associated in the book, and then in the previous books.  I started examining the books as presentations of ideas, as propaganda, although that term is so loaded that I hesitate to use it.  I looked at them as persuasive interaction, and what I perceived horrified me.

Take the talking animals in the first book.  They’re presented as speaking various forms of common country English – mildly dialectical, but distinctly so.  Despite the fact that they’re the majority of the population – the entirety of it, in fact – they insist that only human beings may be rulers in that country, and thus the children who stumble into the magical country must overthrow the Witch who has enslaved it and rule as kings and queens, et cetera.  The connection of this idea with Christian doctrine was so obvious that I hadn’t looked any closer at it.  But when I did, I realized that the talking animals weren’t just representing people, but a particular type of person.  Commoners, basically.  And the humans weren’t humans really, they were representing a class of person – hereditary royalty.

Monarchy was one thing, but setting royalty as a category inherent apart from and better than hoi polloi shocked and disturbed me.  The sheer blatantcy of it… it was obvious to me why such ideas arose when kingship was passed down through inheritance, it was hardly new.  But how that idea and the attitude surrounding it was snuck into the story, stealthily associated instead of being presented in the open…well, I didn’t view it kindly.

Further examination of the works of C.S. Lewis lead me to a very distinct opinion of the man and his ideas.  More on that later.