Saturday, December 24, 2011

Leonard Maltin in Gremlins 2

I don't have guilty pleasures. If I like something, it's worth my unashamed praise. But if I did have a guilty pleasure, it'd be Gremlins 2. I really didn't like the first one, but I wouldn't say I hated it. On paper, the sequel sounds even worse. It sounds downright awful. Amazingly, it's one of the most original and entertaining Hollywood films ever made. Don't believe me? Just look at this mash-up between it and Where The Wild Things Are:

You know who else didn't like the first Gremlins? Movie critic Leonard Maltin. So what did the filmmakers do? They put him in the sequel. (For the record, Maltin gave the second film a positive review. I think he should have taken a note from Ebert and neglected to review a movie he took part in making. Kind of seems like cheating, no?)

A lot of fans are begging for another Gremlins movie. Perhaps they're overlooking the fact that Joe Dante probably wouldn't come back to direct and the movie would be so full of soulless CGI (instead of the convincing puppetry of the first two films) it'd be as bad as, well, Critters 3.

Yes. That is a young Leonardo DiCaprio.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Free Story: If I'm Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage by Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer's upcoming novel Triggers is currently being serialized in Analog. It's fantastic so far. It's like a Tom Clancy novel combined with a science-gone-wrong plot that isn't anti-science. If you hit the bookstore right now, you should be able to catch it from the first. Or download the digital issue of Analog. It's like two or three bucks depending on whether or not you subscribe.

Last month's Apex saw the arrival of a new editor, who in his first editorial mentions something Elizabeth Bear said: science fiction is currently in its rainbow era. She's right. There isn't one thing that science fiction is doing right now.

So for this week's free story, I thought I'd find something by Sawyer. I'm not the hugest fan of flash fiction, but I'm not so close-minded I'd ignore it. This story is two hundred and fifty words long and it feels right. If I'm Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage.

You can find other free stories of his here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Takei Settles the Lucas VS Roddenberry Feud

+1, LIKE, and FAVORITE combined are not enough for this video. The legendary George Takei asks for a truce between the Star Wars and Star Trek camps by uniting them against a common enemy: the icky Twilight crowd.

What a cool guy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nightfall and Nightfall

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!

In 1941, Isaac Asimov published a What if? story inspired by John W. Campbell who, in turn, was inspired by the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above. What if humanity had never seen stars? In both the short story and novel form, Nightfall proposes people would go crazy. Catastrophically crazy.

File:Nightfall cover.jpg

The Short Story

The short story takes place on a planet with six suns. At any given time, you can expect the six suns to light every inch of the surface. Which means the people who live there don't know what darkness is. It's an abstract concept to them. We learn early on that when these people are faced with darkness they go apeshit insane.

A group of scientists make a terrifying discovery: every two thousand years, the planet goes dark. What does this mean for a civilization who has never seen darkness? Widespread psychosis. A civilization that tears itself down. See, the darkness is scary enough, but the appearance of the stars make the people go absolutely mad. Gripped by the star-crazed madness, the people will do anything for light. They'll burn any and everything they can get their hands on.

The story scared the shit out of me. It doesn't play on the fear of darkness itself, but on the fear of "crazy" people. To be more exact, the horror element emerges from the taut suspense: you know people are going to start flipping out and you know there's nothing the main characters can do about it. The very last line of the story chilled me to the bone.

Asimov stated he was perplexed by the popularity of the story (along with Campbell's Who Goes There? and Orson Scott Card's original version of Ender's Game, it's often called the best short story in the SF genre). He had been reluctant to give the story credit, but finally did in a short stories collection. To date, the story has been anthologized almost 50 times.

The Novel

In the nineties, Asimov and Robert Silverberg co-wrote a novel version. The cover of my edition claims the short story was only part of the story. They weren't kidding.

The novel begins years before the events we witnessed in the short story. We get to know many of the characters and watch them piece together the facts: a psychologist who is treating psychotic patients who have been exposed to darkness, an archaeologist who accidentally discovers several previous civilizations, all of which were burned to the ground, and an astronomer who realizes a time will come when the planet is plunged in darkness.

The catastrophe itself takes place about midway through the book and it happens more or less exactly as it happened in the short story. The last third of the book is about the aftermath, in which most of the world's survivors are irreversibly insane. At one point, a main character observes a group of crazy men desperately trying to uproot a tree. It was one of those images that will stick with me. The men had no good reason—you don't have to when you're crazy—they just wanted to pull a tree out of the ground.

You could say these people are overreacting, sure, but even Earthlings who are accustomed with nightfall have this embedded fear of the dark, which is only ignored and never cured. It isn't really that hard to buy the catastrophic events that occur.

The original title of this post was Nightfall VS Nightfall, but it wasn't fair to compare them. They are two separate entities written at two very different times. The novel won't be considered a classic, and that's shame, just because it retreads some of the same material as the short story, which is considered a classic. I suggest reading them both, starting with the short story which you can listen to at Escape Pod.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Caution: Weightless Condition (2001: ASO Production Stills)

My high school library had a book about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I could only read it while I was in the library because I was severely overdue on a book... which just happened to be 2061: Odyssey Three. It had a lot of great photographs from the production of that film, but I'm not sure this one was one of them:

I am sure, however, that the book had a dead-on close-up of the zero gravity bathroom instructions seen here:

I can't find the same photo used in the book, but I did find this at in case you want to see them in detail, too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Free Story Friday: The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model

Man. This is one easy, entertaining read: The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model by Charlie Jane Anders. When I was in bed the other night, I decided to give my ebook reader another try. When I powered it up, a collection of short stories published by Tor mysteriously showed up on my home screen. It was only a preview, but I started reading it anyway. I just hoped the preview would end sometime after the conclusion of the first story, not before.

Nope. Chuck Testa.

So I paid $2.99 (because, after all, nothing is more thrilling than buying things without even getting out of bed) to read the last few pages of the story. It was worth it. Then I discovered it was available for free on the Internet. It was still worth it.

As for me, I'm going to go play some more Skyrim. The game came out three hours ago. My girlfriend wanted me to come over tonight. See: my response, an image stolen from Reddit.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Best of John W. Campbell 1976

cover art H. R. Van Dongen


Introduction: The Three Careers of John W. Campbell by Lester del Rey
The Last Evolution
The Machine
The Invaders
Out of Night
Cloak of Aesir
Who Goes There?
Space for Industry
Afterward by Mrs. John W. Campbell

Edited by Lester del Rey, this collection contains Twilight, the short story Campbell originally published under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart. As del Rey says in the intro, Campbell wrote pulpy stories, like almost every other SF writer at the time, under his real name. It wasn't until later he developed the pseudonym Stuart, under which he wrote stories of a more serious vein. The first story in this collection isn't of much interest (other than historical) as it is one of his earlier, more pulpy efforts, but the rest, starting with Twilight and more or less concluding with Who Goes There? (the inspiration for The Thing From Another Planet, John Carpenter's The Thing, and the 2011 reboot/prequel), showcase his talents nicely.

As for Twilight, there's something that must be said about a story that takes you 7 billion years into the future, especially when it was written in 1934 and seems so modern today. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for everyone else on the planet) someone already wrote about it: Ryan Harvey over at Black Gate, a fantastical fiction blog. Read the article here. Says Harvey:

And yes, as the heading of this post indicates, to me the title “Twilight” always means this story. It had too potent an effect on me to ever allow anything else, no matter how much popular culture it devours, to steal the word “twilight” for other use.

While most fans consider Who Goes There? John W. Campbell's masterpiece, I think Twilight deserves more recognition for being the first modern science fiction story by a man who's largely credited for inventing modern science fiction.

In his memoirs I, Asimov, Isaac Asimov talks favorably of Campbell for the most part, later expressing his dismay over the editor's decision to buy into L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, the foundation of Scientology. Many writers who had been loyal to the man who once injected real science into science fiction began ignoring his publication, Asimov included. In his introduction to this collection, del Rey only briefly mentions Campbell's disappointing foray into pseudoscience, simply stating, "His eternal quest for undiscovered fields of knowledge led him into what I considered cultist beliefs, and I fought against those both privately and publicly."

I found the book in a used book store in Sand Springs, OK. I paid a dollar for it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid looks like The Sims with zombies, what with its isometric views and, well, zombies. I gotta level with you: I'm as sick of zombies as I am of vampires, werewolves, and what passes as political discussions these days.

I digress, but I don't wanna.

So you play a guy whose wife has doomed you both by breaking her leg in the midst of a zombie outbreak. The game opens, in the house you holed up in, with a surprisingly convincing character dialogue. Your wife wants you to get painkillers and something to bandage her leg. As I was trying to figure out the interface, I accidentally smothered her with a pillow. Doesn't matter. A zombie got me soon after that.

Okay, so you can't accidentally smother someone with a pillow in real life, but guess what? This game is pretty damn realistic as far as video games about zombie apocalypses go. Yes, initially the interface is maddening, but once you get the hang of it you'll wonder why there aren't more games like PZ. I imagine there will be more games like this, as it's already generating a buzz in its unfinished state.

It dispenses with a lot of the usual tricks employed by video games and kind of just lets you play it. It's sandboxy, it's retroey, and super addictivey. Yes, it's all three of those words I just made up.

I like that there isn't a health bar. You can't just walk over items to pick them up. If you want to make soup, you've got to have a can, a can opener, a pot, and a stove. For boarding windows, you must have wood, nails, and a hammer, the latter of which also doubles as a fairly effective weapon. There's not even an option to save, though that might be a feature of the demo, not the full game, but that only adds to the overall awesomeness of the game, rather than detracts.

The end of the game is known from the very beginning: you're going to die. There's no way around it. The only thing you can hope for is to postpone the inevitable. That may not sound very fun, but I'm the kind of player who enjoys trying to stay alive longer than the last time. And you know what? If you ever did find yourself in a world overrun by zombies, you'd try to stay alive as long as possible, too.

Keep in mind this is a very early version of the game. According to the developers, it's going to be way better in its final release. If so, we're in for a treat. The music's great, the graphics are sweet, and the concept is pretty cool.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Wheels

I don't know what to say about Happy Wheels. I mean, it's fucking insane.

Having gotten sick of LAN matches, a friend and I began paroling the Internet separately. I think I was checking my email when I heard him burst into laughter. I glanced at his screen and saw he was playing what appeared to be some kind of racing game... with a homeless man in a wheelchair.

Other playable characters included a somewhat yuppie-ish businessman on a personal transport, a mustached man with a child strapped to the rear of his bicycle who's appropriately called "Irresponsible Dad," and a heavy woman in a motorized shopping cart, complete with groceries in the basket. Since then, two characters have been added and that's part of the fun of Happy Wheels: it's a work in progress, which means the re-playability is through the roof.

So, it's not really a racing game. The point of the game, if you need one, is to make it to the exit while dodging a wide range of obstacles. Mines, spikes, killer robots, psychotic Pokemon (is the plural of Pokemon really Pokemon?), you name it. If it's not in the game yet you can add it yourself with the level editor. What makes this game so utterly addicting, however, is the mesmerizing physics. Chances are, you'll lose limbs like a cricket before reaching the end of any level. Meanwhile, getting gibbed is as easy as 1-2-3.

Clever, fun, bizarre... Happy Wheels is all of these and more.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Infectonator! World Dominator

In Infectonator! you play a zombie virus or, more accurately, the means of distributing said virus. In each stage, you're in a new real world location, trying to infect as many humans as possible. You do this by clicking the left mouse button which, in the beginning, disperses four... uh... spores, I guess. Whoever gets clipped by the spores become zombies, who can then attack other humans.

I know this point-and-click zombie simulator sounds rather dull, but stick with it, because the more humans you infect, the more powerups you get. Soon, you'll be dispersing more than four spores at a time, throwing bombs, and gaining access to special zombies, which range from Ronald McDonald to Michael Jackson. I got stuck playing this game until four in the morning on a work night once so let me suggest playing while you're at work, not after.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Maniac Mansion Deluxe

Maniac Mansion was a game that fascinated me as a child. It seemed cool, but for all its hamster-microwaving glory, there was a major problem: controlling it was a pain in the ass, which is to say nothing about my short attention span. The game was obviously developed with a mouse in mind, but who the hell had a computer you could play games on in the 8-bit era?

Fast forward over twenty years later (yes, it really has been that long) and you'll find a German fan created a remake that works like a dream, even on 64-bit operating systems. There's a fine line to walk when remaking a classic: do you update the graphics for the young gamers, but at the risk of alienating the people old enough to have played the original? Or do you give in to nostalgia and release your game looking rather dated when compared to the stuff that's out today? Thankfully, the remaker opted for a combination of the two and the game has never looked better.

One thing which blew me away at the start was the music. It's the same music, only better. It totally whisks you away into flashback mode.

As usual, I forget the first person who enters the kitchen is going to get locked up in the dungeon. That person, in my case, is Dave. So I'm roaming the house with the two ladies when I come across the talking tentacle upstairs. The tentacle doesn't attack you, it just stands there like an immovable slob. In order to progress, you've got to give him food.

Naturally, the Tentacle Chow seems like it'd be the perfect food for a tentacle. But the tentacle complains that he's still hungry after you feed him that, so you've got to go get the wax fruit from the room with the unfinished painting. Yes, tentacles think wax fruit is delicious. But then the lazy bastard still doesn't move because he wants something to drink. Pepsi? Nope. Soda makes him burp.

So, like most adventure games of the era, it's a maddening exercise in really, really stretched logic, but hey, it's a lot more fun than the latest Duke Nukem game, that's for fucking sure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Absolute Best YouTube Video Ever

Jillian Mayer is a performance artist. This is a video she made for her nonexistent granddaughter as a time capsule type of thing. It is, hands down, the greatest thing I've ever seen on YouTube in my life.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

B&N's NOOKcolor Does Not Suck

It's my fifth or sixth ebook reading experience. It's got a color display you can see in the daylight and an awesomely responsive touchscreen interface. Right out of the box you can connect to the Internet, provided you have access to WI-FI. With a little bit of tinkering, you can unlock the full potential of the Android operating system and play games like Angry Birds, no problem. (I say no problem, but hey, it is a bit of a hassle.)

I've long maintained that ebook readers suck, but if ever a device could change my mind, it'd be the NOOKcolor. Sure, iPad consumers reportedly love their stupidly expensive, notebook-sized monstrosities (which don't even have micro SD slots, by the way), but the ultra-portable NOOKcolor is an easier transition for bookworms who are skeptical of digital literature. Not just because it's only $250, either.

The screen is small, but not too small for reading comic books. It weighs a little more than you'd expect, but it's more durable than any portable gadget I can think of, a feature I noticed the second I pulled it out of the box. I dropped mine getting out of my car a couple of weeks ago and it didn't even scratch. The forty dollar protective covers, by the way, are worth every penny, though they do advertise to thieves that you're carrying a Nook and they make the web browser's landscape mode a little clumsy. So does the charge cable which plugs into the bottom. Reading in bed while you're charging is uncomfortable because the stupid charge cable pokes your belly, the natural place for the book to rest.

Ah, the charge cable. Yes, it's goofy and the device-side connection is unlike anything you already own. It didn't have to be and fuck anyone who says otherwise. Nobody's going to tell me they couldn't have made it a standard USB connection. Why do manufacturers keep doing this to us? Because they want to force us to buy the same fucking cables we already own over and again. Because of this nonsense, I have three plugs by my bed, when it should have only been one. I think I was unfavorable in my review of the older Nook and Barnes & Noble fucked us again, though not as bad.

Another complaint is the lack of features at launch. After all, it is an Android device with quite a bit of power, but if you want to run Android market apps, you're going to have to root. Why give us so much power and then restrict our app selection to dinky little crossword puzzles and sudoku games? Why give us the power to run Skype, but leave out a microphone?

Did a chairman or something think the device was too cool, that they needed to tame it with a generous helping of suck? What we have here is a potential hot rod with a speed regulator hidden beneath its tamper-resistant hood. If you're not a very technical person, you're going to have to do what all non-technical people do—spend a few hundred extra bucks and get a shitty Apple product. Otherwise, look into rooting the device.

A future software update will unlock some more of the device's power—they're calling it Froyo (version 2.2 of Android), but without the same marketplace available on my phone, I believe they should call it anything but. Why would they do this? Because they're assholes, plain and simple. As is, the NOOKcolor is an awesome budget competitor to the iPad, but a watered-down marketplace means they're going to lose sales to people who don't have the technical confidence to root.

While I'm at it, why can't you bookmark .pdf files? And why can't I turn off the time display? It's like going to a movie theater with a clock in the lower right corner of the screen.

Many of the flaws I've mentioned about previous ereaders remain, too, but Barnes & Noble finally made something with enough pros to help you forget the cons. The screen resolution is more than satisfactory (especially compared to cheaper ebook readers like the Pandigital Novel—good luck reading a comic on that) and the virtual keyboard is, in a word, kind of sweet. And I'm not a guy who likes virtual keyboards.

I used to carry a netbook and a paperback wherever I went, but the color Nook, for me, consolidates the two items. On the other hand, I won't read it in the bathtub and I won't take it to the lake, and while it won't make paper books absolutely obsolete for me, nothing has come closer to making me a convert.

To be honest, Kindle might still be the best ebook reader out there right now, but only because the color Nook transcends the class. Think of it as a tablet that just happens to display books and comics better than anything with e-ink. Is it better than iPad? I guess it depends on what you want, how much money you're willing to spend, and how technical you're willing to get.