Friday, April 20, 2007


Hi all,

After much button-mashing and hair-pulling a team of mighty elves has assembled a new website for us with a fully integrated blog.

Please update your bookmarks and rss feeds accordingly!

See you there!

Lucien Spelman, Publisher, BBT Magazine

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Deconstructionist: Death and Taxes

Helping You Choke Down Your Annual Blue Pill Since 2007
If you’re anything like me, it’s been less than 48 hours since you mailed your taxes. Maybe you like to make the IRS get all suited up in their riot gear before giving them what they want. Maybe if we’re lucky, putting that stuff on and taking it off will lead to some chafing in a few sensitive areas, and that will be our payback.

Of course being a government agency, it would be months or even years before the IRS missed the money we were supposed to pay them, if in fact like me you needed to pay them. If instead they owe you, then you just made an interest-free loan to the United States government, and I’m certain that congress appreciates it and they were extra careful to be sure your money went to sensible, responsible causes that you agree with. With me, the delay is two parts procrastination and one part stunned inaction when I realized exactly how much being self-employed cost me. Seriously, the final number rang my bell so hard I spent the weekend stumbling around in a kind of daze: First Kurt Vonnegut passes away, and now I am paying enough taxes to fund the upcoming invasion of Iran myself. It took a screening of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie to convince me that the world made sense again, and if that’s not a cry for help, I don’t know what is.

It’s the third paragraph, and it’s time I got to the point, and the point is, I don’t feel qualified to contest the government’s right to my money, even if I am often appalled by what they choose to do with it. Also, since this is a sci-fi website, I’ll toss in that taxes are mentioned twice in the original Matrix. Taxes come up because they are the ultimate reacharound in our compliance with the world pulled over our eyes. We are being fucked every day (and not in the good way), and we pay for the privilege.

One reason I put up with it, is because even if I had the stones to disengage myself from my government-issued comfort zone that I know is little more than a series of tubes jammed into my body to turn me into a microscopic cog in this catastrophic plan called America, I’d hardly know where to begin. I mean, I use America’s roads and count on America’s laws to keep me more or less safe, and by accepting the good I’m also in for the parts I don’t like: be it regime changes, ignoring Dufar, aggressively warming the planet or gun laws that may be just a touch too lax. (Side note: My MSW spell checker doesn’t recognize Dufar, and I guess that’s a bug that’s quickly becoming a feature). I’m certain that anyone, anywhere can find things that their government does that they find objectionable if not outright immoral, but they still mail their checks every spring just like I do.

In any case, none of us can pick and choose what our tax dollars support. If we learned anything from the Will Ferrell film ‘Stranger than Fiction,’ it’s that selectively paying your taxes will result in a visit from an amiable IRS representative, which will in turn lead to hot sex, Dustin Hoffman and being hit by a bus. (Side note #2- Ferrell IS in the spellchecker, as is Dustin. This means something).

More seriously, perhaps I should consider selectively paying my taxes. Look what it did for Henry David Thoreau: He was locked up for refusing to fund the Mexican-American War (see, we’ve been ‘welcomed as liberators’ before), and the one night he spent in jail for non-payment of taxes led to writing ‘Civil Disobedience.’ Later, years on the run from the feds found Henry living in a small cabin in the Walden woods, where he wrote one of the most enduring collections of societal criticism ever. His name is even in my spell checker.

And there’s the little fact that the U.S. income tax is illegal. Seriously. The 13th amendment was never fully ratified. Go ahead, google it- it’s true. When the government taxes your income now, it’s no more legal than if a cop just up and mugged you.

Here’s a few other tax facts that many people may not be aware of:

· Stay in school! Full time students aren’t required to pay taxes. This is reason # 14 in the list of why my decision to finish college was a bad one.

· Let the kids slack! As long as your kid in unemployed, under 18 or attending school full time, it’s a dependent. Let any of those change, and you lose a deduction.

· Keep track of your sales tax! You can deduct the sales tax that you pay in a year. It should be obvious- you already paid taxes on the same money- what, they are going to take you for earning AND spending the same dollar? Only if you don’t do the work! This is the first year I’ve taken this deduction, and while I still had to pay up, it helped me quite a bit.

· In June of last year, after a torrential downpour shut down the IRS offices at 1111 Constitutional Avenue, the IRS moved it’s offices to a federal building Costa Rica. This ‘temporary’ move has apparently become permanent, as 1111 is now used for other purposes.

· The native Alaskan people, the Inuit, had no word for taxation when Alaska was acquired as a U.S. Territory in 1867. When they were (in some instances, forcibly) informed of their new responsibilities to their new government, they chose a word that used to mean having a block of ice jammed up your ass to mean ‘taxes.’

· If you mail your return, don’t use that pre-printed label! The IRS schedules audits randomly, but the list of random taxpayers is drawn from the barcode scans of tax returns as they are processed by machine upon arrival. Returns processed manually are not logged into that database.

I know that much of this advice is coming too late to help you, and that’s important because it’s all bullshit that I gathered off of the internet. Except for the Alaska thing, I made that one up. I also fudged some about Henry David Thoreau.

I hope that all of this proves a point: life is often unbearably complicated and cruel. Taxes, and the government policies they fund and empower, are but one example of a thing forcibly required of us yet many times larger than our capacity to fully understand (I speak not only of the laws, but of the larger question of our role in a society- go read some term papers on The Matrix if you need to know more). This injustice is augmented by countless attempts by other humans, many ill-meaning and outright malevolent, to confound us in attempts to get our money or if that’s not possible, just to hurt or confuse us.

And that’s why I thought of Kurt Vonnegut when I mailed my taxes this year. That dour chain-smoking bastard understood more than we realize.

The Deconstructionist with Gordon Weir is pleased that MSWord recognizes ‘Vonnegut.’

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Pantheon of Super-Heroes, Part Two

One of the trickiest thing to balance in a super-hero comic book is keeping your character toeing the fine line between being mythic and being human.

Super-heroes, in many ways, are just the next evolutionary step in a long chain of mythic creations, after all. They are what our society has given us as an answer to our lives and times, just as Homer's Odysseus and his adventures were what were needed in ancient Greece.

Odysseus is a wonderful example of a super-hero from ages past, in that he carried on with many adventures, some of them rather extreme and difficult to believe. He was mythic in the same way that Hercules was, and in very much the same way that Iron Man's Tony Stark is today. (After all, Odysseus had something of a penchant for wine, women, and song; there is one piece in, if I recall properly, the Illiad when Odysseus finds his crew imprisoned by a beautiful woman. So he lives with her and drinks her wine and eats her food and has lots of sex with her for a year before he finally sets his crew free. That has Tony Stark written all over it.)

The mythic is important, one of the most important things to inspire when creating your hero. Superman always worked best when he was slightly inhuman, when he possessed an iron will and a clear sense of right and wrong. Superman was very much the sort of classic hero that we see discussed in the wonderful book Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, one of the great science fiction writers of our time. Inversely, Superman is at his poorest when mostly, he just Has Angst and is unsure of himself, and does nothing mythic.

We want to know that there is a man behind the curtain, but we just want Oz, great and terrible.
Moments of humanity are good and powerful things. Jesus was another mythic figure (I'm not saying he was a myth, I'm saying he was mythic, please put down the angry e-mail), but there were moments of weakness there. They were important because of how starkly they contrasted with the rest of his character. The moment when he drives the merchants out of the temple with a whip, or the moment when he is terrified in Gethsemane, praying that he won't have to do what he knew he did.

If, on the other hand, Jesus spent all of his time agonizing, then there's nothing special about Gethsemane. If he spends all of his time raging against merchants, then driving some out of a temple is nothing very special.

It's the same with most super-heroes. Captain America or Superman are good examples. So is Batman, so is Hal Jordan. Actually, I think most of the Silver Age and Golden Age of super heroes are good examples. Even someone like Captain America, who was human where Superman was not, still was inhuman in his beliefs and his iron will.

Spider-Man is an example where the humanity is more important than the mythic. With Captain America, this is a great and towering figure striding across a scene. With Spider-Man, he is at his best when you are very aware that there is a man behind the mask. With Spider-Man, he can be fighting Norman Osborne, and you can still know that when he's done, he may have to grab his camera and go to his job, to pay his bills. This is humanity and Spider-Man works powerfully because of it, but on completely different levels than someone like Superman works.

The X-Men are another example. They are fatally flawed individuals (who is more chronically messed up than Cyclops, after all?) And yet, in their greatest stories and most powerful moments, the X-Men too become something mythic and greater than mere humanity. When you get into the classic Chris Claremont/Steve Ditko storylines which gave us such stunning stories as The Phoenix Saga, even though the dialog is over the top (and RIFE with EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!) and even though the character motivations are clearly detailed in little bubbles, these are as mythic as Odysseus or Paris or Heracles standing on a battlefield and vaunting over their fallen enemies.

So if we treat Spider-Man as one extreme (Humanity) and we treat Captain America as another extreme (Mythic) then you can see where the importance is to not only toe the line between the two and be willing to cross over...but the most important thing is to be totally aware of it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I re-read a number of comics from the Nineties, and while they were still showing hints and signs of the mythic qualities of yesteryear, they were beginning to experience one of the fatal problems that would really hurt comics as time went on (bankrupted companies, among other reasons).

They were embarrassed of themselves.

Superman works when he stands up tall and proud with his cape flapping in the wind and the American flag waving behind him, his chest out, his hands on his hips. He shouldn't be slightly hunched, because he's embarrassed about wearing tights and a bright red cape in public. Just a metaphor, but you see what I mean.

Comics were suddenly going "yeah, but..." and it hurt them. The Phoenix Saga wouldn't have worked, for example, without the vim and vigor and passion that was thrown into it. It was something of a ridiculous storyline, but it took itself seriously, and thus you are hard-pressed not to do likewise.

Comics, thankfully, are getting better at this. It doesn't hurt that we have writers like Joe Straczynski and Peter David and Joss Whedon working on comics. They know what they're doing.

Comics need to know where they stand. They are mythic, or they are human, and then they foray into the other side for great effect. Trying to muddle around in both -- either on purpose, or without realizing at all that that's what you're doing -- results in poor comics that lack momentum, passion, and characters you can really care about.

Super-Heroes are most assuredly a pantheon, just like the Greek gods were, just like the Roman gods were (though they evolved from the Greek pantheon) and especially like the Norse pantheon of gods. Any pantheon of gods and heroes and immortals and giants and great epic stories are the ancestors of the modern super-hero story.

It's worthwhile to remember that.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Frederick The Cairn Terror by Earl B Morris

I realize the nature of this publication and it's internet webbing is primarily of the Science Fiction and unicorn nature, and I came on board in spite of that fact. I was originally hired for my expert knowledge in the field of comic book reading,
however once the editors discovered my prowess with a compumax I was relegated duties such as mashing buttons for a google, and bloggeling. Well, "Don't put your mouth on that unless you want to get sick," as my mother would say.

Today I had intended to write about my two favorite heroes,
Little Lotta & Captain Vyom, but recently I've been having very emotionally trying times with my little dog Frederick that necessitated my seeking the help of a mystic. I have taken the liberty of posting our communications via my bloggle, rather than my original subject, in the hopes that my shedding light on this most sensitive of topics may help others in the same predicament.

Dear Sirs,

I have a seven year old Cairn Terrier named Frederick who I've had since he was a puppy. He recently started showing signs of sexual aggression toward me that have gotten worse in the last few months. The aggression borders on harassment, but so far it hasn't been anything physical, just a sort of vibe he's been sending me. I am starting to enjoy his company less and less, even to the point of not letting him sleep under the covers with me anymore.
I'm writing to enlist the aid of a pet psychic in the hopes that our relationship can get back to normal. Fredricks always been a little "macho" and developed at an early age, but until recently his sexual prowess has never been directed at me. My fears of being mentally and physically harassed by him prevent me from even doing my daily routines like morning Pilates without locking him in the bathroom.
Freddy did start to act out a little after his most recent overnight trip to the vet, do you see anything here? Should I have him neutered?
I'm getting a little desperate.

Thank you so much for your time,

Earl B Morris


I did not read past the words "the seven year old terrier" because I ask people not to send me any details in advance.Part of the way I know that I have tuned in to your pet in a reading is by describing the pet whether it be a cat a dog a large animal the color of its fur or whatever. Additionally, I am not an email reader and only receive information when I am live in session with you. Trying to recollect what you have sent in an email in a reading makes it very difficult for me to stay in a channeling state and disrupts the reading. This is why I ask that you not send any information and why I did not read the rest of your email.

If you would like a reading healing for your pet, please go to the order a reading page and fill out the scheduler. Each reading is for one pet. Please take the time to read the first page of my web site as well as the pet page. Once the scheduler is sent you will receive instructions how to prepare for the reading as well as a confirmation of a time.

I look forward to reading for you.
Brightest blessings,

Dear Sir,

Since you do not read emails, there is probably no reason for me to write this, but I will use this letter as emotional release if nothing else.
Your missive was received too late. Frederick made his move last night. I decided to give him one last shot at sleeping in the same bed with me and behaving himself, and his sexuality got the better of him.
I fear the damage to our relationship is irreversible, and see no alternative to selling him for breeding to a Connecticut puppy mill. Perhaps there he can exercise his "energy."

I only regret that I could not make contact with you sooner.

Earl B Morris

If you are not going to order a reading kindly do not contact me. Again, I did not read your email beyond the first sentence. Again, I am NOT one who can psychically channel off of an email.

Take care,

"Working in unison with Angels to heal people and pets"
If you would like to make a donation please click here: Donate

Dear Sir,

Brightest blessings upon you. I will have no further need of your services. I have taken the advice of my great aunt and began allowing Frederick to sleep with her instead. They both seem very happy with this arrangement.

Earl B Morris

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Deconstructionist: America's Coffee Problem

Revealing the horrible truths behind the simplest pleasures in your life since 2007.

Why is addiction always presented as a bad, awful thing except where coffee is concerned? Why are alcohol, cigarettes, prescription meds, black tar heroin, and so many other generally harmless entertainments vilified and even considered illegal when it’s okay for They Might Be Giants to spout cheery little tunes about how if you don’t get just the right dosage of coffee in the morning, your world soon collapses into a broken-down, black-and-white traveling-carnival-world filled with leering ghosts and jagged, broken scenery?

We all know that a world without your morning joe is a place where the light hurts your eyes and the shadows hold monsters, where your bowels clench tight, inert as a fertilizer bomb missing the one catalyst that makes the explosion possible, and you blunder through your day, torpid and disorientated, like a raccoon in the final stages of rabies, turning small circles in a suburban driveway at 7:30 a.m., too muddled to retreat from the sunlight, ready to attack anything that comes too close.

And then the headache begins.

That’s the real face of coffee, folks: Billions of people need it every day to just to get to normal, and if their supplies were somehow cut off, that impairment would last for days.

So why is it okay to market coffee this way—to brag, as it were, that people are hooked and can’t do anything about it? To even celebrate this fact? What if cigarette or beer manufacturers took the same approach? “The shaking will stop if you can just have a another smoke. Then all of this won’t look so bad.” or “A few beers, and it will all seem better. You’ll be able to face your loved ones!”

I believe there would be some sort of public outcry.

Yet They Might Be Giants can croon about how America Runs on Dunkin’ till the urn percolates, revealing our nation’s greatest weakness and paving the way for a global shift of power that would rock the world in a way not seen since the first Monsters of Rock brought Rainbow, the Scorpions, and Judas Priest together for one sultry summer night of bee-swallowing majesty.

Flash forward to 2035: The United States has solved its oil dependency through a series of invasions and by making illegal for poor people to own things that use gas.

Yet while our shortsighted republican leaders have focused on the Middle East, the coffee-producing countries of South America have formed an international cabal, with control of coffee beans at the heart of their power: The South American Nation Coffee Alliance (or Sanca for short)

Juan Valdez governs from a mansion high in the Andes Mountains. His wealth and power are absolute. Finding the rigors of Christianity limiting to a man who has himself become a god, he converts to the religions of his ancestors. X'tapalapaquetl, Olmec god of war, appear on the new Peso.

This new world power flexes its might by setting coffee prices at a record high. A latte costs $150, a Box o’ Joe, $2000. A pound of coffee is out of reach of all but the most affluent Americans, but since the nation’s wealthy are doted on by the Romney administration (he finally made it!), no one of any importance raises an outcry, until a lack of caffeine slows America to a crawl.

By 2035, all industrial and manufacturing jobs have long since been shipped overseas, and the only jobs left are in the service industry. Still, the nation reels as the domestic workforce slows to a crawl: burgers go unflipped, bathrooms are left un-cleaned, limousines unwashed, assistants fail to return with the $150 lattes the powerful sent them out for earlier this morning.

America’s rulers deal with the problem in the same old ways: threats, bluster, spying on their own citizens, lying to the U.N.

Juan Valdez laughs at these efforts, and speaks those words made terrible by Master Blaster: ‘Embargo on!’

Completely cut off from coffee, the United States soon knows the pain of Bartertown: the nation plummets into a black hole of lethargy, brain-fog and constipation. Hyperactive young children easily overthrow their lethargic parents and assume control of the country. The nightmarishly ironic ending of the oscar-nominated 1968 ‘Wild in the Streets’ becomes terrible fact.

But it doesn’t last forever. After six days, the fog clears, the scales are lifted. The nation’s underclass (basically the entire population, less about a hundred thousand Friends of Mitt’s), now free of their caffeine addiction and able to go more than two hours without urinating, replace the shattered government with a new vision, one built on fairness and the will of the people, and all is well for several months until the new ruling class decides to legalize marijuana.

Gordon Weir doesn’t have a caffeine problem and thinks you should mind your own fucking business, asshole. Who do you think you are? He can quit any time he wants.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Pantheon of Super-Heroes, Part One

I've actually been stewing on this article for a good part of a month now, and I felt it made a good launching point for Boom Boom, a column that's going to come at you every Monday, for no apparent reason other than to help you speed up your countdown to the next episode of [insert favorite geeky show here.]

I don't think it's any huge spoiler if I say, at this point, that Captain America is dead. You have to be nearly living under a rock at this point to have missed out on that fact. Much like the death of Superman in the nineties (you remember the nineties, kids? Eddie Vedder? We wore plaid? Thought boy bands were the way to go) if you have missed out on the fact that Captain America is dead, then you probably didn't know who he was anyway, or are reading this blog.

I have been happily reading comics for most of my life now. Since I was a wee tot, whom nobody called wee tot, I've been reading all sorts of comics. I can still remember all sorts of storylines very vividly, because when you're young they have an effect on you, and it's an emotional one. You're not yet at that age where you're thinking Ah, smart publicity move on the part of DC to kill Superman, but of course we know he won't stay dead, I hope they don't screw up the return too badly. When you're young and you've got wide eyes and a big imagination, comic books fill you up. I still remember that Superman died, and I was a heartbroken young man, and then shortly thereafter Bane broke Batman's back (in the classic Knightfall series). I was one seriously messed up kid. These were my idols they were screwing with.

Batman recovered. Superman came back to life. It didn't lessen the emotional impact, and it didn't change how I had been made to feel. I've carried that with me a lot of years. Even now, I have the Death and Return of Superman in dusty, battered volumes on my shelves, and I can read them and still feel the emotions. They may just be old echoes, but I remember them.

It was just as big a deal when Hal Jordan stopped being the Green Lantern, when Wally West and Barry Allen (the Flashes) squared off.

Big deals, when you're young.

So, fast forward a bunch of years. I drifted away from comics during parts of the nineties. Recently, I came into a hundred and fifty comics from someone's collection, most of them comics from that weird period in the nineties when the Hulk was calm and cool and wore shirts (?), when someone thought X-Men: 2099 was a good idea (??) and when Superman had a mullet (!?). I re-read a lot of them and I remembered most of the stories, because while I'd been reading them, I hadn't been paying close attention. There was nothing to pay close attention to. The stories were outlandish and absolutely off the wall. Which I do fully expect from Super-Heroes (like Superman and Doomsday squaring off wasn't outlandish). I adore it, when done well. During the nineties, it was like the decline of hair metal. When something inflates too big, it either deflates slowly, or it pops. Either way, it goes down. Comics, and hair metal, popped.

Through all of this, I've read Captain America. Even when he really stunk (and sometimes, he really...really did). I liked Captain America. I thought he was the strongest (willed) character in the Marvel Universe. Comparable to Batman in the DC universe. In many ways, the antitheses of Batman. I followed him through his phases as U.S. Agent, and just Steve Rogers, and The Captain, all of it. I adored him. Throughout everything else that I faded reading, or stopped reading, the comics I always stuck with were simple: 1) Captain America 2) Iron Man 3) Green Lantern.

I cannot imagine what the younger me would have felt, when reaching the end of the issue of Captain America where he's lying on the steps, bloody and listless. Steve Rogers, dead. I know what the older me felt, and there was definite emotion. I joked that it bothered me, and then gradually came to realize that actually, it really did bother me. After he died, I bought Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for the PS2, and have mostly just played as Captain America in all his various costumes. It made me sad. It really did. You can make fun of me for that if you want, but you're reading the blog on a sci-fi magazine web-site, and I bet you cried during the Ewok song in Return of the Jedi, so let's just respect our geekdoms, 'kay?

(An aside: I'm now finding it impossible to read things like The Initiative comics, where we follow Iron Man's new teams, and Iron Man himself. It's like reading how the Nazis won, and then we have to root for them. Iron Man is in danger, and I realize that I absolutely don't care. I really feel like the bad guys won.)

How it affected you, I will make no effort to guess. Maybe it didn't. Maybe it did. I can only talk about how it affected me. More importantly, why.

It's not that the writing was always great on Captain America (or on any comic; it's never consistently great). Sometimes, it was downright awful. The unique thing about ongoing series like Captain America, or any comic character, is that good or bad, you follow them from issue to issue, from month to month, from year to year, onward and onward. They never grow old, they die and are reborn, they fight, they are beaten, they get back up and fight again, and through it all, you read.

The ultimate power of comics is not always in powerful writing, although powerful writing understands this connection and magnifies it to great effect. The ultimate power of comics is that even if it's a bad storyline, you read and you care, because if you've been following the character for a year, six years, twenty years, you're as invested in him as you are in your family pet, or your favorite comic strip in the newspaper.

Every few years, they try to reboot comics, because they are ever aware of the oppressive history that bears down on them. They are afraid that new readers will not come into a storyline which has forty years of history behind it, and in many ways, they're right.

But in doing so, they fail to realize that their success still depends on appealing to the readers who have followed them for so long. Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men both worked (at first, never mind now) because we looked at a young and learning Peter Parker and we were, in many ways, nostalgic. Likewise, the X-Men. Eventually, the storylines gather their own weight and mostly we drift back to just reading what we read before. Whatever Spider-Man you happen to like.

History is the second most important component to a super-hero comic book. They (the creators) worry about the oppressive weight of a comic bearing down on the reader, without always realizing that it's history which garners the appeal. Some readers, myself included, like coming into something that has 5oo back issues. For one thing, it means if I am really stunned with what Joe Straczynski is doing on Spider-Man, I can go back and read my way through piles of back comics in between new issues. I can get lost in a world of Spider-Man. Sometimes silly, sometimes horrible, always Spider-Man, always the same world I willingly chose to immerse myself in.

It's the writer's biggest tool, and as I said, the second most important component in hero comic books.

For the first, I'll tell you about it next Monday.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Brief Look at the Immediate Future of Computers

Remember that flying car, the jet pack, your meal-in-a-pill that was promised since about 1950? Look around you and you'll notice a curious lack of these things in our everyday life. What then, will our future look like? What if we went out five or ten years and took a few furtive glances around? What would we see? Who the hell writes these kind of predictions anyway?

While you should take any prediction about the future with a grain of salt and I don't have a crystal ball to peer into, I do find myself in an interesting position to take a broad look at what may be coming down the pipe. See, I work with technology, I often write about technology and I love technology. I also have the luck to be employed at a place where the technology you'll be seeing five or ten years down the road is begin developed today. Medical applications, the Big 'N' (nanotech), computer innovations. I occasionally get a glance into where this is big, messy pile of technology is going. Want to take a peek with me?

Computers, my one true love in the tech world are going to become even more pervasive than they are now. On today's commute via the train I've seen a dozen laptops, at least fifteen blackberries and god alone knows how much personal tech like music players and other cell phones. What we'll be seeing over the next five to ten years is the Personal Area Network come to life. PAN will take the form of your phone, your computer, your music player, your GPS device, your video player and your SMS capabilities. This will all be rolled into two, perhaps three devices which will live. . . on you. With the ability to connect to the rest of the world as well.

Some folks have been touting the wearable computer as the future. Well it's about 40% here right now. When these devices start to converge and when we see flash memory based computers with very small, multiple core processors, with wireless technology getting not only smaller but consuming less power – each person will have their chance to become their own super computing WiFi hotspot.

Where will this lead? I'm going to predict that in ten years, not only will people be wandering around with multiple, powerful computers on their person, but they'll be working with the first Virtual/Reality integrating devices. That's a fancy way of saying glasses that integrate computer displays overlaying the real world. Which will also be hooked into your other multiple devices. Not virtual reality, not reality itself but a combination of the two.

Imagine reading your email, which is superimposed at 25% opacity over the real world. Imaging calling up your music library and being able to look through titles, covers and play lists without using your hands or holding a device (other than perched on your nose). Imagine getting directions via your GPS device and having them displayed in real time overlaying the roads you're currently driving on. Imagine never having to buy another monitor again.

Imagine the lawsuits! Our near future is going to be a very exciting time!

When you visit a web 2.0 site today, particularly a social or bookmarking site such, you're almost always given the opportunity to tag what you're looking at. Tags are simple, single or multiple word descriptions of a thing. It doesn't matter if that thing is a link to another website, a video, some artwork or a piece of software. If that thing exists on that site, you can tag it. Tagging makes your stuff easier to find and sort by you, and opens up your stuff for the whole world to sift through and take a gander at, based on the tags that you and others have assigned. That's the social part, right?

Now imagine tagging the real world. It will be like Google Maps but in the real world, in real time. You eat at a restaurant and the food is inexpensive and fantastic! As you're leaving, you glance back at the door, and tag the restaurant with “cheap, excellent food, wonderful service, 5 stars”. You can choose whether you want to keep these tags to yourself, open them up to a select group of friends or publish them for the whole world too see. You publish them for the world and 10 minutes later a couple from out of town wanders by looking for a place to eat. They see your tags and decide that this is the place for them as well.

It's such a simple thing but it will change our world drastically. Will you rely on a Zagat's guide again if you can see 17,423 personal tags for an individual eating establishment, and sift through them quickly to immediately display a 1-5 star result based on individuals who have eaten there in the past? Tagging stationary objects via GPS is easy. It's already being done. Tagging moving objects is next to impossible unless those objects are under constant surveillance or have a GPS locater on them. I'm sure GPS locaters are going to be built into these, not for a big brother sense, but for an ease of use sense.

Great, now people can tag other people! What if you yourself were tagged. What would my life be like if seventeen other people tagged me as an asshole? Or a good mark for pickpockets? What would law enforcement and the military do with this technology? The 'what ifs' are endless. One thing I can tell you is that when something like this does come along, it's going to change the way we think about everything. It's going to change the way business is done as well, which means a lot of resistance from large corporations and lots of startups that will fail.

This little bit of technology, along with the convergence of small, powerful parts into a piece of technology that's easy to use and easy to wear is going to change the way our society functions. That's a pretty big thing to say but I think it's true. Look at the world now and how data pertains to our lives in things like the Net. Now look back 25 years ago and see how different things were. You couldn't just hop online to see what movie was playing, use the Web as a dictionary or Google a soon-to-be boyfriend to see what they've been up to. Now take a change just as big, just as available and just as sweeping and move that ten years out. That could be what we're looking at. And all of the technology to do this is available in one form or another right now. A few more years of development, a few more advances in miniaturization and we'll be swimming in this stuff.

The problem used to be how to store and access all of this data. Now we've got larger capacity hard drives growing smaller every quarter. Multiple core computers are shrinking and using less power than their less powerful predecessors. Indexed databases make data searching easy. Our next problem isn't going to be on the computing end, it's going to be on how to sort and use all of this stuff!

And that, my friends and Internet acquaintances is what will help drive Artificial Intelligence one rather large step forward. If you're thinking “Glasses to AI...what?” then let me clarify. A big problem with AI is in how a computer can interact with the outside world. How do you get a computer to sort and prioritize the millions of data points that flow across our senses every second? Colors, sounds, shapes, touch, lighting, depth, tone – the list goes on. Turns out that all of that mushy grey stuff between our ears does that on a regular basis. We learn to tune out what's not immediately important and focus on what our brains assume is. That's big. That's what keeps all of us from drooling into our laps as we try and process an entire world of perceptions and data. If we can learn to work with this, which we'll have to once the technology described above becomes more pervasive, we'll be taking a big step towards computers that learn.

At the core of my being, this makes me happy. Happy to see not only new tech coming and new ways to think coming with it but to see all of my wonder at the fiction I've been reading since I was a kid coming to play in my life as real, tangible stuff. That is exciting. That makes me want to see what's going to happen ten years after our next leap!

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Deconstructionist: Officestar Galactica

This week I’m going to talk about two successful television shows- both remakes- and what their success means for the state of television as well as our culture in general. Now, I’m catching up on these shows via the magic of DVD, so I’m only on the second season of each. This greatly decreases my ability to deliver spoilers, and I’m going to do my best to avoid specifics when I can, so even if you’re only considering watching these programs, you should be safe.

To bring everyone up to speed, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is the sci-fi channel remake of the old Glen A. Larson (in the words of Stephen King) ‘space turkey’ made brutally adult. ‘The Office’ is a remake of a British sitcom set in a small office where an (seemingly) endless documentary is being shot. So on ‘The Office’ the characters relate to a handheld camera, and all the scenes are presented as if captured by a documentary crew.

The thing that these shows have in common is that they are successful tragedies, and that speaks volumes for the condition of the American television viewer today. Galactica begins, as the original series did, with the near-complete eradication by the cylons of 12 earth-sized planets, each filled with humans. Something less than 100,000 humans escape to flee across the universe in one aging Battlestar, searching for Earth.

The thing to notice here is that both the 1978 series and the new series began exactly the same way, but in 78’, the cylon surprise attack was brutal but the resonance of the near-genocide was short-lived. The entire series may have been a race against death, a search for survival, but it was nevertheless told in gentle, prime-time manner. While the original Galactica was never Happy Days, the crew suffered little more agitation or angst about their predicament than say, the ‘A-Team’ did about the horrors of Vietnam or their wrongful persecution.

Not so the current Galactica. Each episode opens with a survivor count- a fluxtuating number that represents the total number of humans left alive. There’s no forgetting it- the cylons are dedicated to the extinction of the human race to the last child.

Why the difference? The writers of the 70’s show certainly could have been as grim, but I guess they didn’t see the need to be. This wasn’t high drama; it was a way to fill an hour on Wednesday nights while latching on to the Star Wars craze. True, that for a television show, Galactica was the very definition of high concept- it challenged evolution and creationism as a sub-plot- but they didn’t address the issue any more than Knight Rider did the concept of vigilantism. Anyone else remember the episode in the original series when the Galactica captured Baltar and he worked out some kind of trade and demanded his ship and centurions back, and Starbuck and Apollo programmed the centurions to punch the controls of the ship, stranding Baltar on the Galactica’s hangar deck? Good times.

There are absolutely no good times in the new Galactica. This show means something, is about something. In a way, Galactica is just as much a remake of the original Star Trek, as it is the old series, because the show isn’t about some other society and their issues, it’s about us.

The writers of the new series pump up the content by incorporating elements of our current political and social circumstances into the storylines. The cylons want to wipe humans out because they consider human society decedent. There are also serious religious differences. And since the cylons can now experience emotion, every death and atrocity on either side only reinforces the idea that The Universe Isn’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us.

Yet with all that the crew of the Galactica and her rag-tag fleet has gone through, they have a much better chance for happiness and fulfillment than the characters of the Office.

The Office is even more tragic than Galactica for a few reasons. The first is it follows the rules of a tragedy more closely- no hope goes uncrushed. The message of the Office is that the idiots are in charge and they don’t even care enough about you to hate you. I actually cringe whenever any character experiences the slightest bit of joy, because I know that they are being set up for some horrible occurrence. Thematically, it’s the logical progression from Sienfeld, where the central characters suffered endlessly but at least they were all jerks. There are several kind, generous, enviable people in The Office, but because they lack the will to Get Out, they are doomed. Seriously, this show plays like Dante’s Inferno, and the wonder of it is that so much tragedy exists in such unremarkable circumstances.

The Office’s use of a documentary-style format puts me in mind of some MASH episodes that used a similar trick. For these very special episodes, MASH put aside the hilarity while Hawkeye and his mates speak candidly into a camera about how they miss their families and the endless horror of patching up young kids to send them back into the meat grinder.

However, the characters The Office aren’t in a war. They aren’t being pursued through space by murderous toasters. They are living our very lives. Unlike Galactica, there is no mention of any larger world—there is no Iraq War, in the Office. There is only work, and occasionally some small measure of personal life, but only where it touches upon work. Romances are all office romances. If a character experiences a real-life tragedy, it is measured in how it affects their working relationships.

Both of these shows are exceptionally well made, well written, and well acted. Neither has an exit. The characters from Lost will be at home drinking tea and reminiscing about their strange adventures around the hatch long before anyone in Galactica lives a of cylon-free life or anyone in The Office experiences a lasting joy.

The terrible thing, the truly ominous message of these shows, is that they are rooted deeply on our own world, our own lives. They aren’t an escape, like most television is. They are a portrayal of our worst fears made worse still, and worse still, they are closed loops – their formulas preclude a happy ending, or any ending at all. They are perfect pills of misery, and they are our entertainment.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Happy Holiday!

We here at BBT Magazine wish you a safe and happy April Fool's Day.

I love you guys!

Here's a picture of Lucien working on BBT's submissions!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thank ***** No One Censors My ***** Posts

This is the fabled censorship post that I've said I'm going to be writing for ages and ages now. This is it. Honest.

In the news media, a very big deal is made out of the fact that video games are given ratings, are full of content which subliminally makes kids shoot up their schools, is horrible and evil, etc. Video games are the worst things ever to come along, they are the most dangerous thing to ever touch a child which is not a mountain lion, they are destroying civilization as we know it.

The bit about all that which is bullocks, of course, is that they said almost verbatim the exact same thing about that horrid rock 'n' roll stuff, or that Elvis Presley boy, or even the Beatles. These things are Destroying The World As We Know It.

(An aside: Interestingly enough, when they talk about rock or video games destroying "the world as we know it," we are never concerned that the part it's going to destroy are the bits full of war, genocide, or starvation. Mostly, we're scared it'll destroy the bake sales, church meets, and Sunday drives.)

Well, if you're reading this blog, then you probably know that rock 'n' roll somehow failed to destroy the world after it appeared. And maybe it's just being slow and clever about it, but so far, video games have failed to destroy the world, anymore than the day-at-a-time destruction that it's always going through.

Nevertheless, the news media goes after 'em, because that's the popular thing to do. My pregnant wife and I are playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, which is full of super-heroes hitting bad guys. So I suppose my son is going to grow up wearing stretchy pants, carrying a Captain America shield, and fighting bad guys.

I can live with that.

What I have more trouble living with is the big, ugly, stinking world of censorship that you really never hear about in the news, that you have to go to the very back of your newspaper to read about, that you have to dig around on the internet to discover.

Books. And Comic books.

Many people innately assume that books, and comic books, are dead and dying. This is simply because in our glass teat-centric world, if the television or the internet doesn't yap about it at some point, it must not exist, it must be dying. But to paraphrase the Bard, "there are more things in heaven and earth than the internet knows."

Books and comics are still censored something fierce. Not only is the war against censorship tougher and more bloody there, but it gets both less attention and support than it would if someone on CNN wasted thirty minutes droning about it. The fight is more dangerous, more unreasonable, more insane.

And in case you think I'm just trying to educate you...well...I am. But I'm also pointing you toward the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. And there are other important sites, like the First Amendment Group, or the Open Rights group, but I want to talk about CBLDF first and foremost here. It's most active on my mind.

Let's talk about Gordon Lee, as an example.

To take bits and pieces from Tom Spurgeon's wonderful site, where he discussed the matter (link withheld...for a moment...), here's what happened with Gordon Lee.

"Lee, of the comic shop Legends in Rome, Georgia, was charged with two crimes stemming from a downtown community event on Halloween night, 2004. A copy of Alternative Comics #2 was given to a nine-year-old. Alternative Comics #2 was the 2004 Free Comic Book Day from Jeff Mason's boutique comics company of the same name. It contained selections from various Alternative projects, including eight pages from cartoonist Nick Bertozzi's forthcoming work "The Salon." Three of those pages contained pictures of a naked Pablo Picasso acting in a non-sexual manner.

Lee was charged approximately one week after providing the child with the comic in question. The charges were "distributing material depicting nudity" and "distributing obscene material to a minor."

When people question the value of supporting Lee, the focus of their complaints seems to be on Lee's actions: that the retailer screwed up, he should have known better, he should have made certain this didn't happen, and his mistake makes it that much harder for everyone who does not make such mistakes to run their businesses"

Now this is the gist of it. Gordon Lee didn't know the exact content of a comic book he sold to someone.

I read a pretty fair amount of comic books every year. I usually read the Free Comic Book Day offerings (a sampler, of sorts, and certainly unrated, because it's a sampler). But if you asked me the content of Issue 4 of Civil War: Front Lines, I would probably fail to recall it properly. I bet, through the little used bookstore I work at, I've sold a romance novel to someone under 18.

Now, it's worth remembering (and Tom also points this out) that the danger isn't that as a retailer, he sold a comic with mature images in it to a kid (whom I doubt read the comic and didn't know what it was). No, the kicker is Gordon Lee is being charged criminally.

Criminal Charges. If he'd been giving kids Playboy issues in the park, maybe. But he wasn't.

(Another aside: Where the hell were the 9-year-old's parents? Seriously. Pay attention to your kid, chucklehead, watch how this problem doesn't happen).

Gordon's charges were eventually dealt out. Here's what he lives with:

1) His home is subject to random searches at any time, at any point, on any given day.

2) He is forbidden by the courts of law in this country to make art. Meaning if he draws, if he sketches, if he doodles on his telephone pad, he is breaking the terms of his release and can go to jail.

3) He is not allowed near children.

Fun, huh? You'd think he'd been tapping little Timmy in the back of a van. He wasn't. He was selling comic books.

The case of Gordon Lee v. the State of Georgia is still going on. And now, I'll give you the link to Tom talking about the case.

Here it is, from February, 2005

February. 2005. That's over two years ago. That's when the CBLDF picked it up and started making noise about it. All of this business actually happened in 2004.

Amazing how CNN has failed to accidentally mention it in all that time.

But the CBLDF noticed, and they're fighting.


So this is the bit where I plead.

The CBLDF is hardly making a tidy profit by sticking up for these people. Legal cases cost money, lots and lots and lots of money. And they need you to actually bring that money in.

So please, please, please go to CBLDF's Commercial Site

It's not like you're getting nothing for your donations (unless you just straight-up donate, of course). You can get a cool Frank Miller T-shirt. You can get a bucket of Will Eisner stuff, how much better can you get? Well, Jeff Smith stuff. Neil Gaiman perfume, and other stuff. Or you can just donate a lump change of money.

The CBLDF is doing something vitally important, because if they weren't, there wouldn't be anybody doing it. I take comfort in knowing that if I need them, they're there for me. Right now, I don't need them. But they need me.

And you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fejogep Artist Chris McFann - He's Probably Irish, But We Don't Hold That Against Him by Lucien Spelman

Lucien: What is Fejogep?

Chris McFann: It is the single greatest story ever put to paper.

L: What made you want to take it on as a Graphic Novel?

CM: The fact that i have been drawing capes and spandex for so long that anything
without initials in the belt buckle is a big plus to me.

L: Tell us a little about your background.

CM: I have been doing odds and ends here and there for the past ten years or so.
Only recently has it gotten to the point that it has become more of a full time
thing for me.

L: Who are your influences as an artist?

CM: Mostly my friends... John Barnes, Sean Gengler and Clayton Crain.

L: How is it working with that Lucien Spelman? He's one of my favorite writers,
and I've heard really great things about him, are they true, or is he an asshole?

CM: Both are true.... he is a great asshole.

L: Whats the market for a one-shot like this, and how does marketing a single issue
graphic novel differ from traditional marketing?

CM: Its like having an only child, it's cheaper but you cant afford to screw this
one up cause it will be the one to take care of you when your old.

L: Do you see potential for a series if the issue does well?

CM: Hopefuly there isnt a series... we hope hollywood just plunks down a big ol' pot
of gold for the movie rights. Then we will just retire and work as consultants with
hot secretaries and go to fancy parties. It that doesn't pan out then a monthly gig
would work too.

L: What's in your pockets right now?

CM: Nothing... I'm in my underware laying in bed having Dragonspeak type this while
I watch really bad movies and try to finish this page before Lucien sends his goons
to work me over.

L: Does this Graphic Novel have anything to do with Kathy Sierra, Twitter, MySpace,
YouTube, Web 2.0, American Idol, Or Sanjaya?

CM: No, but at least you can use those in the tags now!

by Lucien Spelman & Chris McFann
Coming Spring 2007

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Troubles with Beer by Earl B Morris

I am blogging this week, not about science or fiction or any of the derivative subjects those who attend comic book conventions and watch "The Twilight Zones" seem to be so fascinated by, but rather about the rather alarming lack of respect shown to myself and my great aunt by a national brewing company recently.

I have included the letters I wrote, and the responses written by a woman calling herself "Mary," in the body of this blog, by "cutting and pasting," a technique which necessitates the mashing of up to two "mouse" buttons at various times, and which is far too complicated for the average computer neophyte to understand. My letters are in a "normal" font, while the responses are in an "italian" font, thus they may be told apart from one another. I don't want to bore the reader with the details of how this is accomplished, but if someone has an interest they may send me an "electronic" mail, making sure to put "italian font" in the subject space.

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to voice my complaints about your new anti-Semite advertising campaign.
I only recently started drinking "real" beer (last summer in fact, at a folk dancing workshop) and over time have learned to enjoy the musky smell and rather giddy feelings that accompany a fine glass. Recently, I purchased a pack of six bottles of your "Boston Ale" to bring home to share with my dog Lily while we watched "Dancing with the Stars" together. We were halfway through a glass, when I glanced at the bottle and noticed the label proudly proclaimed itself part of the "Jewmaster's Collection!"
I was flabbergasted! To insinuate that after thousands of years of punishment and persecution the Jews needed a "Master" and that master would be the clearly Irish Catholic "Samuel Adams" is outrageous, and frankly very offensive! I am 1/8 Hebrew, and feel quite certain that my forefathers are rolling in their graves to think that their progeny would be helping to further the blatantly hateful campaign of a beer company.
This is one Jew who does NOT need a "Master" and will NOT be purchasing any further six-bottle packs of your product.

Earl B Morris

P.S. I have purposefully not included my home address or phone number in this email, for fear of a hateful reprise on the part of your company!

Dear Earl,

Thank you for writing to us at Samuel Adams and for allowing us to respond. I think there has been a misunderstanding. We have a collection of beer styles that are call the BREWmasters Collection, a brewmaster being a certified brewer. They are an assortment of beers that fall into this collection for their distinguished taste and style.

We apologize for any misunderstanding, and are unsure if your label was a typo or if perhaps you just read it wrong. Please let us know if there is anything else.


The Boston Beer Company
75 ********** St.
Boston, MA 02116


Rest assured I am no fool. I speak two languages including English, and attended the School of Design in Yuma, Arizona for over seven years. While I was touched by your letter, I feel certain that you would not impugn my dignity by assuming I would "read it wrong!"
However, let’s move past the obvious, your anti-Semite slogans, and into the more sublime;
My research into the life of Samuel Adams, through most of the evening yesterday, revealed that he has little or no Jewish blood in his lineage. Perhaps it was simply an error on your part to name a collection of beer for him, thus totally ignoring an element of society that has been crucial to both the entertainment field, and the world of finance. Perhaps you can attempt to rectify this oversight.
A few suggestions:

1: Change the name of your product to "Samuel Adamstein", this way he would still be recognizable as our beloved historical figure, but also would be a nod to a large segment of the drinking population!

2: Change his first name to "Chaim". "Chaim Adams Beer" has a nice ring to it, and the ladies would LOVE IT!

C: Omit "Samuel Adams" Completely and name the beer for other more loved Jewish historical figures. Perhaps a well known sports figure?

Either of these three idea’s would be enough for my great-aunt and I to start drinking your beer again, and probably many other men and their great-aunts as well.
I look forward to hearing from you, and discussing possible rights to these ideas.

Earl B Morris

P.S. how does one obtain a "Brewmasters" Certificate? It sounds as though it would be an interesting job. Do you offer the program there? If you do please send details.

Please feel free to mail me the label that says Jewmasters. I would definitely be interested in seeing it as it is obviously a printing error on our part.

Cheers, Mary

Dear Sir,

I no longer have the bottles. I was so enraged I threw them into the neighbors bin. I can however attempt to sketch a reproduction. I am a fairly artistic person to put it mildly!
I will need charcoal pens and a rubber eraser and at least three 8x11 sheets of quality paper. Will you be supplying these or do you simply reimburse me?

Looking forward to speaking further on this matter,

Earl Morris

* There has been no further correspondence.

- Earl B Morris

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


So, the other day, I realized that it had been far too long since I'd read any science fiction, and I thought this was extremely strange. I'm a tried and true science fiction fan. I grew up on the stuff, I cut my teeth writing the stuff (which is why you should write with your fingers, and not your teeth) and I deeply enjoy it.

Yet, I looked over my bookshelves, my TV shows, my movies, and I realized that Sci-Fi just wasn't on the list. Unless you count things like old Star Trek re-runs, Babylon 5 reruns, and maybe if you count Heroes. That's about it.

Very strange. I got to wondering why.

So I went back further, digging into the sci-fi books that I'd last bought, and trying to figure out why I'd drifted off-course, as it were. I realized that about around the time I discovered Neil Gaiman, I trifted into that type of fantasy and away from sci-fi.

I did figure out why, eventually, and this is why:

Science Fiction, to me, became like high fantasy (a la' Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, et al) which I also completely fail to get. That is to say, somewhere along the road, it became so complicated and so in-depth that I felt like I'd lost the plot and I, without meaning to, wandered off.

(This is probably just me, mind you; if you agree, good, otherwise just assume I'm blithering and move thee on.)

The science fiction books of Greg Bear and Kim Robinson, or the books of M. John Harrison for example completely fail to interest me. They're detailed and heavy and strongly science based. They are deep and involved and increasingly scientific. At least by me, it began to feel like I needed to do extra reading in order to follow the books, or needed to have had some really serious college education toward quantum physics before I could really enjoy the book.

Why is this? Truthfully, I'm not sure. I will still happily read Isaac Asimov, even though he spent a great deal of time talking about all manner of scientific detail. That said, as I think back on all the Asimov I've read in my life, I can recall Hari Seldon, the Mayors of the Foundation, Elijah Bailey, R. Daneel Olivaw, Gladys, and so on. All sorts of characters. I can vaugely recall the science of Hari Seldon and yet, as I tried to finish this sentence, I just realized I don't remember what it's called.

I guess the reason I drifted away from a lot of science fiction is that I'm very much in favor of people stories. All stories are people stories, but sometimes there are swaths of information piled on top, layering what can otherwise be a simple story into a thick and complicated tale. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I don't want simple stories, mind you.)

So, of late, I've started writing some science fiction stories, and they have very little actual hard science in them, because I guess that's just me. I've started reading some sci-fi again, and it also doesn't have a lot of hard science. When it comes to books, I think I prefer space opera to hard science.

Realizing that, I realized that when I went to Barnes & Noble and specifically looked for sci-fi there was A) Less sci-fi than fantasy and B) Less people story-science fiction than hard science. More William Gibson than Robert A. Heinlein, to make a comparison.

I'm not saying the system's broken. They sell. People buy 'em, and read 'em. I think it's probably just me having one of those figuring-out-the-world moments.

So, er, to bring this around to a point...those of you out in the world who are writing urban fantasy novels? C'mon. Go write me some space opera. Put some people on some space ships and throw them out at weird angles in the universe, and see what happens.

And then tell me about it. Because I like me some people stories.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Real Aliens will not be Under Budgetary Constraints

I'm an avid reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I also enjoy the occasional scientific text for those of us who aren't physicists or biologists. I'm also (to the surprise of many) not a big Star Trek fan.

And I have a bone to pick with certain SciFi television shows and movies and what they've done to the collective unconscious as far as alien life is concerned.

It seems that these various institutions consider aliens to be . . . pretty much just like you and I. The average badly imaged SciFi alien is just some guy with a thin coat of blue paint on and a few candy corns stuck in various places. They're typically motivated by extremely un-alien emotions, like jealousy, rage, greed or love.

I mean, these are aliens we're talking about, right? Isn't one of the very definitions of 'alien' to be unlike a human in just about every way? so why is it that aliens are constantly portrayed like futuristic Blue Meanies? One argument I get a lot is it's a problem with the budget.

Sure not everyone has a couple of million bucks to blow on spectacular CG effects. But when it comes right down to it, I think that's a pretty lame excuse.

Take an extremely alien, cold, almost unthinking killing machine that will stop at nothing to bring down the protagonists – not because it's evil, not because it's motivated by revenge, but because it's hungry. Doesn't that sound just a little alien to you? Now think about what this thing would look like. It can move fast, exists in an element that's toxic to humans yet that we insist on invading, and it's big. Four, five times the size of you or me easily. It's been spending millions of years evolving into a super predator. Think that would be a tough creature to make? A hard one to portray? Well Steven Spielberg did it with a few hundred pounds of leaky rubber in a little movie called Jaws.

Bruce (the shark in Jaws) has more alien qualities than most on-screen aliens I've ever met. And Spielberg did a well thought out, tense, well paced and suspenseful movie while barely showing Bruce to us at all! I think that does pretty well for the budget argument for lame aliens.

Perhaps another reason aliens are portrayed as so human is that it's really, really hard to think like something other than a human. Really. Give it a try. Think about what you're life would be as a giant, ambulatory hot dog. Or a scattering of energy across a million miles of void. That's not easy. It's doable with some heavy creative energy and a lot of work, but easy it's not.

Even scientists fall prey to this. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I'm watching some show on the Science channel and a scientist type comes on ans says “no life could possibly exist on a planet like this.”

When they say that no life could possibly exist on this planet, what they really mean is no Earth like life could exist there. They say nothing of a silicon based entity name Vrokkkth who subsists on radiation and completes a single thought in the span of a year.

What about sentient robots that have self evolved. I mean come on, I'm just one guy with a passion for neat things and no one is giving me a budget to produce massive SciFi films. Can't someone else think like this?

Or maybe they don't want to. The kinds of aliens that I'm talking about (both the human/alien and the alien/alien) abound in modern Science Fiction, so why not on the movie screen? Perhaps it's because the people in charge of making movies – by this I mean those who hold the purse strings, think that we the movie going public are just too dumb to want that.

If you're wondering why I don't put my money where my ingestation organ for mincing selbrium crystal is, well here goes.

Plot synopsis: Contact is made with an obviously alien object rapidly approaching stellar space. From what little communication is established we can see that the alien(s) is able to roughly communicate in Chinese. It's made known, not by any government but by ham radio enthusiasts that this messenger from the stars will land in the exact mid point of the Atlantic Ocean and will grant access to itself to anyone who can make it out there.

It stresses that any hostile action against it or anyone attempting to make it to the rendezvous site will result in strong repercussions.

The focus of the whole movie is how several different groups of people (A poor fisherman and his family from Cuba, several government agencies, the military from a major player like China, a telcom tycoon from Europe and Steve Ballmer, a group of missionaries) all work in their own ways to make sure they'll be at the spot the alien intelligence is going to land at.

The majority of the movie focuses on how society will have to deal, and deal rapidly with the changed knowledge that we are not alone in the Universe. What strife will there be? How will these vastly different groups from strong cultures cope with each other?

The alien(s)? The don't show up until the end of the movie, spending the most of the film as a slowly growing bright point of light in the Northern Hemisphere sky.

What is it? An ancient group of symbiotic intelligences that consist of a dead, vacuum worthy outer husk inside which is a super huge (several hundred miles across sphere) intelligent structure which keeps an ecosystem of non-intelligent and lesser intelligent creatures alive inside it for the purpose of keeping them all alive. Included among these beings are intelligent beings one order of magnitude more capable than humans who have been evolved to care for and keep alive the superstructure. These are also tasked with interfacing with any outside intelligences that the entire system may come across, under the direction of the more intelligent superstructure.

See? That wasn't so hard. You studio execs out there take note. I can have a script treatment ready any time and I'm willing to contract out as an advisor.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Shame of Star Wars

Anyone old enough to remember the original release of Star Wars knows what I am talking about. Back then, in Fandom’s infancy, Star Wars –nominated for Best Picture- was a genuine cultural phenomenon, so huge, so awesome (this word meant more back in 1977), that there was no shame in loving this film.

This was a huge break from the standard. Star Trek geeks had struggled for years in hopes of legitimizing their love for their series, but the public had already sentenced Trek in a way that would have been recognized on any of the Greek or Roman worlds the Enterprise might have visited – they gave thumbs down. After Trek’s third season cancellation, everything that followed -- the animated series, the movies, the comics and novels -- were all futile volleys in a war that was already lost. Society’s rejection of Trek was a shame that could never be undone, and the die-hard fans were condemned to the fringes of society. Perhaps it was at that moment the modern nerd was born.

But Star Wars broke the trend. For a while—a long while—Star Wars had it all. The message of Star Wars’ success was that sci-fi and action weren’t only for nerds and geeks and children - anyone could be seen waiting in line to see Empire.

The first twinge of the disaster that was to come was of course the holiday special, but Lucas wisely stamped that out. Lucas was so successful at quelling the special I actually went many years thinking I had dreamed it. But his instincts failed him in the third movie. The ewoks, it is pretty much agreed, were the first loose thread that when pulled, would mean the unraveling of the whole deal.

It’s been steadily down hill from there. Star Wars went bad at its core—with Lucas himself—and it can’t be fixed as long as the man who created it wants a stake in it.

The irony is that I love the Star Wars universe. Millions of others do as well, and many of these fans are in a position to round that universe out, through comic books, novels, video games and books such as ‘Complete Locations.’ They have taken all that was good in Lucas’s creation—the Jedi, the Force, the Empire, the Rebellion, Wookies, Hyperspace, Lightsabers, smugglers, princesses, desert planets, ice planets, swamp planets, Hutts, Boba Fett, Vader, landspeeders, speederbikes, and made it all better.

Lucas should love these guys, he should treasure them, because not only do all the licensed products keep Star Wars alive, the folks who write these products bring their oversized nerdy brains to bear in explaining Lucas’ half-assed, half baked innovations.

Yet with their ever effort, their every gesture, Lucas betrays them. He has Greedo shoot first, he mires the second trilogy in well intentioned but poorly rendered political intrigue, he kills Boba Fett after about 3 seconds of action, he makes all the Stormtroopers and Boba Fett himself clones, ruining a long-running and well-realized fanonical backstory that actual had Fett as a fully realized character. Ever since anyone other than Lucas wrote about the Wookies, they lived an arboreal existence on a planet where the trees were so tall the surface of the world was mostly unexplored. Lucas includes Kashyyk in a film and the battles happen not in the trees but on a beach.

Another example can be found in Episode 1: The Phantom Menace – Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are hard-pressed to even hold their own against Darth Maul, who is wonderfully badass. I greatly enjoy this battle- it’s exciting and well made. That double saber is very cool and Maul knows how to use it—he makes it count.

But then, the combatants are separated by a series of laser doors. I don’t really have a problem with how this is handled by the characters- I quite like Maul’s tiger-like pacing and Jinn’s quick meditation. They are Jedi Knights, after all, and they haven’t lost their cool even through such intense combat. But why are there six lightsaber doors here? The answer is so that Obi Wan can watch Qui-Gon die at close range. There is no other answer. The novelization didn’t explain why the doors existed, and Complete Locations claims ‘The laser doors lock into position in response to potentially lethal power outputs…’ and goes on to explain that there are six of them ‘as a deliberate reference to a Naboo legend, in which chaos is held back by six impenetrable gates.’
That’s spin. That’s someone way down the totem pole workking extra hard to patch holes in Lucas’ lazy writing.

And it is lazy. Some of Lucas’ other material is top-notch. Did you realize in Episode 2 when the Republic takes possession of the Clone army that even if they knew, right then, what Darth Sidious had planned for them, they still couldn’t refuse? Yoda and the rest were so completely outmaneuvered that they had no choice but to take the clone army or face defeat by the separatist driod army. Later, in Episode 3, Palpatine gets Obi Wan and Yoda off of Coruscant so when he reveals his identity to Anikin, who does the confused young Jedi have to discuss this with? Only Mace Windu, who eagerly plays his anticipated role in the Emperor’s plans.
That’s good stuff, and Lucas wrote it. But it gets buried in so much bad acting, bad directing, and equally bad examples of plain lazy writing as I demonstrated above, very little genuine excellence emerges from these films.

Then, the finishing blow: The Lord of the Rings eats Star Wars up. I thought it was bad when the first Matrix film was so much more enjoyable than Phantom Menace, but I hadn’t seen anything yet. Randall Graves’ wonderful arguing 2 of Jedi vs. King in Clerks aside, we all know who won that battle, and we all know why. Lucas could have hired anyone to direst the new films—even Jackson himself, when you think of it—but he chose to do so himself, against the evidence that maintains Empire as the leanest, most exciting of the original three. Story by Lucas, directing by someone better than Lucas.

Now, 30 years later, the once proud Star Wars fandom is, for the most part, abandoned to nerds and uber-nerds. Even Battlestar Galactica is cooler than Star Wars. Where anyone can praise The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and should Jackson make the Hobbit, anyone could wait in line for tickets (for a few hours, and not in costume- days in line dressed as a Nazgul is still strictly nerd territory), saying you are a Star Wars fan today is no better than claiming to be a Trek fan in 1977.

But a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when no one knew what an Ewok was and Starbuck was Dirk Benedict, it was very different.

More of Gregory Adam's nonfiction writing can be read at The Deconstructionist.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What Some Nerd Thinks About Star Trek

I don’t know much about Star Trek, which is to say, I know plenty compared to some, and too much compared to many, but I’m posting on a site that has freakin’ pictures of Baltar laughing at Kevin Smith, so it’s not too much to assume that I may be out of my depth here, when writing about Star Trek.

But that’s okay, because I haven’t come here to tell you about Star Trek—I would never presume such a thing. I have come here to ask about Star Trek, and perhaps, in that, to be enlightened.

To begin, my last post was about the future, and how frustrated I was by the idea that I still have to work for a living. I mean, by this date in our popular speculative fiction, I should at most have to fly my suitcase car across town to oversee a single button for a few hours a day while the Jane XJ9 cleans the house.

In Star Trek, no one outside of Starfleet has to do even that much. There is no money, we are told, aside from pressed latinum, which I think we can all agree was introduced to give the Ferengi something to go all Dr. Smith over. Also to allow humans to look down on the Ferengi, as we’ve risen above such petty greed, thank you very much.

But seriously, what do non-Starfleet persons do in the Star Trek future? And not ONE WORD about how Picard’s brother runs a winery- I know he runs a winery, and that’s what one stuffy guy does with his free time, and doesn’t answer my question. After all, any nerd worth the dreaded Rear Admirals he suffered on the playground knows that the Judge Dredd comics predicted that 90% unemployment would mean incalculable crime rates. And no room for a winery, I’m sorry—it’s Mega-City 1, 2, Texas, the Sov Block or Cursed Earth, and that’s it. The worst part about this is there’s no answer to the question, canonical, fanonical, or otherwise. It’s as if everyone on Earth is enlisted in Starfleet, and well, while that’s one possible future, it’s a bit grimmer than Star Trek is usually taken to be.

I’m tempted to say that the ‘no one has anything to do but everyone gets along’ ideal is the biggest conceit of Star Trek—I mean, even Futurama didn’t go so far as to have ‘optional employment,’ and they had robots who run on booze and are far more fun to be around than any of you (except for that one who stabs people) – but I think the biggest problem with Star Trek is The Next Generation in toto. Because not only does the series fail to examine the lives of those not in Starfleet, it glosses over the lives anyone not serving aboard the Enterprise, and those guys are probably having way more exciting adventures than the Enterprise is. Allow me to explain:

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Enterprise is the best ship in the fleet, with the most powerful shipboard computer. Captain Picard, who is so renowned that he has a combat maneuver named after him, leads it. His first in command, Commander Riker, has been offered his own command many times so he’s at least as good as most of the other Starfleet captains. The Enterprise also has the only android in Starfleet, who is incredibly smart, strong, durable and loyal. The have the only Klingon in Starfleet- an officer who can defeat the dreaded Borg with a knife. They have a (hot) betazoid who can read minds. They have Geordie LeForge, whose visor makes him one of the most effective and efficient engineers in Starfleet. And before he turns into a space whale, they have Wesley Crusher, a boy genius so genius he saves the ship about 90 times when even these overachievers can’t manage it. Then he turns into a space whale. But I digress.

My point is, the crew of the Enterprise are so kick ass that they actually make trouble for themselves, as omnipotent space assholes such as Q pick on them almost exclusively. But Q aside, the entire series is based upon the notion that this ship—the best ship, the ship with the best captain and the most exceptional crew—can’t do a damn thing without encountering near-insurmountable obstacles, many of which would, if not overcome, have far-reaching effects and may even threaten the fabric of space and time itself. Yet episode after episode the Enterprise only just manages to squeak by. Seriously, the crew of the Enterprise only just saves all of humanity almost as often as Gilligan and the other castaways only just fail to get off the island.

So think about it—all the other ships in Starfleet are inferior to the Enterprise in every way, so they must have an even worse time of it. Those ships must be forever limping back into spaceport, hulls damaged from numerous collisions with other Starfleet vessels manned by crews as incompetent as themselves, having started a dozen wars with two dozen alien species, leaving countless sectors of space empty of life as they failed to stop a star from going nova, or from turning the borg back, and coming home only to find earth has been overrun by reptile-men because these inept crews couldn't figure out how to travel back in time and stop Harlan Ellison’s Star Trek the Motion Picture script from being made.

I think much of my bitterness about Star Trek comes from my frustration at my script for ‘Star Trek: The Previous Generation’ being overlooked in favor of ‘Enterprise.’ MY look at pre-Kirk Trek was awesome and would have easily run long enough to make it to syndication.

It’s a simple formula- take everything in the original Trek and back it off one generation. So: The tricorder becomes the dicorder. It weighs 40 pounds and runs of 80 D batteries. Women in Starfleet dress like the Solid Gold dancers. Phasers are pump-shotguns; stun setting is rocksalt rounds. The captain would be just like Kirk only worse- his mission is actually to find strange new women and nail them. The prime directive would be just the same as it has been in naval forces for hundred of years: ‘Wear a rubber.’

I tell you, it would have been awesome.