Thursday, September 27, 2007

Vellum Review

I probably never would have picked up this book had it not been for the glaring orange spine winking at me from the shelf as I walked by. That's right, the book called to me, and like Reynard Carter, I had to possess it once I had read the first few paragraphs. I am glad that I picked up this masterwork from the shelf, and you will soon see why.

The strange tale of Vellum takes place across many times, and many realities, all of which feature the same cast of archetypal characters doing what they do best. One is immediately drawn to the quartet of friends described early in the story (Renard, Joey, Thomas, and Jack), and while one would assume that the story will be centered on Reynard, it is in fact the many faces of Thomas that we find at the center of the first part of the story (The Lost Deus of Sumer, and yes that is meant to be a play on the phrase the last days of summer). We see Thomas Messenger/Tommy/Tammuz/Dimuzi (etc) who is nicknamed Puck (because he is a lovable fairy) in such diverse roles as a somewhat repressed gay Irish soldier in the Great War, a 1970's gay love child, a gay biker, and a gay pixie (note spelling). His sister, Phreedom Messenger/Anna/Inana, is hoping to find her brother before the inevitable death scene unfolds in spite of her wishes. The first book is a strange retelling of the myth of Inanna in the underworld and her betrayal of her husband, the god Tammuz.

The second story, Evenfall Leaves, is a retelling of the myth of Prometheus, with Seamus Finnan, Phreedom and Tommy's mentor in the Last Deus of Sumer, in which the apocalypse is brought about by the angel Metatron's interrogation of Seamus. The story begins to feature the relationship of Jack and Puck/Thomas more and more, and is really brilliantly done.

One might normally expect to find a novel like this in the Fiction section of most book stores, what with its avant-garde writing, homosexual content, strange literary devices, and almost experimental tone, but thankfully somebody with sense elected to keep this in Science Fiction where it belongs. All in all Vellum and its sequel, Ink, have probably been the best works that I have read all year. Granted, they speak to me on multiple levels (being a gay SF fan), but I think that anyone can get something out of these magnificent pieces of literature.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Journeyman & Heroes Premier Spectacular

I am not even going to pretend that I am not a huge fan of Heroes, and if I did, I would expect everyone to slap me one for fibbing. I know that there are going to be many fans out there who are going to whinge bitterly that "Four Months Later" was dull and draggy, and that it lacked the energy and excitement of last season. My response to such criticism is: Of course it did! Last season was like a well made gumbo, it took a while to simmer up to that exciting peak. You cannot possibly expect them to maintain the level of excitement of last season with such a disconnect between those events and the present. Still, you had a murder, a few surprises, some new heroes, a British samurai, and some wonderful scenes of folks picking up the pieces after the 'exploding man' incident. They balanced everything so well, and I thought that the entire episode was wonderfully executed. It was like watching old friends return.

I do not want to give away any secrets about the Heroes season premier, however I would like to highlight a few wonderful scenes that I think may get overlooked. I loved Noah Bennett as Assistant Manager of the Copy King, that was brilliant, and anyone who has ever worked retail will identify with the breakroom scene. Hiro in the past is, and will continue to be, a very interesting storyline, but more important than Hiro are the many scenes of Ando and Hiro's father, aptly played by George Takei. Dr. Suresh shows breadth and depth, and Matt Parkman proves that he is the kind of cop that all police personnel should strive to emulate. Also, the young girl playing Molly Hunter does a phenomenal job of the sulky kid bit, but her stark terror is magnificent during one of the later scenes.

On to Journeyman, which also had its premier this evening. This show is a cross between Quantum Leap and Evening Edition, and it proves that Kevin McKidd is probably one of the most versatile actors out there today. The show was wonderfully done, and explained nothing about the how or why of what is happening. In fact, those who watched were left with more questions than answers on this one. What is actually going on? Who is Livia? Will Dan keep his marriage intact with the stress of the time jumping? If anyone else read Fritz Leiber's Big Time, or any of the Time Patrol series, then you have to know that the answers are never set in stone.

Brilliant acting, great direction, solid writing, this is a show that will make the two hour Monday time slot a winner for NBC. Between this exciting new show, and the exquisite return of Heroes, I have the feeling that the other networks will be left out in the cold. If I worked for NBC, I would be shouting from the rooftops that Mondays means imagination, and imagination means NBC. Then again, I would probably be doing a lot more if I worked at NBC (just a thought).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Why is it that high tech always seems more sexy on the big screen? You look at some nifty new gadget or geegaw on TV or in a movie and think to yourself: That is so cool! Everything seems more interesting, more exciting, and just plain better than real life when you see it on the screen that reality can be disappointing.

The reason for this is as follows: I was recently putting together imagery for pictures for shirts and apparel for the upcoming SFSNNJ online store, and I noticed some things that I had seen in real life pictured on the internet. The pictures were sleek and impressive, but I know what the devices look like, so I know that the reality is hardly as glorious.

Personal Robots: From Asimo to Roomba and Scooba, personal robots are starting to make their way out to the public. While still expensive, they are far more versatile than any past versions. Still, they lack a certain level of charisma in person (how excited can one get about a robot vaccuum). On the plus side, though, if Asimo decided to violate the laws of robotics it would be fairly easy to escape him as he moves slower than most zombies.

Communicators: Eat your heart out James T. Kirk, the Razr is here to take the place of your blocky old communicator. As a Razr owner, I have to admit that I hate this phone. When it works it is pretty good, but when it doesn't, it really doesn't. Given the fact that cellular tech has been around for almost two decades (starting with the big bulky devices of the 1980's) you would think that we've gotten it right.

Artificial Intelligence: Poor Eliza, you have no mate (of course you are not an A.I. either). Still, programs are getting smarter and more adaptive. Basic gaming engines have fairly complex A.I. programs, and some of the stuff swimming in the waters of the internet is pretty scary, but the problem is that even the best A.I. is still just a village idiot who needs constant instruction.

Flying Cars: Believe it or not, there are such things out there (assuming you have the better part of a million to spend on your conveyance). In still photos the flying cars look really cool, in moving pictures, they are definitely not graceful or even attractive. In point of fact, they look like wobbly 1950's flying saucers most of the time.

Ahh, well, all things considered I guess we will just have to live with the reality. The only other choice is to become Luddites!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mythology and Madness

Strangely enough, I picked up a book the other day for no other reason than it caught my eye and the first paragraph looked amazing. This book, Hal Duncan's Vellum, is a masterpiece of the highest order, however I am actually not going to discuss that here right at the moment (mainly owing to the fact that I have not finished reading it or its sequel Ink). What I did want to address was something that Mr. Duncan uses frequently: mythology.

There is a school of thought that there are a finite number of stories, and that any tale will essentially be a retelling of one of those stories, only with slightly different trappings. This is likely true, however I like to think that the concept of mythology, and the way it explores the human condition through epochal story, works on a slightly different level.

One example of mythology writ large in fantasy was the 2000 edition of Gilgamesh written by Stephen Grundy. This retelling of the ancient epic of Gilgamesh and Enkidu was interesting (though I personally found the constant references to the vulva of Ishtar a bit distracting), but in the end did little other than tell the story in prose (oh, yeah, and use 565 pages to tell a 100 page story).

On the science fiction side, we have Fred Saberhagen's Books of the Gods, a series of novels that explore the idea of some strange future where super-technological masks transform normal people into the avatars of 'gods' to act out their parts in retellings of myth. It is made very clear from the outset that this is supposed to be technology and not magic, but as has been oft said: there is always a point at which technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Wending our way from 'pagan' to 'judeo-christian' mythology, we have Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell. This strange retelling of the revolt in heaven paints Satan, Lucifer, Lilith, Mephistopheles, and Beelzebub in a more sympathetic light, and shows that the revolt was really more of a misunderstanding fostered by one angel looking to save his own skin.

As you can see, these are just three things that come off the top of my head which show mythology alive and well in modern literature. We can add Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash,Timothy Zahn's The Green and the Gray, Kingsbury's The Moon Goddess and the Son, and all the works of C.S. Lewis to that mix, and we get a tapestry of constantly re-invented myths and legends. While some are faithfully retold, others wind their way through different conceptual ideologies or landscapes to transform themselves into something new and different. Eat your heart out Bullfinch.

Monday, September 10, 2007

TV Spirit Guide show me the path away from boredom

Recently I was reading the Fall TV Previews in my TV Guide (yes, I do read the articles) and I was struck by what seems to be a season of blatant rip-offs. Not even very well concealed ones, I might add.

Bionic Woman: Well, not a rip-off per se, but a remake, and darn tedious at that. Assuming this lasts more than half a season, they are already in trouble with people leaving due to 'creative differences'. This one seems doomed to the dustbin in spite of David Eick's participation.

Chuck: Wow, I remember when this show was called Jake 2.0 and stole Christopher Gorham from the far superior Showtime program Odyssey 6. This is the story of a Herd Herd (can't say Geek Squad) employee who gets secret high-tech upgrades to his brain by... OK, I'm bored already. How many times can we redo this concept?

Journeyman: OK, I like this one, even though it is basically just a TV adaptation of the film The Butterfly Effect. As much as I hate to admit it I love time travel as a plot device. Worked for Quantum Leap and The Time Tunnel (both of which seem to have contributed ideas to Journeyman), so why not try from the same well. I will be watching this one.

Moonlight: Come on, you guys aren't even trying! This is a blatant copy of Forever Knight with elements of Angel thrown on top in the vain hope of covering their tracks. Give me a break! Why not just do a remake of Forever Knight and get it over with? Oh, yeah, because the cast is STILL ALIVE!

Pushing Daisies: Well this certainly seems new and original... Oh, wait, no, it's Tru Calling only without the flouncy & floppy running scenes. Considering Tru Calling's fan base was likely paying less attention to the story than they were to Eliza Dushku's cleavage, this will probably seem fresh and new to most. There seem to be elements of Ghost Whisperer and Medium thrown in as well. Since I did not especially like Tru Calling I am kind of looking forward to how this looks on screen, so I am looking forward to seeing this with some reservations.

Reaper: Does anybody else remember Brimstone? If so, then you have likely already seen this show. Updated effects are no replacement for John Glover as the Devil. Looks tepid at best, but might be fun (personally I doubt it).

So that is the new SF line up for Fall. Thank the gods for Heroes and a few returning gems.