Archive for October, 2004

Antarctica, Bare-Faced Messiah

Sunday, October 10th, 2004

Neither of these books quite qualifies as science fiction, but they’re close enough for reviewing purposes. I picked up Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson for research purposes only. As an introduction to what can be done in near-future Antarctica fiction it was useful; as a novel it left something to be desired.

I was expecting to hate the characters as much as I grew to hate the immortal cast of the Mars trilogy, so when they started out sympathetic and intriguing, I was pleasantly surprised. The novel was fuzzy around the edges, though; I couldn’t tell when this near future was supposed to be happening. No dates were given and it seemed too near in general. The voices confused me as well: multiple characters would use idiosyncratic capitalized expressions like “Ice Planet” and “Götterdämmerung,” or carry on untagged dialogues, making it hard to distinguish between people.

The politics and feng shui weren’t sufficiently integrated into the plot, so whole chapters had a telling-not-showing feel to them. If it were me, I wouldn’t have introduced the ecoterrorists so early on in the novel; I would have let their depredations develop as more of a mystery. Instead of being the climax of the mystery, the man-against-nature results fill out the middle section of the novel. The end is devoted to politics.

That, also might have been more interesting had there been any conflict, but as this raving review points out, Antarctica is utopian in theme. There are no bad guys, so it’s not clear why any political wrangling is necessary. Even the ecoteurs turn out to be good guys who didn’t want to hurt any people in their ecotage. The bad corporations and politicians never appear, so there’s no real conflict after the man-against-ice resolution.

Even though I like feng shui and a lot of the politics involved, the presentation just wasn’t exciting enough for me. I have to agree with Steven Silver’s review that Antarctica works better as a travelogue than as a novel.

Bare-Faced Messiah is an on-line biography of L. Ron Hubbard I’ve been reading in fits and starts for a long time. It just ended at Hubbard’s mysterious death. I recall some wild speculation on the topic of his death from other anti-Scientology sites, so I was both impressed and disappointed with the mild ending of Bare-Faced Messiah. Truth is stranger than theology in this case (and that’s saying a lot when Scientology is involved).

And the Smell…

Saturday, October 9th, 2004

Scientists speculate that the world’s worst mass extinction may have been caused by methane.

The New Puritans

Friday, October 8th, 2004

Canada boasts two new province-wide smoking bans. It’s nice to know that despite the depredations of multiculturalism, our American Puritan heritage of outlawing other people’s nasty sinful pleasures is still going strong. Maybe soon we’ll be tossing people in jail for nasty sinful opinions, like they do in Sweden.

Lectures in Boston

Thursday, October 7th, 2004

Boston Common has a new RSS calendar of Boston lectures. You can also submit your own local events.

Drabbles, Reloaded

Wednesday, October 6th, 2004

Ten new drabbles are up on my Stargate fic page, mostly from season 5. Thanks to Jerie and Jade for betaing. They haven’t specified a favorite drabble this time.


Tuesday, October 5th, 2004

Here’s the real home of the Mt. St. Helens VolcanoCam: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

VolcanoCam Live!

Watch her smokin’! Click on the image to see it full size at the VolcanoCam site. The image refreshes every 5 minutes. See the VolcanoCam Terms of Use to use it on your own site.

Lost Horizon

Monday, October 4th, 2004

To amuse me while I amused the cat I’ve been catsitting (not Veronica’s extra-large Kitty, but Dr. Deb’s extra-small Siamese), I watched the restored version of the 1937 Frank Capra film Lost Horizon on DVD. The Film Site has a spoiler-filled review, but suffice it to say that this is a standard utopian tale in which everyone is good and happy merely because everyone is good and happy, and the answer to all the obvious objections Our Hero raises is a naive “why?” from Our Heroine.

But it’s pretty for 1937, and Our Hero (Robert Conway, played by Ronald Colman) manages to enliven the dull talky parts with his awestruck gazing and general sense of wonder. The action scenes at the beginning and end were also helpful.

The alternate ending wasn’t a big change, but one of the other DVD features described the original framing sequence and the experience of filming at 24°F in a huge refrigerator (because Capra wanted to see the actors’ breath). One thing I didn’t learn from the extras was that Our Spunky Supporting Actress was supposed to be dying of consumption. A little coughing and six months to live says lung cancer to me.

Lost Horizon was not a success, and is remembered today mainly for its stupendous budget and the loss of the original print due to our oppressive copyright laws. It was based on the book of the same name by James Hilton, which is remembered mainly for allegedly being the first paperback ever published (Ballantine, 1939?). It’s still in print.

Crazy People

Sunday, October 3rd, 2004

The story of crazy writer Daniel Rice begins with this eBay auction. TNH reposted the listing in a more legible form. Although she was unreasonably polite about the amateur’s hopeless efforts to sell an unfinished manuscript for $150,000, he responded with enough craziness to get himself disemvowelled.

Not surprisingly, his auction expired without any bids being made. He’s cut the asking price to $125,000, added paragraph breaks, and a bonus psychotic break over Making Light poster Greg Ioannou at the bottom. Check out the new auction here. You have only 4 more days to come up with the $125,000 to buy this gem.

Being unable to write is a sure sign of being unable to write, yet every day I see people posting gibberish to LiveJournals, writing lists, or forums—gibberish proclaiming their latest novel projects or their countless entries into the slush piles. Spelling can be fixed, but it’s a little late to learn how to form an English sentence when you have three alleged children. My advice to Mr. Rice is to find a new hobby.

She’s Gonna Blow!

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004

CTV reports a real eruption is likely at Mt. St. Helens:

“There’s a very good chance there’s going to be an eruption … (and) there’s a good chance it’s going to involve magma at the surface,” Tom Pierson, a U.S. Geological Survey official, told reporters on Saturday.

See her blow her stack almost live at Here’s the alert, and SpaceWeather reminds us to be on the lookout for a volcano-induced blue moon.

The Keep

Friday, October 1st, 2004

The Keep is the Alien vs. Predator of horror: Nazis vs. Vampires. I wanted to read something by F. Paul Wilson, and this was one of the few on the library shelf that wasn’t a sequel to something else. I don’t want to give away the ending, but suffice it to say that it strays into Highlander territory when the mystery of the eponymous keep is finally explained.

On the plus side, it was a page turner and a quick read. On the minus side, one of the main threads of the novel is the alleged gradual corruption of a main character by the nameless evil which dwelleth in the keep, and it failed. Yes, the character got corrupted, but the process wasn’t gradual enough for me to catch it. Somewhere near the end of the novel, uncorrupted character A says to uncorrupted character B see how so-and-so was slowly corrupted by the nameless evil which dwelleth in the keep? and B replies yeah, tragic that. (I’m paraphrasing here.) The corruption wasn’t sufficiently distinct from stupidity for such an important plot point.

Also on the minus side is the Nameless Red-Haired Man who dwelleth nowhere. I call him the Nameless Red-Haired Man because the author referred to him constantly as the red-haired man. Why he didn’t go with ‘redhead’ and give him a pseudonym earlier on is beyond me. Nameless spends much time approaching the keep, then hanging around the keep, without ever becoming a full-fledged character. Of all the cast he is the least fleshed-out, even though it’s clear from his first appearance that he’s a main character.

Our Heroine got the most fleshing-out, although she was also a stereotypical good guy in certain ways. Her attitude was both too Victorian and too modern for her background, but she overcame those handicaps by having plenty of specific characteristics and feelings. Her father and the two German officers also did well, especially in the beginning.

Overall, I’d say that the author was working at cross purposes with the supernatural horror. It wasn’t clear whether the Nameless Evil killing Nazis was all that evil, whether it was supernatural or natural, whether it represented Evil or Chaos, and why Chaos was worse than Non-Chaos. I was interested by the story, but I wasn’t horrified. I’ll have to try a medical thriller of his next time.