Because the only thing more terrifying than velociraptors are velociraptors that can fly.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My first published story

Mark this day in your calendar, dear readers, for this day, May 23rd, 2011 is the day that I first got published. The link to my story is here: (Please check it out.)
I love 365 Tomorrows and read it every day, so to know that my story is on their page is just...amazing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Batman is Best

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, dear readers. I've been working on my novel a lot lately.

Fact: Batman is the best superhero. The reason is simple. Let’s just look at the Justice League. Who do we have there? Two aliens (Superman and the Martian Manhunter), two humans with powers granted by alien artifacts (Green Lantern and Hawkgirl), one human with super powers (the Flash), and one demigoddess (Wonder Woman). Then there’s Batman.

Batman is best because while his peers all have some sort of power or another, he doesn’t. He is a regular human being (albeit one with extensive martial arts training, funding and gadgetry). Still, if you shot Superman in the face, he’d laugh. Martian Manhunter? Become immaterial. Green Lantern would use his ring to create a shield. Hawkgirl would deflect it with her mace, as Wonder Woman would do with her bracers. The Flash would move almost before you pulled the trigger.

Bruce Wayne would die.

Because he’s so fragile, he must rely on his skills, (like super awesome detective work, martial arts, a keen mind and sheer cussed determination), to keep up with his fellows. And in some cases, surpass them.

Look no further than the Justice League Unlimited episode, “Only a Dream.” When Dr. Destiny, a dream-controlling, telepathic villain ensnares the majority of the Justice League in a web of their own nightmares, unable to awaken, only the Martian Manhunter and Batman are able to avoid being trapped. Now, one of the Martian Manhunter’s powers is telepathy, and it was this power that allowed him to fend off Dr. Destiny’s mental attack. He attempts to use his power to help his teammates awaken by entering their dreams.

Batman goes for a more direct approach, in punching Dr. Destiny in the face. The only problem with this strategy is that Dr. Destiny is an exceedingly strong telepath, able to read the minds of all those near him, and control the dreams of his enemies while they sleep.

So Batman does without sleep, for days, (coffee helps), until encountering the good doctor, masking his thoughts all the while by humming “Frère Jacques.”

Even John Dee (Dr. Destiny’s real name) points out to Batman that he really “only has a problem with the others…But you’re different, you don’t have any special powers.”

Batman’s reply? “Oh, I have one, Johnny. I never give up.”

And that’s why Batman is the best superhero. When all the others are other are trapped, helpless, when Batman is all alone, he never gives up. He even takes on Darkseid, a villain so powerful that he’s able to punch Superman into a temporary stupor, and when he questions why Batman fights, Superman says, “That man won’t quit as long as he can still draw a breath.”

So beware, would-be supervillians. While most heroes have a wide array of special powers with a few weaknesses here and there, Batman has only one power: He is Batman, and that’s enough.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Story Review from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame

This book, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume 1 1929-1964, edited by Robert Silverberg, contains twenty-six science fiction stories chosen by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America to be the best of all time. I have to agree, as this book contains Microcosmic God by Theodore Sturgeon, Twilight by John W. Campbell, The Little Black Bag by C. M. Kornbluth among a host of others, including, of course, Nightfall by Isaac Asimov, commonly called the greatest science fiction story ever written. I'll limit this essay to the first story I mentioned, as a review of even a few of my favorites would be exceedingly long.

To begin, Microcosmic God is one of my favorite sci-fi tales. It’s a story about a hermitic inventor who lives on a small island off the coast of New England, his only contact with the outside world being a radio that connects him to his banker. This banker makes an obscene amount of money off the inventor’s creations, while the inventor cares little for material wealth. Not only does he not need wealth, he is able to do without food, light or sleep. (His first few inventions were designed to eliminate these needs by means of concentrated food pills, a device Sturgeon calls a ‘light pump,’ complete with a pseudo-technical description of how it works, and a colorless elixir that is derived from a number of drugs and chemicals.)

He spends his time wholly with his greatest creation, a sort of enormous terrarium that holds within it a miniscule race of the inventor’s creation, one that lives at a greatly accelerated pace and is only visible by the inventor’s use of exceedingly high speed microscopes.

Thus, the inventor is able to solve problems by posing them to his tiny people and then putting them in a situation where their lives depend on coming up with a solution. The results he passes on to the banker or mentions them in passing, as it is not the results that he is interested in, but the experiment. As someone who greatly enjoyed science experiments in both high school and college (and who was somewhat at a loss as what to do with the results), I greatly empathize with the inventor, though I would think twice about the creation of an entire race of beings merely for my own amusement, entertainment and knowledge. (Then again, I do really like ant farms…)

There are a few issues that I have with the story, things that dissolve my suspense of disbelief, though nothing so egregious as to take me out of it completely. For example, the scientist manages to live completely without human interaction for an exceedingly long time on the island, when a lot of experiments have proven that any ordinary person, when subject to long periods of isolation, goes cuckoo for Coco Puffs (or whatever type of cereal they had in the forties).

True, the main character has his inventions, and he is exceedingly dedicated to study; Sturgeon sets him up as having an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Also, by the end of the story, the scientist is joined by an engineer that happens to be on the island after the scientist puts up an impenetrable shield around the lab to keep out intruders, so he has someone to spend the rest of his days with in his intellectual endeavors, a modicum of human contact, at least.         

Another thing that gets me—though I forgive Sturgeon for it—is the ease with which the inventor accomplishes his miraculous feats. Partially this is done for the sake of the story, partially this is due to the time period in which the story was written (the early forties). For example, the inventor is easily able to communicate with his tiny creatures, even though the idea of communicating with human beings without a common language is a nearly impossible linguistic feat. Imagine, then, trying to correspond not with men of another culture, but another species entirely.

Then again, the ease with which the creator does what he does is part of why this story appeals to me so greatly. It is a positive story, one in which perseverance and intelligence wins the day, though it is not without conflict, (the banker uses the scientist’s inventions against him in his quest to take over the island). In the end, the inventor, utilizing his greatest creation, is able to keep his safe haven…well, safe.

So that's my review of Microcosmic God. I think my next few blog posts are going to be like this one, reviews of stories from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. If you think this story sounds interesting (and it is, believe me), you should check it out, whether in this book or not. Sturgeon is a brilliant writer and this is probably my favorite story of his.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Statute of Limitations (there needs to be one for fiction)

Currently, I’m reading Jules Verne’s book The Mysterious Island, (which is awesome, but that’s another post for another day), and in reading this book, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my sister one evening in a Red Lobster.

At the time, my sister was in middle school (I think, maybe she was a freshman), regardless, she was reading The Mysterious Island and mentioned it during our meal. As someone who is a big Jules Verne fan, I thought it was neat that she was reading a book that I would read and engaged in her in a discussion about it.

Bad idea.

The way I engaged her in said conversation was to say, “Oh, The Mysterious Island, the one with Captain Nemo, right? And he’s the one doing all that stuff.” You see, I knew that The Mysterious Island comes after 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and that Captain Nemo survived the first book to reappear in the second. What I did not know was that there were people unaware of that fact. After all, the book was published in 1875.

Not nineteen seventy-five, but eighteen seventy-five, as in a decade after the Civil War. My sister had no idea, of course, and I’d just completely ruined the ending for her. I felt bad about that, sure, but at what point do we say, “Sorry, but if you're not aware of that bit of culture already, I can’t do anything for you?” I mean, when people are reading Romeo and Juliet for the first time in school, you wouldn’t feel like you were revealing anything by saying, “Hey, by the way, Romeo and Juliet die at the end,” would you?

I say no.

The question, then, is what is the statute of limitations on this sort of thing? 

It seems to me that there are several factors involved, like how mainstream the work of fiction is, not just its age. For example, in the case of my sister and Mr. Verne, I probably shouldn’t have said anything. The Mysterious Island, while one of Verne’s better known works, isn’t as well known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Around the World in 80 Days or Journey to the Center of the Earth. Most people are familiar with the work of Shakespeare, though, even if they haven’t read or seen the plays before; he’s such a big part of our culture that the average Joe or Jane will hear the references even if they don’t know where they come from.

Then there’s the case of books that get turned into movies. Obviously, while certain things have to change in order to make the transition of media possible, most major aspects of the plot will stay the same. So what do you do when you have someone who is planning on seeing the movie of a book without reading the book first?

An example: I was talking to some people at work a few years back and we were discussing Harry Potter. Specifically, the fact that *spoiler alert* Snape kills Dumbledore. Now, this was about the time the sixth movie was coming out, but the book had come out long before. People had been talking about it forever, there was a hilarious and horrible video online about someone ruining that fact for people waiting in line for the book to come out, etc. But my manager was upset with the fact that we’d “ruined the movie for him.”

While I feel a little bad about the incident with my sister, I don’t feel the same about that one. Harry Potter was and still is a big deal. If you don’t know one of the key facts in that world, years after it’s revealed, I can’t do anything for you.

That’s why there needs to be a statute of limitations on this sort of thing.

*Spoiler Alert* In Titanic, the boat sinks.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dinosaurs and Sequels (both good and bad)

So I conducted a brief poll today among my family members and workmates on their familiarity with different kinds of dinosaurs, beginning with more well-known varieties and moving to less common ones. Everybody was familiar with the good ol’ Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as the Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus. Once I got to the Ankylosaurus, though, people weren’t sure. (I didn’t include the Pterodactyl as they weren’t dinosaurs. Ancient reptilian animals that lived at the same point in history as the dinosaurs, yes, but not dinosaurs.)

It seemed that people were most familiar with these particular beasties as they are the ones most commonly featured in movies, particularly The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park, (the latter being one of my favorite movies ever).

Speaking of The Land Before Time, how many of those movies are there now? I feel like it’s somewhere around six or seven, which seems entirely too many. I mean, I get it, if you have an intellectual property that is really successful, you want to wring as much money out of it as possible, and if people will pay to see your sequels, you’re going to keep making them, (look at Friday the 13th franchise for goodness sake). Very rarely is there a sequel to a movie that is better than the original. Then again, it happens every once in a while.

Take Shrek, for example. The first one was funny, putting a cool new twist on all the fairy tale tropes. It was something we’d never seen before, but it had a lot of characters we were familiar with. But then Shrek 2 came out, and it was amazing. I loved it even more than the original. (The third one was abysmal and I can’t speak for the fourth one, not having seen it).

The same thing applies to Indiana Jones. The first one? Great. The third one? Amazing. (The second one wasn’t so good and a lot of people wish that the fourth one never happened. Personally, I liked it, but that’s just me.)

I think that this sort of thing happens for a reason. The first movie establishes a new universe for the audience, whether it’s hip fairy tales or treasure hunting and Nazi-smackin.’ But once that universe is established, the movies that come after the original can more widely wander. (Though should they wander too far we get something like Home Alone 3.)

Then again, it makes sense that this happens so rarely. If a movie comes out that is really innovative and thought-provoking, how are the writers supposed to top that? The audience already has the bar set pretty high just walking into the theater. They’re playing the original in their heads while the previews are on. (Or, if they’re like me and haven’t seen the original in a while, they watched it the week before to make sure they remember what’s going on.)

Linking this back up to my original point, velociraptors. Anyone who has ever seen Jurasic Park is familiar with what these hell-beasts look like. While the T. Rex is scary, it’s more like a tornado, a force of nature that destroys anything in its path, but something you could hide from. The raptors, on the other hand, were smart, could set up traps and even figure out door handles. You head to your T. Rex hideout, lock the doors and turn around only to realize you’ve just closed yourself in with a seven-foot tall, razor-clawed killing machine.

And yet… it seems Michael Crichton took a little bit of liberty with the paleontological record there. First of all, velociraptors measured about two feet tall and weighed around thirty or so pounds, making them about the size of a Cocker Spaniel. And recent fossils make it fairly clear that they also had feathers. So, rather than a man-sized scaly monstrosity, they were more like big angry chickens.

Then again, I’m an ornithophobe (scared of birds), so that’s almost worse.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Hereby Claim This Page in the Name of Me!

Greetings weary web wanderers,

Welcome to my digital abode.
Please, pull up a chair or hammock or large comfortable dog. Thanks for stopping by.

By means of this blog I plan on allowing you, the internetonaut, a brief peek inside my mind, (the Surgeon General warns against any more than that).

I'm not sure what else to say at the moment, but stay tuned  for more updates.