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Adventure On Film: Time After Time

Monday, July 21st, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Movie fans will forever remember Malcolm McDowell for his simpering, ultra-violent turn in Aimages Clockwork Orange (1971), but actors aren’t the sort to rest on their laurels, and by 1979, McDowell felt ready to embody a genuine historical figure, H.G. Wells.

The film was Time After Time, not to be confused with the Cyndi Lauper song (or the infinitely better cover by songbird Eva Cassidy), and if there’s a more definitive origin point for the Steampunk movement, I’d like to know what it is.

At the helm is first-time director Nicholas Meyer, who must have a soft spot for science fiction. Only a few years later, and armed with a much heftier budget, he was tapped to captain Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982).

As for Time After Time, it’s far from perfect –– the script contains several gargantuan plot holes, and we viewers (if I may be forgiven the mixed metaphor) must swallow hard to keep up –– but it does work in fits and starts, thanks especially to the looming presence of David Warner as a time-skipping and dangerously prescient Jack the Ripper.

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Reading the Entrails

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Lord of the RingsBrowsing about the Internet recently, I stumbled on something that interested me. Several things, actually. Specifically, the results at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database of various Locus audience polls; more specifically, the results of the all-time polls in the fantasy field. I was struck by how some things stayed constant across the years, and how some other things have changed.

Now, it’s important to be wary of making overly-sweeping statements about the fantasy field based on these polls. These are things that can be compared with one another; I don’t know if they can be said to have weight beyond that. But, given that, what can one take away from them?

Let me be precise about what I’m looking at. The polls that interest me are the 1987 poll for best all-time fantasy novel, the 1987 poll for best all-time fantasy novelist, the 1998 poll for best fantasy novel before 1990, the 1998 poll for best all-time fantasy novelist, the 1999 poll for best all-time fantasy author, and the 2012 poll for best fantasy novel of the 20th century (John O’Neill wrote about that last poll for Black Gate). There are also all-time polls for science fiction, and some older polls that just asked the Locus readership for best all-time author or novel without specifying genre; I’m interested in fantasy, though, so that’s what I’m focusing on.

You can see some constants in the rankings of the books, but also movement. Some books and authors fell out of favour, some maintained their positions, and a few new titles emerged over time. So together the lists are potentially a glimpse of how attitudes to the genre developed over the course of twenty-five years among fans.

But even assuming that the poll respondents represent a group relatively knowledgeable about fantasy, do the polls say more about fantasy or more about the Locus readership?

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With Apologies to Dopey

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DopeyAbout thirty-five years ago, I met Greg B., which is to say I also met his muscle-bound D&D character, Dopey. I owe both an apology, and since I am nearly thirty-five years late in doing so, it’s high time I got on with it. In public, no less.

Dopey was an amazing fighter. A real head-slamming, sword-wielding, take-no-prisoners dude. Not all that stupid, either. He was the first high-level character I’d ever bumped into, either as a player or as a ref, and so perhaps it was written in the stars that eventually, Greg and Dopey would join me gaming, and for an adventure in which I was the dungeon master.

And what did I do when that happened? I killed Dopey.

I did it deliberately, too, and I even know why, but I shouldn’t have done it. I even sensed I was in the wrong — call it a vague but unshakable apprehension — right in the very moment. That alone should have been enough to stay my hand. It wasn’t. So much for teenage maturity.

If I knew where Greg B. is today, I’d make the apology directly. Instead, and because it’s the best I can do at this point, I’ll post my story here, and perhaps one of you knows Greg and can direct him to this post.

Here’s how it happened.

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Loaded!

Monday, May 19th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

dice Of all the mysteries and temptations packed inside that wondrous cardboard sarcophagus known as the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, none was more hypnotic than that lumpy, ill-made set of five polyhedron dice.

Six-sided diced I knew, of course, but twelve? Eight? To say nothing of that canary-yellow four-sider. How did one even use it? What seemed perfectly obvious by the age of thirteen was a serious stumper at twelve.

And then there was the twenty-sider, a multi-faceted orb the color of sun-bleached PVC pipe (and not all pink, like the one depicted here), its numerical sequence uselessly repeated, 1-10, 1-10. Or, depending on how one read it, 0-9. Either way, how did it function as a twenty?

I believe it was a friend, and not the Basic Set rules, that told me how to solve this twenty-sided conundrum. “Color the die,” that was the advice I got. So I chose red — red for blood, I suppose — and I swiped my mother’s biggest, fattest felt-tip El Marko, and I colored that die, carefully, thoroughly, beginning with the zero that happened to be facing the top at the time. Voila! My first twenty-sided die.

My choice of which side to color proved unexpectedly fortuitous. My die, you see, was loaded.

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Can SF Save the World From Climate Change?

Sunday, May 18th, 2014 | Posted by Garrett Calcaterra

A Canticle for Leibowitz-smallSince its inception in the 19th Century, science fiction has inspired technological innovation and progress, utilizing creativity to prod the minds of scientists and engineers into designing wonders beyond the factories and smokestacks of the Dickensian world. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the godfathers of SF, imagined submarines, airships, rockets, spacecraft, and even atomic energy, and their “science fantasy” stories inspired generations of scientists, inventors and engineers, not to mention countless artists and writers.

In the early 20th Century, the Golden Age of SF helped pioneer many of the modern technologies we now take for granted. Arthur C. Clarke conceptualized the geostationary satellite. Isaac Asimov laid the groundwork for robotics and artificial intelligence. E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen novels inspired the US Navy to create the first naval combat information center. In the early 1980s, at a time when personal computers were still in their infancy, William Gibson imagined cyberspace.

At the same time, SF writers have also warned us about the dangers of our rapidly changing world. Pre-dating Verne and Wells, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a bleak cautionary tale of what can happen when scientists try to alter life itself (a warning that seems more prescient than ever in an age of cloning and GMOs). In response to the Second Industrial Revolution, E.M. Forester wrote the first modern dystopia, The Machine Stops, a short novel that depicts a future race of humans that have become helpless, fat, and slug-like due to their complete reliance on technology.

And then, of course, there are the classic dystopian tales, warning us of the dangers of taking social and political ideologies to their extreme ends: A Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. Similarly, the post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, penned by Walter M. Miller during the height of the Cold War, warns of the dangers of nuclear proliferation coupled with imperialism.

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A History of Godzilla on Film, Part 5: The Travesty and the Millennium Era (1996–2004)

Monday, May 12th, 2014 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

GodzillaMillenniumHey, kids: guess what comes out in theaters this Friday? Oh, wait… I have something I need to finish up here. (Sorry about the delay. It’s a boring story.)

Other Installments

Part 1: Origins (1954–1962)
Part 2: The Golden Age (1963–1968)
Part 3: Down and Out in Osaka (1969–1983)
Part 4: The Heisei Era (1984–1996)
Addendum: The 2014 Godzilla

Godzilla ‘98: An American Tragedy

Oh, I wish Theodore Dreiser wrote this.

All right, let’s get this mother*&!%ing thing over with as much speed as possible: Godzilla ’98 stinks like rotten limburger. We can all agree on this. It isn’t the worst film in the Godzilla series, but that’s because it doesn’t belong in the series and has no business associated with anything with the name “Godzilla” on it. It has zero connection to any version of Godzilla, nor does it make any attempt to interpret the monster whose name it crassly exploits — which is probably the most insulting thing about this massive heap of industrial Hollywood sewage.

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In Pursuit Of the Dragons Of Britain

Monday, May 5th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

The "Munitions Dragon" at the Tower of London.

The “Munitions Dragon” at the Tower of London.

As some few of you may know, I recently abandoned my luxurious offices in Black Gate’s sprawling Indiana Compound and have set my course by a wandering star. My prime objective (if not my Prime Directive) is to find a real, live dragon.

So far, no go. On the plus side, I have found definite signs of dragons in all quarters of my British hunting grounds. In fact, if carvings and statuary are any guide, dragons remain downright popular and have been so for centuries. Surely their real life counterparts cannot be far afield? Lurking just over the next moor, I should think, spitting flame and devouring maidens.

The most remarkable thing about dragons is how they induce credulity. Dragon fans become, with time, less like a fine aged wine and instead rather like my old friend Fox Mulder: against all reason, we want to believe. Maybe firedrakes and so on don’t exist –– maybe I’m off on a wild goose chase, and I should scarper back to the Indiana Compound forthwith –– but having grown up on Smaug, Quok, and the Reluctant Dragon, I find that I run along on fumes of faith. Dragons are simply too magical to track them with anything less than full-bore belief.

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Fantasy Metaphysics with Pathfinder Tales: The Redemption Engine

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

250px-Redemption_EngineFantasy worlds usually contain good and evil … and frequently personifications of good and evil. Angels & demons. Saints & devils. Knights & undead. Good gods and evil ones. Sometimes these distinctions are very clear-cut and that’s okay. There’s something to be said for a world where the heroes are clearly heroic and villains are clearly evil. But the real world isn’t generally like that and, even within our fantasy, it’s often the case that things tend to be much more interesting when the lines are blurred a bit.

Which brings me to the most recent installment in Paizo publishing’s Pathfinder Tales series of books: The Redemption Engine by James L. Sutter. This book places the metaphysical questions of good versus evil squarely in the center of the plotline, as the atheist priest Salim Ghadafar investigates a case of missing souls that had been destined for Hell. But as the case unfolds, drawing Salim across dimensions ruled by the forces of Good, Evil, and Neutrality, it becomes clear that some of the outsiders native to these realms are throwing the rulebook out the window, trying to gain souls to their armies through new, more innovative means.

As revealed in Ghadafar’s previous novel appearance Death’s Heretic (and the web fiction Faithful Servants), Salim serves as an investigator and enforcer for Pharasma, the goddess of birth, death, and prophecy, but he doesn’t worship her. Coming from the atheist nation of Rahadoum, Salim spent years as a leader in the Pure Legion, persecuting the faithful, before he finally got an offer he couldn’t pass up and swore himself to her service in exchange for the life of the woman he loved. Now he serves the goddess Pharasma … but he doesn’t have to like her.

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Raised On Potter: Give the People What They Want?

Monday, April 21st, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

864751637_bbb406661f_zAs I mentioned in a recent post, I just finished teaching a creative writing course. Most of my students were college sophomores. None were creative writing majors. To cut a successful swath through my class, they had to write a short story, a poem, and a short play — and then revise each one multiple times. In order to bring a proper perspective to their efforts, I forced them (at dagger point) to read a great many examples of each form.

Thus ends the exposition. Now for the drama!

At the tail end of the semester, I asked my students to rank each reading on a five point scale, with one being exceptional and five a yawner. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that without exception, it was the fantasy and horror offerings on my syllabus that drew the strongest responses.

What can account for this?

My answer: J.K. Rowling.

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Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Worlds Without End

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Fourteen years ago, I taught my first college-level writing class. Let’s face it, I was verySO-2 green, an adjunct hired to fill an unexpected gap in the wake of a fast-departing faculty member. Whether I did well or poorly I do not claim to know, but of my eleven students, two had their final projects subsequently published, and one went on to get an M.F.A. in creative writing (which means he’s now flipping burgers in your local Mickey D’s, so next time you’re there, be nice).

The other fact of which I’m sure is that my toss-the-feathers syllabus mixed fantasy and literary readings. Yea and verily, it’s a wonder I wasn’t burned as a heretic – but perhaps the resident firemen, Montag & Smaug, Inc., were extra busy that season.

I’m now on my third go-round as a writing teacher, and while my reading selections remain whimsically mixed, I do have one fresh challenge on my plate: for the first time, I have a student invested in writing out-and-out science fiction. And not just any sci-fi, we’re talking guns-a-blazing space opera.

By the glowing rings of Saturn, what am I to do?

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