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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Geek Cred

Just so you know what kind of guy you're dealing with here; of everything that was in the paper this morning, this is the story that made me go, "Wow, that's cool!" and jump on the internet to hunt up more information.
From Scum, Perhaps the Tiniest Form of Life
by William J. Broad, NY Times

The smallest form of life known to science just got smaller. Four million of a newly discovered microbe — assuming the discovery, reported yesterday in the journal Science, is confirmed — could fit into the period at the end of this sentence. Scientists found the microbes living in a remarkably inhospitable environment, drainage water as caustic as battery acid from a mine in Northern California. The microbes, members of an ancient family of organisms known as archaea, formed a pink scum on green pools of hot mine water laden with toxic metals, including arsenic...

Now, not only is the discovery of a previously unsuspected and completely unknown type of organism cool in and of itself, but consider this: the only place this new species is known to exist is in the hot sulphuric acid pools of a Superfund toxic waste cleanup site! Can't you just see it now?

FWS: Hands off, punk. This is the species' only known habitat.

EPA: But it's a toxic waste site!

FWS: Well it just so happens that this endangered species thrives here.

EPA: But it's a toxic waste site!

Monday, December 18, 2006

This Week's Multi-Million Dollar Idea

Lucrezia and I have been kicking this one around off-blog for the past few days, and we've come to the conclusion that this whole writing literate fiction for intelligent adults business is for chumps; the real money is in doing comic books. Sadly, neither of us can draw worth a darn — I'd be ecstatic if I could draw like Neil McAllister, the guy who did Action Item, Professional Superhero!, and would even settle for being able to draw like Jhonen Vasquez — but on further thought, that's not important. The key here is not to be the person who actually draws the comic, or even to be the person who scripts it, but to be the person who controls the rights when Hollywood comes begging for more screen adaptation fodder.

Ergo, working on the assumption that there are plenty of talented scripters and artists out there that we can pay migrant-laborer wages to produce the actual comic, we got focused on the important aspect: designing the product. Let's see. Astronauts. Space station. Meteor shower. Searing wave of solar radiation...

Okay, that gives us Depression Girl, as Lucrezia so brilliantly described last week. But who else makes up the Fantastic Five? (Hmm, no, there'll be legal problems with that one. How about the Somnambulent Six? Nah. The Supercilious Seven? Never mind, we'll get back to that later.) So far we've got:

Tort Crusader — bravely suing evil into submission, wherever it can allegedly be found!

Minority Man — he has unquestionable moral superiority because he's a minority!

The Metrosexual — with the power of androgyny, it can battle evil all night long and still pick out a perfectly darling set of curtains the next morning!

Retro Man — the commander of the shuttle mission that gave them all their super powers, he's tough, strong, brave, resolute, and the one the others turn to when things get really sticky — but honestly, he's such an embarassing throwback to the 20th century!

The Temp — she can assume the powers of any of the other heroes, but only for eight hours, then she has to recover by spending the next two weeks on the living room couch, doing crossword puzzles and watching Oprah.

Okay, that's what we've got so far, and to be honest, we're kind of running dry. So, for a share in the film rights, who else is on our team of modern, sensitive, caring superheroes?

And villains. Yeah, we need supervillains aplenty; in fact, given that the worth of a hero is measured by the quality and quantity of the evil he or she opposes, we need lots of really good supervillains. So again, for a share in the film rights: what are your ideas?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Oh no, not again...

Not only is tonight the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, but on top of that
Astronauts Forced To Take Shelter From Violent Solar Storm In Space
A violent solar explosion sent a dangerous wave of radiation through space late Tuesday, prompting NASA to order the crews of Discovery and the International Space Station to take shelter...

C'mon people, how many times do we have to see this movie before we learn? Astronauts + meteor shower + dangerous space radiation = kiss New York goodbye, at least.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Recommended Giving: Persepolis

As you might have guessed, I like to give books as presents. They're easy to wrap, ship well, never the wrong size or color, and if picked with care can give the recipient pleasure for months or even years to come. Ergo, for the next few days, I'd like to talk about some books that I think might make good presents this year. I'm not getting a kickback from or anything like that; "K" isn't carrying these books in her bookstore. (Although if I was smart, I'd change both of those states pronto.) These are simply books that I have found worthwhile, and in most cases have given as gifts myself.

First up, for the mid-teenage through 20-something young lady on your list, I highly recommend Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. This is the autobiography, in graphic novel form, of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian illustrator and author who now lives in Paris. Told in stark (but not gruesome) black-and-white drawings, and occasionally (but never inappropriately) rough language, this is the story of the years leading up to the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution, and it's aftermath, as seen through the eyes of a 6- to 14-year old girl. The daughter of affluent and educated Iranian leftists, Satrapi came from a family and a social group who at first supported the Revolution, because they were simply incapable of believing there could be any government worse than the Shah's.

The story of what happens after that, as a thoroughly westernized young lady is forced to go under the veil, is by turns funny, sad, and at times downright terrifying.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale

The Kid had a sleepover at a friend's house Friday night, so the Mrs and I went out on a dinner-and-movie date, for the first time in I can't remember when. The restaurant will be reviewed another day. The movie we picked was the new James Bond film, Casino Royale.

If you haven't seen this one yet, you should. It's good. Really good. In fact, I think it may be the best Bond film ever.

Mind you, this is something I do not say lightly. As you might expect from the guy who wrote the capstone essay in James Bond in the 21st Century, I am a longtime fan of 007. I've seen all the movies, and read all of Ian Fleming's original novels. I thought Connery was terrific, grew to loathe Roger Moore in the role, and have even seen the 1967 version of Casino Royale that starred Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. (What can we say about that one? It was the Sixties. Drugs were involved.) My youthful chums and I were so thrilled by the Bond books that we even took the time and trouble to learn to play baccarat, and played it all summer long one year, which probably explains why I still don't know how to play sheepshead or cribbage.

The point is, I know Bond, perhaps to the point of obsessive excess, and this movie executes a brilliant reboot of a series that had become hackneyed, stale, and laughably awful. It's not a reinvention of Bond: it's a restoration, that includes more content from the original book than any film since From Russia With Love.

Or to put it another way: anything that Mike Myers parodied in Austin Powers? It's gone. The ludicrous gadgets, the wealthy megalomaniacs, the secret lairs, the buxom babes with cheesy double-entendres names, the overly complicated dipping mechanism? All gone. This is a new Bond, who lives in the real 21st century.

And damn, he's good.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Bethke Curse

In conclusion, I want to point out that the previous six posts, taken together, constitute an excellent illustration of The Bethke Curse at work. I can spin out ideas like this all day long. I can imagineer wondrous things in amazing detail. I have no doubt at all that Harry Turtledove could milk this world for at least a six-novel series, if not more, and still leave the Iroquois-Incan conflict for the three-volume sequel.

But the market rewards writers who take their own ideas painfully seriously (or who can at least fake doing so credibly), and I am constitutionally incapable of keeping a straight face long enough to pull it off.

Case in point, I've been trying for two weeks now to come up with an Important Story to be told in this alternate world. But I keep coming back to this vision of poor Bartleby the Scribe, a slave in 13th century Londinium, who spends his days chained to his desk in a damp and drafty factory, scratching away with stylus on parchment and bashing out the further adventures of Capitaneus Kirkus, a heroic Roman naval commander on a five-year mission to sail beyond the edge of the known world, to find new slaves, and new lands to loot and conquer. But it seems that no matter where he goes, Kirkus is always discovering that the sinister and perfidious agents of the evil Mongol Empire have gotten there a step ahead of him, and so he is forever raising his fists to the gods and bellowing: