Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

The Awesometacularity that was LepreCon 40   3 comments

The 40th annual LepreCon science fiction convention was held at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Mesa, Arizona on the days and nights of May 8-11, 2014. This is Phoenix’s oldest science fiction convention. Believe it or not, I helped start it back in 1974 or so, and was Con Chairman in 1979. I usually attend–as a guest or participant. I think I’ve only missed 3 of them. I went again this year, mostly to see my friends. I’m long past the stage of gathering autographs, buying things, and paying any attention to the panels.  I took a lot of photos this year, and I’m going to share most of them with you here.  You should take my comments with a pinch of salt or pepper, as I’m frequently crossing my fingers and/or distorting the truth in what I say about things.

THURSDAY NIGHT

When I walked into the Con on Thursday night, the first person I saw was Jason Youngdale. Jason is a friend of mine. I joined him to listen to some music and drink some beer.

When I walked into the Con on Thursday night, the first person I saw was Jason Youngdale. Jason is a friend of mine. I joined him to listen to some music and drink some beer.

The band is called Squid Dog. They are a motley and aged crew, but they produce a rocking sound.

The band is called Squid Dog. They are a motley and aged crew, but they produce a rocking sound.

 

This is my artistic composition in honor of LepreCon. You can see the program book in the foreground, and the best drink I had for the weekend in the background.

This is my artistic composition in honor of LepreCon. You can see the program book in the foreground, and the best drink I had for the weekend in the background.

Paul Tanton, Jason Youngdale, and I went off and played some card games. I took a selfie shot of myself while I was playing cards, but it's way too accurate in representing the real me, and thus too horrible to look at. I'm not gonna show it.

Paul Tanton, Jason Youngdale, and I went off and played some card games. I took a selfie shot of myself while I was playing cards, but it’s way too accurate in representing the real me, and thus too horrible to look at. I’m not gonna show it.

FRIDAY

They gave me a grilled cheese sandwich in the staff lounge.

They gave me a grilled cheese sandwich in the staff lounge.

 

Griller of cheeses. With volunteers like this, the future of LepreCon is in good hands. Of course, this is the only volunteer like this that LepreCon has, so maybe it's doomed!

Griller of cheeses. With volunteers like this, the future of LepreCon is in good hands. Of course, this is the only volunteer like this that LepreCon has, so maybe it’s doomed!

2014-05-09 02.19.40

I went to the Art Show. I was mostly not impressed, but I did like this troll skull, so I bought it. I'm sure I'll find all sorts of uses for it. Troll skull by amateur artist David Perrine.

I went to the Art Show. I was mostly not impressed, but I did like this troll skull, so I bought it. I’m sure I’ll find all sorts of uses for it. Troll skull by amateur artist David Perrine.

 

Back in the gaming room, my main home at conventions, we wound up playing Magic for the rest of Friday afternoon.

Back in the gaming room, my main home at conventions, we wound up playing Magic for the rest of Friday afternoon.

 

Late Friday night, I walked into the command center for the whole convention. Yes, friends, this is what the high command of these affairs look like when no one can see them.

Late Friday night, I walked into the command center for the whole convention. Yes, friends, this is what the high command of these affairs look like when no one can see them.

Saturday, I spaced it and left my camera at home.  I have no pix from the most important day of the Con.

SUNDAY

Walking into the Marriott Convention Center from the rear. The Marriott in Mesa has been quite the popular convention site for SF fandom in Phoenix for the last 5 years.

Walking into the Marriott Convention Center from the rear. The Marriott in Mesa has been quite the popular convention site for SF fandom in Phoenix for the last 5 years.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! Beyond these doors lies much that is fannish.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! Beyond these doors lies much that is fannish.

Some of the usual suspects. From left to right: The Flash (out of uniform), Paul Tanton, Victor Bugg, Jason Youngdale, and ???. I should know the last guy, but I don't.

Some of the usual suspects. From left to right: The Flash (out of uniform), Paul Tanton, Victor Bugg, Jason Youngdale, and ???. I should know the last guy, but I don’t.

The entrance to the Dealers' Room. There are many wonderful things and even more wonderful people inside this room.

The entrance to the Dealers’ Room. There are many wonderful things and even more wonderful people inside this room.

The woman in white is author Gail Carrigher, our Guest of Honor, best known for her steampunk fiction: The Parasol Protectorate.

The woman in white is author Gail Carrigher, our Guest of Honor, best known for her steampunk fiction: The Parasol Protectorate.

An ever-changing cityscape lived on this table. I don't know why.

An ever-changing cityscape lived on this table. I don’t know why.

The fans of David Weber and Honor Harrington owned this real estate. Spiffy space marine uniforms they have.

The fans of David Weber and Honor Harrington owned this real estate. Spiffy space marine uniforms they have.

Lobby,

Lobby,

Flag desecration in poster form.

Flag desecration in poster form.

Artist, dealer, weird female person. I like her.

Artist, dealer, weird female person. I like her.

Oooh, oooh! That fan might buy something!

Oooh, oooh! That fan might buy something!

Bennie Grezlik, author, nice  guy, creator of Princess Pain.

Bennie Grezlik, author, nice guy, creator of Princess Pain.

Since she was all painted up like a mime (Harley Quinn for DC Comics) I asked costumer Krysta Crawford to do the "I'm Trapped in a Glass Box" routine.

Since she was all painted up like a mime (Harley Quinn for DC Comics) I asked costumer Krysta Crawford to do the “I’m Trapped in a Glass Box” routine.

Local authors. I ought to know everybody. They know me, but I don't know these guys.

Local authors. I ought to know everybody. They know me, but I don’t know these guys.

I don't know this guy either, but he has some cool steampunk weapons for sale.

I don’t know this guy either, but he has some cool steampunk weapons for sale.

I took her picture because she was wearing a mask. Doesn't she look like someone just hit her in the head and knocked it sideways?

I took her picture because she was wearing a mask. Doesn’t she look like someone just hit her in the head and knocked it sideways?

Fabulous artist, friendly guy. I don't know him.

Fabulous artist, friendly guy. I don’t know him.

You, too, could be wearing a fabulous mask. Buy them here.

You, too, could be wearing a fabulous mask. Buy them here.

I took her picture because she was wearing a corset. You can't really see it very well.

I took her picture because she was wearing a corset. You can’t really see it very well.

A complete gallery of the bizarre art of Steam Crow.

A complete gallery of the bizarre art of Steam Crow.

Friendly woman, weird art.

Friendly woman, weird art.

Intentionally weird art for a weird magazine.

Intentionally weird art for a weird magazine.

Steampunk grandees. I vowed to photograph every corse that came my way.

Steampunk grandees. I vowed to photograph every corset that came my way.

Phoenix has another small sci-fi convention called CopperCon.

Phoenix has another small sci-fi convention called CopperCon.

Artist Gilead (yes, that is his whole name) teaches a few people the finer points of drawing tentacles for fun and profit.

Artist Gilead (yes, that is his whole name) teaches a few people the finer points of drawing tentacles for fun and profit.

They'll let anyone on these panels--even officers from Star Fleet.

They’ll let anyone on these panels–even officers from Star Fleet.

I was trying to take a picture of a table full of fannish t-shirts when a woman wearing a fannish t-shirt walked into it and blocked out half the picture.

I was trying to take a picture of a table full of fannish t-shirts when a woman wearing a fannish t-shirt walked into it and blocked out half the picture.

The "mand" in Mandy stands for "Command". She ran the art show, helped with registration, and generally tried to keep the convention functioning normally.

The “mand” in Mandy stands for “Command”. She ran the art show, helped with registration, and generally tried to keep the convention functioning normally.

Scientce!

Scientce!

The hotel has a beautiful fountain. We've been here before in earlier blogs.

The hotel has a beautiful fountain. We’ve been here before in earlier blogs.

Would you believe that Curt Stubbs here was once known as Captain Coors, and that he helped bring the World Science Fiction Convention to Phoenix in 1978? It's true. He was also Con Chairman for LepreCon 1, I think. I was there, but I can't really remember that far back.

Would you believe that Curt Stubbs here was once known as Captain Coors, and that he helped bring the World Science Fiction Convention to Phoenix in 1978? It’s true. He was also Con Chairman for LepreCon 1, I think. I was there, but I can’t really remember that far back.

The Staff Lounge--where hard working staff and con participants like me could go to party.

The Staff Lounge–where hard working staff and con participants like me could go to party.

The staff lounge had food . . . and television, and comfy places to sit.

The staff lounge had food . . . and television, and comfy places to sit.

My favorite hangout was the game room. Here's a game much too complicated to even consider playing.

My favorite hangout was the game room. Here’s a game much too complicated to even consider playing.

The Pathfinder role-playing game over there ran for the whole weekend.

The Pathfinder role-playing game over there ran for the whole weekend.

Many goodies were to be had in the Barry Bard movie previews panel late Sunday afternoon.

Many goodies were to be had in the Barry Bard movie previews panel late Sunday afternoon.

Eager fen wait for their number to be called.

Eager fen wait for their number to be called.

Mark calls the numbers. There was a prize for everyone who attended. I got a black t-shirt (of course).

Mark calls the numbers. There was a prize for everyone who attended. I got a black t-shirt (of course).

They call your number. You go up and claim a prize.

They call your number. You go up and claim a prize.

My son James is developing a bald spot (and he's only 23). He looked so frustrated every time they called a number that was almost his number. It was kind of funny to watch him from across the room.

My son James is developing a bald spot (and he’s only 23). He looked so frustrated every time they called a number that was almost his number. It was kind of funny to watch him from across the room.

 

With the loot all distributed, James and I went back to the game room for a few more games of cards like Parade, which uses an Alice in Wonderland deck that I want. By 5 p.m. it was time to go home, and so farewell to another fabulous science fiction event!

******************************************************************

If you have things to tell about LepreCon or funny stories from other sci-fi cons, why not leave a comment?

–end

Life Is More Fun In A Crowded Universe.   3 comments

This blog is all about things that entertain me.  One of the things that entertains me right now is digging through my old books and papers that I wrote years ago, and putting them up on the internet.  Here’s one that I found this afternoon (May 20).

This is another essay from the vaults, something I wrote 36 years ago, and then just put away.  I found it in an envelope which contains pages and pages of random sci-fi environment creating rules for use with my Starfaring game.  I may post some of that here, too.  I don’t know why I wrote this–certainly there is nothing at all revolutionary or original in my contention that the galaxy is full of all kinds of alien life and intelligence.  Still, it shows where my head was at back in 1976.  To some degree, my head is still in the same optimistic place.  While writers like Von Daniken and Temple have been thoroughly disproved by later, more skeptical analysis, one should remember that they presented their own theories.  Imaginative people form wild theories from the evidence they see.  Wild theories are usually, but not always, wrong.  People like to simplify things, but the truth is, things are more complicated than they seem.  And I like to be hopeful about such things.

Wikipedia tells me that there are at least 104 known star systems with associated planets.  One sunlike star, HD10180, has been shown to have at least 7 planets.  While most of the extrasolar planets found so far have been giants the size of Jupiter or larger, several earthlike planets have been found, including one only 6 times as large as the earth and with a lot of water in the atmosphere.  Considering that no extrasolar planets had actually been found in 1976 when I wrote this essay, I’d say that young Ken was remarkably prescient in his claims.  🙂

***************************************************************************

The front cover for my second game design. Starfaring was heavily influenced by Star Trek, but it contained most of my personal beliefs about alien life in the galaxy.

The joy of science fiction is that one can ask what if? and  then set the parameters for oneself.  This explains how and why so many different interstellar wargames have sprung up in the last three years.  Having just tried my own hand in thet particular area (Starfaring–Flying Buffalo–$6.00) I felt it might be interesting for both players and posibly other game designers if I could briefly go over some basic ideas that I would like to see hold true in astronomy.

For several years there has been a lot of excitement in scientific circles about the possibilities of life elsewhere in the galaxy.  Carl Sagan has been the leading scientific proponent of extra-terrestrial intelligent life, and Erich von Daniken has been the leading  non-scientific supporter.  Whether one believes in ancient astronauts or not, there is a good deal of evidence that the Earth has been visited by star-traveling races in the past. (See Robert Temple’s scholarly book THE SIRIUS MYSTERY.)  And, though Project Ozma is a thing of the past, radio astronomers all over the world are still quietly listening for that first signal that will tell us we are not alone.

Sagan was famous for mixing hard science with sense of wonder imagination.

However, everyone is much too pessimistic and narrow-minded about things just at present.  Now that we know that stars and planets are formed by the same process of gravity condensation, it seems just too faint-hearted to assume that solar systems are galactic rarities. Nor does it seem entirely reasonable to limit them to Sol-type stars.  From blue giants to red dwarves, all stars should be expected to be companioned by planetary systems.  Though about half the stars in our galaxy are multiple star systems–binaries, trinaries, and perhaps even more, even they should not be absolutely ruled out as settings for solar systems.  After all, Pioneer X, on its pass by Jupiter, proved that what we thought was a very large planet may actually be a very small, cool sun.

Then there is the matter of a sun’s habitable zone.  Regardless of size and temperature, there will be some orbital distance where a planet of the right size could maintain an atmosphere suitable for the evolution of life–that is, life as we know it, carbon-based, DNA-RNA replicating molecules.  Nor should we exclude the possibility of life based on a different element or combination of elements.  Silicon, methane, chlorine, all are possible life bases.  I don’t think I’m being very original in proposing a law of organic optimism.  “If life can arise, it will.”  Some of the latest studies of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, suggest that organic life may be in its earliest stages of evolution there.  Certainly, plenty of organic molecules have been detected from space, even up to ethyl alcohol in free-floating clouds.

So that leaves us with a universe teeming with planets and crawling with life.  What about intelligence? It abounds.  On  Earth alone we are now learning that Man has been sharing the planet with several other intelligent life forms–not very graciously–since the beginning.  Bees, ants, termites, etc. show every evidence of hive mentalities maintaining stable cultures indefinitely, with elaborate architecture, social customs, and specialization of labor.  Dolphins and whales of all species have larger and more convoluted brains than we do.  They have given evidence of being able to learn our speech, and of having a distinct language of their own.  Chimpanzees and gorillas have been taught a human-designed sign language that allows and facilitates simple conversations between men and apes.  The grizzly bear has been seen to have even more problem-solving ability than do apes.  I could go on with examples for quite a while.  But despite our burgeoning knowledge of animal intelligence, we haven’t really succeeded in communicating effectively with any of the other intelligent life forms here on our own planet.

Man is set apart from other intelligence on this planet by his application of technology.  For at least the past 12000 years, it has shaped  us into what we are today.  Give a culture of grizzly bears or raccoons adequate food, planetary dominance, and 12000 years to mess with technology, and you’d be surprised at what develops.

With so many different kinds and levels of intelligence here on one planet, just imagine how much there must be o ut there in the stars.  A lot of it is going to  be so alien we may never recognize it, may never be able to communicate with it, but some of it is going to be shaped by the law which states that similar caouse produce similar effects into alien races that we can relate to.

So, that is why the table on page 51 of Starfaring is havily weighted in favor of life, even of intelligent life.  Logic demands that the universe be aswarm with every imaginable (and some that aren’t) form of life, and the sooner we get out to the stars, the sooner we’ll meet them.  The point is:  Designers of interstellar games are going to have to incorporate a lot of sheer alien strangeness in, if they hope to have any realism.

P.S.  With the Viking lander sitting on Mars testing for micro-organisms, with more and more evidence coming to light from both science and mythology that Earth has been visited–possibly seeded–by alien intelligences, with never-ending u.f.o. reports steadily accumulating, it is unreasonable to assume human pre-eminence in the galaxy–either now or in the future.  Star traveling races may be rare, but you can count on them being a lot more common than either Carl Sagan or The Good Doctor (i.e. Asimov) would admit.  I regret that the tone of this article has been so wild and exuberant, but every statement I have made can be backed up by articles or programs in the everyday media of books and television.  I should have footnoted all my claims, but I didn’t make a list of bibliographic entries as I was picking up this information piece by piece.  I throw myself on the mercy and general informedness of all those likely to see this piece to compensate for my lack of rigor in presentation.

———Ken St. Andre

———Aug. 29, 1976

If you’re a fan of alien life, or if you’ve actually met aliens, please leave a comment.

Who You Gonna Call?   3 comments

Last night I finally got to see the Avengers, my most hotly anticipated film since Conan.  I enjoyed it.  The action scenes and the special effects were outstanding–Academy Award outstanding.  The acting was superb.  The scriptwriters and director gave good lines and plenty of screen time to all the major characters.  I suppose I should stop and give a well done bit of applause to all the members of the cast.  Here’s a few of them as listed at IMDB.com.

Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Downey Jr. Robert Downey Jr.
Chris Evans Chris Evans
Mark Ruffalo Mark Ruffalo
Chris Hemsworth Chris Hemsworth
Scarlett Johansson Scarlett Johansson
Jeremy Renner Jeremy Renner
Tom Hiddleston Tom Hiddleston
Clark Gregg Clark Gregg
Cobie Smulders Cobie Smulders
Stellan Skarsgård Stellan Skarsgård
Samuel L. Jackson Samuel L. Jackson
Gwyneth Paltrow Gwyneth Paltrow

I am not a Hollywood groupie, and I don’t keep track of movie stars in my daily life.  I have seen Robert Downey and Gwynneth Paltrow enough in other films to recognize their names.  I still remember the terrific performances turned in by Chris Evans as Captain America and Chris Helmsworth as Thor, but if you had asked me last night before the film who played Cap and Thor in those movies, I couldn’t have told you.  Of course everyone in America knows Samuel Jackson from lots of different films–he does the Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. routine.  However, I thought the actors were very good, even the ones in throwaway bit parts.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki really carried the movie.  Super heroes require super villains, and he was great, combining arrogance, cunning, and sheer mad egotism in a bravura performance.  I think there is a tendency to overlook the bad guys in hero action films, but we members of the audience should give those actors more credit.  Without them the heroes have no reason to exist, and nothing to emote against.  Think about it.  There was one real bad guy in the film–Loki.  He took on Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and Nick Fury and gave them all they could handle.  One vs. seven. I’m not giving away any secrets if I tell you they beat him in the end, but think of the odds.  Hero stories are usually stacked the other way–more bad guys than good guys, and in a sense this was since Loki had an army of formidable aliens to back him up, but they were just extras.  Loki, and for 2/3 of the movie, Hawkeye who had been mind-controlled by Loki, were the only real bad guys.

The plot can be summarized easily enough.  Loki and his army of alien monsters decide to conquer the Earth.  Loki’s main problem is in bringing his troops to Earth from their outer space/other dimesnional homeworld.  Nick Fury and his agents of SHIELD, including the group he pulls together as the Avengers have to stop him.  Lots of combat and property destruction ensue.  Much of the conflict occurs on a personal level.  Marvel characters are all people first, heroes second.  They have their own motivations and lives, and often resent being forced to protect the world from one threat or another, but because they are good guys at heart–at least most of them are–they get over their greivances and cooperate to save the day.  Take out all the character vs. character petty antagonisms and the movie is half as long.

I don’t know why the publicity departments for these films always choose the least interesting photos.

The movie really starts with the theft of the Tesseract (also known as the Cosmic Cube in the comics) from a SHIELD base somewhere.  Loki takes on the whole base, beats it, and gets away with the maguffin.  But it only gets interesting when we switch to the Black Widow, in her crimson underwear, tied to a chair, and being interrogated by an evil Russian general arms dealer.  She gets a call from SHIELD saying they need her to “come in” and this leads to an escape featuring the most incredible display of chair fu ever filmed.  Jackie Chan would be so proud.  That’s the scene I want a picture of, not her in a black rubber suit pointing a pistol.

The two Chrisses. Blondes rule when it comes to street-fighting in New York.

Thor and Captain America, although no dummies, spend most of their time kicking butt and looking hunky.  I suppose the beefcake is for the ladies in the audience, but there is a lot of barely concealed homoeroticism in superhero comics.  These guys are just so damn pretty.  I like it better when they’re kicking butt.

Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, is a hands-on kind of guy. He does his own dirty jobs, and butt-kicking. Does he look like a mastermind to you? He doesn’t to me, but appearances can be deceiving. You can never trust a cyclops.

In the course of the film we learn that SHIELD is really run by a secret cabal who are utterly ruthless.  I guess having it just be an arm of the United Nations or the U.S. government isn’t enough any more.  We need conspiracies.  And the government looks evil enough to the American public without the movies making it worse.  Far better to have secret leaders who can’t be traced back to the Republicans or the Democrats or the Communists pulling the strings.  Fury is shown to be a devious bastard, but still a man with heart who does his best to protect people.

Alpha-males never get along when they meet each other. Give them a common foe, and they can certainly cooperate, but social situations are just plain nasty.

Thor and Iron Man go head to head in combat about half way through the movie.  I didn’t buy it.  No matter how good Stark’s technology is, Thor’s hammer should have blasted through it like it was tissue paper.  He’s a god.  So, suspend your disbelief for this part and just enjoy the smashing and bashing.

Loki has the best costumes, the best lines, and the best smile in the movie.

Remember that building in the background from the Ghostbusters? When there’s someting bad in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? Bad doesn’t come much worse than Loki on a power trip.

Who ya gonna call? Iron Man, I guess. I like Iron Man–he’s witty, smart, courageous, lecherous, and rich–just like me. Heh. Well, I can match him in one of those characteristics, and it isn’t the rich one.

The movie ends in an epic battle scene.  All of our Avenging heroes fight like heroes.  Hulk and Thor do the heavy hitting.  The rest take on the alien storm troopers who are quite bad enough to give any normal human being fits.  This is the part of the movie I liked best.  Bring it on!  Take out one gigantic space dragon.  Not bad.  Here’s ten more of them.  Now what are you gonna do, Hulk?

I liked the Avengers and give it 4 stars out of 5. ****  If you like superheroes at all, don’t miss it.

One more thing:  my personal rant–People are so hypercritical of the movies these days.  The Avengers is an amazing achievement as a movie.  Can you nitpick it?  Yes you could.  I’m not going to.  Try to see the terrific acting, the great storyline, the amazing special effects (even if it was all done with computer animation), and skip over the implausibilities and impossibilities that glare out of the movie at you.  It’s a comic book world, bearing a heavy resemblance to our world, but it isn’t our world.  It’s a wilder place than our own universe, and wilder things happen.  Accept them!  Enjoy them!

Biggest surprise for me: Joss Whedon had his name all over the credits.  Wow!  He must be on top of the world right now.  He is, imnsho, the best storyteller in Hollywood, perhaps in the world.  Didn’t know he was a Marvel fan, but I stand in awe of his achievements.

end

If you have anything to say about the Avengers, the Ghostbusters, or Joss Whedon, please leave a comment.

Virginia of Mars   5 comments

On the evening of Thursday March 1, 2012, I went with perhaps a couple hundred other lucky Phoenix fen to see a sneak preview of John Carter of Mars.  JCM is a film that I and a lot of other science fiction fans have been excited and hopeful about for years.  I practically had to go to Mars to see the movie, as the sneak was at Harkins Arrowhead theaters, hidden in a jungle of giant shopping mall stores out at 83rd Avenue and Bell in Peoria.  It took me well over an hour to find the place since I started with a wrong impression of where I was going, and then zigged when I should have zagged, but I didn’t give up, and I’m glad I didn’t.  The movie turned out to be not only spectacular in terms of special effects, but much better than I thought it would be in terms of story.  If you were hesitating, don’t.  You must see this film.

(You don’t have to see it in 3D, however.  The 3D effects were nowhere near as awesome as they were in Avatar.)

I scored a copy of this poster at VulCon 1, and it now dominates my living room.

 
I’m not going to issue any spoilers, or tell you anything you haven’t seen in the movie trailers, but I do want to make some comments about the film in general.   By now anyone who cares knows that John Carter is the story of an earthman magically transported to Mars (Barsoom) where he meets strange creatures and wins the love of a Martian princess.  People get sidetracked by the scenery.  Way back in 1912 when Edgar Rice Burroughs first wrote “Under the Moons of Mars” for All Story Magazine, he was writing a romance.  Yes, the setting was the exotic world of Mars, but the heart of the tale is the love story of John Carter and Dejah Thoris.  This is what Disney and Pixar should have focussed their marketing on–not special effects with armies and giant white apes.  A woman I talked to said there was “too much fighting”.  She liked the humor, and the love story, and Woola made her laugh, but the movie had “too much fighting.”
 
One of the humorous bits in the movie comes near the beginning.  During the first meeting of Tars Tarkas, jeddak of the Tharks, and John Carter, lost newbie on an alien planet, the green man thumps his chest and says “Tars Tarkas”.  Carter correctly deduces that Tars Tarkas is his name.  The earthman indicates himself, not nearly as strongly as he could have, and says “John Carter of Virginia.”  From this, Tars Tarkas deduces that his name is Virginia, and he calls him Virginia for the rest of the movie.  Even Dejah Thoris thinks his name is Virginia at the beginning of the film.  The theater roared with laughter.  It is a good joke on John.  Hence our blog title, Virginia of Mars.
 
John Carter is a long film–over two hours.  I loved it all, but it may be too much for some people.  The special effects were out-fucking-standing.  I especially liked the Barsoomian flyers, but I had a hard time finding a good picture of one on the web that I could use.  This will have to do.
 

John Carter sees Martian flyers for the first time.

 
It’s a fantasy.  We all have to suspend our disbelief, but Hollywood movie producers continually go too far.  John Carter’s earthly muscles give him tremendous jumping powers on Mars.  it is believable that he could jump perhaps 20 or 30 feet–which is about what Burroughs had him do in the books.  The gravity of Mars is about 1/4 the gravity of Earth.  The movie shows him jumping hundreds of feet at a time, practically flying.  The plot depends upon it.  Okay, he’s Superman on Mars.  It makes for great action, but it’s going to hurt the crediblity of the movie with critics and anyone who knows even the slightest bit about Mars and astronomy.  Hollywood should not bank on the stupidity of the audience.  We’re not that dumb.
 

Look! Up in the sky! It's a . . .

 
John Carter gains a pet and a protector on Mars, a calot named Woola.  He’s the Martian equivalent of a dog–a big powerful friendly dog.  I think the film makers did the right thing by having Woola bark like a dog–just to help with the identification in the minds of the audience.  However, Burroughs never said that calots had super speed.  It’s funny when Carter tries to escape his guardian by leaping only to find the THING waiting for him whenever he landed.  However, to show this critter moving at eye-blurring speeds during the rest of the movie, strains our sense of reality even further.  Just another example of Hollywood going too far.
 

"Stay, Woola, stay!" Dog training on Mars.

 
There is a lot in this movie.  Maybe I’ll do a second blog about it in a week or two just about the characters.  The acting was very fine, I thought, and the characters all deserve description and analysis.  But I don’t have time.  I want to come back to my point that Pixar/Disney is  blowing the marketing by focussing on monsters and battles.  To be successful a movie has to appeal to American women, and for the most part, they like romance.  They don’t like monsters and battles.  Star Wars uses the romantic triangle of Luke, Han, and Leia to bring the audience into the film.  The great Star Wars movie posters always show Leia.  Dejah Thoris is incredible–as beautiful women go she’s a 20 on a scale of 10.  She fights like an Amazon.  She’s a briliant scientist, a patriot, and a princess.  She’s perfection.  They should be emphasizing her role in the movie.  They aren’t.  In my opinion, this is the trailer they should be showing the most, and the emphasis should be on interplanetary romance in times of peril.
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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ye-AgS9Lg6M?feature=player_embedded&w=640&h=360

Don’t let anyone tell you this film is bad!  It’s amazingly great–with a few minor quibbles because Hollywood always goes overboard on things.  I will be going to see it again, maybe more than once. 

If you like John Carter, sword and planet stories, or just alien monsters, please leave a comment.

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DarkCon 2012: A Report   43 comments

DarkCon, a Steampunk science fiction convention for Arizona.

The fannish new year of 2012 started off very well for me with DarkCon in Mesa, Arizona.  I live in west Phoenix, and it was a long drive back and forth, but still less expensive than getting a hotel room.  The Con Committee invited me to the show as a guest and were extremely nice to me.  Look at the great gifts they gave me, and the other Guests just for showing up.

This bag was packed with food, drinks, jewelry, the pocket watch you see, a treasure chest, a calendar, a special Dark Ones shot glass, and other goodies. The name tag isn't paper in a holder--it's a golden plaque. Wow! I have never been treated so nicely in my life, and other guests also got great stuff.

DarkCon ran from Thursday afternoon at about 2 p.m. until Sunday night.  They had 7 notable professional guests this year.  First was Jacqueline Carey, the Author Guest of Honor.  She has several fantasy epics to her credit, and I have to tell you all I consider her writing to be a little kinky–I like it.

Jacqueline Carey graciously took this picture with me on Sunday.  The lady in the blue sweater in the background is actress Meg Foster, and we are at the Wrigley Mansion in Biltmore.  You can see Camelback Mountain in the background.

There were 2 media guests: Ernie Hudson and Meg Foster, an actor and an actress, and they shared their experiences making such video entertainment as Stargate and Masters of the Universe.  These three people were the true stars of the convention.

Gaming guests were John Wick and Ken St. Andre.  Tod VanHooser, the master of the Laughing Moon system, was also there.  All three of us ran games for fans who wanted to play.  We also collaborated on a panel about Game Design on Friday afternoon.  The panel was well attended.  Many thoughtful questions were asked and answered.  John Wick and I wore our hats, and we advised Tod to get himself a signature hat if he wanted to make it big as  a FRP game designer.

John Wick and I are trying to look dynamic. We are good friends, and admire each other's work--at least I admire his.

Tod VanHooser in the Superman shirt is running a Laughing Moon adventure for some of his devotees. In addition to the game, there is Laughing Moon fantasy fiction available from him as well.

Artist guests were Madame M, and Mark Greenawalt.  Madame M was promoting her new book: CREEPY LITTLE BEDTIME STORIES.  Mark Greenawalt did a body painting exhibition that was most entertaining.  Alas, I had very little to do with the artists as I spent all my time gaming.

DarkCon is the brainchild of the Dark Ones, a Phoenix fan group with Steampunk and media connections.  Jeff Jennings and Nola Yergen are two of the ringleaders in that group–they are the two that I know best, although I really don’t know any of them very well.  The Dark Ones are an intensely social group, well known in Arizona for the great parties they throw.  Although there were parties every day, I really only attended the opening party on Thursday night and the Sunday Brunch at the Wrigley Mansion.  The food, drink, and conversation at both parties were truly excellent–I’d tell you more about it, but I don’t want you thinking I’m some kind of gourmand, and I don’t want you to be jealous.  (grin–but I will say I was treated to champagne with orange juice at the Wrigley Mansion–first time I’ve ever had champagne for breakfast.  Yum!).

Brunch at the Wrigley Mansion--living the good life! The empty chair in the foreground is mine. The two ladies on the extreme right are Jacqueline Carey and Nola Yergen. The man in the orange shirt is Chris Colbath, a friend of mine who helped make the con a lot of fun.

I really can’t tell you too much about the Con.  We held it in the magnificent facilities at the Marriott Hotel at 200 N. Centennial Avenue in Mesa, Arizona.  There was a huge space allotted for gaming, and we filled it up with every kind of tabletop game you can imagine.  There was computer gaming in a separate room, but I never found it, and frankly, I didn’t miss it at all.  In addition to the two games of Tunnels and Trolls that I ran,  I also got to play Ticket to Ride (Europe), Settlers of Catan, Thunderstone, Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me as the evil Master, Last Night on Earth (Zombies and Martians and Monsters, oh my!), Apples to Apples, and an ancients naval miniatures game with quinquiremes (for which Jay Nash and I made up a whole set of alternate rules–game designers tinker with everything–especially if we can see a way of doing the same thing that makes more sense.)

Jay Nash taught me how to play this game, and then I made him rewrite all the rules for it. I'm the guy in the hat.

Jay and I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon together, first playing his game, and then just hanging out during a meal at the hotel restaurant.  I showed him where the free Con goodies were at the DarkCon suite and the Green Room, but he preferred to buy something, and he bought me lunch too. Thanks, Jay.  The reason I mention this is because Jay is one of the chief organizers of Vul Con, a pure gaming convention which will be held Feb. 25-26 at the Phoenix Convention Center, and I will be a gaming Guest of Honor at that convention also.  (If you live in the Phoenix area, come say hi, and maybe game with me.)

Let me just rave about my enthusiasm for DarkCon for a moment.  Gaming!  That is what I like, and Gaming was well represented and attended at this Con.  The Arizona Men in Black (who promote Steve Jackson Games) were there, and running excellent games continuously.  I got to play The Stars Are Right, and had victory assured on my next turn when Jason Youngdale (who took most of the really good photos in this blog, and who is also setting up a gaming convention here for June called Con-Flagration) beat me to the punch.

Just one of the tables maintained by the Men in Black. This group, under the leadership of Jesse Foster, consistently runs high quality gaming events at Arizona Sci-fi and gaming conventions. Not only do they provide the games, teach people how to play, but they offer free prize support for them all. I love these guys! (in a purely platonic way)

The Arizona Guise Knights were also running games at the convention, and I played with their members more than once.  This is an indenpendent Arizona group not associated with a gaming manufacturer in the same way that the Men in Black are.  Excellent and friendly gamers however, and a credit to the gaming community.

Tiffany Branum ran the Game Room and did an excellent job of it.  Signing up for games was extremely easy.  She and her staff smoothed all obstacles.  Phoenix area gamers owe Tiffany and her husband Chris a lot for all the work they do in creating great gaming environments.

I gamed with the Guise Knights more than once, but Jason never got my photo with them.

If you look carefully at the pictures, you will see that many of us, including me are dressed oddly for a science-fiction convention where the usual attire is jeans and sf t-shirt.  The Dark Ones have an affinity for Steampunk–Nola Yergen is an expert costumer,

A beautiful young lady who I met at the Thursday night party in one of Nola's many amazing costumes.

and her work is often in the Steampunk genre.  I put together a modest steampunk outfit–vest, pocket watch, hat with goggles on it, and if you look carefully a demon-head pin that identifies me as a member of a secret magician’s society.  There were many better costumes than mine–in fact, most of the true costumes were better than mine–look at the Guise Knights picture again for an example of true elegance.  Such fannish conventions often feature costumes, and always have a masquerade in which the best of the costumes are displayed for admiration and prizes.  I’m sorry, but I missed the masquerade.  I missed the Memorial Barry Bard movie previews and free goodies dispersal also (and I really like to go to those just to keep my t-shirt collection fresh.)  I missed a ton of great stuff at DarkCon, and I was still as busy as I could be with the stuff I did.

Chris and I model the magnificent lanyard badgeholders provided by the Con Commitee for VIPs (him) and Guests (me). I am steampunk. He isn’t.

Much more happened at the Con than I am able to convey in this blog.  I spent part of my time hanging out in the Green Room–a hospitality room for volunteers and guests.  The food and friendliness in that room kept me going even when I was tired, and especially when I was hungry.  I played Texas Hold’em on Friday night with a great bunch of riverboat gamblers.  I never won a single hand, but it was fun while I lasted.  I took some weapons training from the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship–those guys really know how to use all kinds of swords, and thanks to their training, I know a bit, too.

I had a lot of fun.  I saw and talked to a lot of friends.  If you were there, you probably had a great time also.  If you weren’t, then you missed a really good time.  You can look up the Dark Ones, the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship, the Men in Black, the Arizona Guise Knights, and just about everyone else that I mentioned on Facebook, so I’m not providing any links.  This is going to be a great year for conventions in Phoenix.  I recommend that you try to attend some of them.  I will be there–you can count on that!

I like to spend time by water. It's so symbolic. (grin)

(a note about the photos and pictures used in this blog:  some of them are my own photos, others were taken by the stalwart Jason Youngdale, and a couple were lifted from Nola Yergen’s DarkCon page on Facebook–copyright and ownership of all the photos and pictures belong to the original creators.  I recommend searching DarkCon on Facebook.com to find many more pictures of the convention–it was a fantastic place and time for us.)

If you were at DarkCon this year, or wish you had gone, why not add your own comments below?

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Green Lantern–Failure of Imagination, part 2   2 comments

 

I watched Green Lantern when it came out in June, and started to review it then.  Somehow that review bogged down.  I was going to spend a lot of time blasting the movie version of Sinestro, but there really wasn’t enough to blast.  I remember being angered by the character in the film, but after a few hours the rage went away, and I didn’t have much to say.  Thus, the review languished until today when I decided to finish it as my simple reactions to the movie.  I don’t really do reviews–there are plenty of other places on the internet for straight reviews.  I do reactions–the reactions of a life-long science fiction and comics fan, who would really like to see great superhero movies.

Green Lantern is probably my favorite DC superhero.  As a science fiction fan, I always wanted to  be able to transport myself all over the galaxy to alien planets–I always wanted to be able to do anything at all through sheer willpower.  Green Lantern and Adam Strange were the ones that most appealed to me–both were adventurers whose mind was more important than their bodies.  (not that they had bad bodies–I’d like to have either one’s physique).  When the news came out that there would be a Green Lantern movie, I was pleased and excited.  I went to see it on opening week.  For the most part I liked it.  I liked the special effects–the gorgeously detailed aliens–the weirdness of Oa, the beauty of Carol Ferris.

But, I have to admit that the story was shit.  I attribute this to the fact that Hollywood simply can’t even try to produce a movie from the base material as originally written.  My guess is that the people who don’t know beans about the original property nevertheless get to say how the end product should look.  So, the script writers–if they are not at fault for warping and placing their own interpretations on things–wind up putting all sorts of crap into the movie because someone thinks the audience expects it.  Example: Hal Jordan is a hotshot test pilot.  Let’s also make him a clown and a bit of an asshole–the audience can identify with a guy like that.   Well, originally Hal Jordan was neither clown nor asshole–though his writers at DC for the last 10  years or so have been working pretty hard on making an ass out of him.  We don’t need that, or appreciate it, Hollywood.  Give us back the real Hal Jordan–the excellent test pilot who was witouut fear.

Special effects don’t impress movie critics.  Costume design, scenery, excellent acting by bit players–none of that means squat to the critics.  But it impresses me.  Green Lantern is an outer space fantasy, notable for its aliens.  And the movie has great aliens taken from the Green Lantern comics.  Take a look at Tomar Re, one of Hal Jordan’s best friends in the Green Lantern Corps.  However, the one alien who is supposed to impress we movie-goers the most is Sinestro–a crimson-hued Errol Flynn clone.  Sinestro was the greatest Green Lantern–the one guy whose approval really mattered.  He doesn’t have a very high opinion of humans, and so he thinks Hal Jordan will be a washout as a Green Lantern.  He’s almost right, but his very antagonism spurs Hal to greater efforts. 

There is, of course, a big Bad in the movie.  It is a gigantic chaotic cloud creature capable of destroying planets.  The original Parallax in the Green Lantern comics was much more than that, but let’s keep things simple for movie-goers.  Parallax is the essence of Fear itself.  (Heh, sounds like a current Marvel mega-series.)   It is more powerful than any Green Lantern, or even any team of Green Lanterns.   Sinestro can’t handle it.  Guess who does.

Why does a big chaotic cloud creature have a horrific humanoid head?

 
I’d like to see more Green Lantern movies–maybe put them up against a better enemy–say the Khunds or the Dominators.  But, actually we don’t need any more of Hal Jordan or Sinestro.  Let’s do G.L. as a chick movie featuring Arisia.  I bet it would fly.
 

Arisia--how green was my universe!

 
Movies are typically rated by stars.  On a 10 star system I’d give Green Lantern a 5.  On a 4 star system it gets a 2.  The movie is worth seeing for special effects, Carol Ferris, and a trip to Oa.  You know, I bet it would be great for a MST3000 treatement.  I do hope they carry on and make a Justice League movie with Green Lantern in it.  If Marvel can do the Avengers, surely DC, owned by Warner Brothers, could do the Justice League.
If you have some comments about the Green Lantern movie, you could put them in below. 
 
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Forgive me, Father, for I have . . .   1 comment

 
You’d better not make a mistake!

spent way too much money to go see Priest on Saturday night.  It was one of the grimmest motion pictures I can remember seeing, and yet, I had a hard time taking it seriously.  Maybe it was because the hero . . .Paul Bettany as the Priest . . . looks too much like Tommy Smothers.  What do you think?

Mom always liked you best!

The critics at Rottentomatoes.com only gave Priest an 18%.  They are harsh.  I thought it was at least twice that good–snurk.

Synopsis: after the Vampire Scourge had been defeated by the superhuman Priests of the Church, the world was a wasteland except for the giant armed cities ruled and protected by the Church.  The slaughter of a family of wasteland farmers and the abduction of a teen girl bring Priest out of retirement to track down the Vampires that did it and rescue her–if possible–or slay her if necessary.

What seemed comment worthy to me about the movie was how many other things it reminded me of–not directly but in a sideways manner.  When I saw Priest and his lawman buddy taking off into the wasteland, I immediately thought of Judge Dredd.

Judge Dredd on Lawmaster motorcycle.

 
 

Priest on cycle tearing through desert wasteland.

Priest is a kind of steampunk western.  Another thing it reminded me of was Clint Eastood westerns about the Man with No Name–things like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  Certainly that title could have been used for Priest.  The main villain is only called Black Hat.  Does he remind you of someone?

Can you hear that strange whistling noise?

 

I hear a strange whistling noise.

 
Then there was the martial arts aspect of the movie.  Priest and his fellow vampire killers were all fabulous martial artists.  They do incredible leaps and major hand to hand damage.  This part of the movie comes straight from the antics of Bruce Lee.
 
It’s hard to find a good picture of Priest in action-  Photographer prefer the still shots, but here’s what I could find to indicate the kind of action in the movie.
 

The fight is about to start.

 

The fight is about to start.

 
These similarities are not exact, but they were close enough in style and tone so that while I was watching Priest, I was remembering all these other movies (that I watched and enjoyed long ago.).
Critics might not like this sort of thing, but the more I think about it, the more I think I do like it.  Priest was its own movie, but it reminded me of Judge Dredd, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and Enter the Dragon.  They were all great fun, and in retrospect I think Priest deserves to be classed as great fun also.  I’m going to revise my movie rating froma 36% to an 85%.  This dark action thriller made me think of a lot of other dark action thrillers that I’ve seen, and I’ve decided that it’s good enough.  Go see it, and tell me what YOU think.
 
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