Contest Winners!


*ahem* I won a thing.

You can read the story direct here. On the off chance that you’re interested in short stories based off odd photos like this one, I welcome you to check it out and let us know what you think! Also be sure to read the very entertaining second-place story by Michael Atkinson.

While We're Paused!

This past season, we have featured a writing contest with the following prompt. After reviewing the submissions, we are pleased to announce our winners!

In 1st place is David Urbach for his mesmerizing and imaginative tale, Mirza’s Strange Sitar. Congratulations David!

In 2nd place is Michael Atkinson for his flash fiction Mermaids and Shiny Things. Michael has won previously with Of Plates and Plans.

To read the real account of the object behind the prompt, click here.

Thank you all for your submissions! Please stay tuned for our next writing contest, which will be announced at a future time.

View original post

For desperate Whovians…


Those of you still mourning my on-hiatus Doctor Who reviews and longing for in-depth discussions of your favorite episodes may want to pop over to them0vieblog, where Darren has recently reviewed the Ninth and Eleventh Doctors’ respective debuts. He’s also got reviews of the Tenth Doctor specials, which you can find organized at his Reviews Hub.

Quite frankly, Darren is a much better and more interesting writer about things cinematic and televisional than I am. He’s also more prolific and very good about responding to comments. Since I haven’t yet re-started my Who reviews — but very much miss the discussions the previous ones engendered! — I urge all who are interested to visit Darren and benefit from his thoughtful analyses.

Ciao!

Locus Poll Final Results


In November the Locus magazine’s website hosted a poll to find out the best novels and short stories from the 20th and 21st centuries in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. I voted, as did some of you readers. The results of the novels are now in!

I’m fairly pleased by the results. Now, as I expected, my personal choices for the best sci-fi were not well-represented, but that’s in large part because I just haven’t read much sci-fi, and so voted from a very narrow field. But I still managed to get two books on 20th Century Sci-Fi list: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Ringworld by Larry Niven. However, it is sad to see Lewis’ Space/Ransom Trilogy nowhere on the list. It is still so barely known and appreciated. The last book on the list received only 19 votes, so Lewis’ trilogy received even less than that. I also voted for Fahrenheit 451, which makes an appearance, although I voted for it more out of obligation than from any actual admiration I had at the time I read it (back in high school, to be fair).

On the 20th Century Fantasy Novel list, I fared delightfully much better. I shan’t deny my gratification at seeing LOTR at number one. There’s hope for the world yet! Martin’s Game of Thrones snagged a second place, which I suppose I can’t complain about since I haven’t read it. The Hobbit at number three is satisfactory. It’s also nice to see Zelazny’s Nine Princes of Amber get a nod, although it’s a higher nod than I expected. I recently finished his whole Chronicles of Amber and greatly enjoyed it. And I note that A Wrinkle in Timesits comfortably on the fantasy list rather than the sci-fi one. +)

In fact, the only fantasy novels I voted for that didn’t get on the final list were Peter Pan, If on a winter’s night a traveler, and The Black Cauldron. The second one doesn’t surprise me because it’s rather obscure, the third one doesn’t surprise me because it’s the sort of YA fiction that still struggles for literary respect, but the absence of Barrie’s iconic fairy story rankles me a bit. Did people just forget it? Did they assume that because it’s a children’s story it mustn’t be important? WERE TOO MANY SNOBS VOTING? *gasp of indignant rage*

Oh well. Can’t win ’em all.

Also, please take a moment to admire my spectacular new header picture for this season, photographed this very day by yours truly. ‘-)

Locus Poll for the best sci-fi and fantasy of the past 110 years


The website for Locus magazine — which I admit an unfamiliarity with — is hosting an open poll, which closes tomorrow on November 30th, asking readers to vote for the best novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories in the genres of fantasy and science fiction from the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. Fortunately, they allow for multiple votes, and have conveniently broken down the categories.

Since my reading of the shorter literary forms, and of science fiction, is extremely limited, I didn’t vote for any short stories, novellas, or novelettes, and only a few sci-fi novels. For the fantasy novel ballot I filled all ten slots.

My Short List of Great Sci-fi Novels from the 20th Century

  1. Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
  2. That Hideous Strengthby C.S. Lewis
  3. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
  4. Ringworldby Larry Niven
  5. Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury
  6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxyby Douglas Adams (which I actually forgot to include on the ballot! Oops.)

Again, I haven’t read much science fiction, and fewer still that has really impressed me.

My Short List of Great Fantasy Novels from the 20th Century

  1. The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
  2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobeby Lewis
  3. The Hobbitby Tolkien
  4. Watership Downby Richard Adams
  5. A Wrinkle in Timeby Madeleine L’Engle
  6. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
  7. The Last Unicornby Peter Beagle
  8. The Neverending Storyby Michael Ende
  9. If on a winter’s night a travelerby Italo Calvino
  10. The Black Cauldronby Lloyd Alexander

I’ve read a fair bit of fantasy novels.

It was painful to leave certain books and authors out, and I admit that my list is very close to my list of personal favorites. I just couldn’t fit in Neil Gaiman nor Patricia McKillip, nor Lawhead, nor even Rosemary Sutcliff (though on a longer list I might put her Tristan and Iseult).

But Tolkien and Lewis are givens, of course. I doubt many would argue against A Wrinkle in Time and The Last Unicorn, although the former is frequently categorized as science fiction; I personally find it to be solidly fantasy inspired by some scientific ideas. A very neat blending, certainly.

I finished Peter Pan not too long ago and became convinced it is one of the most important fairy tales that English literature has produced, as well as one of the most beautiful.

It has been many years since I read Michael Ende, but The Neverending Story was a powerful reading experience, and the 80’s movie was formative for my childhood. I look forward to reading it again with adult eyes, but I’m fairly confident in its position here.

I’m using The Black Cauldron to stand in for the entire Chronicles of Prydain. I couldn’t bear to leave out Lloyd Alexander’s prolific, always entertaining and often moving work.

Italo Calvino is a tricky writer, and If on a winter’s night a devilishly tricky novel. I’m not even sure it’s fantasy, but it feels safer to put it here rather than in science fiction or realism. It’s the most wildly original, experimental novel I’ve ever read. Parts of it I hated, most of it I loved. It must have been a torture to conceive and write, but it was certainly a pleasure to read. Even if no one else reads it, it deserves a place on a list like this.

In the comment section, I recommended that there should be a poll for the best pre-1900 fantasy and science fiction; the real foundational stuff. Everything from Homer to Edmund Spenser to Jules Verne and George MacDonald and Hans Christian Andersen. Generally my favorite stuff. +)

You’ve all got until tomorrow to vote, so go to it! Which fantasy and sci-fi books do you consider the most important and the best?

Short Film: “The Raven”


No, it’s not about Edgar Allen Poe. (Although apparently there is a movie about him called The Raven coming out soon, starring John Cusack and Brendan Gleeson.) No, instead, this short sci-fi film is sort of like a simplified Minority Report. Or a sci-fi Bourne Identity. Or…well, look, it’s pretty simple. A young guy who knowsparkouris fleeing from the robotic authorities in a dystopic L.A. He doesn’t appear to have committed any crime, but he does possess a few very interesting talents…

There’s not much substance to it, but it’s kinda cool. More like a teaser for a chase movie. I like the special effects — for a low-budget indie short film, they’re very convincingly integrated with their surroundings (one exception being the mecha at the end, which does look a little fake). If I have a complaint, beyond the lack of real plot or substance, it’s that the camera jiggles too much and doesn’t step back to show us better what’s going on. Especially since the actor is apparently doing the parkour stunts himself, it’s odd and a bit frustrating that we don’t get to see the stunts very well. They fly by very quickly, when they should be featured more clearly. Still, it’s not so bad as some Hollywood movies.

*sigh* That’s the problem with “action” movies these days; they’ve forgotten the purpose of action. They are supposed to be about taking joy in stretching human physical abilities to the limit, as shown off in fight scenes, chases, stunts, etc., but that can’t be done if you can’t see the action and understand how it happens and where it happens.

Credits

Director : Ricardo de Montreuil
Producers:
Ricardo de Montreuil & Eliz Eskeranli
Writers:
Ricardo de Montreuil & Antonio Perez
Cinematographer:
Andres Sanchez
Composer:
Angelo Milli
Special Effects Supervisor:
Aaron Burns
3D Modeling and Animation:
Juan Somarriba and Francisco Concha
Visual Effects and Compositing:
Ricardo de Montreuil
Editing:
Ricardo de Montreuil
Color Correction:
Santiago Padilla
Sound Design and Mixing:
Martin Seltzer
Budget:
$5k

Short Film: Dr. Grordbort Presents “The Deadliest Game”


I like to showcase neat short films when I find them, even though I don’t typically review them as I do feature films. Dr. Grordbort Presents: The Deadliest Game is a fun, five-minute diversion, a Vernian steampunk safari through an alien planet that humorously and gently satirizes the Victorian love of killing exotic and endangered animals in far and colonial lands. The alien designs are particularly inventive, reminding me somewhat of the goofy aliens in Calvin & Hobbes, as well as the planetary romances of the early sci-fi writers. And the last line is a great one to end with, perfectly summarizing Dr. Grordbort’s attitude.

Dr Grordbort Presents: The Deadliest Game from Media Design School on Vimeo.

TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episodes 3.08-3.09 “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood”


Episodes 3.08 and 9 “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood”
Written By: Paul Cornell
Originally Aired: May 26and June 2, 2007

Synopsis: “In order to hide from a family of murderous aliens who are following his scent across time, the Doctor disguises himself as a mild-mannered English schoolteacher in 1913, even rewriting his own memory to complete the charade. Only Martha holds the secret to his identity as the Doctor, with orders to not bring him back to himself until the time of danger has passed. But the Family of Blood appears sooner than expected, and the Martha realizes that she may have lost the Doctor for good this time…” (synopsis by me)

While undoubtedly an excellent story, it’s not exactly quintessential Doctor Who. It lacks most of the humor and optimism that the show usually strives for, and thus may not be the best introductory episode for a new viewer. But then, it was never intended to be an introductory episode. Rather, it explores an intriguing possibility that the Doctor Who universe makes possible, but doesn’t often investigate. What if your mild-mannered, bookish professor was secretly a time-traveling superheroic alien, and even he didn’t know it? How many other people with vague pasts scattered throughout history could be the Doctor disguising himself for months at a time? Smack in the middle of an intense season, “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” build heavily on the emotional continuity that comes before. While the plot is self-contained and engaging by itself, the real reward of this two-parter is in seeing where it takes the Doctor and Martha in their respective arcs.

John Smith: Mankind doesn’t need warfare and bloodshed to prove itself. Everyday life can provide honour and valour. Let’s hope that from now on this country can find its heroes in smaller places. In the most ordinary of deeds.

We see, if we hadn’t noticed before, that Martha really does work harder than any other Companion. By sheer perseverance, loyalty, cleverness, and humility, she navigates the complex relationships and frustrating class-based (and race-based) hierarchies of the British boarding school system. She puts up with the Doctor ignoring her even more than usual in his guise as Professor John Smith. She resists opening the watch that holds his Time Lord identity, because he told her not to. She tolerates her heart breaking as he falls in love with Nurse Joan Redfern, an event he, as the Doctor, had not foreseen. She suffers, and waits, and works, and talks sense with force and energy when she hopes it’ll do any good. And, as before, she is generally overlooked and underappreciated by everyone around her. Even Joan, normally a very sensitive and perceptive woman, fails to really see or appreciate Martha.

The Doctor-as-John-Smith’s romance with Joan Redfern is very sweet and believable, making it that much more painful for Martha to watch. For seven episodes she has pined for the Doctor, hoping against hope that he might wake up to her. She knows he is capable of love because he himself still pines for Rose, but since she had never seen him with the object of his affections, the reality of it had never quite hit home. Now she watches him fall in love right before her eyes and sees him happy, attentive, and belonging slowly but steadily to someone else.

John shows Joan his diary of drawings, where he records his strange dreams of aliens and time travel...

As it happens, this is not only disastrous for Martha’s emotions but also to everyone’s safety. The less the Doctor-as-John-Smith trusts her, the harder it will be for her to bring back his Time Lord identity and fend off the murderous Family of Blood. And so the story’s power is magnified because the danger to Martha and the Doctor’s relationship runs parallel to the danger to their lives. Everything could be fixed if only the Doctor were back to himself! He’d at least acknowledge Martha as his important friend and deputy, he wouldn’t get sidetracked with domestic romance, and he most certainly would send those scarily mundane aliens packing! Such we viewers know, and thus it is more alarming how completely the Doctor has fallen into his own disguise. John Smith certainly has a few of the Doctor’s personality traits – a warm, energetic optimism that can quickly become grimly serious if the situation warrants it, for one – but he’s also strikingly different. When John begins to learn about the Doctor and to believe the Time Lord is real, he is horrified: who is this person who endangered the lives of everyone at the school on a whim (after all, he could have chosen any place in time and space to hide), who is permanently nomadic and alone, and who couldn’t even anticipate the possibility of falling in love?

Which brings me to what I think is the story’s most heartbreaking and fascinating element: the choice of John Smith to die and become the Doctor again. See, we always expect the Doctor to know what he’s doing. Even when he says he’s making things up on the fly, we generally feel that he knows the risks involved and what he’s prepared to do or not do. But here the Doctor miscalculated. When he uses the chameleon arch to become completely human for a few months, his memory and personality is completely subsumed into John Smith, a man who considers himself imaginative, but fairly practical when it comes to things like reality. He thinks Martha is crazy when she tries frantically to tell him that the aliens have arrived and that he must become the Doctor again. And when he’s later forced to accept the facts of things, he’s terrified. Martha demands that he change back so he can save them all, but John Smith doesn’t feel like the Doctor. He doesn’t know the Doctor. Even if the memories are fake, they are all John Smith knows. For him, becoming the Doctor again isn’t returning to himself, it’s ending himself completely.

Martha: All you have to do is open it and he’s back.
John Smith: You knew this all along, and yet you watched while Nurse Redfern and I—
Martha: I didn’t know how to stop you! He gave me a list of things to watch out for, but that wasn’t included.
John Smith: Falling in love, that didn’t even occur to him?
Martha: [beat] No.
John Smith: Then what sort of a man is that? …And now you expect me to die?!

A glimpse of a very pleasant, potential future...

Of course he makes the change, or else we wouldn’t have the rest of the show. And, while we’re immensely glad to see the Doctor again – and delightfully defeating the aliens in their own ship with virtually no effort at all – we’re also a little bit sad at seeing John Smith go. He was such a decent fellow, with such promise. The show doesn’t let our emotions off easy, either – it shows us the potential for John Smith’s life; happily married to Joan, with beautiful children, a pleasant career (possibly becoming an early sci-fi novelist, I presume), and not putting anyone’s life in danger. We know that he must change, because he isn’t truly John Smith, but while he’s in that guise John Smith is the only himself he knows. And so Joan’s final words to the Doctor sting all the more because there is some truth in them – though she may be too harsh on him because she doesn’t know the whole story, still there is much truth: many people died because the Doctor chose to hide at the school, and ultimately John Smith is braver than him because John Smith chose to die to save others.

It’s such a serious story, and while I don’t enjoy it as much as many other episodes (due to the rarity of humor and prevalence of deserved angst), I remain fascinated by its insights into the Doctor and Martha’s characters. The Doctor saves the day, but you’re not quite sure if he made the right choice. Hiding from the Family of Blood was intended to be an act of mercy from him, to give them a chance to escape the terrible punishment he had for them. Yet many people died because the Doctor chose to hide at the school, and a vulnerable widow’s heart was broken. And then the Doctor’s final punishment for the Family – is it too much? This terrible, poetic judgment – would execution have been more just? Questions worth asking. Good must punish evil, but the Doctor is not God. The show does seem a bit confused on that issue, though. It freely lets him be vulnerable and his actions questionable, but he is also called “ancient and forever…he burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”  Such phrases I would apply only to God.

He's not God and he's sometimes wrong...but he's still really really cool!