HRSFANS.org

misce stultitiam consiliis brevem

Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

Part of whose world?

My daughter discovered Disney princesses around age 3.

I had known to expect this. I read Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter a year in advance. My daughter eased us into princesses: she went through an intense Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phase 6 months earlier. (I told her recently how an insect or crab is built, using the term “exoskeleton,” and she responded, “Just like in Mikey’s Monster!”) She has plenty of favorite books unrelated to branding and of impeccable quality: we’ve read Phantom Tollbooth with her twice already. And though she does think of princesses in terms of branding very very often (Band-aids = toddler bling, and Princess Band-aids = a tantrum waiting to happen) she also tells stories about them, like when Rapunzel and Belle go visit a party Ariel’s hosting under the sea. (I think she borrowed from the plot of Anansi’s Party Time for that story, too!)

I have no standing to complain. I remember the first time I heard “Part of Your World”: my younger cousin sang it to me; I was eight or nine. During undergrad I was once in a mixed group of 8-10 people walking past Widener after dark when the song was casually mentioned, then immediately sung through with true passion and without a moment’s hesitation over a single word by every female present. (Admittedly, this was a group of Noteables). In the early-mid-nineties I believed as firmly as anyone that seeing the next big Disney animated flick was not optional but required. (I did have at least the good sense to be thoroughly and permanently disabused of that opinion by Pocahontas.)

The focus of my daughter’s obsession is indeed Ariel; said obsession has only been fed by receiving Little Mermaid birthday gifts from two great-aunts and one grandmother (DVD, novelization, swimsuit). As I already admitted, I have no standing to complain.

And yet … my acquaintance with Frozen is so far limited to a novelization and several dozen repetitions of certain Youtube videos. I live in fear of the day I’ll have to see it with my daughter. My husband says it seems like a fairly good story. That’s the problem.

Let It Go” was first described to me as, “Because ‘Defying Gravity‘ would be too awesome for a Disney princess movie.” The first time I heard it I agreed – which is funny, because it’s the same singer-actress. I respect the performance (sung and drawn) more now, but I feel terrible thinking about it: this character is going insane.  She’s expecting and intending never to see another human being again. She’s not losing her humanity: she’s deliberately renouncing it. The visuals are pretty, but a lyric likening one’s own soul to “frozen fractals” is nothing but sad and frightening. “The perfect girl is gone” not because this person discovers herself to be a different girl, or a woman. She’s becoming elemental, and she’s been so miserable for so long that she actually relishes this prospect.

It seems that the movie Frozen takes place during the first few days with any measurable level of plain speaking inside the royal family after at least 15 years of rigid, unbroken, jaw-clenched withdrawal. So even if some real trust begins to grow during those few days, I imagine so much heartbreak and fear and anger over their next decade or so. Family doesn’t heal so easily.

I read at least once some yammering about Beauty and the Beast encouraging girls to stay with abusive partners in hopes of reforming them. I can’t identify with that concern. (BTW: Fifty Shades of Grey is extremely transparently a “Beauty and the Beast” plot.) I don’t fear for what my daughter may learn from Frozen about family relationships, or for that matter how to deal with wolves. I just feel really, really sad for the characters who had to live through that pain, and I can’t believe the pain really ends for them.

No comments

Why is fiction always about people and relationships?

If this is not the only post you read this year comparing Beatrix Potter‘s books to Sex in the City, please share your blogroll with the rest of the group.

Why is fiction always about people and relationships?

I started thinking and talking about this question a few years ago. (I labeled it a “personal-intellectual project” of which my “Who’s the medium now?” set of posts in 2010-2011 is one expression). The only counter-example I know well is Dougal Dixon‘s After Man: a Zoology of the Future. An author friend, Alec Nevala-Lee, pointed me to “hysterical realism” (a term for packed-to-the-gills works such as many by DF Wallace, Pyncheon, Don DeLillo, and Zadie Smith) as potential counterexamples:

From James Wood’s review coining the term:

Zadie Smith has said, in an interview, that her concern is with “ideas and themes that I can tie together–problem-solving from other places and worlds.” It is not the writer’s job, she says, “to tell us how somebody felt about something, it’s to tell us how the world works.”

My dad offered many more well-known and better-loved counter-examples: Beatrix Potter’s books. “They’re about animals, not people.” “Of course they’re about people!” I said. “How so?” “Because they’re about how people feel and think and interact with each other.” My dad then accused me of tautology: I define any work of fiction as being “about people.”

That might be a fair criticism, but not with respect to Beatrix Potter stories, and particularly not with respect to The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan. Its first line may be, “Once upon a time there was a Pussy-cat called Ribby, who invited a little dog called Duchess, to tea,” but The Pie and the Patty-Pan is, in fact, exactly like the Sex and the City (TV) episode “A Woman’s Right to Shoes.” Both are surface-funny and subtext-baffling, showing absurd examples of what one may and may not say in certain social circles, what kinds of miscommunications or properly understood communications can or cannot threaten a friendship. Both poke fun at social conventions but apparently without denouncing them. The little animal details in Potter’s book like Duchess begging for a sugar cube on her nose or the doctor being a known and accepted kleptomaniac by virtue of his species (magpie) is probably all that makes Potter’s version easier for me to stomach than HBO’s.

pie37pie56

This is very similar to my argument for Invisible Cities and The Twilight Zone being about people: they use tight, focused, beautiful metaphors to externalize a mind or soul’s internal conflicts. And I think it’s an argument very relevant to speculative fiction fans: the main message of a show like Babylon 5 is always, “Aliens are just people, too.”

2 comments

Interview with Mike Carey

Daniel Rabuzzi (long-time HRSFANS supporter and SF author) has just posted part one of a two-part interview with Mike Carey (SF author and Vericon Guest in 2004), over at his blog. Enjoy!

No comments

Links of science fiction becoming reality

Haven’t posted in a while.  Recently I was emailed a few links I wanted to share.

The first was shared by Rose, the URL is worth sharing:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/15/proper_science_monkeys_with_robot_arms/

“Proper science!”

Therein, the link describes efforts to equip robot monkey arms with a sense of touch:

“If you really want to create an arm that can actually be used dexterously without the enormous amount of concentration it takes without sensory feedback, you need to restore the somatosensory feedback,” explains Sliman Bensmaia, Chicago uni prof.

But the (convincing) explanation is unnecessary, for my exhiliration, anyway.  THEY ARE EQUIPPING MONKEYS WITH ROBOT ARMS.  HUMAN TRIALS ARE ANTICIPATED WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR.

We should probably reflect on the implications of this.  Even the article notes,

This research is funded by our old friends at the US military bonkers-boffinry bureau DARPA, hoping to deliver better replacement limbs for American troops injured in the Wars on Stuff.

But for today, I’m just going to enjoy it.

I decided to save the next link for a later post.

1 comment

Movies & innovation – and _Diamond Age_ racting

One of the great parts of being a speculative fiction fan is watching reality catch up to and surpass one’s favorite authors’ imaginations — or just never take a step in that direction at all. As I’ve written before, I live in dread of the genetic-discrimination world of Gattaca, which I now fear may be here before today’s children are dead (though I’m still hoping it won’t be before I am dead).

On the other hand, I’m chomping at the bit for movie acting to become independent of the actors’ own physical attributes, as in The Diamond Age. Avatar was a great leap forward, but so was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, because that was the first time CGI tried to render human faces and skin in a way that might fool the audience, even for half-second intervals. (Remember how amazing that one-second teaser of a single eye blinking was at the time?) Avatar was not ambitious on that particular score: only the non-human characters are rendered.

But some day we’ll see a movie where all the actors are wearing suits like Andy Serkis‘s (LOTR and Planet of the Apes!), and I can barely wait, because then we’ll finally be able to have movie stars whose ability to use their faces matters more than their facial features. (My favorite part about this in The Diamond Age is the little bit about Miranda studying how to ract a character with “cat eyes,” since she in real life has “bunny eyes,” which are used differently.)

This is how my husband convinced me to see Les Misérables. I didn’t expect it to be impressive musically as compared to any stage production, and indeed I was pretty much not impressed on that score. But letting the actors sing on-camera and mixing in the orchestra afterwards is a new attempt. The actors were clearly and justifiably over the moon about the chance. So I went along promising to have an open mind in trying to evaluate whether this presages the future of movie musicals.

And does it? Well, of course, I haven’t a clue. Quite irrespective of impressiveness, Les Miserables is always overwhelming, and thus hard to evaluate. Yes, the sung sequences are obviously more immediate than in Singin’ in the Rain. But movies, movie stars, moviemaking, and movie audiences — to say nothing of acting styles — are so different now from then that it seems arbitrary to compare how the songs were recorded between the two.

What new innovations are you watching for (happily or no)?

2 comments

The Indigo Pheasant

Posted here upon request from Daniel:

Daniel A. Rabuzzi (’80, Folk & Myth major, Quincy House) announces that ChiZine/CZP (Toronto) has just published his second fantasy novel, The Indigo Pheasant, sequel to The Choir Boats (2009, also by CZP). Locus selected it as one of their “New & Notable Books” in November. Reviewers described the first volume as “Gulliver’s Travels crossed with The Golden Compass and a dollop of Pride and Prejudice,” and “a muscular, Napoleonic-era fantasy that, like Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series, will appeal to both adult and young adult readers.” Daniel’s wife, the artist Deborah Mills, created the cover art and the illustrations. Available worldwide in paper and all standard digital formats– ISBN: 978-0980941074, and ISBN:978-1927469095. For more information, please see www.danielarabuzzi.com, or Daniel’s page on Facebook. You can reach Daniel directly at drabuzzi@earthlink.net.

No comments

Interesting reset concepts

Rolling Jubilee is about to kick off, billing itself as “a bailout of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Other comments I’ve seen on this:

I like the idea, in some ways especially the “random acts of kindness” aspect of it. One imagines there’s no way they could actually eliminate any significant fraction of American personal debt, so in some sense randomly is the ‘fairest’ way to try to help anyone. Although they will get some prety impressive ‘bang for the buck’ (in a more literal than usual sense).

This also led my husband and I to look a bit into the actual Bilblical concept of the Jubilee — which turns out to have probably made sense in ancient Near Eastern cultures for reasons including provisioning the armies. See Michael Hudson‘s article in Bible Review 15:01 (1999) “The Economic Roots of the Jubilee.”

No comments

My errors

I owe Elisabeth a massive apology for some poorly considered writing of mine last winter.

I’m really sorry: it was thoughtless of me not to ask you directly first.

A standard apology probably would have sufficed had I given it when it came due, but that was seven months ago. And culpability, like Rumour, grows swiftly and fearfully. In other cases when someone else here has written something that baffles or otherwise inspires me, I have been more courteous about prior notification of what I’m thinking, so I really have no excuse for neglecting that step in February.

So, just a few more lines to throw out on the question of ‘pleasure’ and/or ‘work’ reading:

  • A new short essay on Aristotelian leisure
  • Franz of Sunday in the Park with George

    Work is what you do for others — Liebchen –
    Art is what you do for yourself

  • A family member overheard someone in an airport security line complaining that he was 100s of pages into a book and nothing had happened. He turned around to see what book the other passenger was reading, and it was American Gods. My family member nearly blurted out, “What do you mean?”
  • This same relative was chewed out by a friend to whom he had recommended Ilium for sending him through an 800-page “slog.” To me (and my relative), reading Ilium is much more like being poor Phaeton in Apollo’s chariot. Slog? How? I’m being dragged too fast for my feet to stick in anything!
  • But one of my blockmates says he would characterize both American Gods and Ilium very similarly, simply because he would define “something happening” in a novel as “a scene advancing the main plot.”
  • Huh. I never would have thought of that.

So in conclusion, I do grasp that, very often, someone else’s reading tastes utterly confuse me because I’m just not imaginative enough. And I should remind myself more often to ask before I expound, even if I can’t ask before I wonder.

No comments

One small step …

Oh, my. I no longer believe I die before Gattaca. This is frightening.

The NYTimes article where I encountered this news has estimates from the study team that the technology could be available in as little as 3-5 years: whole-genome sequencing of a fetus based on only a maternal blood sample and a paternal saliva sampe, with the fetal genome reconstructed from fragments in the mother’s blood.

I still think I’ll die before direct genome sequencing is used in hiring decisions. But it seems suddenly only too feasible that my grandchildren will be born into a society where parents choose to learn genetic propensities before birth, the same as today’s parents often choose to learn a child’s sex before birth.

No comments

Bimonthly Roundup: The Days of Summer, 2012

Ah, summer — warm air, long days, and plenty of sunshine. How better to spend it than with like-minded science fiction, anime, and gaming fans? Here are some of the events we’re looking at this summer.   Are you planning on attending any of these, or others?  Let us know!

June

  • 6/29-7/2: AnimeExpo: Los Angeles, CA
    • Hyperfocused, enormous anime convention.

July

  • 7/4-7/8: DexCon: Morristown, NJ
  • 7/12-7/15: ReaderCon: Burlington, MA
    • A nice smaller convention that is like WorldCon without the crowds. Lots of good author panels. Very specific to books; no general shenanigans.
  • 7/12-7/15: Comic-Con: San Diego, CA
    • The giant comics convention held every year in SoCal. Very specific to comics and comics characters in other media.
    • Over 120,000 people. Need to buy passes a year in advance.

August

  • 8/16-8/19: GenCon: Indianapolis, IN
    • THE big board/table game convention.
  • 8/30-9/3: Worldcon: Chicago, IL
    • Important sci-fi con, held around the world, where the Hugos are given out. Big pricetag, mainly panels (not a lot of other associated fandom activities).
  • 8/31-9/2: Pax Prime: Seattle, WA
    • The largest and most influential video game conference, created by Penny Arcade.
  • 8/27-9/3: Burning Man: Black Rock City, NV
    • An experiment in temporary community, filled with creativity and bizarreness of all sorts.
1 comment

Next Page »