Friday, August 25, 2006
Well, for the time being anyway; it seems there are a number of objections to the decision, not least that the language in the definitions is illogical, and that it was voted on by less than 5% of the world's professional astronomers...
In the meantime, we now have dwarf planets. Possibly quite a lot of them, eventually.
We also have a good opportunity for Disney-based puns.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Elsewhere Mir has taken a look at some of Ms Tyers' other writings; Karen Hancock gets a hint as to what she's up to now; and Becky Miller takes the opportunity to compare and contract fantasy and science fiction.
And there's more reviews, interviews, opinions and snippets from these fine folks too:
Jim Black John J. Boyer Valerie Comer Bryan Davis Beth Goddard Rebecca Grabill Leathel Grody Karen Hancock Elliot Hanowski Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Sharon Hinck Pamela James Jason Joyner Tina Kulesa Rachel Marks Shannon McNear Rebecca LuElla Miller Cheryl Russel Mirtika Schultz Stuart Stockton Speculative Faith
Monday, August 21, 2006
Stupid backwater country. With no market for Christian fiction. Except, apparently, Left Behind. But I'm not bitter.
Here's the link for the book in question, the Firebird Trilogy by Kathy Tyers. Which I haven't read yet, due to the difficulty in obtaining a copy, but which I intend to. A review will follow eventually, but I might have missed this tour...
The tour is masterminded this time round by Beth Goddard, who has an interview with the author on her blog. Elliot has posted one of his annoyingly informed reviews here - good to see he's finally admitted to reading too much science fiction... that's the first step to recovery, I hear.
Other bloggers with posts up on the tour already are:
Rebecca LuElla Miller
The tour continues for another couple of days, so expect more posts to follow.
Friday, August 18, 2006
You may have seen the 12 planets proposal that's keeping astronomers busy at the moment. I can't help thinking Douglas Adams would have fun with a planet named after a Warrior Princess... Maybe they could call it Persephone in tribute, as that's the name he gave the tenth planet in Mostly Harmless. (Rupert, like Xena, was a nickname - 'after some astronomer's parrot.') Heh, so DNA thought ten planets would play havoc with astrology, now they may have to contend with 12...
I just got round to watching the Christmas episode of Doctor Who... (minor spoiler coming!)
It's the first episode after he regenerated from Christopher Ecclestone, and he seemed to regenerate into Arthur Dent... he spent half the episode in his dressing gown and really needed a cup of tea...
A Scanner Darkly hits the UK cinemas today... a potentially great collaboration of two sf greats - Philip K Dick gave us movies like Minority Report, Total Recall, and of course Blade Runner; Keanu Reeves is the veteran of modern sf classics like Johnny Mnemonic, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Oh, and that one with all the kung fu. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, that's it.
Seriously, it sounds like this should be closer to the PKD novel than some film adaptations, and with all the digital rotoscoping, it looks good.
And finally, if you just can't get enough of my witty jottings, I've started doing music reviews on my other blog. Crikey, is there no beginning to this man's talents...
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Mostly it's a selection of tracks that inspired the writing of various parts of the book (or at least were playing while I wrote).
There are links to most tracks on amazon.co.uk, from where you can find audio samples for some, if you're curious.
I won't waffle too much about it here - the page should be self-explanatory.
So while I've got a few sentences to spare, I'd just like to remind you all to save Concorde.
Monday, August 14, 2006
"Words don't always solve problems. Sometimes you just have to punch an alien in the face."
"Look, not every episode can be 'City on the Edge of Forever', Okay?"
I love the episode Spock's Brain. The dialogue in the opening scenes between Jim and Bones couldn't have been funnier in the hands of the best Trek spoofers.
Is it any wonder Star Trek is the most influential sf TV series of all time?
Friday, August 11, 2006
Angel practically disappeared from terrestrial UK TV during season 3, having switched to Channel 5 and being shown in a constantly-shifting middle-of-the-night slot. I taped a few episodes but gave up in the end, and have now worked my way through to the second half of the season on DVD.
Although I have heard bits of what's to come in the next couple of seasons, most of what I have to look forward to is completely new to me, and as I said, I'm loving it. I'm particularly loving Season 3 because Angel has just become a Dad, and that is something I can totally relate to!
I also finally got round to watching Serenity, after my DVD player packed up last time I started. (The proceeds from Yoda on Mars covered the cost of a replacement.) I was late to the party here, too - Joss Whedon is apparently no longer popular with UK TV, so I held off watching Serenity until I had seen the Firefly DVDs.
I must admit, I wasn't quite ready for how dark it got on Miranda - I think the tag line 'They aim to misbehave' kind of led me to expect a kind of Italian Job-style crime caper in space. With cowboys.
Instead, I can't help thinking it had everything a Star Wars movie should have had: witty one-liners, a huge space battle, climactic shoot-out, one really nasty bad guy, a girl who really kicks butt (a sort of post-Buffy Princess Leia, maybe), and absolutely no Jar Jar Flaming Binks. Oh, and Mal Reynolds is renegade-with-a-heart in the Han Solo mould. I reckon he'd shoot first, too.
The bigger picture themes of belief, sin and redemption crop up - and not just from Shepherd Book. Elliot made a few comments in this direction in his review a while back.
It's not all Joss, though; I've also watched a few episodes of last year's Doctor Who again. It occurred to me watching the Dalek episode, which for me was one of the series highlights, that the Doctor sacrificing Rose for the greater good of mankind became a bit of a recurring theme over the first two seasons. I'm sure it wasn't like that in the old days. I remember when the good Doctor wouldn't sacrifice a Jelly Baby for the rest of mankind...
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
The story opens with Sam Girat, Topman of Settlement One, on the colonised world of Hobbs Land. Here, society is matriarchal, and largely non-religious, apart from a token respect for the last God of the recently extinct native race, the Owlbrit.
Until, that is, the God dies, and the settlers take it upon themselves to raise up a new God in the Owlbrit tradition, and then set about becoming missionaries to the other Settlements of Hobbs Land, and beyond.
So far, so good; this new found religion only increases the wellbeing of the Hobbs Landers. However, humankind has brought some of its own religions into the System - the harsh, patriarchal Voorstod religion, from which Sam fled as a child along with his mother; and the Baidee, who appear to have twisted the original words of their prophet in various ways, resulting in different degrees of radical extremism.
Another non-human race, the Gharm, have been treated (or more often, mistreated) as slaves by the Voorstoders, and when the missionaries from Hobbs Land reach them, they accept the new Gods as incarnations of their own Tchenka - a kind of pagan/Native American style god creature.
These cultures - particularly the human religions - are built up in some detail as the tensions build and ultimately boil over into an almighty clash on Hobbs Land. Some of the religious aspects, certainly the extremism of the Voorstoders, appear a bit too extreme to remain realistic, and so the ultimate outcome can only be conflict; there is no room for debate, discussion, finding common ground or just agreeing to disagree with these three religions. As a result the whole story simply ends up saying 'look at organised religion, it's the cause of all wars, especially religion organised by men, etc. etc.' The sort of thing Christians hear a lot of, as I'm sure do other followers of 'organised religions'.
However, if I may now come to some sort of a point, this book shows that it is possible to write about religion - and not much else - in the mainstream science fiction market. The problem being that if something like Raising the Stones were written to be more sympathetic to the way people of faith generally are, there wouldn't be nearly so much conflict and the story would risk dying prematurely.
To sum up: it's interesting to see how religion can be tackled in this type of story, but ultimately the anti-religion, anti-men undercurrent was a bit, well, anti-me.
Monday, August 07, 2006
A few weeks ago, when Liz from the Clubman Estate Register thought the chances of her Clubby passing the audition for Life On Mars* were slipping away, she recommended Yoda to the BBC and, last Friday, Yoda and I made the epic road trip to Rochdale for the filming, in a rather sorry looking disused hospital building.
Yoda on location, somewhere in the vicinity of Rochdale.
They only wanted the cars on set from 4pm, so I was saved the extra hassle of getting up at some unearthly hour, but, on the downside, by the time we got there most of the show's stars had packed up for the weekend and gone down the pub. Without leaving any clue as to which pub. I did, however, have the honour of being the first one to show John Simm the caricatures of the cast in this month's SFX magazine, and persuaded him to sign it (well, he could have taken offence!)
That's John Simm turning his back on me like I'm some sort of crazed paparazzo.
Yoda's scene was an external shot of the Lancashire General Hospital. It lasted about five seconds, but on the plus side, Yoda appeared to have a nice foreground location, so if you don't blink, you won't miss him.
For some reason, Sam Tyler had been barred from the Cortina, and was driving the CID car, which the crew seem to have forgotten was a very similar colour to Yoda. Ooops!
A Morris Marina 1.8 Super. Yesterday.
They even give you a period tax disc, but they don't fill it in, so they pinch it back at the end of filming. Tightwads!
Although the drivers of the VW and the ambulance were old hands at this sort of thing and by their own admission a bit blasé about the whole thing, I had never spoken to a TV star in his natural environment before and quite enjoyed the whole thing. Even the sitting around doing nothing, of which there was less than if the vehicles had been needed all day of course.
Can you spot the deliberate mistake?
We did get the chance for a quick snoop around some of the interior sets too; I would probably be in breach of the official secrets act if I published any photos of that though.
I even enjoyed the chance to take Yoda out for a real run. Cars like cars used to be - none of this newfangled nonsense like in car entertainment (like a roaring A-series isn't entertaining enough?) and adjustable seating.
Having said all that, I don't think I'd do it again - not for BBC Manchester, anyway. Nothing wrong with working for them, it's just a long way to go. Now, if Doctor Who were to visit the 1970s... pity I would have missed the chance to meet Billie. Oh well. She'd have probably slunk off to the pub before my sceen anyway...
Yoda will be featuring in Episode 6 of the second series.
*Life on Mars is a cop show with a kind of time travel element, which is how I justify wibbling about it here. For those in foreign climes who may not be aware of it, the basic premise is this: Cop involved in near fatal car accident, while in a coma gets a job as a copper in 1973. We get to watch a cool 70s style cop show while at the same time Sam is figuring out why he's gone back in time and how to get home. That's right; Quantum Leap with a car crash instead of a quantum leap accelerator, and a single leap lasting about 16 episodes. Yes, he's even called Sam.
Friday, August 04, 2006
The spirituality of Malacandra tells of a hierarchy of beings: eldila, Oyarsa, Maleldil, and The Old One - angels, archangels, Jesus and God being the Christian parallels. The tale is told of how Earth's Oyarsa fell, caused mischief in Heaven and on the planets, and was imprisoned on Earth.
And so it is that we find wicked Earth men arriving on Malacandra to spread their violent ways, bringing Elwin Ransom as some kind of sacrifice so they can plunder the planet's plentiful supply of gold. Ransom, on the other hand, having escaped his captors and discovered intelligent life on the planet, toys with the idea of being a kind of missionary to the planet... the irony only becoming apparent later on.
Ransom initially encounters, at a distance, the more or less humanoid seroni, who he assumes to be the only intelligent life forms on the planet, and also out to get him. However, it is with a hross that he first manages to make contact, discovering them also to be one of three species of intelligent Martians, the third being the pfifltriggi.
These three races represent three facets of human activity: the seroni are the scientists, the hrossa poets, and the pfifltriggi the builders. All three are untouched by sin, and work together in harmony, acknowledging their differences but none of them claiming superiority. All of which brings us back to the question of what it means to be made in God's image, and what it means to be human.
As science fiction, well, the narrative style doesn't compare to your modern space opera (and at 187 pages, neither does the word count!), reading like a slightly more poetic HG Wells. Lewis embarks on detailed descriptions of the Malacandrian landscape, flora and fauna, as well as the social and spiritual culture of the world he creates. Lewis also takes the unusual step for a sf novel of teaching us the alien language, at least some of the key terms. He manages to pull this off by introducing his protagonist as a philologist, which in itself may be slightly contrived, but makes the whole interaction with Martians feasible.
Of course there are huge flaws in the science, but Mars, and even space travel, seem to be reasonably accurately represented according to the knowledge available in 1938, when it was first published. It still works as a science-fantasy rather than a true science fiction, does some interesting things, and sets the mould for later Christian sf by the likes of Stephen Lawhead and Chris Walley.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
“Eight years ago, Litah single-handedly ended the most barbaric period in the history of Tellus. From Luna Minor, Litah brought salvation to a planet blighted by pollution and decades of war, barely able to support its dwindling population-”
Aidan Qqayle was disturbed from his work as the communal Citycar bounced over the buckled road surface. Glancing out of the window, he could see Luna Minor, a small point of white, pale against the yellow tinted sky of late afternoon, winking as the jagged peaks of ruined tower blocks flashed across his view. The C-car, following a pre-programmed route, was passing through the heart of the old city – a ghost town, abandoned and left to decay when most of Unioncity had been destroyed.
Aidan hit the save button on his comm-cell in case an unexpected jolt wiped out his work, and relaxed, the only sounds the rumbling of tyres on the uneven road beneath him and the occasional popping of his bubblegum. In the near-silence of the C-car he wondered again why Litah was such a burden on his heart.
Aidan believed that Litah – the Link between Tellus and Heaven – was, if not godless, Godless, responsible only to the twin deities on Science and Technology. By their power and his own ingenuity, man sought to dominate God’s universe. Even when the War ended as the Eight Nations united behind the project, Aidan had felt strongly that it was wrong; although so far he had been unable to fully explain this conviction.
The road began to smooth out, the bumps and thumps replaced by a more distant and even rumble as the Citycar approached the eastern edge of Unioncity, where a cluster of small buildings was still in use, mainly farming the fields which lay just beyond.
The C-car coasted noiselessly to a halt outside the last of these anonymous buildings, its sexless, synthesised voice reminding Aidan to take his user card. The kerbside door opened for him as he did so and Aidan stepped out of the orange bubble-shaped vehicle, leaving it ready to be summoned by its next passenger.
“You’re early tonight.”
Aidan looked around for the unseen speaker, and saw Chik Renken at the top of a ladder that reached the roof of the Temple.
“I wanted somewhere quiet to polish up my talk,” Aidan explained. “What are you doing?”
“Replacing the weather vane,” Chik said as he climbed down the ladder. “It’s about time this place started to look like a Temple.”
The building they called the Temple – a name which conjured up grandiose images of marble pillars, elaborate stonework and expensive gold trimmings – was in reality little more than a hut; a smallish building whose breezeblock exterior wore a thin coat of pink gloss in a failed attempt to cheer it up. In front of the building a small car park occasionally harboured the P-cars – private electricars – of the Temple Officials or Followers, and behind it the Temple had a small farm, breeding animals for the sacrifices demanded by the Creed.
“Come on, I’ll show it to you,” Chik said.
Aidan followed him across the empty car park and into the Temple, the pleasant coolness of the interior a welcome change from the heat of the summer sun.
Chik pointed to a heavy looking metal structure on a trestle table in the middle of the hall.
“The two suns,” Aidan said as he approached it.
“Well, I’m glad it’s recognisable.”
Chik had formed the two suns from hemispheres of metal as big as his head, one with small, gently curving rays which reached out protectively towards the blue-green sphere of Tellus, while the sharp, silver coloured rays of the second start tried to skewer the world. This was the second sun which had burnt for a year, its heat destroying life on Tellus, its legacy left for generations after in legend, and becoming a central part of the Creed.
Chik said, “I’ll go put this up, leave you to finish your sermon.”
“It’s too good to put on the roof,” Aidan said as Chik carried his sculpture outside.
Aidan settled down with a large mug of steaming coffee in the study, a small room at the farthest end of the building. He set his comm-cell down, hooking it up to the display screen and keyboard, and started work. The heavy wooden door deadened noise so effectively that Aidan didn’t realise Chik had finished until he walked purposefully into the study, rousing Aidan from his writing.
“Sorry, did I disturb you?”
“No, I was about finished,” Aidan said, without looking up from the screen.
“So what can we expect to be educated on this evening?”
“Litah,” Aidan answered.
Chik lowered his eyes and shook his head. “I thought you’d want to speak about that sooner or later,” he said.
Aidan sat back and looked up at his friend, who was still wearing his scruffy blue overalls.
“I know you’ve got some deeply held opinions on the subject, but…” Chik paused, searching for the right words. “This is a church,” he said finally. “It’s no place for opinions.”
“This is not about opinions,” Aidan argued. “The whole project is an abomination in the eyes of God. The very name is a blasphemy!”
“I know, you’re right,” Chik said. But I’ve known you a long time, Aidan, and I know how outspoken you can be – and I know how strongly you feel about this subject.”
“Chik, I promise you that what I have to say will be nothing if not balanced,” Aidan said. “I will be the first to admit that the project has its good points.”
“Well,” Chik said, “I have to admit, you’ve surprised even me there.”
“Well, the Eight Nations haven’t cooperated on such a big scale in decades – if ever.”
Chik smiled. “Alright,” he said, clapping Aidan warmly on the back. “I’m going to trust you on this. Just don’t let it get personal, OK?”
“Here,” Aidan said, angling the display towards Chik. “I was going to ask you to take a look anyway.”
“Thanks,” he smiled, sitting down in front of the screen.
“I’ve tried to put my personal feelings aside and concentrate on what I believe God thinks of it,” Aidan said. “As my friend, and as an Official of this church, I can’t think of anyone I trust more to tell me if I’ve succeeded.”
Chik didn’t answer. Aidan watched his eyes dance back and forth as he scrolled through the pages of text, and while he was bent over the screen Aidan was pleased to notice Chik’s off-blond hair was finally beginning to thin. Chik was just a fortnight older than Aidan – they had held joint birthday parties since the age of 12 – but now Aidan’s hair was rapidly receding he felt a lot older than his friend. Aidan brushed his hand through his short hair almost unconsciously; he would have to have it shaved again soon, which should even the score a little.
Chik looked up, cutting short Aidan’s moment of satisfaction. “Interesting,” he said.
“I think you’ve succeeded in hiding your personal aversion to the programme,” Chik continued.
“But?” Aidan knew him well enough to expect a ‘but’.
Chik paused thoughtfully. “But I think some of the phrases you’ve used there are a bit strong,” he said finally.
“Like?” Aidan turned the screen back towards himself.
“Typically human self-centredness, for a start,” Chik said.
“There are a lot of humans in this church, Aidan.”
“Don’t you think it’s true?”
“I told you, Aidan,” Chik said softly, “this is no place for opinions.”
Aidan’s opinion was that his best friend – and some of the Followers that had elected him as an Official – was more concerned with keeping people happy than speaking the truth in sermons. That didn’t change their friendship, of course – that had been built over 25 years, since before either of them followed the Creed – but Aidan knew God was much more revolutionary than some of the church leadership felt happy with, and that, Aidan believed, was why Chik was a part of the Temple’s leadership while he was still a Lay Brother, an occasional speaker in the Temple.
After the service, Aidan sat before the sacrificial altar at the back of the Temple, where a small pig roasted on a bed of aromatic plants. Chik had looked disappointed when Aidan used most of the phrases he had tried to discourage earlier, but Aidan made it clear that it was not his own opinion, but God’s, and carefully validated all his arguments. God, wanting nothing more than to see His world at peace again, had allowed Litah to begin, but man had abused God’s gift, as he always has and always will. So God had revealed to Aidan that this plot to conquer and rule creation by human endeavour alone was destined to fail. Not only would it fail though; its failure would be turned to God’s glory instead. God had a way of doing that.
Chik sat down quietly beside Aidan. Aidan didn’t rush, but finished his business with God before taking on the sharp side of the Official’s tongue.
“That was very good,” Chik said when Aidan finally turned to face him. “Thank you.”
Aidan was puzzled. “That’s it?”
“You were right to believe those were God’s views on the subject,” he added. “I see that now.”
“Thanks, friend,” Aidan smiled.
“Sometimes I wonder, you know,” Chik said, “why I was chosen to be an Official above you. I often envy your closeness to God.”
Aidan wondered silently where this was heading.
“But now I know,” he continued.
“Well?” Aidan prompted after a moment’s silence.
“God spoke to me this evening,” he said. “I don’t fully understand the meaning of these words, and you may not either. But God says to you: ‘Leave your country, your people and your household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people will be blessed through you.’”
Aidan sat for a moment, struck dumb while he tried to take it in.
“That’s pretty heavy stuff,” he said eventually.
Chik just nodded solemnly. “It’ll be a shame to see you go,” he said.
Those words hit Aidan harder than the prophecy itself. “You really…”
“Yes,” Chik looked him in the eye. “I really believe it.”
Aidan tried to let the word of God settle in his mind, but it all seemed too big, too improbable, almost senseless to Aidan’s tiny human brain, and he couldn’t bring himself to think about it.
“I know how you must feel,” Chik said. “I prayed hard before deciding to tell you; it’s a huge calling, but I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t convinced of its truth. I can’t imagine how much worse it is knowing the word is for you personally.”
“I don’t know,” Aidan said, getting up and pacing before the altar. “I can’t take it all in.”
“Go home,” Chik said, resting a caring hand on Aidan’s shoulder. “Get some rest and pray about it tomorrow. Talk it over with Savana, and the other Officials if you like, and come and see me when you’ve had a chance to consider it properly.”
Aidan nodded vaguely at his friend, and continued to pace.
“Go on,” Chik said firmly.
Aidan left, reluctantly.
Twilight had arrived, and with it came the cold, but Aidan didn’t feel it as he went to meet Savana. She would have finished work during the service, and gone straight to the Temple farm, where she often tended the animals. The farm buildings lay a short walk from the sacrificial altar, and once the lights from the little pink Temple no longer lit his path, Aidan’s thoughts turned back to Chik’s word of prophecy.
Leave his new home? So soon after they’d settled in? He and Savana were just beginning to make new friends-
“Wait a minute,” Aidan said out loud.
He didn’t like the shape of the thought that was forming in his mind, but couldn’t stop it forming just the same.
He was being pushed out. The Temple Officials didn’t like what he’d had to say, and they were effectively excommunicating him.
“Stars!” he muttered to himself, kicking a stone in anger.