Friday, December 26, 2008

Squiddance '08: Big Green, Big Screen

Just for the next little while I'm commandeering the 'crawl for social event planning, since not everyone is on facebook and I don't have the time to set up an actual forum. I assure you this will not become a habit. Local real estate values will be restored shortly.

In the meantime, though, this is how the next few days are looking:
  • Dec 27, noon through whenever: "Cowboy Bebop" (brought to you from Squeak & Death Ray's personal collection), which has to be the worst title since "Battlestar Galactica" but which is widely regarded to be one of the best animé series ever, and one which Joss Whedon is rumored to have ripped off when he made "Firefly". We're talking 26 episodes and a movie, so this is going to take all the 27th and a chunk of the 28th.
  • Dec 28, probably noon unless anyone is still sprawled across furniture from the night before, in which case we might just pick up earlier: the Conclusion of Bebop, followed by a variety of one-offs whose order depends on local interest: "Perfect Blue", "Jin Rah", and episodes of "The Venture Brothers" are all in contention. Robot Chicken's Star Wars specials may also make an appearance. If I dislike all these I may just commandeer the set and force everyone to watch Eraserhead.
  • Dec 29th: Must be seen to be believed. The first half of Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica, rendered in glorious hi-def, would be cause enough to make the trip. But we have an added bonus for you. For those who were a) too young, or b) have suppressed the memory, a series called "The Starlost" was made right here in Toronto back in the early seventies. It was created by Harlan Ellison, engaged the talents of Ben Bova as science adviser and Douglas Trumbull (2001, Silent Running) on special effects. Acting talent ran the gamut from Sterling Hayden to John Colicos. The premise was nothing short of brilliant, and it is widely and justly regarded as the worst science fiction series ever made. And now, courtesy of the private (and soon-to-be-banned) collection of horror writer David Nickle, we present the entire 16-episode run of this atrocity interspersed among episodes of BSG. Think of the day as a kind of parfait, layers of gold and shit interlaced for as long as we can withstand the psychological whiplash. I have no idea how long this experiment will last. Perhaps we'll get all the way through both sequences, or perhaps we'll run screaming for our pitchforks after five minutes of Rachel and Devon. We won't know until we try.
  • Dec. 30: no showings. I must be in Oakville to help dispose of the last possessions of my decrepit mother, in the wake of her relocation to the dumpster behind the Denny's on South Service Road
  • Dec 31: still wide open. Maybe we'll all be sated by then. Maybe we'll watch the Lord of the Rings, extended edition. Maybe we'll just spin the disks and watch Wall-e or Brazil or 2001: A Space Odyssey for the hundredth time. Or Dark Star if it downloads in time.
So that's the closest thing we have to an actual schedule. Everything is liable to change without notice. We may even deke hard right and do some gaming: at least Portal and Half-Life: The Lost Coast can be completed in a few hours, and they look pretty good on a 47" screen.

Logo credit: Madeline "Squeak" Ashby.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

Sorry for the extended silence. Sorry also for the preponderance of personal over sciencey news lately, despite the many and varied worldchanging links you've been sending to get me back on the track (this recent study, for instance, which details a case of blindsight so extreme even I had to read it twice. Which is about once for every ten of you who forwarded the link.) Don't expect much to change over the holidays— I'm writing on painkillers with my arm in a sling, the usual combination of domestic obligations/complications is busy spiking the suicide rate as it always does at this time of year, and any postings over the next week are likely to be scheduling notes for Squiddance '08, which will be of no interest to anyone outside the GTA. (Although if you are in the area, you might want to drop by; the apartment is small, but both bed and TV are large.)

But I am going to thump my chest a wee bit here, because I have just learned something that is way too fucking cool to keep to just myself and whoever happened to be within four hundred meters of my surprised yelp upon hearing the news:

Blindsight is going to be a required text for a Biological Psychology course at the University of Miami.

It's not the first time my stuff has been taught in universities. Ever since Starfish I've been popping up here and there in courses on ethics, literature (well, mainly just science fiction, but it's Christmas; we can pretend it's literature) — even, in a bit of a coup, in an upcoming Philosophy-of-Mind course out in California (hi, Matt).

Philosophy, ethics, literature— cool, but not mind-boggling. Metaphor and thought experiment are right at home in the Humanities. But to require the reading of a work of unapologetic fiction in a science course? I don't know if that's ever happened before.

It's about to, though, thanks to a neuroscientist called Peter Stimson (originally from Duke)— who somehow seems to think that Blindsight's portrayal of various agnosias and pointy-haired homunculi serves as an apt introduction to the conundrum of self-awareness for his students. I've expressed pleasure in the past that my sheen of faux expertise has managed to fool so many of you over the years, but to have put one over on an actual practicing professional in the field leaves me deeply humbled. An extra 400 copies/year in sales doesn't hurt much, either.

Can it get any better? Why, yes; turns out the dude is also a big fan of Jethro Tull.

It's almost enough to make me forget that we're all about six months away from global anarchy.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Cornucopia of Covers; a Call-out for Cash

First up we have Alejandro Terán's Alienesque cover for the Spanish edition of Blindsight, coming out, oh, I don't know, probably next year sometime. Next we have Franz Vohwinkel's cover for the German mass-market edition of βehemoth (thanks to "Useless Surfer" for pointing it out), which is evidently being called "Waves" over in Deutschland. And finally, an unknown artist's cover for Prime's upcoming "Best of the Year" collection for 2009 — the headline names from which we can probably infer either that Swanwick, Vinge, Stross et al didn't write any short stories this year, or that Prime couldn't afford their rates. (The story for which my own name is going up in lights is "The Eyes of God", originally published in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2.)

They're all pretty good covers, methinks.

On an unrelated note, a few days back someone made a donation to the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund under the alias "". Not surprisingly, when I tried to drop a note of thanks to that address, it bounced. So if you're out there, Dr. No: thank you.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

High-Concept Low-Brow

It's credibility of a sort, I guess. The Sydney Morning Herald has just published a John Birmingham piece which jumps off from the teenybopper suckfest "Twilight" to dip its toes in the whole pop-culture vampire mystique. And what should appear, mixed in with all the Buffy and True Blood callouts, but a whole paragraph devoted to the vampires of Blindsight:
In author Peter Watts's hard-science space opera, Blindsight, Dracula's children aren't disguised at all; they're reborn from ancient DNA samples and put to work by humanity, which needs their superior physical and intellectual skills to face off a universe full of even scarier monsters. It all sounds like a low-brow spook'n'shoot, an ill-advised cocktail of the undead and laser beams. But it's high-concept low-brow, with Watts providing reams of credible-sounding scientific "research" in a "Notes and References" section that recalls nothing so much as the early work of the recently departed Michael Crichton.
Birmingham evidently didn't realize that those "references" are real, but that's cool. I don't even mind being compared to Crichton; I actually quite like a lot of Mikey's "early work"— and hey, if a critic in a mainstream newspaper thinks the shoe fits, maybe some publisher might notice a vacant niche waiting to be filled...

What I do find a bit odd, though, is that Blindsight got as much attention it did (not that I'm complaining). Beyond the obligatory commentary on the Twilight novels, the article focuses almost entirely on cinevision: Buffy, True Blood, even some pretty strained references to Borgs and zombies. The only non-Stoker, non-Meyer book to get any attention is some vampire-gumshoe novel by Charlie Huston. And while I'm never one to turn down free publicity, I seem to remember some guy called Matheson doing something along the same lines a while back— something that can hardly have fallen out of the public eye so soon after Will Smith poked it back in there — not to mention a more recent vampire riff by that Butler chick. And there's no way I wield a fraction of the influence of either of those authors, even on their bad days. So I'm wondering why Blindsight made Birmingham's cut, when I am Legend and Fledgling didn't. It obviously isn’t a function of either literary quality or sales.

You know what that leaves. Cover art.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Brechtian Punk Cabaret: or, I Would Kill For Amanda Palmer

Of course she had me before she even appeared on stage, before we froze our asses off in the wind and freezing rain waiting for the doors to open, before I ever heard "Astronaut". She had me months before she dedicated "Oasis" (the peppiest date-rape-and-abortion song evar) to Sarah Palin. She probably owned me from the moment I first heard the Dresden Dolls' "Sex Changes" last spring, a song I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone disillusioned by once-great female icons who went all mushy and braindead in the wake of childbearing (I'm looking at you, Kate Bush. You too, Annie Lennox).

So in the interests of full disclosure, I probably couldn't have disliked Sunday's Amanda Palmer concert unless the lady had puked all over my shoes and called me needle-dick in front of my friends. But she didn't, and each step of that passionately-choreographed evening only served to ramp up my willingness to martyr myself in Her name. The statuesque androgyne Zoë Keating, starting the night with a stripped-down serenade on cello and Mac; The Builders and the Butchers, whose strangely atonal lead vocals somehow really work with their down-home foot-stomping songs about dead guys and apocalyptic floods. The shrouded body of Amanda Palmer herself being pall-borne onto the stage and laid at the keyboard while Neil Gaiman recounted his feelings upon hearing of her death, the rumors over who had killed her and why, the clinical descriptions of Palmer's crustacean-nibbled corpse dredged up from the river bed.

And then, ohmygod, Her Resurrection.

The music was amazing, but you knew that going in because you've obsessively replayed the albums until the very electrons have been worn down past the Planck length (skipping over, perhaps, such lesser lights as Night Reconnaissance and that vaguely lame sheep-slaughtering song). You were sort of prepared for the adrenaline spurting from her fingers because you've seen the live clips on Youtube. But there are these other elements that split your face into a big goofy grin: the Danger Ensemble1 infiltrating the audience and performing evocative little counterpoints of performance art right down there on the dance floor2 during the songs. The "Ask Amanda" segment. A ten-minute philosophical deconstruction on the lyrical inconsistencies inherent in Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer", and whether they can be resolved by context-sensitive interpretations of the phrase "making it". And finally, with an audience demanding another encore even though it was past midnight and noise bylaws would have been violated, we got this:

Amanda Palmer, standing on the bar in fishnet stockings, frilly bloomers, a corset, and — yes, your eyes are not playing tricks on you, a SQUID HAT!!!3 — leading rapturous fans in a singalong cover of Radiohead's "Creep" on the ukulele.

I know one jaded, grizzled old city hall journalist and horror writer who was literally brought to tears by AFP's performance that night. He was far from alone.

I have to go back to work now. But before I leave, let me take this opportunity to publicly thank the lady who first introduced me to Amanda Palmer and the (currently moribund) Dresden Dolls. I can really only think of one way to repay her, because there's only one desire she's ever expressed to me that is unambiguous and unmistakable: she really, really wants to stop being referred to as a member of The Puppy Brigade.

Consider it done. Now we're even.

1At least one member of which I might also kill for, although that's only because she reminded me of an ex-girlfriend of whom I never really got my fill.

2Which I thought was pretty brave. All it would take is one asshole from the audience to fuck things up completely, and given that AFP has known to play topless it would be amazing if a few such assholes weren't in evidence at each performance.

3Sadly, she felt compelled to take the squid off her head during the actual singing part. Said it might detract from the inherent dignity of the performance.

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