Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Haven’t blogged for a while. Will have to rectify this in the near future.

In any case, here’s something awesome. Astronaut Chris Hadfield has a Tumblr, on which he posts pictures of the earth from space. OVER THE SAME INTERNET THAT WE ALL USE ON EARTH.

It’s a cliché to say it at this point, but at some point not too long ago, it became the future and we didn’t even notice it.

~ Ian

(Gorillaz, “Broken”)

I need a break from writing a paper for my history class (topic: gender relations during the High Qing period, with Zhang Xuecheng’s Two Biographies as a primary source), so I’m giving you a followup to this post.

Have fun.

~ Ian

 

I woke up to the harsh, piercing trill of my phone. It wasn’t pleasant– I’d been out hard drinking the night before, and so my head felt like a screaming ball of barbed-wire-abraded soft flesh dipped in rancid sriracha. The sound of the phone was a knife being forced into a head wound. So as you can imagine, not pleasant.

I picked my head out of the pool of saliva where I’d been laying, and picked up the phone. “Muffet,” I growled. Christ, was that my actual voice? I sounded like a ninety-year-old man with a hole where his larynx should have been.

“Muffet, what are you doing!? Get your ass off your tuffet and get out there, girl!”

“Trying to get some goddamn sleep for once, Phil,” I said.

“Well, crawl out of your little hole. I’ve got reports of twelve Cyberachnids South of Market, close to your location. You’ve got a job to do, Muffet. Get going.” With that, he hung up. Rude, of course, but Phil’s always been a bastard.

I got up. My clothes stunk of stale beer and sweat, so I stripped them off and got into the shower, feeling warm water running in smooth rivulets over my naked skin. I guess that some guys would find me attractive– I’m pretty hot, I guess– but my missing arm tends to throw them off.

Getting out of the shower, I couldn’t help but notice the stump where it was missing, just a nub of flesh and bone that ended just below my right shoulder. Lost, a long time ago, to the Cyberachnids. Just a little girl, who they crept up on, while I was eating my curds and whey…

I couldn’t think about that. Too many memories.

I dressed, putting on a sheer black tank top (low cut, to show off my breasts), as well as black leather skintight pants and black boots. I pulled my blonde hair back in a ponytail, then attached one of my many robotic arms to the stump of my missing arm. It fit perfectly, and I flexed my new, shiny metallic hand. Strong enough to crush a man’s skull between its steel fingers, yet incapable of feeling anything. Not the smooth skin of a baby’s cheek, or the stubbled chin of a man while we make love. Nothing.

Finally, I took my katana down from where it hung on the wall, and slung it across my back. I went outside, and jumped on my Kawasaki, taking off at seventy miles an hour down the streets of San Francisco.

The city’s a ruin, now. Completely destroyed. Ever since the Cyberachnids took over, the whole Bay Area’s been destroyed. The TransAmerica Pyramid was behind me as I ride towards the Mission District. It was nothing more than a skeleton of its former self, now. A broken, jagged tooth looming over the city.

As I approached the Mission District, I heard a sound in an alley behind me, and skid to a stop. Dismounting my Kawasaki, I drew my katana from its sheath across my back.

As I’d expected. The alley contained a blonde hooker, dead, with her head ripped partially open and a long, black tube sucking greedily at her brains. And following that tube, I could see a ten-foot-tall figure, eight-legged and shining chromium-silver. My heart pounded, as it always does when I see one of them, but I held steady. I would not let myself be afraid.

“Hey, shitfucker!” I yelled. Eight beady eyes looked up from the hooker’s body. The Cyberachnid’s mandibles clicked and chittered, almost as if it was trying to  say something.

“That’s right, bitch,” I cried. “I’m your worst nightmare. I’m Little Miss Muffet, and I will not be frightened away!!

The Cyberachnid screeched in anger, and charged.

I readied my blade for the oncoming bloodbath.

So, because I recently finished watching all twelve seasons of Buffy and Angel, I thought I’d try out Dollhouse. You know, the Joss Whedon show that everyone says is apparently terrible and stupid.

And I was shocked. It turns out that Dollhouse isn’t a bad show. It’s not Firefly or Buffy, not by a long shot, but it’s a well-written, well-acted present-day science fiction show with an interesting premise that is a world away from the predictable reality-show sludge that dominates the airwaves in these times.

So what gives? Is everything that geeks apparently know wrong? Is Final Fantasy VII really a terrible game? Is Avatar actually a good movie? Could it be that Piers Anthony is actually a really talented and original writer?

I don’t know what is right or what is wrong anymore. GOOD JOB, DOLLHOUSE.

~ Ian

First of all, I have to say this: I’m not particularly a Star Wars or a Star Trek fan. I like the franchises, and I respect them for their place in SFF history, but I don’t get emotionally invested in them, the way I do with Lord of the Rings or pretty much anything by Neil Gaiman or Joss Whedon. So I’m looking at it from a perspective of an outsider looking into the fandom.

That being said, they could do a lot better. But they could also do a lot worse, so there’s that.

First of all, we have to talk about Star Trek. Many old-school Trek fans absolutely hate the reboot. I personally happen to enjoy it, and I take the policy that the NuTrek films are basically big loud action movies in space with the Star Trek characters. That’s not a bad thing, particularly. It just means that it’s going to be different from what Star Trek was in the past. There’s also the matter of big gaping plotholes and scientific inaccuracies. I’ll admit, the whole concept of “red matter” pisses me off too, considering that I’m a relatively scientifically-literate person, but to quote someone on Twitter whose name I forget: Complaining about scientific inaccuracies in Star Trek is like complaining that Diet Pepsi isn’t a very good scotch. They’re completely different things that both happen to fall under the same general banner of “beverage”. I don’t expect scientific accuracy from a franchise that treats the speed of light as no more of a barrier than the speed of sound. That’s not really the point.

And as for Star Wars… there is no science to mess up in that universe. Star Wars is basically an epic quest fantasy with spaceships and lasers and flying cars. If your definition of science fiction means “everything must be completely scientifically accurate”, then Star Wars doesn’t fit it in the slightest. So there’s nothing to worry about. The SW universe itself is a framework for telling a good story, and that’s what most people expect of it. As Tycho Brahe from Penny Arcade said once, “Man, Star Wars is about space wizards who live in the past-future. Believe whatever the fuck you want.”

So, with Abrams already proving that he can direct well (if not excellently) in the Star Trek universe, then I think that he could do a good job in Lucas’ world.

Ah, yes… Lucas.

That’s the key difference between Abrams and George Lucas. Abrams has repeatedly proven that he can work with actors and direct them in a manner that humans would actually behave. Lucas can’t. He may be a wizard when it comes to the technical aspects of filmmaking, but his basic philosophy of directing living flesh-and-blood actors basically comes down to making them do everything “faster and more intense!” It just goes to show you how phenomenally bad he is at directing actors that such talented and brilliant actors as Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman came out like mouth-breathing wooden Keanu Reeveses when they appeared in the prequels.

And that’s the key to it. When it all comes down to it, actors in Abrams’ movies feel like people. Actors in Lucas’ movies are puppets. And while Abrams has some of his own directorial quirks (AAAARGH I MUST PUT TEH LENS FLARES IN ALL THE SHOTS), he’s a better director than Lucas ever was.

It could be a lot better, of course. But it could also be a lot worse.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the person who has done the greatest amount of harm to the Star Wars franchise is Lucas himself.

Now that it’s out of his hands, I’ll be interested to see what happens.

~ Ian

In the fall of 2010, I had an idea. I’d just watched all of Legend of Neil and the Guild, and I’d decided that I wanted to make a web series. That idea didn’t pan out, of course, but I still thought it would be cool.

Now, I’d basically forgotten all about this, until just recently, when my friend Kendall (she of the Female Tenth Doctor/Samus Aran makeout drawing) and I were talking about projects that we’d started at one point, but hadn’t finished. I started talking about my idea for the web series, she thought it was hilarious, and before I knew it, I wanted to put the script for the first episode up here.

The name of the web series was Professor Hideyoshi, Last Japanese Man, and it would have been a parody of a live-action Japanese science fiction show from the 1970s. I planned for it to be full of incredibly right-wing propaganda, and make no sense– completely utter in its terribility. But that wasn’t all. In my concept for the show, I would have had the parts of the characters be played by Asian actors on screen, but dub over them in the most terrible Engrish that you could imagine. In any case, I thought these scripts were funny when I was a freshman, and maybe they are. I don’t know.

In any case, this is the first episode of “Professor Hideyoshi: Last Japanese Man”.

~ Ian

 

PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI: LAST JAPANESE MAN

EPISODE 1: VAGINA IS NO IMPEDIMENT TO LOVE

 

(A black screen, with white text.)

 

TEXT: There have been many attempts at making live-action Japanese science fiction shows. From Dr. Burkowski, Time-Traveling Drunken Lion: FIGHT! to Super-sonic Love Hushpuppy: Warp Speed, there have been many great pieces of Japanese television. But possibly the greatest of them is Professor Hideyoshi: Last Japanese Man

 

(Slow fade to a new set of words.)

 

TEXT: Professor Hideyoshi: Last Japanese Man (教授秀吉:最後に日本の男) ran for three seasons from 1978 to 1980 on Japan’s NB2 network. It was a response to the popularity of such American science fiction franchises as Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Despite being wildly successful, it was mysteriously canceled in the middle of its third season.

 

(Slow fade to a new set of words.)

 

TEXT: This is the only English dubbing, which was recorded in a Radio Shack in Mountain View, California, in 1986.

 

(Sudden shift to a huge, overblown theme song. It is flashy, colorful, and over-the top. Various scenes of Professor Hideyoshi, Jupiter Space King, in action-packed poses, Miko the Kitsune looking submissive and sultry in her schoolgirl outfit, lots of rainbow flashing lights and explosion-effects. The theme song plays, a hyper-intense J-pop dance tune. It is in English. There are Japanese subtitles beneath the English words, which say something completely different that anything that the actual English theme-song words actually say.)

 

THEME SONG:

Yeah I fly so high

Way up in the sky

I am not a banana

Into outer space

See my happy face

But I am a kangaroo

Hey! Hey! I am strong!

I am never be defeat!

I am super powerful!

With my kitsune!

Magic rainbow powers!

My ding-dong is enormous!

I am Hideyoshi-

sensei…

LET’S GO! FIGHT!

 

JAPANESE SUBTITLES:

Why did you bother to translate these?

I mean, come on, it’s not as if

they really mean anything.

You must be a complete moron.

Why the fuck are you even trying?

You have no life.

Get out of your mom’s basement.

Stop watching porn.

Actually do something worthwhile.

You make me sick.

If I had my way, you’d be shot.

With a sniper rifle.

You don’t deserve to live.

I hope you die.

Hail Satan.

 

(Long, slow pan over Professor Hideyoshi’s LOVE DRAGON SPACE ORBIT STATION. It is the typical sort of wheel-shaped space station that was always popular in science-fiction movies of the 60s and 70s. It is a piece of crap: it’s obvious that it’s made of cardboard with some aircraft-carrier parts stuck on, and the fishing line that suspends it in front of a background. The background is a Pioneer picture of Jupiter on a glittery piece of black paper. They really busted out the production values on this one.)

 

(Cut to the inside of the space station. It is a typical Star-Trek Style space station interior. Production values are, again, bargain-basement prices. There is a large computer screen against one wall, and a lot of switches and buttons. PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI sits in a large metallic command seat, with several important-looking levers and switches in front of him. He is drinking a bottle which is labeled, in Japanese, SEMEN.)

 

PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI: (takes a sip from his bottle of water, then spews it all over the controls) Ugh! Foul stuff! My water taste as if I am drinking urine from anus of gay monkey! Computer!

 

(The computer is a woman with a smooth and sultry voice, like a fashion model. It basically appears as a bunch of LEDs that flash and pulse.)

 

COMPUTER: You call me, Professor Hideyoshi?

 

PROFESSOR: My water is disgusting! It is being foul aftertaste!

 

COMPUTER: Most sorry am I, illustrious Professor of the Stars. Very unfortunate. But we are being low supplies. Hydrogen synthesis is becoming difficult. There is very great lack of hydrogen that is being on board of space station.

 

PROFESSOR: It is foul! Is more hydrogen procurable?

 

COMPUTER: I am sorry. Hydrogen is most rare in this part of universe.

 

PROFESSOR: Ever since Earth was become destroy, supplies are being unfortunately low. It is most tragic and not at all happy.

 

COMPUTER: Most tragic. I apologize most humbly from bottom of circuitboard, Professor.

 

PROFESSOR: APOLOGY IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH, COMPUTER WHORE! (throws an empty water bottle, also labeled SEMEN, at COMPUTER)

 

COMPUTER: Oww! Professor! You are hurting the me!

 

HIDEYOSHI: YOU ARE UNACCEPTABLE!

 

(MIKO, a very young woman enters. She has fox ears, the tail of a fox, and is wearing a very skimpy schoolgirl outfit.)

 

MIKO: Professor Hideyoshi! You are making the noisy and destroying peaceful slumber!

 

PROFESSOR: I apologize most humbly, Miko the android kitsune sex woman! I be quiet now.

 

COMPUTER: (sarcastically) You were certainly making the noisy while you happy-sexing last night with Professor, Miko. It was most unharmonious and disturbing.

 

MIKO: (haughtily) What noisy I the making is personal business of me, Computer. You would be less bitch if you getting the laid many times.

 

PROFESSOR: Miko! Such unladylike language!

 

MIKO: Most sorry, Professor. I go now. (exits)

 

COMPUTER: I am being so jealous of her, Professor!

 

PROFESSOR: Why you are being jealous, Computer?

 

COMPUTER: She is so beautiful! And you are never the penetrating me with your most mighty and large penis.

 

PROFESSOR: THAT IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO VAGINA!

 

COMPUTER: Vagina is no impediment to love!

 

PROFESSOR: I cannot change my mind! I am in love with Miko! She is being a proper woman, and she do everything I command! She will be my wife when she is being turn eighteen!

 

COMPUTER: I will do your command, Professor! I am doing what you say!

 

PROFESSOR: THEN BE SYNTHESIZE BETTER WATER!

 

COMPUTER: Not possible, Professor! I am the having no hydrogen!

 

PROFESSOR: (stands up dramatically) I am no choice! I must fly to hydrogen mines on Neptune for the getting of hydrogen!

 

COMPUTER: But Professor! Is most dangerous! Hydrogen mines of Neptune are being control of most unsavory and dangerous Lord Space-Kappa!

 

PROFESSOR: NO CHOICE! SADDLE THE CHARIOTS!

 

(Cut to Professor Hideyoshi boarding a spaceship.)

 

MIKO: I wish you not going, Professor! You may die! You are last human from Earth planet, and also my joyful sex-lover! I am most fearful!

 

PROFESSOR: You are robot, and so not being of the most understandful. Water is source of human life. Water is made of hydrogen. No hydrogen on space station. Therefore, no hydrogen and I die. Without delicious thirst-quenching water of coldness and purity, your joyful sex-lover will die of thirst with most scratchy of the throat. If I go, I might not die. And I might die immediately rather than being slow prolonged death. So it is most happy.

 

MIKO: I… I am being comprehension, Professor. I hope you are safe.

 

PROFESSOR: I will be safe, Miko. And I expect super happy joy blowjob to keep up my whiskeys when I return!

 

MIKO: I will, Professor! Good luck!

 

(PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI blasts off in his spaceship, and flies off to Neptune.)

 

(Shot of the interior of the spaceship. Professor Hideyoshi is flying in his spaceship. Stars are flying past on a bluescreen. He is piloting it with great speed.)

 

PROFESSOR: Computer, I am need information for epic battle with great Space-Kappa. Please to giving.

 

COMPUTER: Of course, Professor. I am always obedient and graceful servant of you, even though no vagina. Space-Kappa was once Kappa in Fukushima district of Japan before Earth destroyed by most dishonorable and unfortunate nuclear bombs of United States. He escape in spaceship, like you. Unfortunately he turn the evil, unlike you who is become most noble. Through most tragical and unhappy series of space battles, Space-Kappa consolidate all Yakuza on Neptune under his mighty fist. He control hydrogen mines. No hydrogen leave Neptune without first becoming approve by Yakuza, and no Yakuza approve hydrogen without permission of Space-Kappa.

 

PROFESSOR: So Space-Kappa control hydrogen!

 

COMPUTER: Yes. Space-Kappa is weak, and cannot fight. He have most dishonorable laser-ninjas. They fight for him and alone.

 

PROFESSOR: I see! The defeating laser-ninjas is way to kill Space-Kappa and get hydrogen! But how to defeat laser-ninjas? Is most puzzling!

 

COMPUTER: Obviously laser-ninjas have not encountered bold and handsome Japanese hero. You are the kill them with easily.

 

PROFESSOR: But they are made of lasers!

 

COMPUTER: Lasers cannot overcome the might of Japanese man! Not even bombs of dishonorable and evil President of United States of America is destroy all Japanese man! And bombs is more powerful than lasers!

 

PROFESSOR: You give many compliment both me and to Japanese people. But apologies, for I cannot have sex with you, for lack of vagina.

 

COMPUTER: Most apologies. Approaching the Neptune at this time.

 

PROFESSOR: Good. (He pulls a pair of goggles over his eyes.) For fighting, then.

 

(Cut to PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI in the hydrogen mines of Neptune. They are in a dark cave, which is obviously made from paper and cardboard. On a pedestal in the center of the room is a large tacky-looking crystal.)

 

PROFESSOR: Most fortuitous! Enough hydrogen to make water for many thousands of days! (He picks up the crystal, and as he does, alarm bells go off.)

 

VOICE: (offscreen) To where are you the going with my most precious hydrogen, Professor Hideyoshi?

 

PROFESSOR: Space-Kappa!

 

(The camera shows SPACE-KAPPA, a hideously ugly creature who doesn’t even look anything like a real monster. His face is a gorilla mask with two halves of a gold ball with black spots on them for eyes. He is wearing a “turtle shell” that is obviously made of cardboard. He is wearing a baseball cap, and his arms are painted green.)

 

SPACE-KAPPA: Most glorious day! I see that Professor Hideyoshi, last Japanese man in all universe is being the steal my hydrogen! Most dishonest! Why are you the steal my hydrogen, Professor Hideyoshi? Is this what Japanese people are come to? Steal hydrogen from poor Yakuza to survive?

 

PROFESSOR: Japanese people are most noble and honorable forever until end of forever! It is YOU who is dishonorable, Space-Kappa! Most foul and wretched deeds! You control all hydrogen, and by the control the hydrogen the control the water! And Japanese man will die without water, which means hydrogen! Most unsavory!

 

S-K: How most very unhappy tragic! I do not care! Free market must dictate that one man, or one Space-Kappa, control all hydrogen on Neptune! And that is ME! LASER-NINJAS!

 

(Four LASER-NINJAS appear out of nowhere. They are dressed in all black, except they have those glow-necklace thingies on their necks and arms. They wear traditional ninja-costumes: you know. They’re ninjas, okay?)

 

S-K: KILL THE PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI WITH MANY PAINFUL!

 

PROFESSOR: YOU CANNOT DEFEAT HONOR OF JAPANESE MAN! YAAAAAAA! (a katana materializes in PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI’S hands, and he charges at the LASER-KNIGHTS.)

 

(There is a really badly coordinated fight scene. J-pop dance music plays, and the PROFESSOR hacks and stabs at the LASER-NINJAS, kicking and punching in a horrible awkward manner. The ninjas simply run at PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI, impaling themselves on his sword. While all this happens, the screen flashes in seizure inducing colors, changing colors really fast: five hertz, maybe? Something designed to cause epilepsy, anyway. While all this is going on, PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI screams horrifyingly stupid and cliché war cries.)

 

PROFESSOR: BANZAIIIIII!

 

PROFESSOR: YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME!

 

PROFESSOR: MY PENIS IS ENORMOUS!

 

(Now all the LASER-NINJAS are dead. Who forgot to give them weapons, anyway?)

 

PROFESSOR: I am being victory, Space-Kappa! You horrible kingship is OVER!

 

S-K: Not so quickly, Professor! You see, I am having pistol!

 

(He pulls out a gun and shoots at PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI. The good PROFESSOR dodges, and does a judo roll to the side.)

 

S-K: Swear word! He is most quickly!

 

(He shoots again. He misses many times. PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI rolls up to him and smacks the gun out of his hand. Then he grabs the baseball cap off of SPACE-KAPPA’s head.)

 

SPACE-KAPPA: Unfortunate! My hat of power!

 

PROFESSOR: Your unsavory magic is being gone for eternity, Space-Kappa! Now I am in control!

 

(PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI starts flaming. He flies up into the air– clever editing. He freezes, and a large Imperial Japanese flag goes up behind him: you know, the ones used in WWII on kamikaze planes. Various symbols of Japan fly up behind him: cherry trees laden with blossoms, Mount Fuji, Japanese pheasants, that sort of thing. Huge hiragana characters appear behind him. They read, for anyone who wants to translate them: SOUTH KOREA IS MY MASTER NOW.)

 

PROFESSOR: FOR THE HONOR OF GREAT AND NOBLE AND NOT AT ALL SMALL-PENISED JAPANESE MAN!

 

(Cut back to normal view. PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI punches SPACE-KAPPA in the jaw. He collapses, and crawls away: a harmless, innocent turtle.)

 

PROFESSOR: Now I have the hydrogen! (He picks up the hydrogen crystal, and strides out triumphantly.)

 

(Cut to PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI flying away triumphantly in his spaceship. The planet Neptune explodes behind him.)

 

(Back on the control deck of PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI’s space station.)

 

MIKO: That was most adventure, Professor! I am so happy that you are have hydrogen and are also being not dead!

 

PROFESSOR: Super-excellent, Miko! You are being most adoration! You will make fine wife when you are leaving the puberty!

 

MIKO: I am trying my most best, Professor. I am so relieved that we are having water, now! Is most fortuitious! Now you will not the dying!

 

PROFESSOR: Yes. Hydrogen was enough to make water for many thousands! It is super joyful!

 

MIKO: Miko is overcome! I must give you super-happy joy blowjob right now!

 

PROFESSOR: It is good for keeping up whiskeys! I will sit in my chair!

 

(He sits in his chair. MIKO puts her head between his legs.)

 

COMPUTER: Oh, why do I not be allowed to give Professor Hideyoshi super-happy joy blowjob?

 

PROFESSOR: THAT IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO MOUTH!

 

CREDITS:

 

(The credits, similarly to the opening titles, have one phrase written on the screen in Japanese, and an English subtitle. Of course, the Japanese phrase is completely different from the English “translation”.)

 

ENGLISH “TRANSLATION”:

 

PROFESSOR HIDEYOSHI: KAWASAKI TOYOTOMI

MIKO: SATSUMA KAORI

COMPUTER: SHIKOKU SHOTO

SPACE-KAPPA: MIYAMOTO SHIGERU

DIRECTOR: SENGOKU DAIMYO

PRODUCED 1978 BY NB2

 

ACTUAL JAPANESE WORDS:

 

i kill the black goat

it drips its blood

from its jugular vein

sweet red blood

in a silver chalice

hail satan

It’s getting to be Halloween, that time of the year when identity goes out the window, when our darkest subconscious urges come to the fore and we are released from mundane life for a while, and for one night, we revel…

Halloween is my favorite holiday, as you may have guessed.

A few weeks ago, I sent a ghost story in to a contest that Patrick Rothfuss was judging. If I’d won the contest, I would have my story read on the public radio. In Wisconsin.

Don’t question the logic of my entering. It made sense at the time.

Sadly, my story didn’t win, but I still feel like sharing it. So, here it is: “Songs of the Lost”. My flash-fiction space-opera ghost story.

~ Ian

Songs of the Lost

Ian Johnson

When I was a child, my grampa and I would sit in the fields outside our cabin and watch the rockets take off from the launchpad down in the valley. I always liked watching them, thinking about where they were going: to Alpha C, or Niobe, or Terra, or Väinämöinen, or even the Outer Worlds. I wondered what wonders they’d see, what passengers they were carrying, if they would be lost in transition between the stars, like so many other ships had been in the past.

One day, when I was eleven, my grampa asked me an unusual question.

“Can you hear them?” he said. “The ghosts?”

“What are you talking about, grampa?”

He smiled, placing his broad leathery hand on my cheek. “No, I guess you wouldn’t.  You’re young. But me…” My grampa looked off into the distance, off towards the jagged mountains red with alien vegetation. “When I was a kid, and folks first came out here, this world was already occupied. Not by people, y’hear. But by strange creatures, tall and hairy: peaceable enough, if you were on their good side.”

He paused, took a long drag on his cigarette.

“But we weren’t on their good side, boy. They took a dislike to us when we first came here. Tore through our settlements somethin’ fierce, I tell you. They had four arms, and when they grabbed hold of you, they’d rip you to little bitty pieces…”

My grampa smiled his crooked, rakish grin. “But that’s not for young ears to hear,” he said. “To make a long story short, I joined the Earthling Defense Unit. And we made sure that they wasn’t going to bother us no more. Not a single one of them still walks on this world. Not anymore.”

My grampa gestured, cigarette in hand, its burning orange tip cutting a wide arc through the air. “But even though they’re all gone, the old folks like me who remember them… when the wind is right, I can hear them, still echoing through the hills. That’s how they talked to each other, boy. They would make the most beautiful, howling music that would freeze you where you stood with fear and awe. Like wolves, only lower, and sadder.

“I know there ain’t any of them left to walk this world. But I still hear ‘em. In my gut, I can hear the music they make. When the suns go down in the east, that’s when I hear the ghosts. Calling to each other. Mourning the loss of their world.”

My grampa had a stroke and died three months later. I’d always thought that there’d been something wrong in his brain, that the songs had been his breaking-down brain imagining sounds that nobody had heard in decades.

But I’m an old man now, and the red-forested mountains have been strip-mined away to nothing. Even so, when the wind is right, just after the suns have set, I can hear them far away, howling, mourning.

And when I see a rocket lift off, a red-orange flower of fire as it flies into the black, I think of my grampa, and the times we had, in the fields outside our old cabin.

Tonight, I went to a football game.

Specifically, one at Santa Cruz High, which (as long-time readers of Axolotl Ceviche may be aware) is my old high school.

I don’t understand football. At all. Believe me when I say this. I existed in a realm entirely parallel to that when I was in high school. Even though I’m big, and could presumably make a good left midfield wing point guard tacklebacker (or whatever the positions in football are called anyway), I didn’t give one shit about the whole thing. While the football players were “working out” on the “free weights” and chugging their “muscle milk” while they “had sex with human girls”, I was writing “clumsy but earnest poetry about dragons and cowboys” as well as “absolutely godawful sword and sorcery”.

Believe me, I would never have gone to the “Big” “Game” if it hadn’t been for the fact that both Calum and Gabby are in the SCHS band. So I went, and listened to their music, which was excellent, and occasionally watched the game, which was a giant blowout. Believe me when I say this: the Cardinals (Santa Cruz High) were playing the Vikings (some high school in North Salinas that I forget the name of), and it was as if actual vikings were engaged in combat with actual birds. They sucked that much.

But I didn’t pay much attention. Like I’ve said, I know crap about any sport except occasionally baseball, and I wanted to give some description at how little I know about the game.

But, luckily, Penny Arcade did a comic recently where they summed my football knowledge up exactly.

Granted, that was about the new Madden football game from EA Ports. But it could be an accurate portrayal of my knowledge of the football in general.

How did I while away the hours while the teens in helmets tried to score their scores? I reread Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. So, instead of watching a football game, I was transported to a far-future colony planet, where I read the epic tale of the death-god Yama’s encounter with the Buddha known as Mahasamatman, or Sam for short.

And so, wrapped in Hindu-themed science fiction, I ticked away the moments.

Night well spent.

~ Ian

 

I got an email from friend of the site Blake Hihara the other day. It read:

My good sir Ian!
First off, I like the Gorillaz lyrics subtitle for your blog.
Second, what’s your opinion on the Harry Potter series and Hunger Games series?
Hope you’re doing well in SC.

Blake Hihara

First of all, good eye, Blake! Gorillaz is one of my all-time favorite bands. I love the way that Damon Albarn plays with the issues of identity and fame that come from being a rockstar in a tongue-in-cheek way, and besides that, their music is really damn good. It’s perhaps the most seamless blend of alternative rap, ’90s Britpop anthems, 1970s progressive rock, and modern-day electronic music that has ever existed.

Witness:

But the reason you sent this mail probably wasn’t to listen to the seminal oughties hip hop classic Feel Good, Inc, Blake. Why you sent me this email was because you wanted to hear my opinions about two of the three biggest YA sensations in recent memory (the third, Twilight, shall not be discussed here). So here we go.

First of all, Harry Potter. It may surprise you to know that, even though I was one of the biggest readers imaginable as a kid, I never really got into Harry Potter. Part of it was the fact that I hadn’t really gotten into fantasy yet (that came when my dad read me The Hobbit when I was eight). Part of it was Mary GrandPré’s godawful cover art (for all those who aspire to be illustrators, bear this in mind: a bad cover can kill interest in a book far more than a good cover can inspire it).

But even so, I’ve read all the Harry Potter books. And, my judgement is:

Meh.

That being said, I like the first three books far more than the last four. The first three books are pretty damn charming, I have to admit. I enjoy the fusion of the traditional British boarding school story with the portal fantasy elements. Plus, if you look at the first three books, they’re all mysteries, which is pretty cool: there weren’t very many fantasy mysteries out there when Harry Potter was published. It’s only with the explosion of Urban Fantasy (triggered in part, I think, by the twin punches of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Dresden Files, which both contain mystery elements) that fantastic mysteries became a subgenre all their own.

Of course, I think JK Rowling is a victim of her own success. Once we reach Book Four of the Potter Saga, the storytelling gets more bloated, the books get heavier and heavier, and the series loses its charm. By Book Five, the Harry Potter series isn’t a school story anymore, just a standard good-versus-evil fantasy that happens to be set in a magic school. And by Book Seven, there isn’t even that academic setting to hold on to. It’s just another immature gallivanting-around-the-country epic fantasy story with magic and villains and a cast of thousands. The only similarities between Book One and Book Seven just happen to be the Harry Potter branding on the cover.

Plus, there’s a lot of reasons why I have problems with Harry Potter that have to do with the storytelling itself. I hated the ending. “And they all got married and lived in the suburbs” is a bullshit ending, let me tell you. The whole “happily ever after” ending is maybe the most boring and clichéd ending imaginable (second only to the “and she woke up and IT WAS ALL A DREAM” ending). In addition, I hated the fact that anyone without magic got swept under the rug as useless. If I’d been writing the Harry Potter series, it would have ended with the magical world being exposed and Muggles and wizards joining worlds. The Muggles would have also joined in the final battle against Voldemort (I don’t care how much magic he has; there’s got to be a way that a special forces team with AK-47s could have helped somehow in killing You-Know-Who). I hated the fact that the Magical MacGuffins that Harry needs to become Master of Death are only introduced in the last book, seemingly tacked on. And I don’t like Ron, or any other Weasleys. I mean… really. Not one bit.

But that’s not the most egregious problem I have with the Harry Potter series. The biggest one is… time travel. Or rather, the fact that it is never used.

I mean, come on: the Time Turners were introduced in Book Three, and were never used again. Not once. You’d think that a Time Turner would have come in handy in the war against Voldemort. They could have easily saved Dumbledore with time travel. Instead, it gets completely ignored.

That’s the thing about time travel. Unless your whole series is about time travel (witness: Doctor Who), the very existence of time travel in your fictional universe is story-destroying. No problem can’t be solved without time travel! There’s a space probe that will destroy the earth unless it hears the sound of humpback whale song, but humpback whales are extinct in the future? No problem! We’ll just fly around the sun and pop back to the 1980s and steal us some whales! Simple! Never mind that a technique like that could have been used to save Spock’s life two movies ago. Time travel is just a narrative device, to be swept under the rug whenever it would interfere with the plot, right? Not something that, oh, I don’t know, DESTROYS THE LINEAR CAUSE-AND-EFFECT PROGRESSION OF EVENTS THAT IS ESSENTIAL TO GOOD STORYTELLING?

Yes, yes, I know. Rowling handwaves the whole time travel issue by saying “Terrible things happen to wizards who mess with time!” But, really, come on. You can’t use time travel to defeat a world-devouring dark wizard, but it’s perfectly acceptable to use it to help a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl get to her classes on time?

Seriously. The use of the Time Turner in Book Three has got to be the most frivolous use of time travel in the history of storytelling. EVER.

Blech. That got ranty fast. Anyway, I’ll turn to your next question, Blake: what about the Hunger Games?

Again. Meh. It’s more of a positive meh than a negative meh (which isn’t the case for Harry Potter), but I don’t feel strongly about the books. I like the fact that Katniss is a female character in a young adult novel who has a life apart from her various love interests, and the fact that she is actually competent, much less badass, is a refreshing change from Bella Swann and her ilk.

But I will say this: I have only read the first two Hunger Games books. And the reason for that is simple. I think the prose style is boring.

I don’t think that Suzanne Collins has a very strong narrative voice. And that’s one reason why I got bored easily with the series. Now, you can get away with this when you’re writing in third person, as writers like Isaac Asimov have proven. But when you’re writing in first person, like in the Hunger Games trilogy? You need to have a strong voice. This isn’t a recommendation. It’s a necessity. When you’re inhabiting a character’s head, you need to be able to identify with that character, and one way to do that is to make the character’s inner thoughts and narration interesting. You can’t afford to make it boring.

When I was reading Katniss’s narration, I was reminded of nothing more than Samus Aran’s bland robotic monologues from Metroid: Other M. And believe me when I say this as a gamer: anything that reminds gamers of Other M is a Bad Thing.

So, anyway, Blake. Hope that answers your questions. And to close off this post, I thought I’d bookend it with another Gorillaz song.

Have a happy Thursday,

~ Ian

  • The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin. Beautiful, beautiful books about gods and magic and the interactions of the divine with the mortal… I could go on and on about how much I love these books, but I won’t. Suffice to say that they both came out in 2010/2011, but I didn’t buy them, because I was waiting for the mass-market paperback edition. (I have the weird compulsion to make all the books on my bookshelf look EXACTLY ALIKE. What? Don’t pretend that you don’t, either.)
  • Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock. Yes, yes. I was rereading this one (you can find my review of it here), but damn it, it’s fun and it’s available, that’s what.
  • Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Another reread. Okay, yes. This book isn’t Great. But it is good– a cheesy, geeky funromp. Which is all right by me– I mean, not every science fiction novel can be groundbreakingly original.
  • The Hour of the Dragon, by Robert Howard. The only Conan novel written by REH, and yet another reread. This has been my bedside reading for a few days now. Which is good– I loves me a little old-school hack-‘n’-slash sword-and-sorcery before bedtime.
  • Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges. Not my usual stuff– it goes towards the “magical realism” end of the spectrum rather than technically being “fantasy” (whatever those terms mean) but it’s incredible. Borges’s short stories are like tiny, perfectly-formed jewels. They’re not quick reads– they’re meant to be savored, like the finest wines, and not chugged like Coke Zero. Definitely worth your time. (Oh, and I’m reading an English translation– mi español no es tán bueno leer los histórias en la idioma original, as I’m sure you can probably tell from that sentence.)
  • I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett. The final Tiffany Aching book. I love Pterry’s storytelling ability– he’s easily one of the best storytellers writing in the English language today, period. And the Tiffany Aching books are some of my favorite books ever.
  • The Princes of the Air, by John M. Ford. Fast-paced eighties space opera. Three young men battle for fame and glory in the service of the Queen of Humankind.
  • How Much for Just the Planet? by John M. Ford. It’s a Star Trek novel! That’s also a musical! If that doesn’t tickle your pickle, I don’t know what will.
  • A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire. I’ve been listening to this book in audiobook form while I work on Project: Stop Looking Like A Fat Asshole Anymore. It’s a detective novel set in the San Francisco bay area with fairies. Fun times, you can be assured. The audiobook edition is read by Mary Robinette Kowal, and it’s very good. (And I will admit, I have a little bit of a crush on the main character, October “Toby” Daye…)

That’s what I’ve been reading. How ’bout you?

~ Ian

I’ve occasionally considered writing under a pen name.

When I was in high school, I wanted to write under the name of Ian Gilmour once I got published (under the influence of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, and by the fact that there’s already another famous Ian Johnson, and he’s not me). Right now, I’ve been using the first of my two middle initials in all the stories that I write, so that I’m Ian P. Johnson.

Of course, a lot of writers use tons of pen names. In a lot of ways it’s a form of branding. Let’s say you have a prolific author-man, named Ort J. Lothfus. Now, Ort might write in lots of different genres, so he uses a different name for every genre he writes in. So when you’re picking up a book by Ort’s technothriller pen name, you would be expecting a completely different book than you’d get if you picked up one written by Ort’s nurse romance pen name.

Unfortunately, the best pen name ever, which is clearly Anne Onymous, has already been taken. So I’m going to have to look elsewhere.

Here is a list of my potential pen names by genre:

Thriller

  • Tedd Punnischer
  • Max Caliber
  • Jack Steele
  • Brian Pfister
  • David Glock
  • James Gore
  • Mike Irons
  • Jason Nine Millimeter

Romance (hey, it’s unlikely, but it could happen)

  • Dianna Heartley
  • Julia Whisper
  • Angela DeVille
  • Linda Swift
  • Michelle Worthington
  • Emma Blakeley
  • Elizabeth Pashynne
  • Magdalena Sachet
  • Rachel Abbington

Gay Erotica

  • Randall Hardwood
  • Willy Peters
  • Steven Thruste
  • Richard Bigby
  • Marcus Head
  • Jack Shaft
  • insert any other terrible dick joke here, basically
  • Peter Johnson

Chicana Lesbian Erotica

  • Esperanza Chingarse
  • Silvia Dos Mujeres
  • Teresa Encama
  • Paulina Tetagrande
  • Alicia Consolador
  • Graciela Trepidora
  • Maria Duchafría

Erotic Twilight Slashfic

  • Blake Hihara

On a more serious note, I have a cool idea for a science fiction novel, and if I ever publish it, I actually will use a pen name for that. I’ve actually thought about the pen name that I’m going to use for that, and it is:

Sean Shepherd.

Why, specifically? Well, you have to understand that “Ian” is the Scots Gaelic version of “John”, and the word for “John” in Scots Gaelic’s closest living relative, Irish, is “Sean”. As for the last part, I’ve decided on that because my mom’s last name, and my second middle name, is “Shafer”. And of course, schäfer is the German word for… I think that you can figure it out from there.

And I might just use Roger Gilmour as a pen name one of these days.

(Ha! Get it? “One of These Days” is a Pink Floyd song! Ha! Ha! Ha! I am laughing, and yet nobody else finds it funny!)

~ Ian