Archive for August, 2008

Riddick, Diesel, and Babylon A.D.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

The blogosphere (or, rather, specialized segments of it) is abuzz with Vin Diesel’s statements about not one, but two forthcoming Riddick movies. Apparently director David Twohy is even now writing the scripts, which he and Diesel are about to start shopping around. Intriguingly, they’re also conferring on whether they’ll end up shooting both movies separately, or together, a la Lord of the Rings. And the LOTR reference is instructive, as it underscores what I was saying last month about just how ambitious the original Riddick plans were. And apparently still are. Just one problem.


Folks, nothing’s been signed. Twohy can write all he wants and Diesel can talk to whomever he damn well pleases and fans can work themselves up into a Furyan frenzy, but the fact of the matter remains that Chronicles underperformed at the box office. Which is going to make any sequels a VERY tough sell.  I’m not saying it can’t be done. But ultimately the pitch meetings that Twohy/Diesel have with Hollywood execs may not be about Riddick anyway.

They’ll be about Babylon A.D.

Which opens in the States this weekend, and is Diesel’s first SF movie since Riddick. Making it a great way for Hollywood to tell if Diesel still has box-office draw as a SF star. Which, bluntly put, means that if Babylon tanks, you can forget about seeing anything involving Riddick, ever again. And it doesn’t look like we’re off to a good start, either: the movie opened in France, and has been panned by critics so far. Sure, Babylon might just suck in its own right. Doesn’t matter to Hollywood. Hey, it’s their money. When I invest mine, I like to see proof that it’s going to get me a return too.

So I leave you with this: if you really really REALLY want to see more Riddick movies, and you DON’T go see Babylon A.D. THIS WEEKEND, then your commitment to the cause has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Convert now or fall forever.

IMAX Batman

Monday, August 25th, 2008

So I admit it: I am a junkie, and I have no will of my own. I’d already seen the goddamn movie twice, but a friend dragged me to Saturday night’s IMAX show at the Museum of Natural History. She claimed that if you haven’t seen Dark Knight on IMAX you haven’t seen Dark Knight. I found the logic persuasive, and considered it my duty to put the claim to the test.

And now I can report the results. To be clear, Dark Knight is flat-out fantastic on any screen. But it’s all a matter of increment. See it in your living room on a DVD a year from now, and yeah, you’re missing something. Most of which you get by seeing it in a normal theater. But if you want a five-story tall Joker, there’s only one medium that delivers.  Not to mention that insane underground road chase….and that death-defying plunge through the Hong Kong skyline… jesus christ. Apparently only 25 minutes of the film are actually shot in IMAX, but the sheer scale of the screen makes those other two hours pretty insane as well. It’s a great way to wrap up the summer.

Next on my to-see list: Death Race. I suspect it’ll be a cold day in Lucifer’s domain the day THAT makes it to an IMAX, but in the words of someone I trust, I feel sure it will (a) suck and (b) be fucking awesome.

An albino emperor and a giant soul-sucking sword

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

I’m late to the party: the graphic novel Elric: The Making of a Sorceror came out in 2007, but I’m only just now getting around to reading it. Which is a shame, because it’s quite well-done. The art is gorgeous (apart from Yyrkoon being #$@# BALD), and the storyline is an interesting prequel to the events that start off the first Elric novel, centering around a ritual dream-battle between Elric and Yyrkoon over who is more worthy of being the next emperor of Melnibone. Best of all is that Moorcock himself wrote the damn thing; it’s nice to see that he’s not yet in the business of farming off pieces of the core franchise to hack writers.

Which doesn’t mean that this graphic novel doesn’t fall into some of the same traps the novels did. Every time Elric gets into some impossible situation, that ol’ chaos lord Arioch’s bailing him out, and carting off all the blood and souls in sight by way of recompense. But whatever. The Elric novels broke so much new ground—they were so alive and wonderful and WEIRD—that a little bit of deus ex machina never really bothered me.  Especially because it was part of Elric’s larger fate and ultimate damnation.

And of course now I’m back and rereading the rest of the series. Some of the prose from the Elric books feels a little stilted/dated now, but I can’t decide if that’s because I first read them in junior high or because Moorcock was the one who was inventing so many of the cliches that have since passed into modern fantasy. And I challenge anyone to come up with a better action/drama sequence than the sacking of the Dreaming City that opens Book Three.  (Though why the fuck the Melnibonean fleet waited till AFTER the reavers had sacked Immyr before burning them to the waterline is beyond me; it made for great drama but shit logic. But maybe I just answered my own question.)

And most intriguing of all, the rumors of an Elric movie continue to persist.  As, regrettably, do the rumors that the same team that brought us the Nutty Professor 2 and American Pie is involved. Meaning that (like Elric) we just can’t win:  either (a) there’ll be no movie or (b) we’ll have to watch Cymoril tell us all about band practice and that damn flute of hers. You have been warned.

Putting Russia in perspective

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

A second cold war? Russia regains its great power status? There’s a lot of SF fans who said my geopolitical ideas were crazy. But turn on the TV, and Russian tanks are steamrolling over Georgia. And now I’m getting emails from *other* SF fans who are asking me whether I’m going to use this to claim vindication.

Well, no, I’m not.

For one thing, gloating ain’t attractive. But more importantly, despite the media’s hysterical claims of a new cold war, this isn’t the one I had in mind. What’s presented in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS is a Russia capable of projecting force on a global basis. But the Russian Federation of today is a long way still from anything that approaches the all-encompassing global reach of the Soviet Union.

And that’s something the U.S. ought to bear in mind as it weighs its options in the aftermath of the Georgia fait accompli.  A lot of people who should know better are calling for Bush II to get tough on the Evil Russian Bear.  But what they’re forgetting (or ignoring) is that we already HAVE been getting tough.  We promised that NATO would never expand into the former Soviet Union, but then NATO did.  Not only that, but we withdrew unilaterally from the ABM pact and started building missile defense infrastructure in the Czech Republic and Poland.  And while we were at it we intervened in Ukrainian politics.

But although the Russia we’re dealing with now may not be anywhere near as powerful as the Soviets, it’s still a damn sight stronger than the broken reed we trampled over in the 1990s.  And although American domestic politics has reached such a lamentable state of affairs that both candidates feel they have to immediately jump on the anti-Russia bandwagon (any rhetoric besides the mindless assertion of American power being deemed unpatriotic these days), hopefully something at either the State Department or the Pentagon is weighing the facts:

Item #1:  the bulk of our military forces will be engulfed in the Mideast quagmire for some time to come
Item #2:  the question of whether America intervenes in the former Soviet Union means a lot more to the Russians than it does to the Americans
Item #3:  we need Russia’s help with Iran whether we like it or not.
Item #4:  Putin ain’t Hitler. (This doesn’t mean that Putin’s a saint.  It just means that he isn’t the leader of a state hell-bent on conquering all of Eurasia and killing entire ethnic groups while he does so.)
Item #5:  While Putin may not be Hitler, he really has the potential to fuck with the price of oil.

Bottom line, regardless of what Russia does next, we’re idiots if we go to the mat with them right now over territory inside what was once the Soviet Union. And we’d be unwise to forget that for-too-long discredited concept in international relations called spheres of influence.  And I’m more than a little concerned that over the next few years (regardless of who wins the election) we’re going to start to see just how flimsy some of the assumptions that guide American foreign policy have become.

NASA, Georgia, and those evil Russians

Friday, August 15th, 2008

So the plan seemed simple enough: retire the Shuttle in 2010 and bring the new spaceship online in 2015 (at the absolute earliest). And in the meantime, pay the Russians to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station via the Soyuz. After all, they’re dirt poor and need hard currency, right? And since the Berlin Wall collapsed they’ve been more than happy to help out whenever we need it, right?

But now there’s Georgia. And the realization that if our diplomatic relations with Russia turn to shit, it’s going to difficult to persuade Moscow to continue to provide the world’s most expensive taxi service. All the more so as allowing NASA to contract with Russia will require Congress to pass a special waiver, as the Washington Post reports this morning. Which is highly unlikely to happen in an election year.  And even less likely to happen in a year in which Russian tanks are busy plowing Georgia.

Of course, the real question is What the Hell Did We Expect?  Defense Secretary Gates was quoted this morning as saying that Russia’s Georgian incursion has “called into question the entire premise” of U.S.-Russian relations.  That premise being, I suppose, that we can do whatever we want on Russia’s borders and if they say anything about it, then they hate freedom almost as much as, well, everybody else.  And when it turns out we can’t hitch a ride on the Soyuz, you can be sure the prez (whoever that might be) will decry Russia’s attempt to dominate the entire solar system.  Georgia today, tomorrow Mars:  it’s certainly a better gameplan than anything NASA has managed to come up with.

Cyberwar, Russian-style

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

With the invasion of Georgia, Russia has signaled that reports of her demise are greatly exaggerated, and more than a little premature. Thanks in part to the U.S. being mired in an endless Middle Eastern war, Russia is in a position to define a sphere of influence, and operate within it with impunity. Many are focusing on the legalisms involved: in particularly, how the secession of Kosovo from Serbia opened up the door for Russia to play the same game in South Ossetia/Georgia. But the truth of the matter is that U.S. moves in eastern Europe (in particular the prospect of U.S. missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic) meant that Russia has been backed into a corner. Now we see her response.

And we’re also getting a glimpse of the new face of warfare. Even as the tanks started to roll, it became evident that Georgia was under massive cyberattack; now the New York Times has reported that this online incursion (or rehearsals for it) commenced last month. The NYT calls this the “first time that a known cyberattack has coincided with a shooting war”, which I find strange, as there’s more than a little evidence that the U.S. did the same thing in its assault on Iraq in 2003 (and if they didn’t, then they were fools not to).  At any rate, it won’t be the last.

But the exact contours of this new type of war will take some while to play out.  As with space warfare, the topography of cyberwarfare remains relatively undefined.  A fascinating article in Wired pointed out how some countries are cyberlocked:  just as a landlocked country has no access to the sea, cyberlocked countries rely to too great an extent on nearby countries for their access to the net.  (In this case, Georgia is dependent to an alarming degree on Russia infrastructure.)  The road from here to THE MIRRORED HEAVENS (in which the World Wide Net actually sunders along geopolitical lines) remains a long one, but I think we’re starting to see the first signs of it.

And meanwhile Georgia had better pray the cease-fire holds.  Vladimir Putin may not use computers, but he’s pretty good at employing people who do.

What Really Happened to the Quack-Quacks

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

During my WorldCon roundup yesterday, I mentioned that my agent Jenny Rappaport first embarked upon her literary career during junior high. And now, in a stunning move, she has published on her blog the long-lost story “The Tragic Demise of the Quack-Quacks.” Written by Jenny when she was in the seventh grade, this legendary tale is packed full of surprise twists and teaches us a valuable lesson on the capriciousness of life. I particularly like the fact that we first meet two of the lovable duck characters when they’re dead.

Moments after they’ve killed each other.

By drowning.

And now you know you have no choice but to read on.

WorldCon Highlights

Monday, August 11th, 2008

In no particular order:

The NORAD tour. What could be more fun than hanging out in the chambers from which World War Three would have been fought? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Having dinner with the folks from io9: I met editor Annalee Newitz on the NORAD tour; later in the con, I had the chance to hang out more with her and news editor Charlie Jane Anders. It was awesome to find that the io9 overlords are just as witty in-person as they are online.  Plus the Mongolian stir-fry BBQ that they suggested rocked.

Clarion 07 classmate Derek Zumsteg one-upping Tor editor David Hartwell during the Clarion panel: following Hartwell’s comment about Seattle being a “swamp filled with half-formed egos”, Zumsteg shot back without missing a beat about New York City and all its “fully formed egos.”  Incidentally, Zumsteg has a story in Asimov’s this month, so check it out.

Hanging out with Gail Carriger:  Never heard of her?  You will.  Two years ago she and I were prowling the LA WorldCon as members of the wannabee novelist crew.  And now we’ve both made the Big Leap:  Gail just signed a two book deal with Orbit; her first novel, SOULLESS, will be out next year, and looks cool as hell.  So does Gail, for that matter.  This is a writer with some serious style.  I predict great things.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Campbell win:  Her stories rock, and (taking nothing away from the other contenders) it’s nice to see that the Campbell doesn’t automatically go to the person with the biggest novel deal.  Plus, I’ve never seen anyone more radiant than Kowal subsequent to the award.  John Scalzi posted earlier today about the moment when the Hugo winners came past the Hyatt bar; it was pretty surreal to watch from the sidelines.

Elizabeth Bear’s Hugo win:   Bear officially makes the transition from rising star to full-on star, and it’s about time.  #$ awesome.  As is winning story Tidelines.

Drinks with superagent Jenny Rappaport:  who I met at the WorldCon two years ago, and is the reason why MIRRORED HEAVENS is published.  But that’s nothing compared to hearing about her own writings, in particular being treated to a synopsis of her very first short story, written when she was in the fourth grade:  The Tragic Demise of the Quack-Quacks.  She promised me she’d post it on her blog some day; I hope that day is soon.

Getting back home to D.C.:  it’s been a while.  ‘Nuff said for now.

Inside NORAD

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Thanks to both the awesome Jeff Carlson and the Slush God, I found myself part of a group of SF writers touring NORAD today. NORAD, of course, is North American Aerospace Defense Command, and boy was it a trip. Some of the day’s recollections:

The front-door: That holy shit moment when (having passed through checkpoints and gotten on a military bus) we saw THE tunnel . . . the one I’ve seen so many times in movies and never once for real, leading into the depths of Cheyenne Mountain. . .

The blast-doors: At the bottom of the tunnel are the blast-doors. There are two, turned perpendicular so as to allow a blast to sideswipe them; behind them are caves within which are  . . .

Rooms on springs:  If your bunker doesn’t have springs, then you don’t have a bunker.  The most secure area of NORAD is a series of rooms/shells mounted on springs in order to ride out shock-waves.

Without power, they’re just caves:  The bulk of NORAD is infrastructure built to ensure that the complex continues to run even if everything’s anarchy outside and zombies are combing the countryside looking for meat.  And yet, given the base’s current resources, it would apparently need resupply within a month.  A fellow member of the tour suggested that this was disinformation; I would be inclined to think that it’s the honest truth, particularly given that . . . .

Without the Soviets, it’s all just window-dressing:    Because as impressive as the place is, it belongs to a different era.  The main hemisphere-scanning functions are now carried out by nearby Peterson Air Base, and NORAD has been relegated to redundancy and standby.  Officially the Pentagon has done this because the U.S. is no longer threatened by massive nuclear attack; unofficially one might also note that the precision targeting of the latest nuclear weapons would turn the mountain into a smoking crater.  Our tour’s directors were pretty frank with us about NORAD’s current standby situation, but were legitimately proud of the base’s history.  The image that will remain with me for a long time were the sealed-up doorways that were far smaller than a blast-door but far larger than a normal door.  Decades ago, mainframe computers were hauled through those openings and commissioned as the core of yesteryear’s NORAD.  Now those machines have vanished, along with the enemy they once stood watch for.

A duck that will never quack:  Yeah, you read that right.  Look, here’s the thing:  in the depths of NORAD is a reservoir, contained behind a small dam and leading into underwater caves.  But floating on the water is what looks for all the world like a duck.  Or rather, a fake duck/hunter’s decoy:  one that NORAD maintenance divers placed on the surface to allow them to tell which way is up and thereby escape disorientation.  They may have succeeded, but any newcomer to the world beneath the mountain won’t.

Happy Hiroshima Day

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

It seems kinda fitting that today is also the first day of Worldcon. I’m in Denver right now, after a few days in the British Columbia wilderness. More to come later.