Saturday, 24 October 2009

Relax to the soothing sounds of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier

I had to share this. The other day, while sorting through some of the library's LPs, my colleague came across this classic album:



The album contains such hits as "Nuclear reactor room siren" and "Engine room, main oil lube alarm". I have absolutely no idea how this ended up in my library's music collection!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Tribble triathlon

Ahh... this is the life. Watching dreadful science fiction TV while eating nachos. Earlier this week I processed the second and third seasons of Star Trek: The Original Series at my library, and immediately borrowed the fifth disc of season two, which contains three Star Trek Tribble episodes: "Trouble with Tribbles" from The Original Series, "More Trouble, More Tribbles" from The Animated Series, and "Trials and Tribble-ations" from Deep Space Nine.

"Trouble with Tribbles" was good in a nostalgic classic-science-fiction kind of way - not really fantastic in and of itself (in fact quite dreadful by today's standards), but nonetheless enjoyable. While trying to protect storehouses of grain from the Klingon, the Enterprise is overrun by Tribbles - tiny, furry creatures that multiply at an incredible rate. The Tribbles also have a strangely calming effect on all non-Klingon races, and send Klingons into a rage. The episode is very funny - at least I'm fairly sure I was laughing at the jokes most of the time, and not the show itself.

The Animated Series, it seems, is truly dreadful - and the 20 minute "More Trouble, More Tribbles" felt more like 20 hours. The cast of The Original Series are certainly not voice actors, since they all sounded incredibly bored for the entire episode (so they sounded like I felt). Furthermore, the animation was virtually non-existent, with most scenes being stationary people with slightly moving lips - though this was probably more due to the shocking animation technology of the time.

The Deep Space Nine episode, however, was thoroughly enjoyable - by far the best of the three. Yes, "Trouble with Tribbles" is classic, but "Trials and Tribble-ations" is good. I knew that the DS9 episode was a "crossover", but I still wasn't sure exactly what to expect. The episode actually runs, for the most part, concurrently with "The Trouble with Tribbles", and scenes from the original episode are spliced in. DS9 crew are forced to disguise themselves as Enterprise crew in order to infiltrate the station and the Enterprise and foil the plan of a villain that travelled back in time with them. In doing this, the DS9 crew become the 'extras' and 'behind the scenes' characters of "The Trouble with Tribbles". They are digitally inserted into scenes from the earlier episode quite seamlessly, and the result is hilarious (see, for instance, the bar fight). The writing of the episode is also brilliant, with many nods to (and parodies of) The Original Series. It is also, in many ways, a pastiche of other time travel stories, being very self-conscious. It is plain to see why "Trials and Tribble-ations" was nominated for a Hugo Award. I highly recommend it! You should watch "The Trouble with Tribbles" first to truly appreciate the episode. But skip The Animated Series. Trust me.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Essay done! SF reading underway!

Finally! I am now totally free from coursework units, having submitted my final essay yesterday. It could perhaps be considered sad, but on the same day as I technically finish uni for the year, I manage to pick up some reading for my thesis. I work at the Matheson Library at Monash University, and as I was walking past the new books display, this caught my eye:


Gabriel McKee, The Gospel According to Science Fiction: From the Twilight Zone to the Final Frontier (2007).

I've been following McKee's fantastic blog at sfgospel.com, and a while ago requested that my library acquire a copy of his book, and lo and behold, here it is! I read the introduction at work, and can't wait to get started on the book proper. Check out the table of contents at Amazon.com - I can't wait to read the chapters on Free Will and Divine Providence, Alien Messiahs, and Faith and Religious Experience.

I'm also about a third the way through Dust by Elizabeth Bear, which I'm really enjoying. I find it rather reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun - failing generational spaceship, AI as 'gods', religious themes, blend of fantasy and sf, needlers (needle-guns in Bear), the word 'azure'. I'll write a proper review when I've finished.

On my agenda for post-semester fun: playing Oblivion and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl; re-watching Stargate SG1; planning my trip to Italy in January (I'm auditing a one month unit taught at the Monash Prato centre called "Dante's Medieval World", which my wife is taking); and reading outside in the beautiful, sunny Spring weather. Also tidying the house, though that's perhaps slightly less fun.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Howl's Moving Castle; reading short stories


I finished reading Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle with my wife the other day, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We decided it was one of those essential childrens' fantasy books that we had to read - and we bought a copy because of it's gorgeous cover. As soon as we started reading it, I discovered it was going to be quite different to what I had expected. It's a brilliantly written, self-reflective, and very, very fun. The characters were fantastic, and I absolutely loved that it crossed over from the fantasy world to the 'real' world at times. It's very different to the anime movie based on it, but I did see that years ago, so it didn't have much of a bearing on my reading of it. Highly recommended!



I've also been reading a few short stories lately, since they're easy to fit in around essay writing. I bought Vera Nazarian's Salt of the Air (not only because it has an introduction by Gene Wolfe) and have read "Rossia Moya", an interesting little science fiction piece set in a near-future dystopian Russia which is about to sever all connections with the rest of the world, and "The Story of Love", a beautifully written story that was nominated for a Nebula Award - though I would question how much a father that beats his daughter actually deserves love.

StarShipSofa's podcasts have be fantastic for providing quick doses of science fiction while walking to and from university. I'm listening through them rather randomly, but so far I have thoroughly enjoyed:
  • "Mythological Beast" by Stephen Donaldson (episode no. 11) – a brilliant blend of science fiction and fantasy. It has evil artificial intelligences and unicorns – what more could you ask for?
  • "'Tis the Season" by China Miéville (episode no. 56) – an extremely funny story about the commercialisation of Christmas.
  • "A Slow Saturday Night" by Michael Moorcock (episode no. 9) – an incredibly funny story in which God is questioned about his divine plan by bar patrons on a slow Saturday night. God, it turns out, is the God of prosperity doctrine - only the wealthy and prosperous get in to heaven. And cats. Apparently God greatly prefers cats to humans, and he essentially only allows humans in to heaven to serve the cats. I suppose I understand that. All in all, some very interesting, and funny, social commentary.
  • "And the Deep Blue Sea" by Elizabeth Bear (episode no. 19) – probably the most 'science fictional' of all the stories I listened to. Set in a post-apocalyptic America, the story follows a package courier that must ride across the country on her motorcycle to deliver an important parcel. It was also brilliantly narrated. The story had me wanting to read more by Bear, so I read the first few pages of her recent novel Dust on Amazon.com preview (the description sounded a lot like Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun – massive generational spaceship, blend of sf and fantasy, etc) – now I'm hooked and I must read the rest of it! Only thing is, I can't find it in any bookstore here. Blasted understocked Australian bookstores!
As soon as I've finished this blasted honours coursework essay (eight days to go! yay!) I'll have time to delve into some novels. I'm waiting to read Elizabeth Bear's Dust, Neil Gaiman's Sandman (the entire series!), and a heap of novels related to my thesis next year. All that, of course, will have to wait untill my desk doesn't look like this:



Saturday, 3 October 2009

Coursework essay writing underway

Well, I just wrote the first 1600 words of a 6000 word coursework essay. I even came up with a title: "The Angel of Derision: The Use of Biblical Intertexts in S. Y. Abramovitsh's 'Shem and Japheth on the Train' and 'Burned Out'". What does it have to do with science fiction? Absolutely nothing. (What a sad semester, but such things are unavoidable.) The essay is for a unit called "The Jewish Literature of Destruction," in which we've been studying Jewish literary responses to catastrophe, from the biblical period to the Holocaust. I chose to write my essay on the 'grandfather' of modern Yiddish and Hebrew prose fiction, Abramovitsh, who was writing in Tsarist Russia from the Pale of Settlement in the late nineteenth-century. What makes Abramovitsh fairly unique among the authors we've been studying this semester is his style of response: parody and satire. His stories are, at the same time, incredibly funny and rather depressing. But they still make for more lighthearted reading than most of what I've read this semester. I'm specifically looking at his use of biblical quotations as a source of satire and irony in his later Hebrew writing.

The unavoidable problem with studying the Jewish literature of destruction in isolation, however, is that reading it alone serves to reinforce a lachrymose (tearful) view of Jewish history, one which many scholars are attempting to move past. Nevertheless, as upsetting as most of this literature is, it is incredibly beautiful writing, and very enlightening - there is a huge difference between reading a history book on life in the ghettos, and reading the heart wrenching writings of actual ghetto inhabitants.



As deep as all that sounds, I've been having trouble not just sitting and looking at my little room heater, which I swear would look just like a cylon, if only I could make its red light move from left to right.