Monday, May 23, 2005

Great Sci-Fi Writers

I read a lot of different kinds books and magazines, but I love science-fiction novels and short stories most of all. I figure I could make a list a mile long of my favorite writers and my favorite stories. Then again, it would be even better if I could get others to list their favorites too. I'm sure there are great writers I haven't even discovered yet. So here's the contest - the prize is self-evident:

1. Post a comment and leave the name of at least one, but no more than three, Sci-Fi writers who have written something you like. You can provide a link or even write a synopsis of what books you've read by them and why you liked them, but all you have to leave is a name.

2. You can leave as many comments as you like, but no back-to-back comments. (In other words wait until at least one other person has left a comment before adding another.) This will ensure a bit of diversity in the responses, and give everyone a chance to add something. It'll also keep the contest going only so long as there are multiple persons still interested in contributing.

3. It would be a crime not to list the obvious big-timers but please don't ignore the more obscure writers you might know of too. Don't leave anything out. Whatever you like is fair game, you don't have to list only Nebula and Hugo award winners.

4. Although I tend to be most interested in more traditional/hard-core Science-Fiction, I've decided this contest will accept a very loose definition of the term 'Sci-Fi', as to include writers of almost any medium - be they books, short stories, comic-books, movies, etc. I also recognize that there can be blurred lines between Sci-Fi and other genres (such as fantasy) which is okay too, but please don't go overboard.

5. If you are one of the silent ones who always reads this blog but never leaves any comments (and you both know who you are) you have to leave a comment or I will continue to make fun of you in increasingly irreverent ways.

These are the rules. Let the contest begin!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mind Biscuits

I was scanning a recent copy of Scientific American when I came across an article about the 'universal constants' of physics and how wonderfully amazing it is that all these numbers just happen to be exactly what they are - because if they weren't then the Earth wouldn't circle the Sun the same, atoms wouldn't form they way they do, and life just wouldn't be possible. Apparently these constants just happen to be fixed in the only configuration that could ever do.

Something about such a conclusion struck me as being a sort of circular logic, but not being a particularly well regarded physicist myself I mentally shrugged it off. Then I found the following quote Douglas Adams gave at a lecture at UC Santa Barbara:
It's rather like a puddle waking up one morning— - I know they don't normally do this, but allow me, I'm a science fiction writer.— A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks: "This is a very interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact it fits me so neatly... I mean really precise isn't it?... It must have been made to have me in it." And the sun rises, and [the puddle is] continuing to narrate this story about how this hole must have been made to have him in it. And as the sun rises, and gradually the puddle is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking— and by the time the puddle ceases to exist, it's still thinking— - it's still trapped in this idea that -— that the hole was there for it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide

While many would argue that George Lucas or even Gene Roddenberry lay claim to the most recognizable Sci-Fi franchises ever created, I have a sneaking suspicion that many a wannabe Jedi were willing to lay down their flashlight-sabers and take off their Vulcan eartips just long enough to don their most favored of towels and head to theaters to see the new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie. Familiarity with this distinctly british sci-fi series by Douglas Adams is the true test of 'sophisticated' nerds everywhere. The Hitchhiker's Guide was originally a radio program in the late 1970s but eventually it grew into a trilogy of five books (this makes sense to anyone who's read Adams), a TV series, a second radio show, and a classic computer game. It was only a matter of time before they morphed it all into a movie.

I loved the book but I was reluctant to go see the movie. I was afraid it wouldn't live up to all the hype. Now that I've seen it I'm not exactly sure how best to review it. It was good - not great. I really wasn't expecting too much, and overall I was pleasantly surprised. I liked that in general it was true to Adams' writing style. A lot of the dialogue and narration were taken from the book word for word. Of course, most of it was edited down for the big-screen and some of the story was different, but that's to be expected. The acting was decent, and the special-effects and sets were spectacular.

In analyzing the story changes, it's important to note that Adams himself (who died in 2001) enjoyed changing elements of his story from iteration to iteration. The radio series was different than the books, which was different than the TV series, which was different than the subsequent radio series, etc. I imagine the movie screenplay was produced in much the same vein as he had originally written it: A bit more romance, a lot less narration, less story, more action. Perhaps these were all reasonable compromises, but ultimately it was all so abbreviated it left me wondering if it would be enjoyable to someone who was not familiar with the book. And it has to be said - the whole production was very 'British' in nature. For me this was definitely a plus, as it meant staying true to Adams' style, but if you don't like british humor - you won't like this movie.

I'd recommend this movie, but not to everyone. To put it bluntly - this movie is more than a bit nerd-centric. If you think nerd is a bad word, or if you're not really familiar with Hitchhiker's already you might want to give it a pass, or at least consider reading the book first. Likewise, if you're going to the movies with a group of friends, be sure you're all card carrying members of the Hitchhiker's cognoscenti or chances are someone won't have such a great time. But if you can read all this and still be interested then be sure to check it out. It's not perfect, but it is an enjoyable movie and a nostalgic reminder of everything we love about the late great Douglas Adams.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Frank Zappa the Wise

I was doing an internet search on the topic of censorship when I came across the link (at bottom) to a nearly twenty-year-old episode of Crossfire with the legendary Frank Zappa as a guest. The whole thing is about the need to censor mainstream media (or it's about incest, or maybe a right-wing 'fascist theocracy', I'm not sure - it gets kinda messy). But it's absolutely hilarious. And it's suprisingly revealing of what things have and haven't changed in twenty years.

It's also interesting to note last night's episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which involved a parody of the First Lady telling dirty jokes (again), is perhaps the most recent example of the rekindeling of this old debate. Apparently a US Senator from Alaska has introduced legislation to apply the same censorship standards found on network television to cable. Wow. The more things change . . .

Here's the link to the Crossfire interview:

Unfortunately directlinking to this site is not available. You'll have to cut and paste to your browser to make it work.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Flash

A few months ago, I bought Macromedia's Studio MX 2004, and I've been slowly teaching myself how to create Flash animations ever since. It's been a struggle to learn the interface and all the quirky rules for manipulating art and objects, but I finally feel like I'm coming into my own with the software. I'm still not quite ready to share any of my amateurish creations just yet, but I'm definitely amazed with the versatility of the program. Next I think I'm going to try to make a simple game.

I'm looking to Ferry Hailm's Orisinal page as my inspiration as to what a simple Flash game should be. Most of his stuff is obviously for little kids, but still there are a lot of great examples there. My favorite is Among the Clouds, but I also like Bottom of the Sea, Windy Days, and The Perilous Voyage. I really like the fact the each game has a unique concept/interface and I love the way music is used to set the mood. Obviously I have too much free time on my hands but this is all research for me - seriously!

Ultimately I'd like to use Flash to tell interactive stories, or something much more epic, but I've got a lot more to learn first. If anyone out there has any insights into the creative design process, or would just like to share their ideas feel free to leave some input. What is it that makes a good game (or another interactive creation) work?