The Adjustable Cosmos

April 12th, 2014

The Adjustable Cosmos:

In the fifteenth century, three worthies come together to tackle the Emperor's disastrous horoscope. They lift themselves to space in their medieval vessel, braving the terrors and wonders of the of the Ptolemaic universe, to reach for the stars…

[Via MetaFilter]

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The Silmarillion Project

January 22nd, 2014

Dresden Codak artist Aaron Diaz has a new side project, designing the characters for a (sadly nonexistent) cartoon adaptation of The Silmarillion. If you're partial to his style (as I am) this is pure eye candy.

Take, for example, this illustration of Melkor and Ungoliant looking down on Telperion and Laurelin, the Two Trees that lit the Land of the Valar:

Silmarillion Chapter 8: Of The Darkening of Valinor

But now on the mountain-top dark Ungoliant lay; and she made a ladder of woven ropes and cast it down, and Melkor climbed upon it and came to that high place, and stood beside her, looking down upon the Guarded Realm.

…Then Melkor laughed aloud, and leapt swiftly, and leapt swiftly down the western slopes; and Ungoliant was at his side, and her darkness covered them.

Melkor and Ungoliant

Lovely work, best viewed full size at the the author's site.

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Joyful and Triumphant (St Zenobius and the Aliens)

December 25th, 2013

Courtesy of Jo Walton, Joyful and Triumphant (St Zenobius and the Aliens):

It's a bit of a cliche, but the first thing I thought when I came to Heaven was that I didn't expect aliens. It's a cliche because it's the first thing we all think — aliens are a surprise. And what a delightful surprise! Welcome, everyone, whatever your planet of origin. Joy to you! Heaven welcomes you. My name is Zenobius, and I am from Earth. Earth is a perfectly ordinary planet. We had a perfectly standard Incarnation. If we're known for anything it's our rather splendid Renaissance, which I'm proud to say has been artistically quite influential, but although that happened in my own city of Florence I can't take any credit for it because it happened centuries after my death and I didn't really participate. [...]

[Via Making Light / Particles]

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Bet She'an

October 19th, 2013

Bet She'an:

In the city of Bet She'an, where mankind is progressively morphing into crows, a sculptor decides to leave a trace of this dwindling humanity

Creepy.

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A Bad Lip Reading of Game of Thrones

October 16th, 2013

"Medieval Land Fun-Time World" Extended Trailer:

This might just have ruined me for watching the actual TV show.

[Via kottke.org]

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I don't believe it!

May 8th, 2013

I'm never going to be able to unhear this:

[From a MetaFilter discussion of the use of different regional accents used by actors in Game of Thrones]

For everyone complaining about Dinklage's accent, and its terribleness/variability, I think it might be worth watching a couple of clips of Scottish actor Richard Wilson in One Foot In The Grave, because Dinklage's accent is – consciously or not – an almost exact replica. It has that clipped, haughty tone; it's different enough from a standard English RP accent to sound odd to someone not used to the accent; when he raises his voice, it takes on a kind of exaggerated, exasperated character that can sound oddly Transatlantic. And it's completely genuine: it's the accent of a working class, west coast Scot who has had the more guttural elements of his voice trained out of him by RADA, but who still retains strong vestiges of his background. And it's been put to use for the past four decades playing upper (or at least soi-disant upper) class Scots. That's the accent I hear when I watch Dinklage in Game Of Thrones. It may be capital A Acting, but it's not, in and of itself, a dodgy accent. [...]

posted by Len at 11:37 PM on May 7

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Mind. Blown.

March 17th, 2013

Courtesy of Hugh Muir's diary column in last Thursday's Guardian, a delightful anecdote about an encounter with a certain recently retired religious leader:

Finally, at the end of a tumultuous week for the new archbishop of Canterbury, signs that his predecessor is settling in nicely as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. This from students' union welfare officer Chris Page, on the Overheard at Cambridge Facebook group:

"In Sainsbury's, I ended up in the queue for the self-checkouts behind the former archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams (pointing to my neck): 'Is that a Lord of the Rings pendant?' Me: 'Yes, it's a replica of the One Ring.' Williams: 'Ah, I thought so. More of a Game of Thrones man, myself.' Mind. Blown."

New job; street cred. Perfect.

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Are you dead?

January 11th, 2013

Gandalf Problem Solving – A Flowchart.

[Via Flowing Data]

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Wish-fulfilment

December 9th, 2012

There are times when authors should just let criticism slide, and then there are times when you've just got to let 'em have it:

Author Scott Lynch responds to a critic of the character Zamira Drakasha, a black woman pirate in his fantasy book Red Seas Under Red Skies the second novel of the Gentleman Bastard series.

The bolded sections represent quotes from the criticism he received. [...]

Your characters are unrealistic stereotpyes of political correctness. Is it really necessary for the sake of popular sensibilities to have in a fantasy what we have in the real world? I read fantasy to get away from politically correct cliches.

God, yes! If there's one thing fantasy is just crawling with these days it's widowed black middle-aged pirate moms.

Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man's world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!

First, I will pretend that your last sentence makes sense because it will save us all time. Second, now you're pissing me off.

You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.

Why shouldn't middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? [...]

[Via Electrolite (Sidelights)]

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Elegant and Fine

September 16th, 2012

Ursula Vernon's take on The problem of Susan:

"Elegant and Fine"

The real problem with Susan, in the end, was not that she was no longer Narnia's friend. It was that she had already been its lover. [...]

[Via Making Light (Particles)]

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'The witch-king may have been too busy being awesome to notice details.'

May 27th, 2012

Frank Frazetta's illustrations for 'The Lord of the Rings' are – and it really is the only appropriate description – awesome.

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A Game of Votes

April 26th, 2012

Some of the parallels drawn in Game of Votes1 are just so good.

Joffrey Baratheon = Newt Gingrich

That's not a perfect fit – on the basis of what he showed us in season 1,2 I don't think Joffrey sees himself as much of a historian or intellectual – but the elements of the comparison that work really work.

  1. NB: contains some spoilers for Game of Thrones season 2. Nothing major, I don't think, but there's a picture of one character we heard about but never met in season 1, and a couple of allusions are made to not completely surprising plot developments.
  2. I'm following the show as it comes out on DVD, so it's going to be a long while before I find out how Joffrey changes as he gets comfortable on the Iron Throne.

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John Carter

March 21st, 2012

The bulk of the pre-release talk about John Carter seemed to be about the film's commercial prospects and marketing campaign, closely followed now the film has performed only moderately well at the US box office by speculation about the distribution of blame. As a film watcher, I don't see why I should much care either way: the sums of money cited are unimaginably large by comparison with, say, the balance on my bank account, but I doubt that they're much above par for an epic, SFX-heavy, franchise-opening fantasy movie made by a major Hollywood studio. Unless Disney's finances are in much worse shape than we're led to believe, this sort of film isn't going to be a Heaven's Gate-class studio-killer. At worst, it might cause the odd studio executive to leave to set up as an independent producer or agent, while sending first-time live-action director Andrew Stanton back to Pixar. Traumatic and disappointing for the individuals concerned, but not my problem as a filmgoer.

So, what of John Carter the film? I saw it earlier today, having long been aware that Edgar Rice Burroughs had written a number of novels set on Barsoom but never having read one of them.1 Consequently, I can't speak to the film's fidelity to the original stories or even to whether it matches the tone of the original. What I can say is that it's actually a pretty fair old romp, with Taylor Kitsch managing to sell me on John Carter's mix of fighting prowess enhanced by low Martian Barsoomian gravity, his gruff charm, his sense of honour and his desire to keep his distance from all emotional attachments following the death of his family in the US Civil War. I found the CGI work to be about what we've come to expect these days; it looks just fine now, and in three years time we'll be seeing that standard of detail/motion capture/animation of crowds and battles in good quality TV work. The plot is exactly what you're expecting given the basic setup: outsider arrives in a land divided between warring peoples, gets pushed around a bit, sees a bit more of the world, comes to realise which side is deserving of his trust, and rallies his forces to make sure the bad guys' plans are thwarted. Nothing wrong with that, especially in the first film in what everyone hopes will be a new franchise. It's a formulaic plot, but that's because it's a perfectly good formula.

What makes that sort of thing work better than average is the performances, which I found ranged from perfectly OK to quite good. I knew Taylor Kitsch primarily from his performances in the TV version of Friday Night Lights2 so it was good to see him play a more active, downright swashbuckling figure here. There were all sorts of perfectly fine supporting turns, from those masked by CGI (Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Polly Walker and Thomas Haden Church) to those covered with red make-up (Dominic West, James Purefoy, Ciarán Hinds),3 but the real surprise package for me was Lynn Collins. I'd only seen Collins in her thankless role as Wolverine's doomed love interest in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but here she was handed a considerably livelier and more active character and she ran with it, giving us a clever, swashbuckling Dejah Thoris who was at least 300% more fun than the average love interest in a big budget film. Of course it did no harm that she looked the part, but a dozen actresses could have made those outfits look good. The point is that her performance made me look forward to seeing Dejah Thoris again in a sequel.

Sadly, it's not looking likely that we'll ever get the chance to see Collins and Kitsch and Dejah Thoris and John Carter again. I think Andrew Stanton and Disney probably overestimated how much audience awareness there was of the Barsoom novels, and I can certainly see why audiences seeing just the trailers might think we saw a lot of these scenes several years ago in the Star Wars prequels. The former issue probably couldn't have been overcome, but the latter is just a superficial resemblance. In any case, Burroughs got there long before George Lucas and ILM did. Neither of those factors should blind us to the fun to be had on Barsoom.

John Carter (which, infuriatingly, reverts to the title it should have had all along – John Carter of Mars – right before the end credits) isn't an all-time classic, but it's a very decent start and I'd be up to see a couple of sequels if someone can just persuade Disney to fund them.

  1. The only novel I've read featuring a character called 'Dejah Thoris' was Heinlein's The Number of the Beast.
  2. I'd seen him as Remy LeBeau in X-Men Origins: Wolverine but I wouldn't hold that against him: a dreadful, irritating character in a terrible film.
  3. Also, if you've seen the film did you spot Bryan Cranston? I didn't. I only found out after seeing the film that he was playing the US Army officer near the start who imprisons John Carter and tries to press him into service.

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Sauron's gaze has fallen upon us

January 19th, 2012

Astronomers scanning the near-infrared sky have spotted1 the Eye of Sauron.

  1. Or should I say, 'have been spotted by'…

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The Bombadil – Dark Santa connection…

December 19th, 2011

The Bombadil-Dark Santa connection…

The following paper was posted to the usenet newsgroup, rec.arts.sf.written, by a person posting under the name "Sea Wasp". The circumstances whereby he acquired a copy of the paper were not related. The matter is under investigation by They Who Shall Not Be Named.

(the following is a transcript of a paper presented by Eukonidor at the Fifth Age Conference on Arisia to the delegation from Middle-Earth)

THE SYMMETRY of CORRUPTION:
An Examination of the History of
the One Ring subsequent to the
"War of the Ring", and the
Implications Thereof for the
Future of Civilization

As is well known, at the conclusion of the Third Age of Middle-Earth, the One Ruling Ring fell into the Cracks of Doom and was destroyed, obliterating the works directly tied to the One and undoing the Dark Lord Sauron entirely.

Unfortunately, that which is "well-known" can often be incorrect. Subsequent events of a disquieting nature demonstrate all too conclusively that in point of fact not only was the One not destroyed, but it was also taken up by a being more than capable of utilizing it for its own purposes. [...]

While I was checking my archives to see if I'd linked to this already, I came across a post from almost exactly nine years ago about alternate versions of The Lord of the Rings that's worth a look if this is your sort of thing.1 Be sure to read the comments, which added another couple of links to still more worthwhile material.

[Via kengr, posting here]

  1. A couple of the links have succumbed to rot, but most are still good.

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'That's a sailboat right there.'

November 27th, 2011

John Scalzi found himself home alone watching a Lord of the Rings movie marathon and couldn't resist livetweeting the experience. Some highlights:

Burning ent putting himself out in the flood: Still cool.

[...]

Once again: Gandalf – not a people person. #WhatDenathorNeededWasAHug

[...]

Hope the people of Minas Tirith like Oliphant barbeque.

[Via MetaFilter]

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The Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Hammer? Really?

August 18th, 2011

My first thought upon reading National Public Radio's list of the Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books was that they desperately needed to impose a one-book/series-per-author rule. I like Neal Stephenson's and Neil Gaiman's work as much as the next man, but I'm pretty sure that between them they haven't written eight1 of the 100 best science fiction and fantasy books of all time.

A list with a one-book-per author limit would have had room for something by Frederik Pohl,2 and C J Cherryh,3 and John Brunner,4 and Alfred Bester5, and John Varley,6 and Ken MacLeod.7

[Via ongoing]

  1. Four each.
  2. Gateway or Man Plus, or Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants.
  3. Cyteen, for a start.
  4. Stand on Zanzibar being my personal favourite.
  5. The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, dammit!
  6. In fairness, his strengths lay more in his short stories, but you can make a case that The Ophiuchi Hotline or the Gaea Trilogy could stand alongside a fair number of the works on NPR's list.
  7. For the Fall Revolution series.

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Fifty Baddies

August 1st, 2011

Fifty Baddies.

[Via Subtraction.com]

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The G Files?

June 13th, 2011

The word "ambitious" seems barely adequate when it comes to HBO's plans to adapt Neil Gaiman's American Gods for television:

The series-in-development, revolving around the question "are you a god if no one believes in you?" is executive produced by Goetzman and Hanks, with Bob Richardson, and Gaiman on board as executive producer and writer.

Now slated for six seasons, each season will be of 10-12, hour-long episodes with a budget of around $35-40 million per season, targeted to debut on the cable powerhouse in 2013 at the earliest.

Rich in religious folklore that spanned millennia and featuring deities from Greek and Nordic mythology, and even the Judeo-Christian monotheistic God making an appearance, in the contemporary U.S., American Gods will be effects-heavy to do justice to the awe-inspiring power of the divine beings. "There are some crazy things in there. We'll probably be doing more effects in there than it's been done on a television series," said Goetzman.

I don't begrudge Neil Gaiman the opportunity for a single moment, but I have to wonder how the hell they're going to fill 60-72 episodes. It's been a while since I read American Gods, but I don't remember it having sufficient plot to power that many hours of television; not unless they're planning to turn it into an anthology series interspersing 'deity of the week' episodes with the occasional story arc episode advancing Shadow's plot.

Either that, or they're really gearing up to make a TV adaptation of the Sandman saga and this is all an elaborate bit of misdirection…

[Via Alyssa Rosenberg]

1 Comment »

Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver

May 9th, 2011

Probably the greatest newspaper correction ever published:

Correction: May 8, 2011

An item in the Extra Bases baseball notebook last Sunday misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey gave one of his bats. Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in "The Hobbit"; Orcrist was the sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in the book. (Bilbo Baggins's sword was called Sting.)

Not that I follow baseball, or had read the original report, but reading this I can't help but ask myself "Would I have noticed their mistake?" I have a horrible feeling that I would have.1

[Via The Awl]

  1. I don't think I'd have remembered whose sort Orcrist was, but I'm pretty confident that I'd have known that Bilbo's sword was Sting, and – for bonus points – that Sting was handed down to Frodo and was used by Sam to would Shelob.

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