Back in 1975 a movie came out that terrified people to not want to ever go into the ocean again. That movie was Jaws.
Similarly, there have been other movies that tried to be the “Jaws of [insert mundane activity here]” to no avail. But Contagion, at least for me, was quite successful in making me paranoid of every day life.
Contagion, written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh, follows a young woman returning from Hong Kong to a very serious flu/disease. The beginning of the film shows how this disease was contracted by about 5-6 different people. Eventually, the virus starts killing people within days of being contracted.
The movie does a very good job of showing how easily a virus can become an epidemic and how easily the population can react to it. It even mentions the H1N1 virus and how the CDC didn’t do a very good job of informing the people about its actual dangers (or lack thereof).
There’s also a great deal of information on how the CDC and WHO actually create vaccines and the protocols for containing a virus of that magnitude. I learned a lot about bio-chemistry from this movie without even knowing it (Like what an R-0 of a virus is, or how a virus mutates, or that the average human touches their face 2500 times a day).
A social aspect of the movie that I found quite interesting was how it showed how some people followed rules and suggestions to the T, while others (mostly those who were in charge of said rules) created their own personal protocols for selfish reasons. See how sane people rationalize or go into a mob mentality when the urge to survive kicks in.
Another interesting theme I found was how it explored the idea of using a social network to bend the minds of the masses into either avoiding or taking a specific treatment. That is to say, how the use of Facebook or a blog can actually influence a certain population to do something that may or may not be the right thing to do, and how this control could be coming from a very unlikely place.
After the movie, I was literally scared to touch anything. I was scared to even use the bathroom in the theatre. This movie did exactly what it was intending to do, and that was to make me paranoid. I know this winter season, I’m now going to be carrying extra Purel and probably investing into a medical mask. All-in-all I would highly recommend this movie for those who like thrillers where there is no mystery, only the instinct to survive at the character’s grasp.
Review: Roger Zelazny, A Night in the Lonesome October
I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. I live with my master Jack outside of London now. I like Soho very much at night with its smelly fogs and dark streets. It is silent then and we go for long walks.
This is the opening of A Night in the Lonesome October. This is my favorite novel by Roger Zelazny after Lord of Light, which I consider a masterpiece. A Night in the Lonesome October is the last book that Zelazny finished, and it was nominated for the Nebula in 1994.
The story is told in a prologue and thirty-one chapters, one for each day in October. It is sometimes said that it should be read one chapter at a time throughout October. I had read it several times, but always in one go, so I decided to give one chapter per day a try, albeit a month and a half early. Frankly, I can’t say that the book gained from the experience. But if you haven’t read it, you might give it a try. Read in one sitting or 32, it’s a good book either way.
Beyond the fine story, what I like about Zelazny is his mastery of style: so simple, so fluid, and yet so compelling. He does not use big words or big sentences. And even for him, the style in this story is appropriate for a dog, yet not dumbed down. The story simply flows from the page.
The novel tells the story of a strange Game, a metaphysical conflict between those who want to open the way for the Old Ones, and those who would thwart them. Every few decades, when moon is full on the night of Halloween, players spend the month of October preparing for the night when the fate of the world is to be decided. Each player has an animal companion.
This time, the Game is played in the suburbs of London. The players are a motley crew. Besides Jack, who prowls the streets of London at night with a knife and his faithful dog Snuff, there is Jill and her cat Graymalk. Other players are the Count, a seclusive being, and his equally nocturnal familiar Needle (a bat); Owen and the squirrel Cheeter; the Mad Monk Rastov and the black snake Quicklime; Morris and McCab, whose familiar is the owl Nightwind. Then we meet the vicar, by all appearances a respectable clergyman — but those who know of his secret activities would differ, and he has a companion, the raven Tekela. Other colourful characters include the Good Doctor, who seems to not only have an animal companion, the rat Bubo, but also a human one, a very large man sometimes seen lumbering about his house; Larry Talbot, who could be his own companion; and the Great Detective, a master of disguise.
As the story progresses, the players learn about each other, form alliances, turn traitor. Friendships are formed, too, not always following the alignment of the characters as players. The last night may yet reveal some secrets.
Jack and Jill went down the hill. Gray and I ran after.
The Fall TV season has begun, and so starts a torrential stream of new shows and new episodes of returning shows. Here’s a quick rundown of many of the returning and new Sci-fi and Fantasy shows. Dates are for the USA – feel free to leave a comment with dates in your country. Note that if you haven’t seen the latest seasons of currently running scif-fi/fantasy shows (e.g. if they are delayed in your country), then there may be spoilers ahead.
A story broke last week that spread across the internet, shocking everyone that read it. As STL Today reported, Mike Meyer, who has been on Social Security for a mental disability for over half of his life, was robbed of his nearly all of his enormous collection of Superman memorabilia. Six decades worth of comic books and items ranging from old-time radio and a television bearing Superman’s likeness, were all stolen by a former co-worker of Mike’s. After this news broke, it traveled faster than a locomotive to comic book news sites, among them Comic Book Resources and Comics Alliance, where the outreach to help Meyer replace his stolen collection has been truly heroic.
After Stack Exchange’s CHAOS team was made aware of the “replace-the-collection” campaign, we decided to act. Thor Parker, Midtown Comics’ Marketing and Events Coordinator, directed me to this post on the Midtown Comics blog which contains an address where replacement Superman items can be sent. Midtown themselves have been champions of this cause, donating some choice Superman items to Mike (including a copy of Justice League #1 signed by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee at a recent Midtown Comics event). Inspired by their act of generosity, the Stack Exchange CHAOS team took a field trip to Midtown Comics.
The store always has exciting sales going on, and this unofficial company trip was in the middle of a 40% off back issues sale. To the back issue bins! We picked out a healthy stack of Action Comics and Superman back issues as well as current Superman adventures published monthly by DC Comics. CHAOS agents Katey and Aarthi picked out some cool items (wall decorations, hats and magnets!), but we all had our eye on one thing…statues.
I’ve never bought a statue at Midtown comics, but the Superman vs. Bizarro Ultimate Showdown statue was crazy tempting. We had to get it. The Midtown employees were more than happy to track the statue down and even took it out of the box to let me inspect it. They were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and have probably convinced me that I need to buy a lot more statues for myself.
After finalizing our Superman swag, we checked out, returned to the Stack HQ and shipped the items off to Mike. Stack Exchange was very excited to be able to help out a person in need, and is very thankful to Midtown Comics for making us aware of this initiative, having a great selection of items, and generally being a great store.
UPDATE: Comic Book Resources reported over the weekend that Mike’s collection has been recovered and the criminal caught. A truly happy ending to this tale!
2 weeks ago, DC began an ambitious experiment that spans their entire line of comic books. DC has set aside existing continuity to begin a new continuity that’s similar but different to the prior one that’s existed for almost 80 years. They’re accomplishing this starting with the ending of the summer event Flashpoint, along with the first book in the new continuity, Justice League #1. Many, but not all of our familiar heroes are in this new continuity, but their histories are different, relationships changed. During the course of September, DC will be releasing 52 #1 issues. Every book in their lineup has been reset to #1. Each will help establish the new universe that’s spun out of the events of Flashpoint.
Personally, I’m a lapsed DC Comics reader. I read many of their books (especially Superman, Green Lantern, and Flash) up until early last year. As such, my knowledge of the old universe runs up to the start of Brightest Day. I haven’t read Flashpoint, but I know the premise that The Flash mysteriously ended up on a parallel Earth, and somehow after unraveling the mystery of that other Earth, this new continuity was created. Due to logistics, I don’t receive the new comics on Wednesday, as many comic fans do, so my posts here discussing the new reveals lags a bit behind what is currently known. At this point, I’ve read Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1. After the information we learned in Justice League, I knew my priority had to be to read the first Superman book that came out.
Justice League gives us our first peek at this new world, and it does so with a flashback. The entire issue takes place 5 years prior to the present. It shows us Batman and Green Lantern meeting for the first time, and alludes to some of the changes this new world brings.
Batman and his prey are being chased by Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), and it’s clear they view him as an enemy. The criminal Batman is chasing has superhuman abilities, and soon attracts Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). Green Lantern came to investigate an “unauthorized extraterrestrial”, which turns out to be the criminal Batman is chasing, who reveals himself to be somehow connected to Darkseid. He plants a Mother Box and escapes in an explosion, which potentially was some sort of new violent Boom Tube. After a brief stop to introduce Vic Stone, the duo arrive in Metropolis, and the issue ends with Superman appearing.
So from this, we see that superheroes are still new on the scene. Batman clearly hasn’t developed a positive relationship with the GCPD, and for some reason even Green Lantern isn’t known as a hero to the GCPD. The heroes haven’t even met and teamed up, it seems like the next few issues will deal with origin stories and the initial formation of the Justice League. The criminal they were chasing establishes that the Fourth World and New Gods are a factor here. In the old continuity, they’d died in 2007′s and 2008′s events Death of the New Gods and Final Crisis. It’s unclear if they’re still dead in the new continuity, as this criminal could have been a non-New God alien that worships Darkseid and has a piece of leftover Fourth World tech in his Mother Box.
The story jumps to Vic Stone, high school football star. The name indicates this fellow is Cyborg, but he’s still fully human in the story so far. The story only devotes a couple of pages to him, but we learn he’s being scouted by several colleges and his father’s a barely-present workaholic. His father apparently is involved in studying the new superhuman menace. As we know his future role of Cyborg, there’s not too much new insight to the new world in his introduction, but he’s going to be a part of the new Justice League, which the old Cyborg wasn’t in the previous continuity. In the previous continuity, he was instead a member of the Teen Titans and later the Titans once they grew out of the “Teen” moniker.
After seeing the hostile treatment of the heroes in Justice League, when I received my comics from week 2 of the New 52, my first stop was Action Comics. This was because one of the ideas in Final Crisis was that each of DC’s parallel Earths had a Superman, and he was a key part of each universe. You could see this in some of the differences between New Earth and Earth 2. In Earth 2, he wasn’t a superhero, but instead a supervillain, and so the Justice League of that world was all evil, and the universe had the tendency for evil to triumph over good. So I sought some more information on this new world from the first Superman book I could read. And it definitely helps clarify things.
Action Comics #1 introduces us to a new Superman. This is a younger, angrier Superman who takes some pages out of Batman’s playbook. His powers seem weaker than the Superman in the old continuity, and this new Superman isn’t even capable of flight. I guess he’s back to just “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”. He roots out evil white collar criminals as well as your regular street criminal. This new Superman roughs up criminals and will scare them into confessing their crimes, decidedly more violently than Superman acted in the old continuity. This helps explain the way the authorities treated heroes in the Justice League issue. Superman is relatively new on the scene as well, and he is more of a violent vigilante than he was in the prior universe. Without the kind leadership that the older Superman provided, there’s no one providing a positive connection to the government in this new world. The story also introduces us to younger main characters. Clark, Lois, and Jimmy are all much younger than they were, and Clark isn’t an established journalist yet. So I expect our first month of #1 issues will give us similar glimpses into the early careers of many familiar and not-so-familiar heroes.
Overall, I’m very curious about this new universe. Part of me is not enthused by the decision to have the superheroes not on good terms with the police, as it comes off as an attempt to make this new world ‘dark and gritty’, which is a trope that’s been overused of late in all media. But the blank slate this universe offers has me excited by the possibilities that this offers long time comic book writers who are now freed from the previous status quo. I also appreciate the decision to add Cyborg to the Justice League as one of those changes, as more of the B-list heroes deserve to graduate up to the A-list.
When I was younger, I normally wasn’t able to read comics. My mom thought that they would rot my brain. But every so often, I would be able to sneak a peek at one of my friends’ collection and read an issue or two, or a whole story arc if they had enough issues.
I have to say, there was nothing to compare the experience of having one of those small magazines and opening to an action packed scenario that my favorite superhero team was always managing to get into.
But today, there’s a vastly growing movement from reading these comics in a physical version to reading them on an eReader. Today’s technology has been able to represent these stories in a way that could revolutionize how we experience comics in general.
I got my hands on a copy of justice-league #1 (Sept 2011) and the same copy on my iPad; reading it on the comiXology app available in the iTunes App Store and Android Market. This review will be based on those two facts.
“Look, we don’t have time for long introductions. I need to tell this story quickly, or we’re all going to die.”
With this sentence, a story is told by siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, who were born of the powerful Kane family. They work to save the world from Apophis, the Egyptian God of Chaos. In order to do this, they seek to restore Ra, the pharaoh of the Gods, to his rightful place as Sun King. In order to do this, they travel across 3 continents, the Duat, the land between worlds. They battle gods, magicians, demons, and even Katrina the camel, who is a natural disaster. They struggle to come to grips with themselves, the gods, other magicians, their question, and relationships.
I’ve been amazed at the sarcasm, the snide remarks of a brother/sister, and the numerous hilarious references put in place. If you like the quote at the beginning of the article, you are sure to find more to entertain you. I won’t ruin the book by giving you too many more, but the humor of the book certainly helped to lift up some of the darker moments in the book.
This book is a nice, easy read, comparable in complexity to books like the early Harry Potter books. It is equally suitable for adults. It is a very gripping tale, which I am slowly coming to regard as one of my favorite series, even topping the Percy Jackson series previously published.
This book is also somewhat educational, as all artifacts and places are real, and all myths, gods, and related stories are solidly based in Egyptian lore. It has helped me to learn much about the Egyptian gods, from learning more about Ra, to learning of the existence of Gods like Bast and Des.
I do recommend that one first reads The Red Pyramid, as it covers much back story that one would miss if they jumped directly to this book. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of fiction which takes the ancient world and plays with it today, and in general, for anyone who wishes to find a good book to read.
All comic books are tights and fights. That seems to be the immediate assumption people make when they think about the medium. To be fair, the artform’s biggest celebrities (Superman, Spider-Man, Batman) all wear spandex while purposefully throwing their fists into faces. And when a movie not based on superhero comics is released, there always seems to be a level of shock or surprise when the film’s secret origin is revealed (usually the question “Ghost World/Redemption Road/From Hell was a comic?” followed by a brain cave-in). The truth is, comic books are a means of expressing a story and are not confined to the superhero genre. So to those of you reading this who snicker at trailers for films starring grown men wearing bodysuits made of an incomprehensible mix of spandex, leather and rubber, I give you…Y: The Last Man.
The series takes place in the aftermath of a mysterious plague that kills everything with a Y chromosome…except 22-year old amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his male Capuchin helper monkey, Ampersand. Yes, post-apocalyptic settings and population-destroying plagues are nothing new to science fiction, but that doesn’t mean that Y: The Last Man lacks originality. The complexity of the characters and their continued growth as well as recurring themes and an intricate narrative make this a completely thrilling read. The voice of this series, which mixes political thriller elements with irreverent humor (via Yorick), is so unique that it makes you forget that you have previously read similar tales.
Throughout its 60 issues, writer Brian K. Vaughan weaves a narrative that hops around the globe as much as it does the story’s own timeline. Events unfold chronologically for the most part, but Vaughan intercuts the expertly paced plot with Rashomon-style point-of-view shifts that show you where the different characters were when the plague hit. This nonlinear approach is key to maintaining suspense as the protagonists slowly start to uncover clues about what caused the plague and Yorick and Ampersand’s immunity.
Gender politics probably top the list of Things That Will Never Be Discussed In Comics for many science fiction fans, but Y: The Last Man tackles issues head on. Vaughan uses the setting of a world populated almost exclusively by X chromosomes to make gender equality, sexuality, feminism and women’s historical importance seamless parts of the story. None of these Very Special Topics, which could easily feel lecture-y, feel out of place thanks to Vaughan’s thought-out approach. It’s also of note that the series features a remarkably strong cast of women, all of whom fight off the stereotype that many of the big-buxomed and scantily clad super heroines perpetuate. A few of these women are:
- Agent 355, who is Yorick’s bodyguard on his continent-spanning journey and a member of a mysterious government agency whose origin dates back to the Revolutionary War
- Dr. Allison Mann, an expert geneticist whose recent breakthroughs in human cloning prove to be important in a world with no men
- Hero Brown, Yorick’s older sister and former paramedic
While the global ramifications caused by the death of every male are interesting in their own right, action fans need not fret. The mix of drama and explosions, chases, espionage and intrigue will satisfy anyone who enjoys shows like “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica.” The world of Y: The Last Man is dangerous and the series truly pulls no punches.You will root for characters who are constantly in peril. Be prepared.
Everything I’ve written so far pertains to the writing, which would be worthless if it wasn’t being illustrated by a true top-notch talent able to convey subtle emotions and complex action sequences. Series co-creator Pia Guerra is just that; she’s top-notch. Her art isn’t overly flashy or stylized. Her people look and move like proportional people. But as a series that is set on portraying what would really happen in the event of a gendercide, Guerra’s art is perfect. It sells the elements that might push probability by portraying them in a grounded fashion, and also makes the intensity of the story hit that much harder because of how familiar it all feels. Her art is so essential to the story that the handful of substitute artists the series employed match up fairly seamlessly with Guerra’s artistic vision.
If you are a fan of science fiction but have yet to take the dive into comic books, then Y: The Last Man is the comic your diving board. It’s an excellent example of the artistic heights that the medium can achieve, as well as a phenomenal serialized story that, in my opinion, nails the landing. Don’t believe me? Check it out. I just finished this series a few days ago and I’m dying to talk to someone about it.
Another Earth is an indie science-fiction film about a young woman, Rhoda Williams (played by Brit Marling), who on the eve of heading off to MIT gets in a tragic car accident. There’s a remarkable discovery that there’s another planet in our solar system, and that planet is the titular Another Earth. Over the next few years as the other Earth comes closer to our Earth, where the story takes place, we follow the dramatic turns her life takes as a result of her car accident.
As a sort of counter point to movies that use science-fiction to provide a reason for special effects and explosions, this is a quiet film that uses a science-fiction plot element to examine the weight of loss and regret. Here the focus is on the characters. The young Rhoda struggles to determine how to live a life after the accident. We see the damage the accident did to the man in the other car (played by Lost‘s William Mapother), and the hope they both have that a better life is happening above them on the other Earth.
The muted tone and slow, deliberate style of this film isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re a fan of sci-fi where the human condition is dissected, and where fantastical elements are minimal, you owe it to yourself to catch this film. Unfortunately, the film saw a limited release in theaters, so many people won’t be able to catch it until it’s released on streaming, DVD & Blu-ray.
Ever since it was released, the iPad has been compared to Star Trek’s PADD – the “personal access display device” used since the original series. The official iPad PADD app (from CBS Interactive) brings the PADD-iPad loop full circle by turning an iPad into a PADD simulator (US$5 in the App Store).
The interface of the app mimics the LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) interface that was used in The Next Generation. This is well done, with appropriate sound effects, Majel Barrett‘s voice, and good-looking graphics. The only complaint I have here is that the app doesn’t rotate to portrait (which PADDs in TNG certainly did). Note that while it looks authentic, this is mostly cosmetic – tapping an image of a cast member will take you to the cast index page, not the page specific to that character, for example, and many areas you would expect to be ‘hot’ do nothing at all.
The app provides access to the information available on StarTrek.com (aliens, locations, technology, and an episode guide). This is the most disappointing aspect of the app —one of the reasons that I purchased it was that I hoped it would be a useful reference source for answering star-trek questions; unfortunately the information available is extremely limited and superficial. If the app was an interface to Memory Alpha or Wikipedia, it would contain a wealth of information, in an attractive interface (and would be much closer to the actual PADD). Although Memory Alpha’s content is only available under a non-commerical license (non-commerical and Star Trek merchandising are rather like matter/antimatter), I think Wikipedia’s content could have been included (supplementing the official StarTrek.com content) and would have significantly increased the amount of information available.
Personally, I would have preferred if the links went beyond Star Trek information, and if this was a LCARS interface to a true encyclopedia (Wikipedia would suffice). There are plenty of other Wikipedia browsers, but this one would hold a certain fan appeal. I doubt I would use it for most Wikipedia searches, but it would appropriately set the mood when doing Star Trek research.
The app description does say “The official Star Trek PADD app database does not contain all information within the Star Trek Universe. We will continue to update the database as information becomes available”. I’m hoping that they do mean the whole universe here (and not simply whatever is available on StarTrek.com), and I’m hopeful (but skeptical) that there will be regular updates that significantly increase the amount of content available.
I’m keeping the app installed on one of my iPads for now, but I suspect that I’ll rarely use it, and when I next purge unused apps, it’s likely to go. If you’re only interested in the cosmetic appeal, or if the shallow information available at StarTrek.com is all you’re interested in, then it might be worth $5 to you.