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Archive for 2011

Bad Cinema

So I have been asked what I mean when I say “Bad Cinema.” The thing is, it’s not an easy thing for me to encapsulate any other way. Which is, after all, why I settled on the phrase.

One proposed definition is “movies that are so bad they’re good.” And to be honest, Bad Cinema encompasses a lot of these sorts of movies. Robot Jox is a good example of this. Robot Jox is a B-movie, set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remaining nations (the Soviet Union among them) have agreed that instead of full on wars or weapons of mass destruction, they will settle disputes with what amounts to Ultimate Fighting Championships – between giant robots. There’s no rationale for how on earth societies settle on this, or why they even abide by it. The budget was so low that the props and costumes were made primarily out of bits you’d find in any local Radio Shack.

What did the film have going for it? Well, they managed to avoid wholesale copying of “mecha” style robots. Otherwise… not really anything.

But I like it. So by default, I throw it in the Bad Cinema category.

But that doesn’t work for the main body of what I consider Bad Cinema.

The second simplest way I can put it (since “Bad Cinema” is the first simplest way) is that these are movies that have at least one flash of absolute brilliance in them. Something genuine and real, and almost objectively well done – but that are otherwise so poorly made that they have no chance of commercial or critical success.

Many movies with cult followings fit into this category: Buckaroo Bonzai, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (the camp approach on the last one walks the brilliant line of farcical silliness without ever crossing into just plain stupid, which is the problem with so many spoof movies, including all of Tomatoes’s sequels.

They all have that one piece of inspirational awesomeness that draws certain people who are able to overlook the flaws. Highlander is another example. By all objective measures, the TV series was a better made production. Critics collectively gave the movie a “meh.” If it weren’t for international audiences, the theatrical release would have been a loss for the studio.

All the same, the ideas and the story that lay under the movie were enough to inspire Queen to sit down and write a bunch of songs for it. It launched a multi-film and multi-media franchise. The catch-phrase “There can be only one” is widely known these days. Taken as a whole, it’s not a brilliant achievement. But the component parts of it reveal some wonderful creativity and some powerful ideas that can be truly moving.

Another example: Godzilla (1954). This isn’t what most people think of when they think of great cinema. It’s also an example that initially seems to be arguing against myself. Godzilla was initially panned by critics. But the people disagreed sharply. It broke records for ticket sales. The only reason it didn’t win best picture in the Japanese Academy Awards was because it was up against Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (a fantastic movie by almost any measure).

You know what’s awesome about Godzilla? This is a movie about the horrific accidental result of a nuclear weapons testing – made concrete in the form of a literal giant monster. And the only way to stop it is to create a new kind of weapon of mass destruction and using it on their own territory. And where does it take place? The only country to have had a nuclear weapon used against them – less than ten years after the flight of the Enola Gay. It is powerful that the creators would have the courage to examine the issue that way in the mass media.

Of course, when I talk about Bad Cinema, I don’t mean just the 1954 movie. I’m talking about most of Toho’s output, as well as even the Mathew Broderick version. One of my favorite installments in the franchise is Final Wars, which features … well, pretty much every rubber suit monster Toho ever conceived. And they just keep coming. Also included? A Power Rangers-esque set of super soldiers who do battle with humanoid aliens (who control the monsters) and each other. Good times. It is, essentially, pro wrestling in rubber suits. I think, honestly, it’s that homage to the original that makes it so appealing. It’s not an attempt to recreate the phenomenon. It’s an acknowledgement that giant monsters stomping tiny things is pretty awesome on its own.

So that’s Bad Cinema. I’m not sure if I can reduce it any more than that, other than to cite more movies and explain what I love about them.

This. Yes. This. It is truth

How 30-Somethigns with Kids celebrate Christmas

Courtesy of The Oatmeal

Contents of the best spam conmment ever

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Thirty-ish paragraphs of gratitude.

One item for each day of November. No, it’s not 3 like much of my in-laws have been passing about each day for the last month, but I wanted to expound a bit on them. And tripling the size of this list was just not an option at this point. Maybe next year. NOTE: the sequence is not significant.

  1. Suspension of disbelief
    I’m not sure why this one is first. But I’m glad to have this particular skill. I can watch a movie with a guy in a rubber lizard suit stomping on models and I can enjoy it for what went into it. And yes, the original Godzilla raised some interesting questions worth thinking about.
    Likewise, my favorite stories all rely on fantastic premises. How dull my life would be without the willing suspension of disbelief! And how many opportunities to learn and understand would be lost!
  2. Comics
    I love comics. The synthesis of words and images to create a narrative. It’s fascinating simply as a communications medium. I won’t bore you with an analysis here, but in this case, McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. I enjoy reading comics because they’re comics. Certainly I love stories about superheroes too, but comics on their own are intriguing to me.
  3. The Internet
    It’s the future, people. Innovation is faster because people can collaborate across the globe in real time. Your Kindle? That’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Certainly there is some knowledge that has never made it on to a web site, but on the whole, the Internet is the human race’s memory. And it doesn’t have to be deep! The simple communication it fosters is a great boon.
  4. Passionate people
    Passionate people are interesting people. Sometimes they’re also irritating people, but people who aren’t able to put their emotions into something don’t bring a lot to talk about to the table. Also, passionate people are the people who change the world. New things happen because people are excited to find something new.
  5. Democracy
    It’s easy to get hung up on the problems of our society – because we have got a bunch of them. “Democracy is the worst form of government… except all the other ones.” (yeah, I probably misquoted that one). Greed, disinterest, shortsightedness, misunderstanding. These things cause major problems. But we don’t have to wait for a specific person to decide to do something about these problems. We can work for change with efficacy. And if the people who are supposed to do things about the problems are too apathetic, we can replace them.
  6. Divergent opinions
    Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, I’m not always right. People have different ideas and different ways of understanding issues. Because they disagree, I can receive deeper understanding of issues. And it’s divergent opinions that push progress as well. If we all accepted something as best, no one would ever try to make it better.
    And at the very least, an intelligent discussion of different opinions is good for an excellent conversation.
  7. My cat
    It’s stupid sounding, but I really was inspired to adopt Pippin. I’m very affectionate toward him. After all this time with us he’s learning how to accept and even enjoy petting and scratching. And he’s excellent with the children. He’s even learned to game that system. The other day when Erica grabbed his tail, he didn’t retaliate and just left, which earned him four cat treat snacks. Later, he was found encouraging Erica to grab him again, so he could get more treats.
    It’s also very cool that he has one ear. It makes him look tough and manly. So when he kills small critters, it’s easy to be proud of his accomplishments.
  8. My mind
    My mind doesn’t work like most other people’s do. This can be a detriment when I haven’t been able to adapt to new situations, but on the whole it’s given me wonderful ways of looking at things and has brought me access to a variety of things I would never have tried if I was stuck in your focused brains. I don’t know what it’s like to have a non-ADHD mind, but it’s not infrequent that I pity you for not experiencing life like I do.
  9. Good books
    Moving books, educational books, inspiring books, well-written books. Books of wit, books of adventure, books of instruction. I have gained so much from so many different categories of books. Insight, catharsis, fascination, understanding. It’s because of books that I write. It’s because of books that I’ve learned to do most of the things I do. I’m not talking about nostalgia for traditional “dead tree” books, though I love those plenty, but any cohesive, discreet combination of words with the possible addition of images – those have enriched my life.
  10. I can write
    I enjoy it. It’s responsible at least in part for my livelihood. It allows me to share my ideas. It helps me to remember my own ideas and keep track of other people’s ideas. It’s not the only way to tell stories or to organize thought, but it is the most effective and common way I do it.
  11. I can write code
    Because creating a web site or a program really feels like doing something. It can be shown off. It helps me see the relationships between points of data. And, ideally, putting good code together makes the world just a tiny bit better for me and possibly others.
  12. Turkey dinner
    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and while turkey dinner with stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole is far from even half the reason for it, this particular meal is a non-trivial contributor to making Thanksgiving so wonderful to me. It makes me fat, but it makes me happy.
  13. Kirsti
    It’s a wonder I ever got anything done without Kirsti in my life. I look at all the other relationships I had and I wonder sometimes how I ever thought I was in love. I am literally a better man because she’s in my life. Plus, she keeps me grounded. I would be off in la-la land. Being near her helps me remember what is important.
    And let’s face it, nobody doubts that it’s her genetics that made my kids so beautiful.
  14. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth made me a papa. Ok, maybe it’s more accurate to say Kirsti did that with me. But before Elizabeth, I wasn’t a papa. With Elizabeth, I am suddenly a papa. She’s a smart kid finding her way with a lot of the same issues I had. She reminds me of my past. But she’s not the same as me, she has her own ideas and her own loves. It’s fun to talk with her.
  15. Sarah
    Sarah is a ball of energy. She is also brilliant and creative. So often I finding her giving of herself. After Hurricane Katrina, she donated one of her blankies to the relief effort. I almost cried in that moment. I’m not sure that I did anything right to teach her to give that way, but it’s a thing of beauty to have a person like that in my life.
  16. Rachael
    Rachael has the most awesome smile of anyone I’ve ever met. As the middle kid, it seems she often gets lumped in with other kids or completely overlooked. Then, when she does something that catches my attention she stands out with a radiance that makes me wonder how I could have paid attention to anything else. She has a dynamic and a powerful spirit, and she is going to change the world.
  17. Maire
    For the longest time, Maire was the baby in the family (for almost five years, in fact). She sometimes resents being so far behind her sisters, but she really shouldn’t. She’s a shining star where she is. No one else in our family has invented nearly as many songs, or given so many smiles to other people. As she finds herself, she becomes a more amazing person.
  18. Erica
    A frenetic wiggler. That’s enough to bring joy to my heart. She adores her sisters, and seeing that adoration is enough to bring joy. She gives everyone something to care about. And in her seven months she has often been a source of comfort and emotional warmth for me when I have felt dark times upon me.
  19. My parents
    It almost goes without saying that my parents have made me who I am today. It’s possible that I would have found many of the things that make up my psyche anyway, but it’s doubtful. My faith grew from their faith. My loves grew from their loves. They gave me emotional and physical shelter, and I can never thank them enough for that.
  20. My in-laws
    We have strikingly different outlooks at times, but I owe them everything for turning out my wife like they did. And yet they continue to give, encouraging us, loving us, and giving my children new opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. They are amazing people, and I don’t give them credit for that often enough.
  21. Bob Dylan
    The single best songwriter. Ever. Maybe you could argue against that, but I’m firmly convinced it’s true. He helped shape culture for nearly five decades now. Music wouldn’t be anything like it is without his input. So much joy and art has come out of his existence.
  22. Ray Davies
    I almost feel like I’m cheating by putting two songwriters in a row, but it’s my list, so my rules. While Bob is the best songwriter ever, Ray Davies is my favorite songwriter. I have had hundreds of hours of bliss listening to the music of Ray, his brother Dave, and the band they formed. Ray’s music literally formed the way I would listen to music throughout my life.
  23. Speculative Fiction
    Because reality gets so boring and its impact decreases when it gets too personal. Speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and the like, fixes all that. It puts a layer of metaphor in between all the problems it addresses. And also, dragons and aliens are fun.
  24. Fun games
    This is simple and I worry I’ll make it sound deeper than it is. I love playing interesting games. Working through the relation of the rules and the goals, inconsequential competition, entertainment. I can’t understand people who don’t like games.
  25. A safe home
    With so many troubles, it’s so nice to have a safe place to turn to. It keeps us dry, and warm (or cool, if appropriate), gives us a home base to rest and let go of stresses. And it gives us a place to relate with each other and bond. The value of a home, even a small one, cannot be overstated. The stability it affords alone is worth more gratitude than I can give.
  26. The gospel
    I can really be a screw up. And you know what? That will always matter, but because of the gospel, I know it’s not terminal in a spiritual sense. I can change on a fundamental, identity level. Change into something infinitely more than I am. Even better? My family can go with me in that change. The gospel and its implications are beautiful.
  27. Best Friends
    The identity of my bestest best buddy has shifted over the decades of my life. But there are very few people who have moved out of the category of people I think of as my best friends. These people are emotional and social bedrocks for me when I feel I’m otherwise cut adrift. There are people who have been as literal a second family to me as you can get without a marriage license. They are at the core of my being.
  28. Friendships with interesting people
    There’s a lot of overlap between the last item and this one. But there are people in my life who have inspired me by their interests and their friendliness to me. People who, because they were in my life, have shown me proof positive that I can achieve amazing things if I pursue those things. These friends have done things worth talking about, and because of that, I know I can do things worth talking about as well.
  29. My job
    I say bad things about my job a lot. This is because at least 80% of the time my job is a waking nightmare. But even given that, a nightmare job is better than no job at all. The idea of where I could be because I was unemployed for the last 2 years is orders of magnitude more terrible than my actual job is. Someone paying me to do stuff for them is, on the whole, pretty darn awesome, and I’m grateful I’m in that situation.
  30. Seeing my grandmother
    Last Saturday may be the last time I ever see her. Not because I think something is happening to her (or me) soon, but it’s already been years since I last saw her. Neither of us can travel across the country that often. My heart is full just because of the time I got to spend with her. She is a true matriarch and an inspirational life. It is an honor to be her descendant.

Maire’s first story

Elizabeth, my oldest, is in a creative writing class in seventh grade. They are given prompts to write on. Elizabeth adapts these into segments of an ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan fiction. Lately it’s started crossing over with Transformers and Dragon Slippers too. It’s a complex world.

She frequently shares the story with us at dinner. And her writing has inspired the other girls as well. Sarah and Rachael both started TMNT fan fiction too.

Maire has finally joined the craze. What’s really awesome about Marie’s though, is not just that she’s 5, but that she isn’t dictating this story or stealing anyone else’s. She’s writing new material and she’s writing them herself on different colors of construction paper with a black marker. She does occasionally ask for how to spell a word, but for the most part, she’s just using her one quarter of kindergarten education to make her best guess.

This is awesome because it’s the best way for her to really learn how to do it, and it tethers her less to needing any help.

So without further ado, here are scans of Maire’s hand-written story I have provided a translation, trying to match up the proper English with the letters she wrote to represent them — I think you’ll find she does a good job at figuring it out. I’ve added punctuation, and corrected some spelling, but not corrected grammar.

One day I was in a airplane. Then I saw a hole. I tried to walk around it. But instead I fell into it. Then I saw some turtles. Well, 4, actually. Then I fell unconscious! Leo said, uh guys I think we should tell Splinter

click to mutant-size

"Ah, Leo I think you should not have said that." "Me" said Leo. Then I didn't know what to do. Then a rat walked out of a tunnel. "Master Splinter, look who found us."

click to Maire-size.

The rat's eyes widened. The turtles went to the side, to let me to follow Splinter into a room. Then Splinter gave me some robes. When I walked out I found myself in a room that Splinter told me out. Then I started to realize

Click to giant-rat size.

that I was practicing with turtles. Then I had a dream. well, day dream. "Hi Maire," said Leo. "Hi," said Raph. "Hi Maire," said Mikey. "Hi Maire," said Don. Then Pippin jumped in the hole. "Pippin where are you going?"

Click to fan-fiction size.

Maire would like to point out the awesome turtle illustration in part 4.
I just want to clarify that Pippin is our cat.

Strong Women in SF

    Because I’m the kind of guy who makes lists

    And because I have daughters (five of them)

    I started making a list of strong women characters in SF. Not damsels in distress. And not fantasy or urban fantasy or horror or comics. But movies that are more SF than other genres.

    I even got out some lists of SF movies and for ideas.

    People, there’s a paucity of truly good female characters in SF.

    Here’s my list so far:

    • Ripley (Aliens)
    • Samus (Metroid) (I may be pushing it here)
    • female Jedi (Star Wars) (most are not actually portrayed, but here’s some that are)
      • Shaak Ti
      • Ashoka Tano
      • Darth Talon
      • Jayna Solo
    • Princess Leia (Star Wars)
    • Padme Amidala (Star Wars)
    • Mon Mothma (Star Wars)
    • Tuvoc (Star Trek, various)
    • River Tam (Firefly)
    • Zoe (Firefly)
    • Kaylee Frye (Firefly)
    • Sarah Connor (Terminator series)
    • Seven of Nine (Star Trek Voyager)
    • Captain Janeway (Star Trek Voyager)
    • Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica)
    • Quorra (Tron: Legacy)
    • Akina (Titan, AE)
    • Aeon Flux (Aeon Flux)
    • “Franky” Cook (Sky Captain vs World of Tomorrow) (i’m on the fence about Polly from this film)
    • Trinity (The Matrix)
    • Scarlett (G.I. Joe)
    • Lady Jaye (G.I. Joe)
    • The Baroness (G.I. Joe) (yeah, she’s a villain, but often she’s portrayed as very independent)
    • Leeloo (The Fifth Element)
    • Uhura (Star Trek, most recent movie)
    • Arcadia “Arkady” Darell (Foundation)

    Yes, I know this is very incomplete. I haven’t even mentioned Star Trek DS9, for example, and i’m sure there’s one or two there, but I didn’t watch it because I didn’t like it. So please, tell me more and I’ll update.

    My requirements?

    1. Must be a strong character, not just tough (that’s why I left Dejah Thoris and Lara Croft out).
    2. Romantic interest is ok, but that cannot be the definition of her character).
    3. Can’t be simple background material. There’s at least half a dozen other female Jedi for example, but they never show up in the stories, even in the EU. They don’t count. She doesn’t have to be the primary character, but she does have to have an important role as more than just window dressing
    4. Any media is acceptable. I’ve focused on film and TV so far, but books, comics (as long as it’s not a superhero book), and video games are ok too.
    5. Mothers can be strong too. This doesn’t have to be action heroes. Amidala, for example, does participate in firefights, but she’s not strong because she kicks booty. She’s strong for her convictions, even if they are poorly portrayed.
    6. Should be primarily Science Fiction. It may have fantasy or horror elements, but the focus should be SF. I may do a list of other genres later, but this is not it
    7. Should be from a reasonably well known property.

    You know, it looks to me like if a series gets it right, they get it right several times. But still, i mean, I have 6 named Star Wars characters here. And that’s out of 6 films and a TV series. And how many strong male characters are portrayed in that? Ditto for Star Trek. Trek has a better ratio than Star Wars, but I mean, 7 of 9 is lucky to be there. She was written in for looks. Arguably you could put Dr. Crusher and Troi on the list, but I wasn’t impressed with them, and there are a half dozen strong male characters on the standard cast list, not to mention repeating characters.

Tabitha Reeves: SPACE GIRL! Parts I -

Part I: Awakening

Gasping. Confusion. Panic. Choking. Vertigo. Collapse.

Tabitha Reeves hit the metal grate covering the floor on her hands and knees. She vaguely felt the blood leaking through the skin on her knees as she coughed over and over. It felt like dry heaves, but a little liquid came out each time. It looked a little like blue mucus, she thought. What the hell is going on?

Then strong hands grabbed her shoulders, and flipped her over. Everything was blurry, but she made out a huge man holding her down. She was suddenly acutely aware of the fact she wore no clothing.

Panic and bile rose to her throat as the man set his knee across her legs and pinned her shoulders to the floor. Then another set of hands shoved something hard in her mouth, lodging it between her back teeth to hold her mouth open. Then some sort of tube went in and down her throat. Another object went into her nose and she felt it hit her throat as well.

A second later there was suction in her lungs and her gut, then the blue mucus started to flow through the tubes. Her body started to relax, and as it did she felt the man move off of her. She tried to sit up but found that didn’t work so well, and she felt another bruise form on her elbow. So she laid there, waiting for her strength, sight, or breath to return.

As Tabitha waited she was given a towel by one of the people with her. She wiped her face, noting finally that her body was covered with a thing layer of something very like the slime being withdrawn from her body. As she toweled off and her mind relaxed she was able to remember how she’d gotten here.

She’d been in stasis – that explained the slime, it provided her body with oxygen and nutrients and even simulated the benefits of exercise for her muscles and bones while holding her aging at bay. The ship she was on was bound for Chigon IV. Even at faster-than-light speeds propelled by the dark matter drive it was a trip that would take decades.

She hadn’t imagined waking up was that unpleasant. She’d read the documents they’d given her. Disorientation and minor sickness was all she remembered. But she thought they used beds and restraints to avoid some of the trauma.

She finished toweling off and she was handed another towel — no, a blanket. She wrapped it around her body and looked up and around to try to get some bearings, but everything was still blurry.

The big man grabbed her arm and she felt a sharp pinch. She tried to pull away but he held her fast while injecting her with… something.

She was distracted as suddenly she started coughing again. The last of the blue fluid had left her body, which she could tell because the tubes were clear now. She couldn’t get her body to breathe on its own, though.

The second figure came to her rescue and quickly pulled the tubes from her face, then slapped her back till she had one final, wet cough and drew her first, ragged breath.

“Thanks. I…” she couldn’t hear herself. She felt panic rise for the third time when the figure who had just helped her made calming gestures. A hand held forward, fingers slightly splayed, telling her to wait a moment.

As she stared, she started to make out more details. The second figure was a woman. Above average but not too tall. Jet black hair, dusky skin and blue eyes, indicated a mixed genetic heritage. She wore a tight uniform of gray-blue, identifying her as crew on the ship. She sat on the floor, holding the used towel and smiled kindly at Tabitha, showing white teeth.

The big figure was indeed a man. Genetically designed, it appeared. He had the purple eyes that indicated such. Which explained his size: he was squatting but Tabitha could tell he was at least seven feet tall, and at least half that shoulder to shoulder. Every bit of his body was muscled, and she could tell because he wore a uniform similar to the woman’s. It didn’t hide much on either of them.

Tabitha drew the blanket tighter around her, suddenly embarrassed at her nakedness.

The man said something, but Tabitha still couldn’t hear. The woman responded, and it went back and forth for a few moments.

After a few moments Tabitha was able to make out the names sewn on the left breast of her companions’ uniforms. The woman’s read “Genzi.” The man was “Schwartz.” Last names, clearly.

“… long will it take.”

Tabitha jumped as her hearing suddenly returned.

Genzi laughed softly. “Apparently that long. Can you hear me, honey?”

Tabitha nodded.

Schwartz grunted. “Finally. We don’t have time.”

“Come on, we need you.” Genzi held out a hand.

She was still confused, but she took the proferred hand and rose to her feet, stumbling slightly.

Genzi led her through a door, and Schwartz followed them.

“Get dressed,” Schwartz growled. He held out a uniform similar to the ones they wore.

Tabitha took it gingerly but hesitated.

Genzi spoke up again. “Schwa, dear. Give her a moment of privacy.” Schwartz grunted again but stepped back through the door and slid it closed. “You want me to leave too, honey?”

Tabitha wasn’t sure, but she needed answers, so she shook her head and started to dress. She noted that the name on the uniform said “Kronopolos.” It wasn’t made for her. She hoped it would still fit. “What’s going on?” she asked. “I wasn’t supposed to be revived until we got to Chigon.”

Genzi grimaced. “I’m afraid you’re not going to like the answer.”

Part II: Escape!

For some reason, that didn’t surprise Tabitha. She hadn’t liked being woken up at all. Why should not liking the reason for it be a shock? Tabitha didn’t respond, she just waited for Genzi to continue. Which she did a moment later.

“The ship’s been hailed by another vessel.”

“What?” Tabitha paused, her arm half in one of the sleeves. “What are the chances that two ships can get close enough to hail out here?” The space between Chigon and anywhere civilized was vast, even by astronomic measures.

“Impossible. Or near enough to not matter any. Unless they had a means of tracking the ship. It wouldn’t be that hard to install something if they got to the ship before it departed.”

“But, why would they?”She finished sliding her arm in.

“If they wanted something from the ship and found it difficult to acquire while in port, they could reach it in space, where security would be easier.”

“So these guys are crooks? Ok, fine. But why are you waking me up?”

Genzi gave a humorless grin. “Honey, you’re what they want.”

“Me? That doesn’t make sense. My family isn’t rich. They can’t get a ransom.” Tabitha finished dressing and the break along the front sealed seamlessly as she ran her finger along it. Whoever this Ms. Kronopolos was, she has small feet and a small rear end, but a much larger bust. It was almost too tight to walk in the legs but quite roomy up top.

Genzi shrugged. “You’re Tabitha, right?” Tabitha nodded. “You’re who they asked for. We’ve woken you because they’re going to board. We don’t have defenses strong enough to repel them. On board security teams should probably be able to stop them, though. We just don’t want to risk they’ll make it this far and get you.”

Genzi was right, Tabitha didn’t like the answer. She swallowed, her throat dry. “Ok.”

“Ready, honey? Ok, let’s go.” She slid the door open and greeted Schwartz.

Schwartz nodded and started walking.

The room was full of passengers in stasis. Rows and rows of tanks, all of them filled with blue, viscous fluid in which a human body floated motionlessly. It was eerie to see them all in so much silence. There had been a lot more movement and noise when she’d entered the tank before departure.

Schwartz didn’t pause, moving forward with the ease and directness of someone who was familiar with such sights and had something else to get too. Tabitha was behind him, Genzi bringing up the rear.

They exited through a door on the far side of the room and passed through close, dark corridors, turning every now and then. The walls curved away from the floor and then back together to the ceiling, making the halls resemble tubes. Tabitha was unable to keep track of the path they took.

Before long, the distant sounds of fighting could be heard. Shots, crashes, small explosions. Though it was cold, Tabitha felt perspiration forming on her body. The uniform quickly swept it away, but she was still aware of it.

They encountered a small pack of men. They weren’t dressed in uniforms, but they carried firearms of various models and styles. One of them grinned. “How much you bet this is her?” he cackled.

Tabitha’s eyes went wide, but Schwartz didn’t hesitate. He ran forward, yelling incoherently at ear-damaging volume. The invaders fired but that didn’t stop Schwartz as he waded into the middle of the crowd, throwing enemies to the side. He was probably wearing something to block the attacks, but that he didn’t even break stride was impressive.

“Come on, honey,” Genzi said, pulling Tabitha down a side passage. Tabitha followed, not willing to wait and see how the fight ended. Genzi held her wrist and pulled her along. They were moving than Tabitha believed she could run. Soon Tabitha was breathing hard, but Genzi kept going.

A man blocked their passage. His purple eyes showed he was genetically designed, but he was nothing like Schwartz. He was smaller, narrower, wiry. He had corded muscles on his arms and legs that made them look like braided steel cables. And his arms were long, like an ape. He raised his arm and his arm grew at least five feet.

Genzi dropped low and grasped the man’s wrist. His arm shrunk back to its previous size, even as his other arm stretched out again, grabbing lower to keep Genzi from ducking again.

This time Genzi dodged to the side and ran up the round wall before pushing off and launching herself at the man. A knife appeared in her hand and she stabbed the man’s neck. Blood sprayed everywhere.

“Let’s go,” Genzi said, waving to Tabitha.

Tabitha stood for a second, taking in what happened. “How did you do that?”

“Honey,” Genzi hissed. “We don’t have time. There’ll be more.”

Tabitha finally found motivation to move and stepped to Genzi. The dark-skinned woman took Tabitha’s wrist and started running again. She hid the knife back on her sleeve as they moved.

The sounds of fighting grew louder and closer. Genzi stopped to check a computer panel, bringing up a display that looked like ship floor plans. Red and blue dots blinked all over it.

“Cark!” Genzi spat. “They’re everywhere. We can’t get to the secure hold.”

“What do we do? Surrender?” Tabitha tried to keep the fear from her voice, but the rising pitch almost certainly gave it away.

“If you want to be a pirate’s slave, be my guest, honey.” When Tabitha didn’t answer Genzi continued. “We could take an escape pod, but at this point the pirates are just as likely to win as the crew. ” She stared at the screen for a few more moments. “We could walk.”

“Walk? We’ve been running…” Tabitha realized suddenly what Genzi meant. “You mean… outside?” Genzi nodded. “But I’m not rated for… I’ve never even done it before! What if I float off?”

“Honey, we can stick to the outside of the ship. The bad guys are either driven off or leave when they can’t find you. Afterward, we go back in and you’re safe. We’ll tether together so you can’t get lost. I don’t see another option.”

Part III: Clinging to the Surface

No other option? Tabitha could think of a few. Fighting their way through was one. Genzi was more than competent, it would appear, having taken out that Gen-D without breaking a sweat. They could take the escape pod, which was much less terrifying than the prospect of a space walk. But Genzi was right. With the outcome of the battle up in the air, who knew who would pick the pod up? If either one did at all. Both ships could be disabled and then where would she be?

Tabitha closed her eyes. “Alright. We’ll walk,” she heard herself say. She shivered as she did so. She opened her eyes to see the humorless grin on Genzi’s face.

“Let’s do it then.” She took Tabitha around a corner to an airlock. A variety of space suits hung in the hallway by the iris portal.

They both began to dress, Genzi in a navy blue suit, Tabitha in a pink one. When she had her feet and arms in, Tabitha couldn’t figure out how to seal the suit. She touched the zipline but it didn’t respond.

“They don’t work that way. They’re designed not to respond to touch – that makes it too easy to open the suit in space.” Genzi set the helmet – a transparent bubble that looked a little like a slightly flattened fishbowl – on Tabitha’s head and pointed at a screen by the hanging suits. “Everything in the suit is controlled by eye movements. The seal command is pretty complex because, well, you don’t want to accidentally open up your suit out there. Just follow the dot with your eyes.” She pressed a button and a blinking purple dot appeared on the screen. For several seconds it moved in circular patterns that crossed over each other and then turned into back and forth and up and down. Tabitha could see why they had the screen help, because she couldn’t imagine ever memorizing the pattern.

When the dot disappeared, she heard the soft thumb and tearing sound of the suit sealing. The inside surface of the helmet was suddenly covered with a variety of lights in complex data displays. Charts, read outs, lists, arrows – she couldn’t make sense out of any of it. She stumbled backward, then held as still as she could, trying to overcome the vertigo caused by the display superimposed over the real world.

Inside her suit, she heard Genzi laugh. “You can’t see, can you?”

Tabitha shook her head.

“Using the HUD is at least half of the rating program for using one of these. Move your eyes right-left-right-left.”

Tabitha relaxed as the display disappeared, replaced by the solidity of the real walls.

“You can talk, you know,” Tabitha told her. “The comm is voice activated and defaults to broadcasting to local suits.”

“Ok,” Tabitha said quietly.

Genzi held the end of an orange cable. “The tether,” she explained. “Turn around.” When she did Genzi pushed the cable against the back of Tabitha’s suit. “Move your eyes in a clock wise circle three times.” The cable sealed itself to Tabitha’s suit. More accurately, the suit sealed itself to the cable, Tabitha thought.

Genzi held out the other end of the cable. It was about 20 feet long. “Push it against the square on my back.”

When they were both connected to the tether, Genzi started pushing buttons by the screen again, but seemed to ignore the button for opening the lock.

“I’m hacking the registry so there’s no record we went out this way,” she explained. We don’t want them to know where to look for us.”

As Genzi worked, Tabitha became aware of how silent it had become. While dressing, they had heard the sounds of the ship operating and the fighting going on. But inside the suit the silence was absolute. Tabitha couldn’t remember anything being this quiet.

At last Genzi finished and opened the iris door to the airlock. “Let’s go, honey.”

Tabitha stepped in, and the iris closed behind her. It was dark inside the lock.

“Why isn’t the other door opening?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.

“They’re pumping the air out. Interstellar travel teaches you not to waste. They don’t want to lose the oxygen that was in here.”

Tabitha nodded, forgetting that Tabitha couldn’t see her.

A moment later the external iris spread open. Genzi stepped out onto the surface of the ship. Tabitha followed awkwardly, unused to the strong attraction between the boots and the ship, but grateful for it so she didn’t fly off into space.

“We’re not sharing air,” Genzi said with a chuckle. “So feel free to fart, it won’t bother me.”
Tabitha had an image of what a spacewalk would be like. There would be long dark shadows along the ship from its irregular features, with a bright, blinding glare from the nearest sun. This was nothing like that. For one thing, the surface of the ship was smooth, a fact she should have remembered, since she had seen it before. It was smooth to minimize the damage and chance of accidental collision with space debris. Very little of space was completely empty.

For another thing, it was dark, nearly pitch. There was no nearby sun. They were far in between stars. There were a very few lights that indicated where view ports were, but none of it illuminated onto the surface of the ship. The only light in their area were the arm-mounted lights on Genzi’s suit.

They took a few strides and then stopped. Genzi turned off her lights. “Shutting off anything that will help them find us,” she explained. “Now we wait.”

It was queer not to feel a sense of down. There was a pull at Tabitha’s legs where her boots attached to the ship’s surface, but she could her body trying to drift away from it. Her inner ear had no idea which way to orient her. It made her more than a little nauseous and she worried about throwing up inside the helmet. She tried to distract herself by looking around.

Tabitha had never imagined herself afraid of the dark before. But she had never been in darkness so absolute. There were stars in view, but far fewer than she had imagined. Mostly what she saw was black. Black nothing. Emptiness. Void. She had never felt so isolated. There was a woman tied to her, she knew, but unless Genzi spoke, Tabitha couldn’t hear her. And she couldn’t see her. She peered into the void and it didn’t peer back. Nothing did, because there was nothing there.

She could feel her heart rate start to increase. Perspiration dripped down her temple. She began looking all round her, back and forth, hoping to see something, anything. Somewhere in her head she could tell she was panicking, but she couldn’t stop herself. The HUD in her helmet started to flash on and off intermittently as her eyes moved frantically. She crouched down into a fetal position. Her boots released from the ship and she started to float away. She felt the tug as her inertia was stopped by the tether to Genzi.

“Honey?” she heard over the radio. Tabitha couldn’t respond.

“Honey,” Genzi said again. “Honey! Listen to me.”

An incoherent whimper was all Tabitha could manage.

“Honey, close your eyes. Close them tight. I’m going to help you, but you have to be able to do what I say.”

Tabitha nodded.

“Honey, I need you to answer.”

“Y… yes…” Tabitha managed.

“You got your eyes closed?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, sit like that for a moment. Imagine you’re in your bunk, tucked up. You got a mom?”

“N… no. Dad raised me… She… d…”

Genzi interrupted. “Ok, your dad. He’s with you, sitting next to you on your bed. He’s got his hand on your hand, he’s keeping you safe.”

Tabitha pictured it, trying to keep it in her mind.

“Ok, hold your breath. Control it. In slowly. Out slowly.”

“Yeah,” Tabitha said, letting her breathing slow. The tugging on the tether stopped and she felt Genzi grab her.

“Ok, honey. Stretch your legs out, let them re-attach to the ship.”

She felt the movement stop, but was glad Genzi didn’t release her. “Ok, eyes still closed?”

Tabitha nodded again, then remembered that Genzi couldn’t see it. “Yes,” she said.

“OK, open your eyes slowly, tell me if the display is on.”

Tabitha opened her eyes, quickly shutting them again. “No, it’s not there.”

“Ok, this is going to be hard. But I want you open your eyes again. Then turn on the display. Right-left-right-left.”

It took her three tries, but at last she managed to control her eyes enough to get it to come on.
She took a strange relief in the appearance of the colored display. It has disoriented her in the ship, but now it was a comfort just to see anything.

“You doing ok now, honey?”

“Tabitha let out a long breath. Yeah, I think I’m alright. Thanks, uh… Ms. Genzi.”

Genzi laughed. “I guess I never introduced myself. I’m Neva. I guess you got my last name. The muscle’s name is Percy, but for obvious reasons we just call him Schwartz. I’m sorry about this. I had no idea you’d be a kenophobe.”

“A what?”

“Kenophobe. Someone frightened of, well, space. It’s not the stuff in space, it’s the nothing in space. It’s not uncommon, I just… wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s ok, I didn’t know either. All of this… is so weird to me.”

“Heh, honey, you ain’t seen nothing. This is a big galaxy, and there’s some bizarre things in it.

“Look, I need to work on something, but we want to keep your mind from wandering off. There’s a help manual in the HUD. Down-up-down-left. That’ll give you something to read. Sorry it’s not more entertaining.”

“What? No romance novels?”

Genzi laughed. “Sorry honey.”

Part IV: Purple Haze

Tabitha read for a long time. It was impossible to tell how long – though the HUD had a clock synced with the ship, she didn’t take note of the time when she started and didn’t know how to access the HUD’s logs. After a while, though, her eyes began to swim and dry out. Her brain had dried out long before, but she kept reading, even though she didn’t understand most of it, because she didn’t want to succumb to her kenophobia again.

She wanted to rub her eyes, and even reached up to do so, and felt sheepish when her gloved hands bumped into the bubble over her head. She laughed nervously.

“Incoming,” Neva said over the suit communicators.

Tabitha looked around but all she could see was the wall of text that covered the inside of her helmet. She bit her tongue before she could cry out in irrational panic. She flipped her eyes from side to side to deactivate the HUD and tried to see what Neva was talking about.

It didn’t take her long to find it. A wide shadow was blocking out stars and shining lights onto the surface of the ship in a search pattern. The black spot grew larger till the reflection of the light it emitted finally gave Tabitha a sense of its shape. It was broad, and seemed to be flat in comparison. It was a diamond shape, with one of the longer sides in the lead, the extended points out to each side. The back end of it had a long triangular tail. As it was nearly on top of them, Tabitha realized the size was sort of an optical illusion. Compared to her it was big, but it was probably only a couple hundred feet from one wing-tip to the other. It was clearly not large enough for interstellar travel, and probably belonged to one of the two ships in conflict.

That was confirmed a moment later when the light shone directly on them with blinding brilliance. The ship stopped moving and narrowcasted to their helmets. “This Sergeant Blod of the Inverness, attached to the cruiser Passagarde. Maintain position. We will pick you up.” The connection snapped off just as quickly. Tabitha relaxed. It was from the good guys and not the pirates.

All the same, she heard Neva curse over the suit comms.

Tabitha held up her hand to block some of the light, but she still couldn’t sense anything. A few moments later a smaller pod landed on the ship’s surface just a few feet away. She could feel the vibrations through her legs and feet.

A square door in the pod opened and two Gen-D’s stepped out. Tabitha thought one might be Schwartz for a moment, but they were too short to be him. Their guns were massive things. Nearly the same size as their body. Impractical for most to use outside of a zero-g environment, but with a Gen-D, it might be what they used all the time. The soldiers motioned for the women to enter the pod with them.

After they did so, the door shut. Tabitha thought it was completely dark at first, and she felt some bile rise in her throat till she realized there was a light dome on the ceiling, and it was just the comparison to the search lights that made it so dark. No one opened their suits, and there was no gravity in the pod. But she felt it move, the ship above, the Inverness, Tabitha supposed, reeling them in at what felt like a rapid pace. A moment later, the door opened again and she had a view of a large area. The pod was in the center of a large room with brown floors, and a huge arching dome over head. Around the edge of the circular room servicemen sat at computers. A man sat in a chair nearby, turned to face them. He must be the commander of the vessel. He lounged comfortably, slouching. His splayed fingers steepled as he regarded them without expression.

The Gen-D that had picked them up removed their helmets, and one held a datapad in front of Tabitha’s face. A dot moved in strange patterns across it. It took her a moment to realize it was the code to unlock her suit. She pushed the “restart” button at the bottom of the pad than dutifully followed the dot. When it finished, she was rewarded with a soft hiss as the seals on the suit released. One of the Gen-D took her helmet before she could even move. She looked over and saw that Neva was being treated the same way. They left the space suits on them.

“I see,” the seated man said finally, looking at Neva. His face twitched once, ever so briefly showing anger or hate or something similar before he restored his stoic appearance. “Contain her,” he said, pointing at Neva. “Don’t let her speak.”

“But, she helped me!” Tabitha said in confusion. Neva didn’t say anything.

“Indeed.” He waved to the Gen-D soldiers and they dragged Neva away.

“What’s going on?” Tabitha asked.

The officer finally stood. He wore a uniform identical to the ones she’d seen on Schwartz and Neva when they’d revived her, except the name and he had decorations on the shoulder. Tabitha assumed the indicated rank or medals. “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” he said. “I’m Commander Tarsak. And as a commander I’m not cleared to explain much. You’ve already seen that pirates have boarded the Passagarde in an attempt to kidnap you. Beyond that, I’m not allowed to explain. I’m sure the chief captain of the Passagarde can help you further. We’re taking you to her now.”

Tabitha tried to think of what to say. Before anything came to mind Commander Tarsak returned to his chair and rotated to face the front of the ship.

Tabitha watched out the dome as the ship propelled itself along the length of the big cruiser. As they moved toward the front she could see the pirate ship disengage and pull away from the Passagarde. It seemed to happen in slow motion as the two huge ships drifted apart silently. Compared to the Inverness, the pirate ship was huge — easily a hundred times as large. Even at that, it was only a quarter the size of the Passagarde.

Every interstellar ship in the galaxy either belonged to a giant conglomerate (which ran their fleets like military), a government (which made them a part of an actually military), or to pirates (which either ran their ships like military or barely controlled anarchy). The Passagarde, while government (and thus military) was not a combat ship, which meant it had very few weapons. So while the pirates looked gutsy, the Passagarde was actually the kind of ship they found ideal to attack.

So why were they retreating? Were they simply incompetent or under armed? Decent pirates could take the ship, or at least enough of it to demand something to get rid of them. And they had that Gen-D on their side. The one with the freakish arms. Something was weird about all that.

But Tabitha couldn’t put the pieces together. So she stared at the pirate ship starting to distance itself from the Passagarde. The Inverness was moving faster, relative to the Passagarde, so they managed to see some details on the pirate vessel before they distanced themselves. There was no name printed on the side like legitimate ships had, but there was a huge, if dirty and faded, emblem on the side. A scorpion with a devil’s face, in what was once a deep red, was painted on the vessel’s metallic hull.

It made Tabitha shiver.

A few moments later and the pirate ship was starting to gain inertia and really separate from the Passagarde. The Inverness slowed as it approached a thick tower jutting from the Passagard’s primarily smooth surface. There was a mechanical whirring and thumps, and the smallest shiver through the hull of the Inverness as it docked.

Tabitha was escorted by the same two Gen-D soldiers back to the Passagarde and through a maze of tunnels. She tried once to speak to them, noticing that the name on one of their uniforms said “Blod,” the sergeant that had hailed her earlier. But the men just grunted. Eventually they arrived at a gold-painted double door with the Earth League’s crest on it, centered over the crack where the doors met.

Sergeant Blod tapped the computer on his wrist and the doors opened. Neither soldier stepped forward but instead saluted by making a fist over their heart.

There stood the coldest looking woman Tabitha had ever seen. A pinched nose, sunken cheeks, pale, nearly translucent skin. But corded muscle evident under the skin and the same skin-tight uniform. She had shaved her head, but not recently, and stark black stubble stood out on her scalp.

That’s when things got very strange. A purple, cloudy haze drifted through Tabitha’s field of vision. “What is that?” she asked, but no one else seemed to react at all to the violet fog. Tabitha’s adrenaline spiked, and she fell back into a ready stance, not sure if she was about to be attacked and ready to flee if she was. The mist grew thicker, obscuring everything, and eventually hiding it entirely. She held up her hand and couldn’t see it until it was mere inches from her eyes.

Then shapes started to form from the purple clouds, making images, new colors. Small actions, like tiny vignettes acted out by players on a stage, but some of the players were people she knew. A vision of Schwartz firing a large gun into a crowd of silhouettes. Her own hands, covered with blood, the woman officer at her feet. Neva being carried away by a mob. The pirate ship trading weapons fire with an unfamiliar ship, swarmed about with fighter craft. Flashes of even shorter scenes she doesn’t have time to make sense of.

Then a flash and the purple haze drifted away faster than it had appeared. Tabitha stumbled in place before catching herself and rubbing her eyes. What the heck had just happened?

She looked up. The woman officer raised an eyebrow. “Are you well?”

Tabitha hesitated then nodded. She wasn’t well, she didn’t think. But she didn’t think it would help to tell this woman that.

“Good.” The officer nodded to the Gen-D soldiers. “I am Chief Captain Talia Zenzoff of the E.L.S. Passagarde. Please come with me, we have much to discuss.” She moved back through the double doors into a small antechamber. Opposite the doors was a large room with screens, computers access panels, and a small crowd of officers. An empty command chair sat perched slightly above the rest of the room.

To Tabitha’s left, between the main ingresses of the antechamber, was a single door emblazoned with the Earth League’s seal. Zenzoff led Tabitha through this door into a small but impressively appointed office. The walls were covered in a fine, burgundy, velvety material. Soft Light emanated along the tops of the walls. Hanging on the wall were pictures featuring the chief captain with various official looking people in and out of uniform, and not a few letters of commendation. In the center of the office there was a desk, which looked to be actual wood – an extreme luxury.

Zenzoff saw Tabitha’s reaction and smiled with co ld pride. “Yes, it’s a family heirloom. For four and a half centuries my family has commanded ships of the Earth League’s fleet. The desk was carved from trees found on our ancestral estate before Earth was evacuated.” She moved around the desk and sat in a high-backed chair. She indicated Tabitha should sit in one of the smaller chairs.

After a moment Zenzoff held up a datapad. “I’ve been reading your files. Trying to see what motivated the pirates to come for you.”

Tabitha caught a glimpse of the contents, wondering what information they kept on her. The heading read “Tabitha Kronopolos.” Unconsciously, she looked down at the name on her ill-fitting borrowed uniform, which also said “Kronopolos.” She felt a chill.

Zenzoff appeared not to notice. “You are a xeno-biologist, specialized with research in arthropod analogs, yes?”

Nerdy Intellectual Exercise

spaces... everywhere

click to embiggen

This is intended to be a representation of a hierarchy of literary genres.

Big concerns? Are the Supernatural/horror and Supers genres seem valid?

So I would like some feedback on this because I’d like to do soem stuff with it. Things I missed? Disagreements? Smart remarks?

note, the final product will have interactive notes to explain things.

Favorites: Musical Acts of the 1950s

This is the first in a new series I’m starting. It may be that this series will only reach 6 articles, but it may be that I find something else to put in it.

Why six articles? Because the inspiration for this series was creating a list of my favorite 3 musical performers/musicians/songwriters/bands of each of the last 6 decades. Naturally, they focus on rock and it’s related kinds.

So, without further ado: My favorite three rock stars of the 1950s.

There are really only three to consider: Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. The 1950s was the easiest decade from which to select favorite music acts.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry is one of the earliest rock stars I ever even knew about. He was one of the artists Dad listened to. And who doesn’t know “Johnny B. Goode?”

Especially if you’ve ever seen Back to the Future

But he had others that just rock out. “Maybelline,” for one.

“Sweet Little Sixteen,” for another.

And honestly, he brought us the timeless “My Dingaling”

(yeah… that one’s not 1950s, at least that recording… I stand by my decision, however)

and one of the Best Christmas Songs Ever

(look! Reindeers! — if Chuck says it that way, I can too. Sorry, couldn’t find a performance of it)

Elvis

Elvis: THE STAMP

And... he had great hair

I admittedly overlooked Elvis Presley for a long time.

It wasn’t till the USPS released a postage stamp with his face on it that I gave him a real chance, recognizing at last how many of his songs I did know and love already.I mean, I knew I loved them, I just didn’t acknowledged that I liked so much that Elvis recorded, collectively. It was upon the release of this stamp, and the purchase of a greatest hits CD that I was finally able to admit: I loved Elvis.

So what is so great about Elvis? Other than the fact that he swung his hips and wore a leather jacket and sneered?


and the fact that even in his old age he could kick a mummy’s butt

Well, “Hound Dog,”

“Jailhouse Rock,”

and “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Pretty much ’nuff said right there.

Granted, he did “Amazing Grace” in 1970,

From the title of the album, it’s clear that they didn’t invent innuendo by 1970…

which puts it in another Decade, but since what I love of his music is MOSTLY in the 50s, and since that’s the decade I believe most people associate him with, I’m putting him here.

Buddy Holly


Wait… wrong buddy Holly…

From an early age, I was familiar with his work. I thought it was alright. I don’t think I “got” it though. Even when I was in a fit of buying 50s music and I got his greatest hits I didn’t get it. I believe there are times when I thought he was over rated on the basis of his tragic death as told in epic song.


Wait… wrong epic…

But while his music is simple, and I tend to be snooty about a lot of the virtuoso music I listen to, there’s raw art underneath the wholesome nerd-rock image Buddy Holly gave us. This is stuff at the core of so much rock to follow for the next half century and beyond. This is stuff that is iconic and still influential.

“That’ll Be the Day” (that I’ll die, not the music),

Wait… wrong… oh yeah. This one is right.

“Peggy Sue,”

What if Elvis had worn Holly’s glasses…?

“Maybe Baby,”

Couldn’t find a decent performance for this one either. Enjoy the pre-hipster nerd chic look

and “Rave On!”

But not with glow sticks or roofies! Also, yes, it’s clear the performance and the sound are not really associated with each other. Deal.

I mean, come on. You know you like every one of those, even if you won’t admit it because you’re a hipster and think you’re above it. And it’s because Holly is/was iconic. Emblematic.

jQuery’s Slice (and you didn’t even know it golfed, did you?)

Yes, it’s irritating enough that I’m going to blog about it.

Most programming languages have some version of slice() implemented in their design. The principle for the slice method/function/whatever is self explanatory: It makes a slice of a larger set of data.

HOW it’s implemented varies. It could change the original variable or set of data that you are working on. It could create NEW variable or set of data that copies that subset of the data. Conceivably, it could do both, like a cake: literally take the data out of the original set, leaving it smaller, and making a new object/variable/whatever with the subset you defined.

Every implementation I’ve seen defines the slice it makes using 1 or 2 numbers. The first number is an indication of where to start the slice, and if the second number is there, it indicates where the slice ends, (otherwise, the slice ends when the data slice ends.

Now, before we go on, I have to explain how programming languages and computers number things. If you understand 0-indexing used by most languages, skip a bit to get to my gripe. Otherwise, keep going.

In most computer/programming/scripting languages, counting starts at 0. So let’s say you have an array (an array is a group of things, more specificity in that definition varies from language to language). This array is a list of fruits. In this list we have:
Banana
Apple
Orange
Mango
Grape
Strawberry
Huckleberry
Lemon

That list is longer than we actually need, but it works. If the array has each of those stored in that order, “Banana” has an index of 0. “Apple” is 1, and so forth until we get to “Lemon” which has an index of 7. The LENGTH of the list is 8 objects. And programming languages will tell you it’s 8 objects long. But they’re going to index it 0-7. Banana is the first object, with an index of 0. Lemon is the eighth object, with an index of 7.

It’s not necessarily obvious, but there are good reasons for it which I won’t go into here.

Now, back to slice(). The first number telling you when to start is typically either a) the index number of the object (a range of 0-7 in our example) or the number of the sequence in which it appears (a range of 1-8). You have to know which one to use or you’ll get unexpected results, but once you know you just memorize it.

The second number, if it appears, can also be either the index number or the sequence number. But there’s also a third option! That “end number” might actually be a measure of how long the slice is.

So if you want to get Orange, Mango, and Grape, there are four common sense ways of expressing it.

  • Index method: fruits.slice(2,4) (because Orange is index 2, and Grape is index 4)
  • Sequence method: fruits.slice(3,5) (because Orange is third in the list and Grape is fifth)
  • Index + length method: fruits .slice(2,3) (because Orange is index 2, and you want 3 items from the list)
  • Sequence + length method: fruits.slice(3,3) (because Orange is the third item in the list, and you want 3 items from the list.

Personally, I would prefer it if they’d all just use the Index method, but I don’t get to decide these things.

But what REALLY IRRITATES me is what jQuery does with slice. It uses the index for the start item and the sequence number for the end item. So if we wanted Orange, Mango, and Grape, our expression would be fruits.slice(2,5). It uses to completely distinct numbering systems instead of just one, which makes it look like there are either 4 or 5 items in the slice, when there are only 3.

It’s not consistent, and that’s stupid. Thanks jQuery. I hate you now.

(No I don’t. Come back. Why you gotta make me hurt you, baby?)

Heroes

In 1944, during World War II, DC Comics published The Big All-American Comic Book. It was nothing particularly remarkable other than it being the first “here’s a bunch of stuff from all over what we do, and it’s all original.” This was the cover:
The cover of The All American Comic Book, December 1940, DC Comics
It’s iconic, in a way. All that golden age art. The price of 25 cents. The kid and his dog. The hero worship. It was definitely All-American.

Shortly after September Eleventh, DC Comics published two comics to raise funds for victims and workers at the crash sites. Here’s the cover for volume 2:
The cover to 9-11, Volume 2, DC Comics, 2001
It doesn’t take much to see where painter Alex Ross got his idea.

There were heroes who sacrificed their lives that day. The men and women who took control back of their plane over Pennsylvania. Men and women inside the towers who helped others get out. And of course the first responders who ran into the danger, even though it was impossible to breathe and there was no way of knowing when the next building would come down.

My senior thesis in college was about the heroes a society produces. In that sense, I spoke of the heroes in literature. Heroes, naturally, have the virtues that the society values most. When those values are in upheaval, the traditional hero is unable to accomplish heroics.

I have since written, more than once, that because of this thesis, the heroes I see honored in our pop culture disturb me. The Punisher is a cruel, vindictive, serial killer. Wolverine is an animalistic dealer in violence with little control over himself at times. We spend so much time looking at the dark side of stories and then finding fault with established role models. It makes me scared for what we’ll develop into.

I remember discussions with people after September Eleventh. Conversations full of anti-Semitic statements that grouped not only all Arabs, but all Muslims into easily derided segments. Conversations full of violent, vengeful wishes to torture those responsible. Conversations that made many ordinary people look like the dark anti-heroes put before me in pop-culture. And I was frightened more than what any terrorist could inspire in me.

But then I remember these pictures. The heroes of reality, not of literature. How these people are honored. And how, no matter what heroes they were presented with in the media, they chose saving others over their own lives. And many of them kept putting their lives at risk.

September Eleventh revealed what we are like under pressure. In the moment, There is still a shining model of heroism in humanity and Americans.

We are not supermen.

But we have those who are worthy of the awe of supermen.

I Can’t Forget

Remember, remember
The ‘leventh September
Airplanes and terror and plot.
I know of no reason
The two towers treason
Should ever be forgot.

I really hate it when people call it 9-11. “Nine-Eleven.” It sounds like the name of a convenience store. I’m not even sure why it’s so popular, other than the coincidental similarity to the emergency call number in the United States. Nine-Eleven has the ring of a sound bite, which is probably why it’s so frequently used. It’s lingo-y. Jargon-y. Insipid.

We don’t say “Seven Four” (which has a cool, CB trucker vibe to it). We don’t say Twelve-Seven either, just to cover the two most likely comparisons out of the way.

Of equal distaste is “Patriot Day.” Before September 11, 2001 I was good with the term. But it’s been co-opted by political actors and has been twisted so that “patriotic” means “people who agree with me.”

Whenever I talk about the day the world ended (if you’ll indulge a bit of dramatic hyperbole) I eschew abbreviations and euphemism. “September eleventh” is what I say. The “2001” part is unnecessary. For the last ten years, if you mentioned that date, it has been understood which day you meant.

It is an event that has occupied our national mind-set for this last decade. I don’t think I’ve had a single day of the last 3652 days where the thought of the disasters that happened hasn’t come to mind.

As a writer, I sometimes wonder if I should be ashamed that I am unable to find the words to communicate better what that day means. There’s a deep emotion that stirs whenever I consider it. Yes, there’s a deep love for my country. But that’s not it. Yes there’s a deep grief for the unnecessary death. Yes there’s anger that there are people who thought that not only was that death a good idea, but a righteous, holy idea. There’s mystification at how to make sense out of tragedy. Inspiration that there are those who can go forward. Tears of joy that there are people willing to sacrifice their lives to help others who might not even be around to appreciate it anymore.

Art Spiegelman created a 42 page biopic in graphic novel format about his reaction and explanation for that day called In the Shadow of No Towers. It’s a magnificent work, artistically interpreted and finely communicated. Nothing else I’ve read about September Eleventh is nearly so clear. Yet in all that, there are more questions left or opened than are ever answered. And his thoughts are very dense.

I can’t condense it. I can’t explain it properly even when I don’t condense it. We could speak for days, weeks, even years and not work out the meaning of that day. As a nation, we’ve tried for ten years and haven’t accomplished it yet.

When I watch movies or TV shows where something apocalyptic happens, particularly something like a nuclear detonation in a U.S. city, my mind still blocks it off. Despite the fact that I watch the events of September Eleventh unfold on my TV in real time, a part of my mind is unwilling to make the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept a story where Baltimore or Los Angeles is laid waste by weapons of mass destruction. There’s a mental block. Am I just unable to accept the reality of the world? Is it just the way I’ve dealt with not being terrified of the universe?

Because of all this, I don’t know how to react. I don’t really know how to honor. I know that there is a feeling in my heart. Some big combination of sympathy, grief, fear, admiration, love of country, and loss. I can’t begin to muddle out how much of each is in there or where it is. I have emotions in quantum states — I can identify emotions or I can identify the intensity of the emotion. I can’t do both simultaneously.

And that’s why I hate it when people say “nine-eleven.” When you wrap something as complex as the events and reactions of September 11, 2001 into a neat little phrase, you obviate all those emotions and thoughts and struggles. You minimize what happened and how significant it is. Saying “September Eleventh” is my way of acknowledging that there’s so much I don’t know about it, there’s so much I don’t understand about what I do know, and there’s so much left to feel about it.

So of course I’ll never forget. I can’t forget. I’ll never be finished processing my thoughts and feelings about it. That’s too big to forget.

Predicting or Preventing the Events of September 11, 2001

Let me tell you something about predicting.

In 1999 The Leading Edge, a science fiction and fantasy journal published by Brigham Young University, printed a (very) short story called “Y2K+5.” The premise of the story was that society collapsed due to the Y2K Bug — a hypothetical but likely glitch in older software (of primary fear was software used by the financial industry) regarding how it kept dates (using 2 digits). The concern was that when the 2-digit representation of the year rolled over from 99 to 00 it would cause a host of errors and confusion. The financial system and other infrastructure IT systems would crash and data would be lost. Societal collapse would be followed.

Everything in that premise was true. At least, the fear and potential was true. The story simply made a joke about what the world would be like 5 years after the collapse of the world as we knew it – since media attention had made The Doom all but inevitable. In reality, nothing happened.

In 1994 Tom Clancy had a book published called Debt of Honor. At the end of this book a member of a failed plot to restore primacy to a fallen empire took his revenge by crashing a passenger jet into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. He did it just before the president was to speak to the assembled joint-houses of Congress. Naturally, the president and most congresspersons died. The sequel, Executive Orders, details events that followed this act of terrorism. Another terrorist plot using bio-weapons is included, as well as near-war in two southern Asian nations.

This one didn’t come true either. But it echoes eerily for some of us.

Most of the world, even if they didn’t expect anything to happen, was aware of the potential of their world changing at midnight on January 1, 2000. But nothing happened. We were able to go back to our regular lives. We were convinced that the foretold doom was nothing.

None of us were ready for the world to change on the bright, clear morning of September 11, 2001.

On that date, terrorists, using passenger airlines as kamikaze missiles killed thousands by crashing into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City and into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Another plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when its passengers learned what was happening and heroically gave their lives to foil the terrorist plots.

In the aftermath, the terror meant to be inspired by these terrorists became real: civil rights were revoked in some of the most free countries in the world to stem unspecified potential attacks. Anthrax was used as a biological weapon. War was started with multiple Asian nations on sketchy premises. The world became a political thriller, except that there was never a neat conclusion.

So maybe somebody knew something could have changed things and nobody listened to him. It was human nature if that happened, and it wastes time and breath to try and blame people.

Because we predicted Y2K and nothing happened.

Y2K + 1 was when society as we knew it died.

Capitalizing on Emphasis

So my friend Chris and I were talking. And because we are Nerds we got to trying to label some literary terms. This is the sort of thing for which I keep a copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms at my desk. Irritatingly, it’s the opposite approach for which the book was designed — which is all alphabetic with no index. So give me a term and I can look it up. But it’s a bit harder to look for a term based on the function that term has.

The stickler term was when you capitalize a phrase to create a proper noun. Usually this is done for emphasis, and even more often this emphasis is used at least a little ironically, to point out Pomposity or Overthinking the Issue. A. A. Milne did it a lot in Winnie the Pooh stories.

Now, to be clear, there are some terms we looked up that are similar but which Are Not Accurate:

Metonymy is where you use a phrase describing an aspect of something as a replacement for the something itself. Ie, it’s like saying “by the sweat of your brow” to tell Adam he needs to start working hard if he wants to survive.
My sister, who is a scientist Master of Poetry (meaning she has her master’s degree, in poetry composition) wants to insist that this is personification. However, I could say The Holocaust was a Very Bad Thing and I don’t think there’s much comparing to a person there at all. Though I suppose a person (let’s continue the trend and say it’s Hitler) could also be a Very Bad Thing.
One list of terms I saw called this simply “emphasis.” This smacks of weaksauce to me, however, and I refuse to accept that there isn’t a more specific term for this literary device.
Note that this is not the same thing as labeling Pooh as The Bear of Very Little Brain (which is antonomasia – using a descriptive label in place of an actual name). It is however, exemplified by “My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”
We also decided that it wasn’t as simple as denomination (giving a Proper Name to an object) or its ilk.
Sobriquet (a given nickname, as opposed to a pseudonym which is a chosen nickname) was also suggested, but I shot it down because capitalized term or phrase can also be literal. The sentence often makes sense without the emphasis or tone lended by capitalization.
I thought I was on track when I found Archetype Name. However, that refers to the person, place, or thing which is thought to have lent his/her/its name to proper name category, like The Fisher King.

So in the end I came up short. Instead, I started coming up with new names. I considered metonymic personification but rejected it for much the same reasons that I rejected its component terms. However, emphatic archetyping settled with me better. Though perhaps I’ll leave it as simply archetyping.

So literary nerd friends, I Call Upon You to help me find this name. Tell me what this literary stylistic device is supposed to be called. Or, if I’m right and there really is no specific term for it already extant, lets do some neologistic work.

After all, this is really Important Stuff.