The Ten Commandments of the Science Fiction Writer

Tuesday, March 26, AD 2013

Ten Commandments



My co-blogger Darwin has a good post at his blog, Darwin Catholic, expressing his irritation at three laws proposed by the late science fiction writer Arthur Clarke.  Go here to read it.  The proposing of laws seems to often go with the territory of being a science fiction writer.  Asimov had his laws of robotics, for example.  Reading Darwin’s post propelled me into imagining the ten commandments for science fiction writers, and here they are:



1.  You are a science fiction writer, and will write only science fiction:  no fantasy, no (spit) urban fantasy, no (gag) romance novels disguised as fantasy.  This rule is subject to being overruled if you really, really need the cash.

2.  You will not bow down to the idols of popular taste or to what will sell in the mass market.  Kindle and e-publishing will have your sole worship.

3.  You will not take the name of science in vain and have more than three scientific absurdities in each story that you write.

4.  All the rest of creation labors for only six days.  For science fiction writing wretches remember the words of Heinlein:  “Six days shalt thou work and do all thou art able; the seventh the same, and pound on the cable.

5.  Honor your father and your mother as they may well be the ones supporting you as you seek fame and fortune by scribbling endlessly for a living.

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4 Responses to The Ten Commandments of the Science Fiction Writer

  • Speaking of murdering science fiction writers, did you ever read the two fun “murder at SF convention” novels Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool, Don?

  • No Darwin I missed those two. The best parody of a science fiction convention I have read is contained in Heinlein’s Number of the Beast, a dreadful book unless one realizes that Heinlein meant it as a parody of science fiction in general, and his own work in particular.

  • Donald,

    I know of no other way to contact you, so this is a bit off topic. Have you read Joe Holland’s Modern Catholic Social Teaching? I am through the first chapters and I’ve noticed your interest in history, so I was curious what you thought of it.

    I am trying to brush up on my history of CST (especially pre-Rerum Novarum) to better understand the more contemporary encyclicals, do you know of any other good sources for this?

    I’d also welcome your thoughts, Darwin!


  • “Joe Holland’s Modern Catholic Social Teaching?”
    No, but I will put it on my ever lengthening lists of books to keep an eye out for!

Game That Pope!

Saturday, March 9, AD 2013

I have wasted endless hours of my life playing historical strategy games since 1970, first as board games and then on computers.  Troy Goodfellow at Flash of Steel has a fascinating look at games which involve the Papacy:


Popes are also generally not playable characters, and when they are, they come with major strings attached. Papal power is a spasmodic interference in play, either through the mechanics of being a Trump (a power that players compete for so they can use it against their enemies), a Vendor (a mechanic that distributes tasks and rewards to stimulate certain types of play and progress) or a Disruptor (a mechanic serves to keep games challenging or hasten resolution of stalemates.)

Medieval Total War II is probably the best exemplar here, and the one most familiar to readers of this blog, though certainly not the first. You can’t play the Pope in MTW2 – and you can’t even easily direct who assumes that role once the old pope dies – but he is always in your face, both in good ways and bad. First, as a Vendor, the Pope is one of two sources of “missions” for Catholic rulers (alongside local nobles). The Pope’s missions are connected to religious stuff, generally – build a church, convert a province, etc – and rewards for accomplishing his minor missions are on par with those nobles will provide. The Pope is a Disruptor by calling Crusades and then demanding your king or princes participate, drawing resources and armies away from where you would rather have them (you can always say no, but there’s a price). And the Pope further disrupts through Excommunication, putting leaders beyond the protection of the church and freeing you to act against them.

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The Eternal Issue: Batman vs. Spider-Man

Sunday, December 23, AD 2012



Ah, TAC tackles only the big burning issues of our day!  Travis D. Smith over at The Weekly Standard raises a philosophical question that has always intrigued me:  who is the greater hero, Batman or Spider-Man?

Reservations  about technology are at the heart of Spider-Man’s story. Peter Parker  gains the proportional strength and agility of a spider when a high-tech  experiment goes awry. His webshooters and spider-tracers are products  of his own ingenuity. His rogue’s gallery, by contrast, comprises a  testament to the dangers inherent in modern technological science given  the myriad ways it can be misused and lead to unintended consequences.  With few exceptions, Spidey’s foes can be categorized as either (i) good  guys who were transformed into villains (or ordinary thugs who were  made much worse) by technological mishaps or unexpected side-effects  (e.g., Doctor Octopus, Electro, Green Goblin, Lizard, Morbius, and  Sandman; Venom, too, indirectly), or (ii) crooks who specifically  invented, obtained, or otherwise employ technology for the sake of doing  wrong or becoming worse (e.g., Beetle, Chameleon, Hobgoblin, Jackal,  Mysterio, Rhino, Scorpion, Shocker, and Vulture; Kraven is the  noteworthy exception). The young Peter Parker is corrupted by the  culture around him no less than any other young man. His first instinct  is to use his newfound powers in a selfish, though harmless, manner: He  plans to make it big in showbiz for the sake of supporting his family.  But after he internalizes Uncle Ben’s message, Spider-Man stands out as a  marvel precisely because he is both the victim of science gone wrong  and a manufacturer of technological wonders, yet neither makes a monster  of him—if we set aside that brief period he had six arms.

Modern  society, marked, if not defined, by our devotion to technological  science and premised principally on theories of rights, explicitly  rejects classical ideas that emphasize virtuous character and duties  that transcend individual will. Assessing all relationships in terms of  power, defending subjective rights as absolutes, and replacing  interpersonal duties with collective responsibilities, preferring the  indirect benefactions of impersonal institutionalized mechanisms,  modernity is a breeding ground for tyrannical souls and a recipe for  tyrannical regimes. It is in this light that Spider-Man can help us to  see that modernity’s capacity to turn out relatively well depends on  habits and ideas that precede it.

When  I teach introductory classes in political theory, I am grateful for the  example that Spider-Man provides of Glaucon’s model of “the man of  perfect justice” from Book II of The Republic, one who always  does the right thing (in terms of complying with conventional morality)  even though he always earns a reputation for doing the wrong thing.  Nobody who would wield great power intending to work on behalf of  justice can avoid earning a bad reputation. Spider-Man is sure to be  accused of being an accomplice in any bank robbery he thwarts. The  headlines of the Daily Bugle regularly prompt readers to ask  themselves whether he is a “Threat or Menace?” Nevertheless, Peter  chooses to keep up the good fight. The language of “choice,” however,  falls short here. Whereas Bruce decides to become a costumed agent of  vengeance, acting on an internal compulsion, Peter regards what he does  not so much as a choice but as a responsibility, a duty he must meet  irrespective of his preferences and desires. This accords with the  classical notion that virtue is demanded of us by our very nature; it is  not something that anyone can opt in or out of indifferently.

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16 Responses to The Eternal Issue: Batman vs. Spider-Man

  • I grew up with marvel comic books, but determining the greatest of imaginary creatures is not an eternal issue for me. Forgive me for being such a spoilsport. Only the shadow really knows.

  • “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…”

  • Batman.

    What else needs be said?

  • The Super Heroes are all personifications of the virtues, of Justice. The evildoers are all personifications of vice.

  • My oldest son is less than one month from being five years old. His favorite shows are Superman and Batman, both done by the same people, from the early and mid 1990s. Hub shows them nearly every day. These cartoons were not developed solely for children and often have some mature subject matters.

    Cars, trucks, trains and superheroes are usually fascinating to little boys. They were for me and they are for my son. I remember the Filmation Superman and Batman cartoons from the 1960s as well as the Spiderman cartoon. They used to be shown in the afternoon hours after school.

    I once heard it said from a radio DJ that he preferred Batman to Superman because Batman was more believable. Almost nobody in the Batman world had superpowers.

    Spiderman has a superpower and finds himself with an obligation to use it no matter his personal struggles. Batman uses his vast resources to fight his enemies.

    Which one prefers depends on one’s own tastes.

  • I always liked Superman partly because he was a down to earth midwestern farm boy at heart. DC has in the recent decades played up the “Last Son of Krypton” in regard to Superman, but there was always more of Kansas than of Krypton in the Defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

  • True RL! And how could I have overlooked Duck Dodgers, the champion of justice in the 24th and a half century?

  • Don, I think you hit on an imporant point that the Weekly Standard article only inches toward.

    Take this as a thesis: Spiderman is human, Batman is angelic.

    Batman isn’t a superpowered being so much as supernatural. He knows everything, is all-powerful, and acts with perfect motives. He fights beings that are pure evil. In his origin story, he was only a witness to sin. On the other hand, Spiderman was born in original sin. Peter Parker is trying to improve himself, whereas Batman always seems to be perfect. Spiderman’s enemies are as human and error-prone as he is.

    Batman isn’t a character to be emulated. We’re foolish and sinful. We’re not the world’s greatest anything. Humans make their biggest mistakes when they think of themselves as angelic: willing to become agents of God’s pure wrath in order to make the world a better place. That’s where the Weekly Standard rightly senses something dangerous.

  • Wow Don. i didn’t know about Duck Dodgers – at least I sure don’t remember it. Pretty cool stuff.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Duck Dodgers came out a few years ago. It became a favorite of my kids and I enjoyed it also. Merry Christmas RL!

  • “Take this as a thesis: Spiderman is human, Batman is angelic.”

    Interesting thesis Pinky. I always found Superman to be a more down to earth character than Batman, in spite of his vast powers. Batman was sort of an archetype of Nemesis in his war against the underworld, as he was originally portrayed. This changed in the Fifties when Batman got involved in science fiction and time travel adventures and became a much more run of the mill superhero. DC returned to the original concept with the New Look Batman stories starting in 1965.

  • I’m sure you know Bats better than I do. The most I know about Batman’s history is that he’s oscillated between dark avenger and camp. But he does play with being a force of nature, an archetype of fear. Spiderman is a spider because he got bitten by a spider. Batman is a bat because he thinks it taps into subconscious fears.

    Now Superman, I never could relate to. He’s 100% of everything good, so there’s never any suspense with him, except for the inevitable Kryptonite. The guy has one weakness, so every writer has to exploit it, or there’d be no story. I never found Superman to be any more human than Popeye.

  • Superman has several weaknesses:

    Kryptonite, in manifold forms; magic; and he loses his power under a red sun. In the Golden Age of comics in the forties the fact that Superman was so immensely powerful was overlooked and he almost always battled gangsters with no superpowers, with the exceptions being Lex Luthor and a very few supervillains such as the Toyman. Since that time writers for Superman and Action Comics have been bedeviled at trying to come up with situations for Superman that are challenging without relying on one of his weaknesses all the time. Periodically Superman’s powers have been reduced, but the pull to portray Superman as the most powerful of superheroes is apparently irresistible at DC.

The Hobbit Opening Day in the US

Friday, December 14, AD 2012

I am immensely looking forward to seeing this.  My family and I will not see the film until next weekend, after my son finishes up finals at the U of I.  That is a good thing, because when the trilogy came out we saw each portion on the weekend before Christmas, so we will be keeping up a family tradition.  Feel free to post here reactions to the film, although no plot spoilers please.

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12 Responses to The Hobbit Opening Day in the US

  • I’m taking my kids to see it at 5:00 this evening.

  • Very much looking forward to seeing it, though when that will actually happen is an open question.

    That being said, watching the previews (and also listening to a review on Catholic radio the other night) it appears as though the tone of the movie will be very much like Lord of the Rings. That’s a bit of a shame since the Hobbit was a much more lighthearted book. Hopefully Jackson wasn’t too heavy-handed with this one.

  • Keep the ent in Advent!

  • Seeing it at 9:30 PM EST with one of my sons tonight. Looking forward to it immensely. Very curious as to how Jackson’s casting decision of Morgan Freeman as Bilbo works out…

  • Seems out of sequence, but there is no mistaking the genius of Peter Jackson’s direction.

  • Haven’t seen it yet – waiting for the rush to subside. The world premiere was held in Wellington last week – what bugs me is all the politicians and hi-so bigheads who prance down the red carpet – what a load of bollocks.
    Anyway, I’m sure it will be great. Hobbiton is about 35 miles away – just outside a town called Matamata in the Waikato region of the North Isalnd.
    The volcano scenes ( the real ones) are shot in our central north Island mountains, where the three of them, Tongariro, Ngaruahoe and Ruapehu are all active volcanoes – Tongariro has erupted twice in the past few months.
    The other mountain scenes are shot in the central South Island high country, around Lake Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring, and Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown and Coronet Peak – all of these areas are popular ski-resort areas.
    The Wellintonians all claim that Wellington is Middle Earth – but half them wouldn’t know the countryside and the great outdoors if it jumped up and bit ’em on the butt – bunch of tossers 😉
    Enjoy the Kiwiana 🙂

  • I liked the movie overall. And I’m glad that Jackson added the backstory from the Appendix and from “The Quest for Erebor” in Unfinished Tales. They nicely tie the story to The Lord of the Rings, which, let’s face it, is the primary reason Jackson wanted to do The Hobbit.

    But to the extent I was disappointed, it was in the fact that Jackson didn’t think sticking to Tolkien’s canon was good enough and added a bunch of extra-canonical stuff that, quite frankly, was complete crapola and added absolutely NOTHING to the story. This could have easily been done in two movies of about 2-and-a-half-hour in length – even with the added backstory information – had Jackson not sought to embellish, with stuff he pulled out of his arse, a tale that didn’t need embellishing.

    There’s enough good stuff in An Unexpected Journey that makes it worth seeing and enjoying. (In no way is this movie as bad as the unwatchable – at least for me – Two Towers.) But one of the ways I was able to enjoy An Unexpected Journey as much as I did was by pretending Jackson’s extra-canonical additions weren’t actually happening.

  • Helpful hint for those who haven’t seen it:

    It’s a 3-hour-long movie, and if you’re like me and you buy the large-sized re-fillable drinks for you and your family, you’ll need to get up at times during the movie to re-fill the drink and to empty your bladder. I found those parts of the movie in which extra-canonical stuff was taking place an excellent time to do these things.

  • A stark reminder of how far we’ve fallen from God’s Grace and become selfish, arrogant, full of oneself, inconsiderate and blind to truth, goodness, beauty and the love of God and neighbor. This type of tale can stir the desire for the quest and the calling that God has given us to build up His Kingdom for if we don’t respond with courage, generosity and faithfulness we risk to lose our soul by clinging to inertia we become the very evil just described. As always we must take up and by the Help of God’s Grace fight the good fight for this is spiritual warfare that can not be ignored. Penance, penance, penance! Those minions on earth who do the devil’s bidding have become confident but forgetful that their ultimate defeat grows nearer and nearer for the gates of hell will never triumph against our Holy Mother Catholic Church!

  • Saw it, enjoyed it.

    Some parts had me wanting to bang my head against things– the pipeweed-being-smoked-like-weed-not-tobacco thing, for example– but all and all, not too bad. They kept some of the lighthearted stuff. Someone needs to hit whoever wrote Sauroman’s lines with a large stick, and tell him the guy’s supposed to be a Great Wizard, not a cardboard scold.

    SOME of the ever popular bones-can’t-break stuff going on, but it was usually dwarves at the bottom of a pile, so perhaps justified.

    I want to adopt Fili and Kili, and possibly Bofur. MOST of them wouldn’t look out of place at a family reunion for mom’s side! (Thorin has a bit much hair on his head for that, but eh.)

    While walking out, I summed up to my husband: “That was really enjoyable. If we take mom to see it, we need to make sure she’s had a few stiff drinks.” (She’s an original Tolkien geek.)

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On Vacation 2012

Sunday, August 12, AD 2012

Family on Vacation

I am on vacation this week with my family.  My internet connection in the coming week will range from intermittent to non-existent.  I will have posts for each day I am away on the blog, but if something momentous occurs, for example:  Elvis is discovered working at a Big Boy’s in Tulsa, the Pope issues a Bull against blogging as a complete waste of time, or Obama dumps Biden and picks his teleprompter as his running mate, I trust that this post will explain why I am not discussing it.

Among other activities we will be attending the Gen Con Convention in Indianapolis, a pilgrimage the McClarey clan makes each year to renew our uber-Geek creds.  If any of you are close to Indianapolis and you have never attended, it is worth a drive to see tens of thousands of role players, board gamers and computer gamers in Congress assembled.  If nothing else you will go home reassured as to how comparatively normal you are.  Last year’s attendance was in excess of 36,000 and there are multitudes of gaming related events.  A good symbol of the holy grail of nerdiness that is Gen Con is here.  Below is a Gen Con video from 2011 which gives a nice feel of the convention.

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7 Responses to On Vacation 2012

  • Welcome (back) to Indy! I’m in an outlying area too inefficiently located to fight my way downtown, else I’d shake your hand personally. Nonetheless, I think you’ll like the stuff left over from the Super Bowl hooplah.

  • Enjo, enjoy to repeat T. Shaw. and return safely. Hail Marys

  • I hope you and yours have a wonderful time.
    I have something to ask you – maybe you will think it over on your journey home. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some sort of a response button to push after reading a fellow American Catholic’s comments? Lots of times I would like to say Amen to a post without writing a response– I don’t mean a “like” that will get posted anywhere else- just something on our own board, if I may call it that- sort of an intramural “like”. It would be interesting too because some of our friends who just read and don’t comment may participate in this way and kind of give us a “poll” of where we stand
    And if I haven’t told you, and all of the members before- I really appreciate this place. Thanks

  • I dunno Don

    I guess there is salvation for you, but you must be treading on egg shells, brother. 😉

  • Good time to be on vacation. ^.^ I look forward to being able to geek with my girls.

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The Dark Knight Rises: A Film for the Age of Obama

Wednesday, August 1, AD 2012

I saw the film The Dark Knight Rises with my family last week.  I thought it went on too long, some of the various plot threads were confusing and the film required too much suspension of disbelief, above and beyond what is usually required in a superhero film.  It will not make my top ten list of favorite films for the year.  However, what is stunning about the film is that it conveyed fundamentally conservative messages.  Andrew Klavan tells us how, and the usual spoiler alerts apply:

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7 Responses to The Dark Knight Rises: A Film for the Age of Obama

  • And the Democrats were going to use the criminal Bane as a play against Romney’s Bain. I do not think they are capable of seeing and understanding the truth, whether it be portrayed in entertainment fashion or given to them straight like medicine.

  • I finally saw the movie last night, and can definitely see the implicit conservative, or rather anti-radical message. And, fwiw, it would definitely make my top ten list (not that I’ll even see ten movies). It was certainly better than the Avengers.

  • I don’t think the Occupy movement is going to be happy with this movie. I don’t know the Nolans’ background, but they appear to be students of history. I was struck by the scene where the Stryver character is brought in front of the kangaroo court. His appeal to the arch villain Bane echos the appeal of Genrikh Yagoda to Stalin during his show trial. It’s nice to see that there are few people out there who know that history loves re-runs.

  • I almost cried at the Cops marching in force against a more armed force.

  • Also, they got all the characters right! And I lost count of the number of scenes that were DIRECTLY from comics.

  • So, I’m not quite sure the actual reviewer nor the original poster of this quite got the message. To believe this movie is inherently conservative or anti-radical is pretty absurd. The movie’s message can be seen as quite radical. In fact, quite radical to the nth degree. Wealthy Capitalists and vagabonds are seen as the destructive forces inside of Gotham CIty. The League of Shadow, the major organization in the movie, has sought to destroy Gotham from the first movie. Their leader blamed the cold, criminal, and apathetic wealthy alongside the lower blue collar criminals. The point was that crime was rampant in every sector of life in Gotham. What Dark Knight Rises, and its source material suggests, is that when compassion, heroism, and justice are absent from a society, it crumbles. Absolutely crumbles. In each movie of the trilogy, wealthy trample the poor, poor trample the wealthy, and the government uses lies and deception to improve their circumstances. In fact, the movie makes its attempt at throwing away both forms of life. This is echoed in the film’s final moments when “Robin” repeats that rules become shackles, to which he then is implied to take up the mantel of Batman. It’s a view of American society as a whole, not just against the Obama administration.

  • Problem: only rich crooks we see are working with Bane. Vs the normal criminals who are criminals, and the victims of his envy politics, who are rich to middle class.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Review

Thursday, July 5, AD 2012

The reviews of the film had been dismal, but I felt duty bound to watch it, and give the film a review.  On  July 3, having closed my law office for the afternoon, my family and I went to the movies.  While the rest of my family, not sharing my duty to report on the film, joined the folks seeing Spider-man III, I strolled over to see the Great Emancipator dispatch vampires.  The viewing was rather like a private showing.  The audience in the vast theater consisted of me and one individual in the back.  I found this aspect of the film quite pleasant.  Alas that is the first and last positive aspect of this film that I can report.  Intrepid souls who wish to can follow me into the bowels of ALVH below, the usual spoiler  caveat being in force.

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8 Responses to Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Review

  • Thanks, Don, for saving me $10. No, make that $11, because now I won’t even get it from Red Box when it lands there sometime next week.

  • Very disappointing to hear. What a ridiculous choice to play it as a straight-up drama.

  • Thanks for the heads-up. Cancel this for a boys-night-out activity with the Msgr and the guys from church.

  • It’s interesting that they should choose such a noble and prominent historical figure to play the role of a vampire hunter. I didn’t see the film but it certainly seems like a worn-out angle on the vampire theme: it takes a heroically good person to overcome evil.

  • Prometheus is another one that should be canned. Burdened by a mishmash of themes, and held together with a predictable plot, that of the search for our roots and the answers to the existential questions, it is a film that barely comes to life when Elizabeth Shaw was giving birth to the Alien monster. It is rather tedious the X th time one sees computer generated terrain or horrible octopus-like creatures sucking the lifeblood out of sundry beings, when the movie itself lacks dramatic tension. Ridley Scott apparently felt that he could get by the two hours, by inducing some identikit memory of movies past, for which reveries the audience would be grateful. The wife was scathing after the show.

  • I think the director was Timur Bekmambetov, rather than Tim Burton (although he hasn’t been that great lately either).

    My oldest daughter (7) upon seeing the title on Rotten Tomatoes said “That sounds like a really weird, silly movie.” While I am sure there is room for a good entertaining story with the vampire/historical figure premise, it definitely raises the level of difficulty. Thanks for reviewing and removing the temptation to rent it!

  • True John Henry. He and Burton were the co-producers with the directing credit (sic) to Bekmambetov. Judging from interviews he has given though, it does appear as if this was Burton’s pet project

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Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter the Movie!

Tuesday, May 22, AD 2012

Born in a valley in Ken-tuck-ee

Greenest state in the Land of the Free

Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree

Kilt him a vamp when he was only three.

A-bie, A-bie Lincoln, King of the vamp free frontier!

After the book Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, one had to know the movie was inevitable!  It is being released on June 22.   Historically, Lincoln was portrayed as a vampire in some cartoons by critics during the Civil War, but I do not believe that he was ever accused of killing one! Here is a video that was done to promote the book when it was first published:

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7 Responses to Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter the Movie!

  • I’m reading the book now – a couple chapters in – and hope to have it completed before the movie is released. I’m looking forward to it, just for the sheer campiness of it.

    The author of the novel, Seth Grahame-Smith, also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (among other “rewrites”), which was hilarious.

  • I never got beyond the (incredibly wordy and boring) prologue and a couple bits of Lincoln. And the problem was that my dad’s a Civil War buff, so knowledge kept getting in the way of comedy. Maybe I just didn’t get to the funny parts.

    And who in heck would hire a Russian director to film a comedy about American history? I mean, if he’s been studying six hours a day for his citizenship, that would be different. But so far, it doesn’t look American; and though I love Timur and he’s good with action and comedy, he’s a weeeeird choice.

  • And what the heck is with the kid playing young Lincoln? He’s not tall, he’s not dark, he’s not gawky, he doesn’t have a big nose and big cheekbones and hollow cheeks. He doesn’t look like anybody from back in the hollows in Kentucky or Illinois.

    What’s the point of doing a Lincoln movie if the guy doesn’t look like Lincoln? And half of that could be fixed with hair dye and makeup, so sheesh.

  • So what’s next, Albert Einstein versus Nazi werewolves?

  • Too late. It’s been done. Strong language and good taste cautions for the link below:

  • I find this insulting and degrading to the name of our Confederate ancestors and ourselves. The media is only allowed to attack Southerners consistently. Someone should come out with Jefferson Davis: Yankee Hunter.

  • Darth lets face it we still have to deal with people treating other people as no more than tools. I do think though that a lot of people do have a prejudice against the south despite all the slavery that goes on in foreign countries such as Thailand, China, India, and particular countries in Africa.

The Game is Ever Afoot

Sunday, May 6, AD 2012

Time to refresh my creds as Chief Geek of the blog.  Season 2 of the series Sherlock is debuting in America on Mystery tonight on most PBS channels at 8:00 PM Central Time.  The series is a grand bringing of Sherlock Holmes into the present century.  It is wittily written, part send up of the original Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and part homage.  The improbably named Benedict Cumberbatch is superb in the title role, playing Holmes as a genius as a detective and a moron in dealing with all of humanity, but for Dr.  Watson.  Dr. Watson, Martin Freeman, is a British medical officer, fresh from traumatic injuries due to his service in Afghanistan (yes, the more things change, often the more they stay the same), who blogs about Holmes’ exploits as part of his therapy.  I highly endorse the series for anyone who likes to either think or laugh.

Sherlock Holmes is a prime example of a literary creation that completely escapes from his creator.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle grew tired of Holmes and attempted to kill him off, only relenting to bringing him back after his “death” at the Reichenbach Falls due to unceasing demands from Holmes’ devoted, if not crazed, fans.  Doyle tended to look down his nose at Holmes:  “If I had never touched Holmes, who has tended to obscure my higher work, my position in literature would at the present moment be a more commanding one,” he once wrote, which is a hoot since his other writings were the most forgettable drek imaginable.  Doyle wrote the last of his Sherlock Holmes stories in 1926 and died in 1930.  Since that time not a year has gone by without authors trying their hands at new Holmes stories, and placing Holmes in every setting imaginable including the distant future, outer space, fantasy realms, etc.

The continuing popularity of Holmes is something of a mystery, which is appropriate.  It is hard to attribute it to simply love of mystery stories, since most mystery sleuths are dead as soon as their creators shuffle off this vale of tears.    Perhaps it is because Holmes, through his powers of observation, can so simply and swiftly glean the truth.  What an all important ability to possess!  Alas the same could not be said for his creator, Sir Arthur.  He deserted Catholicism for spiritualism (seances and that sort of rubbish) which is akin to feasting on a rich mud pie and then developing a fondness for eating actual mud.  GK. Chesterton, who drew illustrations for an unpublished, during his lifetime, edition of the Holmes story, upon learning of Doyles’ conversion had this memorable quip:  It has long seemed to me that Sir Arthur’s mentality is much more that of Watson than it is of Holmes.

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26 Responses to The Game is Ever Afoot

  • Dr. Watson was wont to say when confronted with absolute evil: “Saints preserve us.” a short prayer I have taken for myself, but that prayer has been excised from every story since. This latest which I hope to view says: “God help us”, Thank God. The story with Jeremy Brett as you probably know, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used cocaine, was a teaching film for the use of the drug. Holmes opened his desk drawer, removed a syringe and proceeded to “expand his mind”, before his audience, to which I objected at the library. Doyle probably lost his Catholic Faith after he lost his mind. As the Intellectual Property of Doyle, Sherlock Holmes ought to have been presented as Doyle invented him. As an afterthought, Houdini never did show up at Doyle’s seances.

  • (Spoilers ahead in this comment)

    The first season of Sherlock was great. I’ve actually managed to see the three episodes of the second season (which I believe aired on the BBC in March). Although not as good as the first season, it was still very enjoyable. Sherlock’s version of Moriarty was somewhat annoying, however, and there is more of him in season 2.

    Be warned though: the first episode was a take on a “Scandal in Bohemia” and Irene Adler was a “dominatrix.” There was some nudity involved. It was a good episode despite the BBC’s lasciviousness, though I could see if people would have some objections to the episode.

  • I’ll tune in tonight to check it out as I didn’t see any of the first season. I guess I’m not exactly a purist as I adore the Jeremy Brett version, but I do also appreciate the Basil Rathbone one. The Hollywood movie was unwatchable ~ I ejected the disc from my player in the first 15 minutes.

    I just finished reading Murder in the Vatican and recommen it highly. It was almost like reading Doyle and was such a pleasure to stroll along with Holmes, Watson and Pope Leo!

  • I think part of the appeal of Holmes is that he’s strong, odd, explains how to find hidden knowledge, and is kinda scary if he’s not on your side.

  • I’m a big fan of the new Sherlock, although I’ve only seen the first movie– always annoyed me that the movies had him so inactive. (I know it’s partly a limitation of the old technology, and the sedentary detective thing has its charms, but eh.)

  • Basil Rathbone’s depiction – hands down. Understated, but constant mental activity and wit. Scenery, sounds, and characters beautiful.
    I loved the drapes in the Jeremy Brett version – he was good, but the focus was the modern psych taint which spoiled the detective story. Dr. Watson was OK. Just can’t remake perfection.
    Can’t even watch the later versions.

  • I believe you meant ROBERT Downey Jr.? 🙂

    Believe it or not, one of my favorite Holmeses was Nicholas Rowe in “Young Sherlock Holmes,” a 1985 flick that portrayed Holmes and Watson’s meeting as schoolboys and how they solved their first “case”. It was very much outside the Doyle canon and had an over the top plot involving a secret Egyptian cult with Temple of Doom-type rituals, but, I thought Rowe was kinda handsome, and the movie’s explanations for the origins of many of Holmes’ signature habits (like wearing the deerstalker cap) were sorta plausible. If you watch it and haven’t seen it before, be sure you keep watching ALL the way to the end of the credits!

  • I must be doing something wrong – maybe I’ve missed something – the sign of a mispent youth, perhaps? 😉
    I loved reading Conan-Doyle when I was young – Holmes’ impeccable penetrating logic used to fascinate me. However, that fascination has not persued me in my later life, nor the desire to be a movie buff; I view what I Think I will enjoy, and a modern day Holmes does not interest me.
    Can i still comment here? 😉

  • Don-
    I like Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock. If I can still be here, I’m sure you’re welcome!

    *random thought*
    Oh, dear… we’ve Sherlock, we’ve got Kipling, but nobody’s done Gilbert and Sullivan. I was recently informed that most folks go “who?”

    I may have to actually do some research and start sharing old Comedic Opera…..

  • “I believe you meant ROBERT Downey Jr.? ”
    Oops! Yes I did Elaine, although the concept of Holmes as a crazed talk show host certainly has possibilities.

  • “Can i still comment here? ”

    Of course Don, we have no heresy trials for those who do not enjoy Holmes! Yet. 🙂

  • foxfier.
    I’m sure Don McC posted some stuff on Gilbert and Sullivan some time back. In my boyhood days at Sacred Heart College we did the Savoy operas – I loved them then, and still do today. Their commentary on the society of the time is still valid today.

  • I watched the first episode last night, my first viewing of this series. It was pretty good, great acting of course. I’ll probably give it another try next week, but it didn’t grab me.

    I liked the portrayal of Sherlock even though he seemed much too young and like a boy instead of a man. I liked Watson but I didn’t like the portrayal of Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft. Much prefer the Mycroft in the Jeremy Brett version, his humor, intellect and warmth. I also didn’t appreciate the portrayal of The Woman as a dominatrix and the nudity scene. It was a clever use of our current techy world (blogging instead of writing, texting, etc.) but I much prefer being immersed in the times and social mores of the previous century!

  • “I also didn’t appreciate the portrayal of The Woman as a dominatrix and the nudity scene.”

    Neither did I. What passes for sophistication on the BBC is usually simple amoral vulgarity with elegant phrasing. Other than that I enjoyed the episode.

  • Kiwi Don-
    I’d say they’re still relevant because they’re more about human nature that strictly society… might be poe-tay-toe, poe-taw-toe, though.

    Musing about this last night (this morning, but meh) while taking care of the Duchess, and suddenly realized: Batman is Sherlock.
    Line of thought: Sherlock would be a Mary Sue if he were written wrong– even his “big” weakness of not caring about things that aren’t useful (like the number of planets) doesn’t really matter much, because right about what’s of use. He’s smart, comfortably well off, well known in his circles, master of disguise, strong, and although I can’t remember my mental image from just the books, the actors that play him are striking and attractive.
    Much like Superman. Except that he’s darker, more technology based, only superhuman in the sense that he’s honed, a detective….
    Batman came out in Detective comics.
    Dark, striking, disguises himself so well that those who know him won’t recognize him, amazingly honed at his chosen goal— wow.

  • Doyle didn’t promote cocaine! In his first book, cocaine was regarded as the latest high tech, unaddictive wonder drug, because that’s how the medical profession regarded it, and Watson’s uneasiness about it was a sign of his army surgeon days making him not in touch with the latest medical fashions. By the time he wrote his second book, Doyle knew that cocaine was deadly, because half his med school buddies died from experimenting with it. Thereafter, the stories and Watson were resolutely anti-drug, even though Holmes made various lame excuses; and Watson eventually got Holmes off cocaine.

  • I watch the show last night – I think I’ll pass. What I find irritating is the constant British need to bash Americans – the need to feel “superior” in every encounter. What is that all about? You hardly ever see it the other way around. Am I the only one who noticed this?

  • “What I find irritating is the constant British need to bash Americans – the need to feel “superior” in every encounter. What is that all about? You hardly ever see it the other way around. Am I the only one who noticed this?”

    Americans have been noticing that long before 1776. Benjamin Franklin February 27, 1767:
    ” But the Pride of this People cannot bear the Thoughts of it. Every Man in England seems to consider himself as a Piece of a Sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the Throne with the King, and talks of our Subjects in the Colonies.”

    When it comes to the BBC you have the traditional upper crust snottiness towards America combined with a fairly left wing view of the World.

  • Thank you, Maureen. I did not know that.
    When the movie began I thought James Bond. The nudity and Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s focus on the mystery instead of succumbing to lust or distress and disorientation, simply letting the Dominatrix do her thing, and they theirs, was well done. There definitely was something for everybody, nudity, which was handled with some gentility, S&M, violence, even some intrigue and highjinx. Half way through, the number of the plane was 007. 007 was James Bond’s cipher. 007 is the license to kill. (In Ian Fleming’s James Bond films, ”M” his head master, was in the real life counterpart a double spy for the Soviets, which kind of ruined the stories for me.) Wasn’t Coventry where the British decoded Hitler and from where the British were able to send false messages to confound the Madman? The highjinx was captivating, especially the part where Sherlock unearths “The Woman’s” human warmth and affection for him by way of her open irises, and he, Holmes, repaying the compliment by saving her head, was WOW. Always one step ahead. Just like my mother. Dr. Watson’s part was too small and not engaging enough for me. Moriarity’s part was rather, shall I say, dumb, but how does one play an evildoer without being dumb? Perhaps next week? Thank you, Donald, for the cue.

  • Americans have been noticing that long before 1776. Benjamin Franklin February 27, 1767:
    ” But the Pride of this People cannot bear the Thoughts of it. Every Man in England seems to consider himself as a Piece of a Sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the Throne with the King, and talks of our Subjects in the Colonies.” That is why God wanted the Chosen People to have no king, the people were sovereigns unto themselves, but they insisted and God let them. Only in America are the people sovereign persons, sovereigns unto themselves. FREEDOM and the British maybe jealous. Pitifully these people think that they need somebody to lord it over to be somebody.

  • Excellent clip of the Pirates of Penzance, Don. 🙂 The stage setting is very good.

    “What I find irritating is the constant British need to bash Americans – the need to feel “superior” in every encounter.”

    I wouldn’t worry too much about that – come down here and see how the Kiwis and Aussies bash eachother. Its a sort of “sibling rivalry”, if you will, and its mainly impersonal. Get to meet the people face to face and they’re, mostly, good people.
    When I was a lad, post war, we used to get many migrants from England (or Britain) coming “down to the colonies” to show the colonials how things were done. They copped a lot of stick – more so in Australia than here – but they soon got to know who was teaching who, and either settled in and became one of the “colonials”, or went back to the UK, complete with the big chip on shoulder.
    In my experience though, the vast majority were good people.

  • Don, my beloved great uncle Bill Barry who joined the Royal Army to teach the Limies how to fight, as he said, and served from 1939-45, whenever he would see me when I was a toddler would say, “There’s that dirty Yank!” To which I would respond, “There’s that dirty Newf!” Good natured ribbing among the components of the Anglosphere runs in my veins!

  • Just wanted to thank you. On the basis of this blog post, I went to netflix
    and watched the first season of Sherlock. Loved it.

  • One thing Sherlock Holmes said that makes sense: “I restored the balance in nature” as his reason for being. Every crime, sin, and evil disrupts the balance in nature and tears the fabric of society. Jesus Christ crucified restores the balance in nature.

10 Responses to The Inevitable Team-Up: Batman and Abraham Lincoln

  • I wonder what happened in parallel universe 5501 after Batman’s encounter with Abraham Lincoln. Would we have avoided what we now face?

  • Of course, this raises the question … if he was such a Southern patriot, why didn’t Booth share all that high-tech weaponry with the Confederate Army? Pickett’s Charge might have succeeded if those Confederates had been wearing that steampunk armor, not to mention some of those suits could have come in handy in breaking the siege of Vicksburg…

  • I bet Harry Turtledove never even dreamed of this one.

  • I think we’re living in parallel universe 5501 right now. It might explain a lot of what’s going on.

  • “Would we have avoided what we now face?”

    Lincoln living would have massively impacted Reconstruction and all subsequent US history. No doubt we would be facing challenges now, but they would probably be different ones.

  • “Pickett’s Charge might have succeeded if those Confederates had been wearing that steampunk armor, not to mention some of those suits could have come in handy in breaking the siege of Vicksburg”

    True Tommy. We can only assume that John Wilkes Booth was in cahoots with an evil scientific genius, perhaps the immortal Vandal Savage, or an ancestor of Lex Luthor of that parallel Universe, or that steampunk technology was fairly common and that both sides utilized it. Hmmm, I can see the alternate science fiction novel title now: The Blue, the Gray and the Steampunk!

  • “I bet Harry Turtledove never even dreamed of this one.”

    He came close in Guns of the South WK, with time traveling Afrikaners supplying the Confederate Army with AK-47’s, so the Boers in the future would have an ally in the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee, learning of the plan to alter history, turns the tables on the Afrikaners as second President of the Confederacy by pushing through the Confederate Congress a plan for gradual compensated emancipation:

  • “I think we’re living in parallel universe 5501 right now. It might explain a lot of what’s going on.”

    Larry, in recent years I have often felt like we were living through a badly written episode of either the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits.

  • Reminds me of some of the lines from the classic SNL sketch “Civil War Memories”:

    “General Lee was nobody’s fool! I remember he said to the troops, “Boys, ask not what your country can do for you, ’cause the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I have a dream!” So, when Lincoln heard that, he was, like, “I better hightail it to Charleston, ’cause it’s time for one of my Gettysburg addresses….”

    “And the number of casualties was staggering, right? But it was worse for the South, ’cause the North started getting help from these alien spaceships, right? And no martian’s gonna hold off against those space torpedos. Fuggidaboutit! Right? Ohhh! ”

    “And then this southern guy plugged this Nazi guy in a headlock! And started pounding him! Bam! Bam bam bam bam!!”

  • My favorite SNL alternate history skit Elaine was “What if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo?”

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Bread and Circuses

Friday, December 2, AD 2011





One of the best of the original Star Trek series was the episode Bread and Circuses.  First broadcast on March 5, 1968 during the second season, it was one of the parallel worlds episodes involving an earth like alien world, caused by Hodgkin’s Law of Planetary Development and Roddenberry’s Corollary:

The “Parallel Worlds” concept makes production practical by permitting action-adventure science fiction at a practical budget figure via the use of available “earth” casting, sets, locations costuming and so on.

The episode contains a sharp satire of the world of sixties television:

ANNOUNCER: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Live and direct from City Arena, and in colour, we bring you Name the Winner, brought to you tonight by your Jupiter Eight dealers from coast to coast. In just a moment, tonight’s first heat. We’re in a taped commercial, Proconsul. Forty seconds, then we’ll be back live.
(Claudius, Merik and Kirk take seats on a raised platform. Kirk is manacled, and there are two armed guards behind him. Spock and McCoy are brought out by two guards in full traditional dress.)
ANNOUNCER: Stand by. Ten seconds. And first tonight, ladies and gentlemen, a surprise extra. In the far corner, a pair of highly aggressive barbarians. Strong, intelligent, with strange ways, and I’m sure full of a lot of surprises. And facing them, two favorites here from previous encounters, Achilles and Flavius. (The canned applause is turned up by a bored sound effects man) Victory or death? And for which of them? Well, ladies and gentlemen, you know as much about that at this moment as I do because this is your programme. You name the winner.
FLAVIUS: I don’t mind fighting, but why you?
VOICE [OC]: Begin!
(Achilles takes on Spock. They are well matched. McCoy is against Flavius, and doesn’t know what to do with a short sword.)
ANNOUNCER: Flavius may be getting off to a slow start, but he’s never disappointed this crowd. A close one. The barbarian with the pointed ears seems to be in trouble.
SPOCK: I tell you I’m well able to defeat you.
ACHILLES: Fight, barbarian!
MERIK: Most of my men went the same way. I hoped I would feel it less with yours.
SPOCK: I do not want to injure you.
(The cat-calls and hisses are amplified. Flavius gets a taste of the whip.)
MASTER: Fight, you two. You bring this network’s ratings down, Flavius, and we’ll do a special on you.

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Favorite Star Trek Episode: Balance of Terror

Tuesday, September 27, AD 2011

Time to refresh my credentials as Chief Geek of TAC!

A condensed version of my favorite Star Trek episode Balance of Terror.  Originally broadcast on December 13, 1966, I have always found it riveting.  It introduced us to the Romulan Star Empire, an offshoot of the Vulcans.  Mark Lenard, one of the most underestimated actors of his generation, gives one of the best performances of the Star Trek franchise as the commander of a Romulan Bird of Prey vessel, equipped with a new cloaking device, making a foray into Federation territory.  Destroying Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone, his mission is to test Federation defenses.  If his mission is successful it will be the signal for an all-out Romulan invasion of the Federation.  Lenard portrays the commander as world-weary and tired.  An extremely able commander, he has seen too much of war, and dreads the massive interstellar conflict his political masters will unleash after he successfully completes his mission.  A Romulan of honor, he will do his duty even though he hates it.

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