Friday, August 29, 2008

Super Robot Profiles: Voltron

Voltron is one of those really odd ducks. It's one of the most famous and popular super robot series that aired in the United States-one of the few I would consider describing as "mainstream." But its history is a rather tangled one.

After its origins as Golion, Voltron was heavily edited and dubbed under the name Voltron, and released here.

Oops! Who was that?

That was Vehicle Voltron. Chances are, even if you're familiar with the other ("Lion") Voltron, you've never or rarely heard of this one. (Darned shame-his toy was half again as tall and a bit more fun, and that was after he lost most of his accessories.) Vehicle Voltron was based on a different series called Dairugger XV. So, here we go, Voltron:

Whoops! That's not Voltron either. That is Lightspeed God Albegas (or something like), who was almost a third Voltron ("Gladiator" Voltron-and there were toys released under that name, by the way). That is a fan-made trailer that was entered in an official contest. So, let's try again:

Man, this is embarrassing. That's Daltanious, who was almost some other Voltron in some stage of development. (Voltron fans rejoice-you dodged a bullet.)

So, here's Voltron.

Anyway, Voltron is quite the odd duck, as I mentioned. Why is it odd? First, it was popular enough that, even though Golion creator Toei had no intention of continuing the series, its dub "owners" were hungry for more material. So they hired a Korean animation team to produce a second, less-well-animated season, and a movie as well (which provided a crossover between the two Voltrons, who were totally unrelated in their respective Japanese incarnations).

Odder still, while Toei has not displayed any interest in Voltron since then, World Event Productions decided more recently that, with the resurgence of popularity of Transformers with the Beast Wars series, it was once again Voltron's time. First, they re-released the Korean-animated series with updated intros (a later one of which used extensive CGI animation). However, this was only to buy time for their true diabolical plan: "3D" Voltron!

(The sad thing is, while the show wasn't bad by the standards of the time in terms of animation quality, it found itself sitting next to another but far superior CGI program, War Planets/Shadow Raiders. This series was produced by Mainframe Entertainment, the same company that created the Beast Wars series-small world.)

There are even plans, no doubt inspired by Transformers' more recent and even greater success, to produce a live-action movie. The sad thing is, and this is something that its producers don't seem to realize, the similarities between Voltron and Transformers are actually superficial ones-they have science-fictional themes, Japanese roots, large robots, and originated in the '80s. While these tie the two together in the minds of many, they are basically the only major features they have in common. (Off the top of my head, I could probably list a few dozen series that these terms described.) So Voltron's owners (Toei no longer seems to have the rights to the series) are dooming it to playing second fiddle to Transformers.

Kinda sad for the Defender of the Universe.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Comic Shocked Me-No, Really

Every now again in my journeys through this vast wasteland called the Internet, I find something that shocks, even disturbs me. Case in point:


Anyway, I was going through my rounds the other day, and was directed to a very bizarre comic by Major Spoilers. Very bizarre.

Behold the madness.

I don't know the exact context of this comic, but I do know that it was published in India. That much is pretty clear. Beyond that is anyone's guess, as the person who posted this stuff doesn't have any commentary or even a link to it on his front page. Anyway, I would do some really in-depth commentary, but don't have time at the moment. (College is back in.) So, instead, I'll point out a few of the hilarious things about this. (And yes, this is just a few.)
  1. Batman talks kinda like a lolcat.
  2. Superman is so dumb, he tells the immortal alien magician who just fell from the sky in a diamond everything he knows about Earth's great heroes.
  3. Spiderman (WHAT IS HE DOING IN THE SAME COMIC AS SUPERMAN AND BATMAN) is in Paris, France, disarming a bomb on the Eiffel tower. (Also, he is the MIGHTIEST.)
  4. Spiderman was stung by a spider.
  5. Shakoora, the evil immortal alien magician, defeats these guys with ease, and then goes to fight some guy that American comic readers have never heard of. (Though Superman knew about him, of course.)
  6. Nagraj, India's home-grown hero, is a sexist pig. ("I don't like this dress, Nagraj." "Shuddup, you'll get used to it." That is nearly an exact quote.)
  7. When Shakoora proves to be too much for Nagraj, he prays to his god to come help him.
  8. Nagraj's god comes and helps him.
  9. Nagraj's god looks like he's supposed to be the Judeo-Christian God, but clearly isn't.
  10. When Nagraj's god totally owns the heck out of Shakoora, Shakoora, in a desperate, last-ditch measure, turns Nagraj's buddy into a mustachio'd evil giant.
  11. Superman is helpless against the giant, who "made him flew."
  12. Batman and Spiderman use "spider webs and rope webs" (I am not making this up) to no better success than Superman.
  13. Superman grabs a giant knife and cuts the giant's cheek.
  14. Spiderman takes the bomb he was "disarming" earlier and sets it off in the giant's face.
  15. Nagraj, Mr. Much-Tougher-Than-Your-Heroes, leaps up on the giant and BITES HIM.
  16. Since his teeth aren't tough enough to defeat the giant through his invulnerable giant skin, he magically summons snakes from his fingers, which go down the giant's throat and kill him.
  17. That giant totally used to be Nagraj's buddy, who saved his life like five minutes ago.
  18. The snakes come back out and go back into Nagraj's fingers.
  19. The heroes all laugh, and totally aren't broken up by the fact that Nagraj just killed his buddy.
  20. Nagraj's god is RIGHT THERE and he does nothing to help Nagraj's dead buddy.

Seriously, what a heck?!

Also, yay me-I set a personal bullet point record.

This makes me wonder about other Indian comics. What other cases of licensing gone horribly wrong are out there?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: The Solar Invasion

Rounding out my reviews of SUPER SCIENCE POWERED pulp scifi novels is The Solar Invasion.

Out of these books, it is interesting to note that The Solar Invasion is far and away in the worst shape. While the others are in very good condition (all things considered), The Solar Invasion has a number of loose pages held in by only friction and good intentions. This is probably, however, more a function of previous owners being rougher with this one than with the other two.

Anyway, on to the meat. The Solar Invasion is (I'm guessing a bit) the twentieth story in the Captain Future series. Here, even though The Solar Invasion was written by Manly Wade Wellman, we are treading familiar territory for Greatly Belated Book Review readers (all two of you)-Captain Future was originally created by Edmond Hamilton, author of The Star Kings. (If this your first time here, The Star Kings was reviewed here a couple of weeks ago, and I linked my review of it in the above paragraph.) Why are there so many Captain Future stories (there were seven after this one)? Partly because, like much early science fiction (and quite a lot of older novels), it was serialized in magazines before being published as novels, and it had its own regular magazine.

Moving on. Captain Future is explicitly aimed at a younger audience, specifically young boys, and thus is light on real continuity and, quite frankly, reads a lot like a Saturday morning cartoon... were it possible to read such. This is not inappropriate, as it was adapted into an anime.

That theme song is so '70s. Anyway, it is almost certainly not a coincidence that the spaceship takes so long to get across the screen-the series came out one year after Star Wars and its famous opening scene. (Incidentally, this is one of those series that is rather obscure to English speakers and very popular in other countries. The German intro is rather better than this one, IMHO.) The existence of this anime is just another thing that this series ends up having in common with Lensman.

Lots of people don't like Saturday morning cartoons. I for one say "more for me." (Wait, watching cartoons doesn't exclude others from the experience. Phooey.) Anyway, The Solar Invasion is just a single episodic event from a long series of episodic events in the Captain Future series. Thus, reading any of the rest of the series is totally unnecessary, and I won't bother dwelling on the existence of such any longer. I promise. (Not really.)

Rather than give a lengthy synopsis of the very basic sort of plot (INVADERS FROM THE FIFTH DIMENSION STEAL THE MOON TO USE FOR INVASION!!!), I'll go into some stuff on the characters. Why? Because like many Saturday morning cartoons, the characters are more interesting than the stories surrounding them.

The central character is (obviously) Captain Future. It's not a wonder he goes with this handle, for his real name is Curtis Newton. Poor boy. Li'l Captain Future didn't have to worry about schoolyard bullying, though, because he was orphaned and then raised by an android, a robot, and a brain in a jar. On the Moon. With no one else on the Moon, because the Moon was only previously inhabited by him, his now-deceased parents, and an android, a robot, and a brain in a jar. Captain Future is the smartest, quickest, and best-trained of all space police or whatever. He was rapidly able to deduce that the Moon had been stolen rather than destroyed, because there was no debris. (Too bad for you if the Legion of Space's keeper of the peace had used AKKA, huh?)

The android is named Otho, and is exceedingly flexible and malleable (think Mr. Fantastic lite). He is a master of disguise, able to, on a moment's notice, disguise himself as almost anyone, using only the wigs and makeup in his utility belt. He also has a fighting style which relies on being hard to punch... and wrapping his legs around people. He sounds kinda gay, actually. (Not in the pejorative sense, although some would say so.) Anyway, as befits such a trickster, he has a pet named Oog, which is a "meteor mimic"-some kind of magic animal that apparently inhabits... meteors. Yes, they inhabit only space debris that is burning up in the atmosphere. (Sorry, my inner science dweeb was just asserting himself.) Oog has the psychic power to track any entity it has ever met, and can also perfectly mimic anything it can imagine or sense in someone else's mind. It frequently turns into things that people are thinking about, which has vast, nigh-untold potential for embarrassing situations. Sadly, as this book is aimed at childrens, this potential is unexploited.

The robot is named Grag, and is massive, dumb, and strong (he is frequently compared to dynamos and tractors). He's so dumb, at one point he fought his reflection. I am not making this up. He has a "moon-pup" named Eek. Moon-pups eat metal. Okay, whose bright idea was it to give the robot a metal-eating pet? Probably Otho's, as he and Grag have a bickering dynamic. (Speaking of eating metal, Grag ate metal too. Hmm...) Hilariously, although Grag is dim-witted, at one point he is monitoring experiments that others set in motion. Also not a good idea.

The brain in a jar, known ever-so-creatively as the Brain (no, not that Brain), was originally Simon Wright, a scientist who worked with Captain Future's parents. He apparently had a terminal illness, and was saved by Cap's scientist parents. (Oyah, they're the ones who built Grag and Otho. Did I not mention that?) In his jar, he is surprisingly not useless, for the jar can fly and is armed with tractor beams-i.e., he has minor telekinesis. He's smart, and amusingly the book seesaws back and forth between him and Captain Future being the smartest in this or that situation.

Then, there is the character who is my favorite female character out of all three of these books I've reviewed-Joan Randall. She's some kind of liason between Captain Future and the law department. She is described as being the equal of any man but Captain Future. And she is really fun, as is demonstrated by this passage:

"Why worry? [N'Rala] flung at him. "You'll not survive the conquest, so it won't make any difference to you."
"I wish that N'Rala would try to escape," said Joan rather dreamily. The gun stirred in her hand, and N'Rala lost her smile.

(She isn't killing her, just intimidating her. Just thought I'd clear that up.) This one moment makes Joan Randall stand out from the other female characters from these books.

Anyway, this stalwart team is arrayed against various enemies, such as Ul Quorn, "magician of Mars," and N'Rala, who are both recurring characters, and are so boring and typical of this kind of fiction I won't really go into them. There was also an emperor guy, who N'Rala and Ul Quorn were allied with, and whom N'Rala accidentally shot.

The invaders, by the way, were invading because their sun was dying, and Captain Future saved the day by crashing their giant superdreadnaught craft into it, causing it to reignite. Awesome.

This book has more of a bunch of random, fun ideas that were violently smashed together than an actual plot. This is not a bad thing-this kind of fiction can be very fun. I know I like it. I think it compares somewhat favorably to the other books, not tremendously better or worse. Its writing, in and of itself, is a tad more basic and "youth-oriented," which is to be expected. It's amusing to note that it has a very not youth-oriented cover for my copy.

Signing off, because I've said enough, though I could say more, and I need to get the heck off now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Speaken The Good English

So I was reading the funnies, and rather unavoidably saw today's Annie's Mailbox. (I don't like advice columns. So sue me.) There, I saw the stupidest thing I have ever read: Someone says "stupidest" is not a word.

Okay, I know I play fast and loose with the language. I mean, "Awesomer" is in my blog title, and I'm well aware it's not technically a word. However, the context in which this person claimed this involved comparing "stupidest" to "theirselves" and "hisself." I simply can't fathom why someone would compare "stupidest" to "theirselves."

See, there's a difference between the two "words," if you insist on them not being words. "Theirselves" is a grammatical mutant form of a pronoun. "Stupidest" is a mutation of "stupid" to fill in for the lack of a word that means "most stupid."

The difference between the English language and most other languages is that it is the most aggressively inclusive and fluid language in existence. If English doesn't have a word for something, sooner or later someone coins a word for it. This grand tradition of word coinage started with Shakespeare, whose works contain a vast number of words that had never appeared in the English language before, and which are now in common usage. (It also absorbs words from other languages-"trek" being an easy example, although this ranges a bit far from my original point.) This is because it is fairly literally the "bastard child" language-it's a messy mashup of bits of French, Germanic, and hints of Celtic language which has only been considered a legitimate and important language for about four or five hundred years. (For a very brief discussion on English's former status, see the previous Wikipedia link, and scroll up.)

English is so full of contradictory rules and trickiness, in my mind, because it's still growing and evolving. Latin, for all its vaunted prestige, is dead.

And I've got three words for those of you who say that this or that isn't really a word: IT IS NOW. Once someone has said it, there's really no going back.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Unicron Is Nasty

I've been looking for stuff from Transformers Energon, possibly the worst Transformers series ever, for my own amusement. Just because it's bad doesn't mean it can't have awesome moments. Case in point:

Looks like Unicron woke up on the wrong side of the bed. (Of course, this could have been much awesomer if they had paid a little attention to physics-when a fist the size of a continent caromes through the atmosphere and slams into the ground at cataclysmic speeds, don't you think there should be a bit more than a thud?)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Super Robot Wars Sunday: Daitarn 3, Massively Brutal Super Robot

A while ago, I did a little profile on Daitarn 3, massively brutal super robot. It's interesting to note that in this particular video, only his really weak attacks (the first half of the video or so) fail to inflict damage equal to nearly twice the total hit points of his targets (and one of them was some kind of miniboss).

Also, that dude who smacks Daitarn out of the way to block the hit is hilarious. Look at that hat!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Additional Disparate Thoughts On Transformers

(So I was going to post something last night, but ended up on the computer a bit too late, and decided to skip it. I may do a makeup post today or tomorrow.)

I was ruminating on Transformers fiction the other day, and since then, have ruminated a bit more on it. Today, I'll remark on a phenomenon found perhaps more heavily in the Transformers fiction and fandom than anywhere else, but which is still common and prevalent elsewhere: Kid appeal hate.

Kid appeal hate is a calm, rational term for the furious, irrational behavior associated with characters who are aimed at amusing small children. (The characters themselves are pretty crazy sometimes too.)

No character draws more ire than the one formulated to seem cool and fun to little kids. Why? This is probably mostly because, in Transformers at least, the majority of the Internet fandom is made up of grouchy old farts who have nothing better to do. (Just kidding-it's more like an extremely vocal minority.) I sometimes think of this, within Transformers, as the "Kicker effect." Why?

Because out of all the kid appeal characters, Kicker seems to get the most hate. (Even more than Wheelie, thank you.) This is rather ironic, seeing as how it's not Kicker that's "broken," it's Energon, the series that he's a part of. I'll go into what most annoys people about kid appeal characters for a moment, and then point out why it's silly to blast Kicker over it.
  1. Kid appeal characters whine a lot, and do annoying things for no apparent reason.
  2. Kid appeal characters are mostly useless.
  3. Kid appeal characters are always just sitting around, waiting to be captured and used as cheap plot devices.

Now, admittedly, Kicker is guilty of whining. But almost everybody whines in Energon. The series contains the most-sustained sheer volume of terrible dialogue in Transformers history, perhaps in the history of the English language.

On to point two: Kicker is not useless. Granted, he's got at least a mild case of "Marysueitis." But how are you going to balance the usefulness of a human character against the sheer size and power of a Transformer without making the human unreasonably good or just a bit too pathetic? Anyway, Kicker possesses vaguely defined powers, mostly linked to his magic glowing hair, which let him find Energon a lot more quickly and reliably than vast sensor arrays and entire armies of searching Transformers. Most of the time.

That, and the fact that Kicker is, in his suit, more than capable of taking care of himself. As far as I know, in the series Kicker never got captured and held hostage. And he frequently took the fight to the enemy-he once tried to attack Unicron. (Perhaps he took the idea too far too fast-that's not only a complete 180, it's bugpoop insane.)

My sister is an unabashed fan of Kicker, because unlike 95% of kid appeal characters, he moves the plot himself instead of sitting around commenting on it.

And-here's a shocker for Transformers fans, no doubt-my kid brother (about seven years old) loves Kicker. He thinks Kicker is a really cool dude, and started drawing the adventures of Kicker and stuff, after recently watching a few episodes of Energon we have on tape. (Also, he seems to be slowly developing the ability to pick out plot holes. They grow up so fast.)

Hmm, could it be that the kid appeal character appeals to kids? What a revolutionary thought!

Quite frankly, the same could be said of characters from other stuff, such as Star Wars. I like Jar Jar Binks, for instance, and I'm not the only person in my family who does. Yes, it's possible to like kid appeal characters. You just have to take them on different terms than other characters.

(Note to enraged fanboys: Putting that axe you're grinding through your monitor will only succeed in forcing you to buy a new monitor or quit the Internet. I recommend the latter.)

Signing off.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: The Cometeers

The Cometeers (by Jack Williamson) is a sequel to a previous book entitled The Legion of Space. All I can really tell you about the previous book, however, is that it featured aliens which were well-described enough to be included in the excellent Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, a book of superb illustrations of extraterrestrial life forms from science fiction. (I highly recommend it.) That, and the fact that it featured the destruction of the Moon.

The plot, as expected, is space opera pulp fiction. This particular book (and by extension the book to which it is a sequel) features a SUPER SCIENCE WEAPON which is far more incredible than that used in The Star Kings-while it can't actually punch a hole in space, it can vaporize planets or-you guessed it-moons. As in, the Moon. Yes, this SUPER SCIENCE WEAPON, which was in fact used by a good guy, was used to destroy the Moon. This weapon, known as AKKA, somehow wipes matter from existence. Details are very obscure because only one person is supposed to know all the secrets of operation at a time. But here's the kicker-the keeper of the peace, the person who uses AKKA, keeps the weapon's components in her purse and mixed in to her jewelry. The weapon is, when fully assembled, apparently smaller than a big pair of binoculars (which they are used in moderately comparable fashion to-the keeper of the peace holds the device over her eyes). How, you are certainly asking, do they work? Well, since the keeper of the peace is the main character's mother (the previous book was set twenty years earlier, and he wasn't even a twinkle in her eye at that point), she tells him a little bit of the secret-the machine is actually just an aid, and controlling the weapon (which is immaterial) is a mental process. She keeps talking about a fulcrum, and also explains that there is only one fulcrum, so only one person can use AKKA-if two try, AKKA just won't work.

Note I mentioned that only one person is supposed to know the secret. This will be important.

Anyway, the story opens with our hero, young Bob Star (he's frequently described as young-since he's just out of his militaristic boarding school, I suppose that's appropriate), grumbling about needing space and being bored, because he's been basically imprisoned in his family's hereditary home on one of Mars' moons. Heh. And he's got a little fat guy named Giles Habibula and a big guy called Hal Samdu as bodyguards. Giles Habibula whines a lot, and ironically seems to have no actual combat skills-if I recall correctly, he never fired a weapon, whether handweapon or battleship cannon, throughout the entire book. He's some kind of mechanical genius, especially at lockpicking. (He's a former criminal, according to Wikipedia, but this is never mentioned within the book.) Hal Samdu... is barely mentioned, and doesn't speak, for nearly half the book. Strong silent type, I suppose... And later on, it sounds like he's still stuck on Bob Star's mother. Kind of poor choices for bodyguards, don't you think?

Anyway, MYSTERIOUS THINGS ARE AFOOT. There's a big scary comet thing which has everybody stirred up, and then Bob Star's dad, John Star, comes with urgent missives from the government-the mysterious comet thing must be destroyed AT ONCE. Because there have been invisible things causing trouble all over the Solar System, so they must be from the comet. So Bob's mom, Aladoree (it's not clear whether she took her husband's name as her married name, but her maiden name is Anthar for what it's worth) pulls out her AKKA assembly and gets ready to zap it out of existence, but the starship Invincible comes crashing into their lawn, its captain, Jay Kalam, armed with counter orders. They arrange an alternate plan, where the keeper of the peace is to be taken out of reach of the mysterious Cometeers, while Bob Star must go with Jay Kalam for unknown reasons to be dropped off on Neptune, while Kalam himself (apparently he was a big deal in the other book, and he does quite a bit of stuff in this one) takes the Invincible, which just happens to be the largest and most awesome of all battle craft built in the Solar System, out to attempt a diplomatic meeting with the Cometeers.

The mysterious mission on Neptune: Bob Star is supposed to man a button. The most important button, perhaps, in the Solar System. Only he can push this button. Seriously, Jay Kalam swore by the Legion of Space (a very solemn vow) that he would only allow Bob Star to push that button. What does the button do?

It floods the prison cell of a prisoner known as Merrin with poison gas. Who is Merrin? Tremble with fear, for the true name of Merrin is... Stephen Orco! (Of no relation to this Orko.) Stephen Orco is a name that probably means nothing to you, but it strikes fear into the likes of Bob Star. Why? Because Stephen Orco was the most brilliant guy ever to graduate from the Legion Academy (he was in his final year when Bob Star was there the first year-THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT) and among other things betrayed the Legion and built a "sun gun" which worked by improbable (read: FLAT OUT INCORRECT) physics to wreak destruction. Worst of all, he figured out how to use AKKA, and if given access to tools can keep the keeper of the peace from using it.

But before he caused trouble for the entire Solar System, he caused a whole lot of trouble for Bob Star. See, he's this really mean-hearted guy, and as part of the formalized hazing of the Legion Academy, each incoming student was supposed to follow an order from an outgoing student. Orco really didn't like Bob Star because he's the son of the keeper of the peace and also descended from the former royal family of the Solar System, and decides to be especially nasty and have him say very nasty things about his own parentage. Bob refuses, and so Orco straps a torture machine in the Legion museum to his head and starts shooting sonic waves through his brain.

Okay, something I haven't mentioned yet: This book, for a lack of a better term, is really, really gay (at least, in parts). I don't mean that in a pejorative way. I mean, read this and you'll see what I mean.

"Nine years ago." Bob Star's voice was hoarse with emotion. "On Earth, at the academy. He was in the graduating section, during my first term. He was handsome, brilliant. At first I was attracted to him. But then-"
He broke off abruptly, his face pale and hard.
"What happened, Bob?" Jay Kalam's tone was warm with a puzzled sympathy. "Did you quarrel?"
"It was our affair."

Yikes. Granted, I put that slightly out of context, but still. Yikes. There are a few more passages like this, but I won't get into them. Anyway, back to my summarization.

Orco, turning up the power on the torture device, demands that Bob Star say nasty things about his own parentage, and Bob Star continues to refuse; Orco calls him "pup" a lot. (Again, yikes.) Bob doesn't remember just what happened in the end, but mentions that he doesn't know if he actually can push the button-he thinks Orco broke him for life. (Maybe you're still too attracted to him. Ha ha.) But when he's sitting there, preparing to push the button and unable to, all of a sudden a girl appears in the wall, and she gestures urgently at the button. In his confusion, he hesitates, but starts towards the button. TOO LATE THE COMETEERS ARE HERE. They knock out Bob Star, Giles and Hal, and throw them onto Neptune's surface, where they do not die horrible deaths from decompression, toxic atmosphere, and cold. Why don't they kill them? Because Orco asked them to let them live, because it amuses him.

Then, it turns out that even though the Invincible is pretty much supposed to be unstoppable, the Cometeers dispose of it with ease. Jay Kalam decides to go down with the ship; this ironically saves his life, as the Cometeers gun down the escape pods.

The book goes on this way for a while-everyone stranded, unable to do anything, oh help the Cometeers are here and doing bad things that keep us from doing anything.

It turns out that the Cometeers aren't naturally invisible-they use mechanical aid. So what do they look like? A pair of stars, one red and one purple, with a swirling green column of gas stretched between them and a crystal ring encircling the column in the middle. Yes. Also, they're immortal, immaterial, can travel through space, and eat people. What.

The book continues on for a while, and eventually they're captured, along with a whole bunch of other people who are going to serve as livestock, but they start a riot and escape from the Cometeers' slaves (which are various gigantic material beings, all well described). They are joined, slightly earlier than this, actually, by the girl from the wall from earlier, who actually was operating a teleporter, speaks no English, and has INSTANT LOVE JUST ADD WATER with Bob Star (apparently he goes both ways). While Bob Star is unconscious, they manage to steal an invisibility machine and get past most of the defenses (i.e. the author skips a whole lot of action), and find themselves almost to where Kay (the non-English speaking girl) insists that there's a weapon that might work against the Cometeers. (Incidentally, it turns out her native tongue is actually Spanish, which Jay Kalam speaks a bit of. Hm.) They get there, and find-nothing. Then, Stephen Orco, who has been turned into a Cometeer (what, you thought that the Cometeers evolved to look like weird star formations? Don't be silly) and the ruler of the Cometeers show up and get ready to eat them. But Orco, being Orco, wants to gloat about stuff like how he's planning on eating Bob Star's mom and such, and the ruler is hesitant to just attack as long as Orco putters. And then, the vault turns out to have had the weapon hidden in subspace, and Bob Star pulls it out and swings it like a lightsaber at them. Then, all the Cometeers everywhere die. Great idea, keeping a weapon to keep your guys in line that can kill your entire race forever. Anyway, the reason the Cometeers' ruler was hesitant was because Orco was smarter than he was, and he wanted to stay on top with an ace up his sleeve.

By the way-Orco was so smart and attractive and all that stuff because he was an android made by a guy who made "companion" (read: sex) androids, and Orco was his "masterpiece" of unparalleled brilliance and whatnot.

This book has a lot of kind of fun elements, but I think it's mostly weaker than The Star Kings. It has a bigger, more interesting cast, for the most part, but it's much screwier and has odder foibles (for instance, all super science weapons cannot work against other super science weapons of the same type). But that's not to say that it's not fun. Look at the cover blurbs:

Front cover:

takes a mad gamble to save
the Solar System from an
inhuman, invincible invader!

Woo, alliteration!

Back cover:
this classic LEGION OF SPACE epic, featuring
a spaceship twelve million miles long
the secret weapon that controls the Universe
a superhuman traitor to all mankind
-and, defying mortal peril, fantastic dangers,
and the dread powers of the invincible
Cometeers, the grandest trio of swashbucklers
in all of science fiction-Jay Kalam, Hal
Samdu, and the incomparable Giles Habibula!

Let's review just what all of those correspond to:

a spaceship twelve million miles long (the comet)
the secret weapon that controls the Universe (AKKA-I think you're exaggerating, blurber)
a superhuman traitor to all mankind (but he wasn't actually part of mankind, and makes a point of that fact)
-and defying blah blah blah nevermind.

Giles Habibula is only incomparable because no other SF writers of the time wanted to write characters who whine as much as he does. Just sayin'.

Anyway, I'll give mostly the same recommendation as for The Star Kings: If you find it cheap and don't mind the genre, go ahead and get it. And try not to laugh whenever you read about Orco and think of Orko. (I know I had to try pretty hard.)

Signing off.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some Disparate Thoughts On Transformers

I was considering how one might classify just what genre the Transformers franchise is most closely related to. It's kinda hard to pin down.

(This video was entitled "The Best of Transformers" by the person who put it together.)

Among other things, Transformers has been:

  1. "Straight" science fiction. (Subsets which emphasize this included Beast Wars and Generation One.)
  2. Space opera. (Generation One, the G1 Movie especially, the Unicron Trilogy.)
  3. Fantasy. (Some episodes of G1 [G1 was rather inconsistent, eh?], a lot of Japanese Transformers.)
  4. Anime fighting series where the fighters just happen to be fifteen to thirty foot tall robots. (Almost any series from Japan.)
  5. Battles of cosmic proportion between/against cosmic forces. (Almost any comic written in the last decade by Simon Furman, anything where Unicron shows up for even ten seconds.)
  6. War stories. (Touched on, at least, by Beast Wars.)
  7. Superhero narrative. (Beast Machines, a lot of Japanese series.)
  8. Greek/Norse tragedy. (A few of the later Beast Wars episodes.)

This diversity is can be demonstrated by the main villain of the first Transformers Movie, from way back in the day. Unicron can be summed up with the following equation:

Galactus + Death Star + Satan = Unicron

Yikes, cosmic ultimate villains don't come with better pedigrees than that, do they? As "Galactus," Unicron can serve a cosmic battle or a superhero narrative; as "Death Star," Unicron can serve a space opera or superhero narrative; as "Satan," Unicron can serve almost any of them, but especially tragedy or fantasy.

But it's not really just Unicron who does this. While major characters generally have the capacity for many kinds of storylines, various less important characters can effortlessly mesh into a huge variety of narratives if given the chance. Most of them are pretty specialized by comparison to Unicron, but their sheer numbers make up for this. Nightbeat, for instance, is and has always been a detective; stories that focus on him tend to be mysteries. Dinobot (Beast Wars) is an honorable warrior with a penchant for Shakespeare turned tragic hero, as indicated by his final bow, Code of Hero. There are plenty of others.

This is partly a function of all Transformers writing being heavily driven towards one purpose. The pressure placed on writers to demonstrate how incredibly cool and awesome thirty or so new toys are a year is often too much for many writers, and lazy, inattentive writing may result; but as often, the author comes up with random and bizarre ways to showcase characters. An extreme example of this came in the later days of the Generation One comic, where a brief series of narratives that were all parodies of or riffs on movies and other literature made up the "Matrix Quest." The narratives parodied or imitated The Maltese Falcon, Shane (a western, in case you've never heard of it), Moby Dick, and Alien. Simon Furman, who wrote these stories, also wrote zombie narratives/mad science into the comics, by the way.

And this is just a sampling. (Right now I'm a little short on time and the computer's a bit slow.) I'll probably go more into it in the next few days or so, although I'm planning on another book review tomorrow.

My point, really, is that Transformers, while it is genre fiction (fictional narrative advertisement, to be exact), it doesn't let its genre define it (or perhaps I should say that its owner Hasbro is willing to let its individual authors define it). The recent summer blockbuster Transformers, for instance, emphasized a relatively rarely used portion of Transformers-the horror/monster story. While such narratives have appeared, ironically the franchise's best monsters-the Transformers themselves, relative to a tiny and wretched humanity-have rarely seen that sort of light.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes-No.

(Hey, sis, I figured you'd appreciate this video here.)

That kinda says it all, eh?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reel Robot Wars Sunday: Battle Bots "Best of" Footage

One of the nice things about "Reel Robot Wars Sunday" is that it just needs to be footage of things that are real and don't have people inside them deliberately tearing the crud out of each other. That makes it a pretty flexible thing to find footage for.

Case in point. (That "flipper" robot's pretty clever, I think.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: The Star Kings

I mentioned a while ago that I'd do reviews of some really old science fiction novels in my possession; I never got around to it, so this review is actually doubly greatly belated.

The Star Kings is actually cited by Wikipedia's article on its author, Edmond Hamilton, as being the "best" representative of his science fiction style. Apparently one of the most prolific authors of his era, while he never was considered a shining luminary of science fiction as the space opera declined in popularity, his career actually continued in comic books-specifically, at DC comics during the Silver Age. He is also credited by some as being the first author to conceptualize the "energy sword" (and thus apparently inspiring a rather more famous creator to use them).

Also, Hamilton is the creator of the Captain Future science fiction series, which includes The Solar Invasion, another of the books I promised to review, although that one was written by Manly Wade Wellman. Not relevant here, but noteworthy nonetheless.

The Star Kings has a reasonably interesting plot, as such things go; a "young accountant clerk" named John Gordon is antsing for action, as he's been back from World War II for a while now. He was a bomber pilot during the war, and despite the 90% casualty rates, he misses the action. (I could be misremembering that, but it's funny to think that some people from that time period had much more skewed views of this kind of thing than people do even now.) So, when all of a sudden, a voice starts talking in his head, he wonders briefly if it's some kind of post-traumatic shock syndrome or something (although he simply calls it "going crazy"). It turns out, though, that it's not-it's the scientist Zarth Arn (hmm...) from 200,000 years in the future. Holy cheese.

Anyway, Zarth Arn tells him that he's using his magic mind-projection machine to travel through time, and he's used it to find like-minded people to himself (i.e., people looking for adventure and new experiences) and gather information on their obscure historical periods. FOR GREAT SCIENCE. (cough) He says he's never been this far back into such a primitive time, and he's champing at the bit to see just what a nasty ol' heckhole he's going to get into. Gordon is a little hesitant at first, but then he has another really boring day at the office, and away we go! Heh.

(Note: It's pointed out in the comments that I forgot to mention why the mind-projection machine works, and time travel for matter supposedly can't-the mind "travels back in time" whenever it remembers things. Thanks, sis, for reminding me of that.)

So he gets some children's books for Zarth Arn (who speaks no English) and then makes the swap, ending up mind-swapped with the rogue scientist, and left alone with the guy's mentor and assistant. There, he has a few weeks to rapidly learn the language and some general facts about the universe of 2000 centuries in the future! (I'm sorry, I just find that phrase really funny, and it's in the blurb on the back more than once. The blurb also mentions the sorcery of super-science! Woo!) In the process, he learns that 1) Zarth Arn is actually the second son of the king of the freaking galaxy (mostly-they do have enemies), 2) they are on the edge of WAR with the League of Dark Worlds (toldya they have enemies-although they're only called "the League of Dark Worlds" because they're in a giant space nebula appropriately called the Black Cloud), and 3) Earth, despite being the homeworld, is now a backwater. Appropriate.

Anyway, then some Cloud-men (as they are consistently referred to), show up, shoot the heck out of the old man with "atom guns," and try to kidnap Zarth Arn. Who is John Gordon. This sends him plummeting down a course of blundering his way through the "hyper-advanced" feudal society of 200,000 years from now, and effortlessly duping and fooling people when he barely speaks the language and knows practically nothing. He's lucky that he's the hero of a pulp fiction book.

On the science front, the book is almost total poppycock. There are magic rays which let them travel faster than the speed of light because the rays do (no, I don't know how that makes sense), and these same rays are used to shoot stuff out of the various guns and cannons. There are atomic gun shells which are the same size as modern handgun bullets, which cannot actually function (at least, not without some real quantum gymnastics) alongside the massive and more plausible cannons. There's also a device which I will talk about a little later which uses the aforementioned magic rays to operate called the Disruptor, but that deserves its own paragraph.

But there are also some interesting concepts and some reasonably plausible ideas (just not exactly plausible the way they were described). There's the paralyzer, essentially exactly the same device as a modern stun gun but fancier looking. There's the telestereo, which is a very early fictional instance of holographic projection technology and a kind of virtual reality (which has a fascinating military application developed by the League of Dark Worlds within the story). Computers as such are not particularly present in the story, but the warships have semi-automated guns, primarily because there's no way a human being could effectively guide the darned things. (Kinda makes you wonder why they still have such huge crews.) There's mind-reading technology in several forms, from record-keeping to torture device. There is also a scene where Hamilton gets back to his "weird fiction" roots with strange rubbery monsters and the like, which I always enjoy. And there's something called "the Wave," a mysterious radiation that kills anyone it hasn't been set to not kill, in incredibly horrible ways. (More plausible than you'd think, but only in broad strokes.)

Then there's the Disruptor, the grandaddy of all big scifi weapons. I call it the grandaddy because not only is it a really old one, but it's also one of the most efficient and powerful, even by space opera standards. It's made up of about a dozen pointy cone things which get strapped on to the front end of a standard large battleship (of 2000 centuries in the future), and thus is highly efficient-doesn't use up much material, doesn't need much power (relatively speaking). And it's powerful enough to blow a hole in space itself.

Not a little hole, either. At the book's climax, the Disruptor is used against the League's fleets, and destroys half of their ships. (The reason it didn't destroy more is because the rest of them were a little too close to the good guys.) And it unleashes shockwaves when space has to close up to fill the hole that just got blown in it. (This is the kind of stuff that Hamilton is really known for, by the by.)

The real icing on the cake, though, is the fact that only three people in the galaxy know how to use the bloody Disruptor-Arn Abbas, king of the galaxy (who dies early in the action), Jhal Arn, heir prince and replacement king of the galaxy (who gets knocked out of commission by a gunshot wound to the arm), and Zarth Arn (who is 200,000 years in the past, while John Gordon pilots his body). OH SNAP! So a (disappointingly small) part of the book is John Gordon going "OHEMGEE I GOTTA FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE THIS CONSARNED THING WITHOUT BLOWIN' UP THE GALAXY AYUH! AH FEEL LAHK SUCH A HICK!"

Heh. Anyhow, obviously he does all right, mostly on information gleaned from Jhal Arn talking during fever dreams (!). But that's only half of the story.

The other half is a rather pulp-fictionesque romance/triangle/mutant quadrilateral involving Zarth Arn's morganatic (unofficial) wife Murn, John Gordon in Zarth Arn's body, and Lianna, the woman to whom Zarth Arn is engaged to marry for purely diplomatic purposes.

Here's kind of what the screwy chart looks like:

To clarify:

John Gordon is in love with the gorgeous, capable, incredibly wealthy, intelligent Lianna.

Zarth Arn is in love with his side hottie Murn.

Lianna is in love with John Gordon (this is a very good example of telling rather than showing, by the way, in terms of how it's related to the reader), but thinks she's in love with Zarth Arn.

Murn is in love with Zarth Arn, and is one of only two people who can tell to any degree that John Gordon is not actually Zarth Arn.

Aside from the fact that it's a rather typical INSTANT LOVE JUST ADD WATER (OR MAYBE ALCOHOL) pulp fiction romance, it's actually surprisingly well-played. John Gordon is given the opportunity to sleep with Murn more than once, but refuses primarily because he thinks it'd be a nasty thing to do to Zarth Arn. (It would be, of course.) Lianna decides, because John Gordon doesn't want to betray the trust Zarth Arn apparently had in him as steward of his very body and life, that Zarth Arn doesn't love her and will simply be "just friends," which Gordon appreciates but is also frustrated by. There's a resolution to this crazy polygon, but I won't share more than the fact that Zarth Arn likes contradicting his own brilliant super-science.

(As a funny aside which actually contradicts me not talking about the resolution: When Zarth Arn and John Gordon switch back at the end [OMG SPOILERS], John Gordon is told by Zarth Arn some weeks later that he's going to try to invent a physical time machine to let John Gordon come to the FUTURE OF 2000 CENTURIES FROM NOW!! so that he can be with Lianna, who also talks with Gordon over the time-telepathy machine. What has likely not been mentioned between the three of them is that John Gordon is considered "compact" in his own time, that is, muscular and relatively short, contrasting Zarth Arn's fairly considerable height [the members of the royal families are taller than average, in this future time period where most people are presumably quite tall because of nutrition]. Lianna is Zarth Arn's height. I wanna see a comic book or movie adaptation where they meet in person at the end now. Heh heh heh heh heh.)

The book is obviously kind of dated in many respects, and this particular front-the relations between the sexes-seems particularly so. Very few female characters appear. (I think I've mentioned all of them already. Huh.) There are no women in the militaries. Despite this, the portrayal of women is not negative or a sort of "women are weak" thing. Murn seems to be highly perceptive, and while this plays up the whole "woman's intuition" stereotype, at least this means she isn't an idiot. (Actually, we never find out just what Murn does besides sleep with Zarth Arn. For all the readers know, she's actually a very successful businesswoman or something.) Then there's Lianna. Aside from the aforementioned JUST ADD WATER aspect of her relationship with Gordon, she is actually a very capable character. She's not much of a fighter, but then, she's a pampered royal. John Gordon, while he is in the flabby body of a fellow pampered royal, has at least had combat training, so his fighting skills make a little bit of sense. But Lianna never faints (she fakes it once) and rarely if ever cries; she has the same kind of fierce and stern leadership qualities most of the royals have; and when faced with a problem, she only breaks down in the same situations others do (okay, a little more often, but she does pretty well, all things considered). Of course, on the other hand, the book highlights sexist ideas, with the fainting, excessive concern for females, etc. all playing roles. Ironically, the society of 1/5 of a million years from now is awfully backwards in a lot of ways, so these sorts of assumptions actually mesh with its weird little world. (The inhabitants of the time period are actually more upright and honorable than John Gordon, and the book's villain, Shorr Kan, leader of the League of Dark Worlds, considers himself a throwback to Gordon's time.)

That brings me to one final note on the story itself-there's a weird little friendship struck up between John Gordon and Shorr Kan. About halfway through the book, Shorr Kan successfully kidnaps Zarth Arn/John Gordon, and has him brought before him to learn the secret of the Disruptor. As an absolute last-ditch measure to avoid getting his brain fried by the brain-scanning device invented by Cloud scientists, Gordon tells Kan that he doesn't know the secret of the Disruptor because he's not Zarth Arn. Kan disbelieves him and has his brain scanned anyway. When he discovers rapidly that he really isn't Zarth Arn, he has him disconnected before the serious brain damage sets in, and Gordon (falsely) agrees to get the secret of the Disruptor for him in exchange for being puppet ruler of the galaxy and getting Lianna all to himself. In the moment of victory of the Mid-Galactic Empire over its perpetual enemy, the League (oyah, I forgot to mention how evil the good kingdom's name is, didn't I?), John Gordon bluffs that he will use the Disruptor on the Black Cloud. Shorr Kan's fanatical followers aren't that fanatical, and they rebel against him and kill him. Shorr Kan is put on in the midst of his death rattle so that the rebels can prove they've killed him, and Kan and Gordon have a brief discussion as he dies. At the moment of Kan's death, Gordon feels a little pang, because they actually had stuff in common, and he liked the dictator and his practical mindset. ("You an evil dictator who dupes your guys? I'm cool with that.")

In terms of prose, The Star Kings is simple and easy to read, slightly antiquated but not so obscure it's unreadable. (I admit I'm not the best person to judge this, as I was able to easily drop into the rhythm of Roughing It, which gave many people in the class I was reading it for fits, but whatever.) Its total lack of slang keeps the language itself from being too dated, although old-fashioned expressions creep in here and there. It's rarely if ever an impressive piece of prose, but it gets the job done respectably, and I never found myself going "What a heck was that supposed to mean?"

In the end, The Star Kings is a nice example of what science fiction would really rather not be identified with anymore. Star Wars aside, in general the space opera is considered one of the corniest and dated of all genre dramas by many parties (i.e. the science fiction community). However, it's still a fun genre for many, myself included, and if you like space opera style scifi and don't have trouble finding a copy, you might consider picking it up. (Just did a quick search. The Star Kings is available in print as part of an anthology which is made up of mostly stories that were written by Hamilton's wife, Leigh Brackett, who many consider the better author of the two [she wrote an early draft of the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, by the way]. One of the other stories in the anthology is actually a crossover between The Star Kings and some of Brackett's stories. Fascinating. I can't tell you if it's worth the $45 bucks they're asking for on Amazon, though...)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some Random Thoughts

First up. What is up with Blogger's "new look" in the Dashboard thing? That button is trying to tell me that it's actually a piece of text.

Seriously, what is that? (Also, Blogger take note-"Blogger's" was taken to be a misspelled word by your own spellchecker!)

Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to gripe a little bit about something that's always bugged me: The Theory of Relativity.

It's not the basic premise (the effects of time dilation, relative reference frames, etc.) that bug me. It's the whole there is no ultimate frame of reference (heretofore referred to as "ultimate relativity") assumption.

It's just plain wrong. How, you may ask, do I know differently from an army of brilliant physicists who have been working in this field for about a hundred historical years, give or take?

Because the things that relativity predict and explain, such as time dilation, would be negated by ultimate relativity.

Let me present a little example. The observer is sitting still, while someone else is traveling at speeds sufficient to create a measurable time dilation effect. But according to ultimate relativity, the observer is in a frame of reference which is likewise, from the point of view of the other observer, also traveling at sufficient speed to create a measurable time dilation effect.

If ultimate relativity was true, that whole time dilation thing used as a plot device and as a tool by science fiction writers becomes a rather stupid exercise in futility.

Dignitary Guy: We are welcoming back our astronauts who travelled at nearly the speed of light in order to avoid aging on their 200 year round trip! Of course, everyone they ever knew is dead because of the time they were gone. Ha ha ha!

Crowd: (polite laughter)

Dignitary Guy: So let's open that creaky old rocket up, shall we?

(out falls a skeleton in a spacesuit)

Dignitary Guy: Well, this is awkward.

Since the observable effects of time dilation and other weird relativity crud exist, I would presume the following: Relativity actually needs an ultimate frame of reference.

This is not a farfetched or difficult idea in the slightest. According to something I recently read in a Scientific American "special report" that I received as a result of subscribing, the theory may need that modification in the next five to ten years anyway.

And don't think this means that physicists are idiots, either. The "great Greek thinkers" were always coming up with all sorts of really stupid assumptions for their ridiculous "paradoxes," and people are still talking about how great they are. (For instance, there's this one about how, even if Achilles were to run ten times faster than a tortoise, if the tortoise got a head start, Achilles would literally never be able to catch the tortoise. Seriously, what the heck? Talk about your time dilation. [Actually, that was the flaw in the paradox-the paradox kept dividing the time period measured into smaller and smaller bits, and seemed to forget that time doesn't actually flow that way.])

Finally, if you like comic books, Batman, or all of the above, read this. Read it now.

For a guy whose internets modus operandi is more usually stuff like this, this, this, or this, Chris Sims can occasionally be much more verbose and intelligent than he usually comes across as being. (Not to say that he comes across as "stupid" or anything the rest of the time-just kinda ADD and crazy.)

Argh, Blogger, your other buttons are doing that stupid thing too!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

'80s Anime Is Awesome

(Hey to my sister, who will be reading my blog remotely for the next week or so.)

The 1980s were a wonderful period for animation in Japan. So much good material came out of Japanese studios during this time period, I sometimes wonder if I'll ever find it all.

Case in point: Robot Carnival. Robot Carnival is apparently an anthology movie featuring a series of short pieces all centered on robots. This is one of them, and is described as the "humor short."

It is beautifully animated. Considering how ridiculously silly the story is, the animation almost makes it more absurd.

Signing off, to try and find other segments.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

East Vs. West: Lensman

Few people argue against the idea that E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series is one of the most defining, most imitated, and most influential science fiction series of all time. Green Lanterns, Star Wars, and dozens that are on the tip of my tongue but not quite coming all draw from concepts first pioneered in the adventures of the Lensmen.

Ironically, despite my love of and familiarity with the variety of space opera most heavily influenced by Lensman, my first encounter with it was something decidedly different:

(NOTE: This dub of it is a very different dub from the one I'm familiar with. Apparently, somebody disliked this dub so much they destroyed it and remade it in their own dark image. The dub I'm familiar with, and have been since childhood, had characters making swears, and I seriously doubt this one does. It also had significantly better soundtrack and voice acting.)

As un-Lensmanlike as the anime movie is, the concepts explored in Lensman are about as anime-like as anime get, and those elements that carry over do so seamlessly. And it's one of the most beautiful pieces of animation ever produced. (Of course, I could be biased-I tend to think that the best anime stylistically was early-to-mid-'80s era.)

My sister, a few years ago, went on a wild crusade to obtain a copy of this movie, as it is one of the greatest influences upon her love of anime in general. (Hovering over my shoulder, she says "It was my sweet sixteen gift.") She did in fact obtain the same version we knew and loved as children, with completely unedited violence, swearing, and galactic warfare between good and evil on a grand scale. A lot like Star Wars, only prettier and much more surreal.

Considering the quality of the film, it is unsurprising that it spawned a series, although the series seems to be much more obscure and difficult to obtain information on.

Aha. Here's more information, courtesy of somebody on YouTube:

This is the openning of a not completed anime series dubbing, Harmony Gold Dubbed this compilation of 4 episodes from an original 25 episode series. The other episodes were never dubbed. there was also a movie with the title Lensman - Secret of The Lens also dubbed by Harmony Gold, the more popular version of this movie was dubbed later by Streamline. Based upon the all time novels by E. E. Doc Smith

(This has been cut and pasted, so yes, the original text lacked the final period.)

That's not that helpful for general purposes, but at least other people know it exists, I guess.

Here's the "openning" this text is associated with.

As kind of an aside, what in the world was up with the music in old dubbed anime? Voltron had some pretty decent music, but almost every other dubbed anime from that era sounded like its soundtrack was created with a possessed ambient theremin or something.

Eh, whatever.

Monday, August 11, 2008


I need to figure out how to get on earlier in the day or something.

This thing was built by self-proclaimed rednecks. Kinda nifty. Someone suggested, rather irreverently, that these guys and Burt Rutan should get NASA's budget, and that we'd already have a Mars mission underway if they were the team building the stuff.

Could well be.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Super Robot Wars Sunday: The Boat Sank...

...Get over it.

This barely qualifies for this type of thing, but it amuses me, so I'll put it up.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Really Really Still, So Still It Was Pretty Boring

The last of the crowd admitted in the present group hurried in, exclaiming at the great pure green curves of the mysterious time-space traveler, then completely forgetting the ship at sight of the awesome figure and great head of the giant Gnut. Hinged robots of crude manlike appearance were familiar enough, but never had Earthling eyes lain on one like this. For Gnut had almost exactly the shape of a man — a giant, but a man — with greenish metal for man's covering flesh, and greenish metal for man's bulging muscles. Except for a loin cloth, he was nude. He stood like the powerful god of the machine of some undreamt–of scientific civilization, on his face a look of sullen, brooding thought. Those who looked at him did not make jests or idle remarks, and those nearest him usually did not speak at all. His strange, internally illuminated red eyes were so set that every observer felt they were fixed on himself alone, and he engendered a feeling that he might at any moment step forward in anger and perform unimaginable deeds.

So was described the robot of the story Farewell to the Master, a 1940 science fiction story upon which The Day the Earth Stood Still is (theoretically) based.

Notice there's a little change. (Well, lots of little changes.) First, he's not Gort, he's Gnut. Second, he's almost completely human in appearance, except that he's made of green metal. Weird, I know.

I have to say, I don't really care for The Day the Earth Stood Still. It's a slow film, which in and of itself isn't much of a problem. However, I just couldn't get into it. First, I read Farewell to the Master years before I saw the film (which I only saw after its relatively recent DVD release). TDtESS unleashes heavy-handed moralizing upon us, and quite frankly I find it rather questionable moralizing. Here's the way one can interpret the film in rapid soundbite fashion:

Klaatu: Hey I've got this scary thing that will tell you how great we all are. (gets shot)
Gort: Zappity! Zappity!
Klaatu: Darn, my flimsy gift was broken instantly! Now I will hide within your society and spy on the lot of you!
Scientist: Oh my, you are smart!
Klaatu: You will do as I say or I will destroy your world!
Scientist: Oh my... you are smart!
Klaatu: Mwahahaha- (gets shot)
Gort: Zappity! Zappity!
Lady: Klaatu barada nikto.
Gort: Zappity?
Lady: No! No zappity! Klaatu barada nikto!
Gort: Daw. (resurrects Klaatu)
Klaatu: I only have a short time to live, so I will tell you-DISARM OR DIE!!

Now, I suppose its message of human potential for self-destructiveness is relevant, although in entirely different ways today than then. But Klaatu's motivations strike me as more than a little suspicious.
I won't ever criticize its anti-war sentiment as being a bad thing, but I just don't think it's realistic. If presented with this, most world leaders would dismiss it as an elaborate hoax. I sure wouldn't buy into it.

But it's this kind of philosophy which drives nuclear disarmament (not too bad an idea, although those big bombs would be useful for things other than massacres, such as attempting to deflect large masses on collision course with Earth) and sentiment against nuclear power. While I understand fully that people are uneasy about nuclear power, the only real accident with nuclear power in the United States turned out to not be that bad. (And don't bother telling me about how awful Chernobyl was-yes, it was, but Chernobyl was the worst-designed nuclear power plant ever built. They had freaking graphite-i.e., carbon, practically one step away from coal-as the moderator! Most nuclear reactors are actually designed in a way that they can't explode.)

But I digress. What strikes me as suspicious is this whole idea of telling people "Disarm or die!"

Threats are not really the big stick of peaceful intent. I'll admit, the US has what looks like a pretty bad track record here, but how often we threaten to actually exterminate an entire planet (or in more realistic context, a country or race)? That's what Klaatu was doing, you know.

Back to Farewell to the Master. Farewell poses an interesting idea, insights on ethnocentrism, and a warning of sorts. Just what is the central idea to this? Well, if you'd like to read the story, go back up to that link and read it. If not, keep reading here.

SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T READ FAREWELL TO THE MASTER FOLLOWS (in white text so you can't see it if you don't want to)

Gnut the robot obtains the microfilm that contains the recording pattern he needs to replicate Klaatu. (It's a long story.) Cliff Sutherland, the reporter who aided him in his quest, asks Gnut to, when the robot is about to leave with the film in his hand, tell his master (Klaatu) that the shooting of Klaatu was an accident. Gnut replies "You misunderstand." There is a momentary digression as the narration indicates that Sutherland was greatly shocked by what follows, to the point where he doesn't relate it until the day of his death. Gnut finishes with what I personally find to still be one of the most iconic lines in science fiction: "I am the master."


Erm, maybe the spoilers aren't completely over, but whatever. Anyway, there are two or three things to be taken from this ending.
  1. We make too many assumptions when we see things. Even today, most people would assume incorrectly the nature of the relationship between Gnut and Klaatu.
  2. Can humanity really control technology?
  3. Gnut is a cooler name than Gort.

Okay, that last one might be personal preference.

But this is a subtler and more interesting story, and it has a lot more mystery and about the same amount of action as The Day the Earth Stood Still. I think it's still a more interesting story than its so-called adaptation, and even probably more interesting than a special effects and Keanu Reeves driven modern remake of the doggoned film.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Random Silly Thing

(Picture courtesy of Jeff Russell's Starship Dimensions.)

Something I haven't mentioned often on this blog? I like monster movies.

I'll try to do something more substantial tomorrow.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brave Robots: Villains

(Blogger and my computer don't seem to be getting along right now. This may be partly responsible for the problems I've had the last few days getting stuff up.)

It occurred to me that it's been a while-a week or two-since I last posted a Brave Robots blog post.

This must be rectified.

The villains of the Brave Robots series are more than just a mixed bag-they're a mixed bag full of mixed bags.

Relatively rarely, they were fully realized as completely new transforming robots easily the equals of the main characters (except, invariably, they were relatively puny as toys and gigantic within the various series). Draias (from Brave of the Sun Fighbird) was one of these.

Also among their number was Dino Geist, the borderline suicidal maniac who homaged super robots while cramming as many stock footage transformation sequences into a scene as was mechanically possible for a single robot (unless that stuff is actually from two scenes and very well cut together) from Brave Exkaiser.

However, not all of the villains were so lucky. Some were repaints or remolds of pre-existing toys. Case in point:

Hmm, that fellow looks familiar. (In fact, all of the villains from Exkaiser, with the exception of the previously mentioned Dino Geist, were based on Dinobots. Fascinatingly, while toys of them ironically never surfaced, the various lesser Geisters were given the ability to combine with one another.)

Additional Transformers changed into Brave Robot villains include Goryu from Brave Express Might Gaine, who is a black repaint version of Dai Atlas.

Then, there were numerous villains based on Transformers that were red repaints of guys; these particular villains (who are not the only such), from Brave of Gold Goldran and (I believe) Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn, were based on various other Transformers.

The funny thing here is that this is really only about half the equation. Brave Express Might Gaine (linked previously), Brave Command Dagwon, and King of Braves GaoGaiGar's selection of enemies has barely been touched. The next Brave Robots column I do will probably be about them as possible.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More Stupidity

(This would originally have been posted last night, but someone once again had an incredibly long service outage that should have been short mere moments before I clicked "publish." This is more than a little irksome.)

Grrr... This really should be self-explanatory. (Next time someone tells me to leave her windows open, I'm going to say no.)

Fortunately, yesterday's stupid video has a sequel of roughly equal stupidity.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I was probably going to do a serious post of some kind, but somebody decided to have an outage that was at least five times as long as advertised (50+ minutes rather than ten).

So here's a stupid YouTube video. (Stupid in a good way.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Super Robot Profiles: Steel Jeeg

Steel Jeeg, also known as Kotetsu Jeeg (which means the same thing), is kind of an odd duck as super robots go.

First off, this fellow is a particularly ugly duckling, if you catch my drift.

Second, the robot is formed of a number of independent, magnetically connected segments which are controlled by the pilot, who is the head.

Yes, the pilot is the head.

Apparently, Jeeg's pilot, Go Nagai Motorcycle-riding Protagonist #8, noted for having a fashion sense literally directly inspired by Elvis, had a magic bell surgically placed in his chest to save his life. This gave him the amazing power to morph into a big, ugly, flying robot head. A fully combat capable ugly flying robot head.

And, as the first part of this Super Robot Wars video demonstrates, he's apparently quite a nasty little head.

Jeeg might have descended into relative total obscurity, were it not for the current wave of super robot nostalgia leading to something pretty awesome:

The newer version of Jeeg, Kotetsushin Jeeg, is awesome partly because it is a really awesome-looking redesign of an older robot that is clearly actually based on the older one (there have been some redesigns in recent years that fail here, which I will cover at some vague, undefined point in the future). They even came up with a way for the protagonist to not have ridiculous powers and still ride a motorcycle in one fell swoop.

Disappointingly, I can't find the really awesome video of Shin Jeeg using his ridiculously oversized cannon, so I'll direct you here and suggest you imagine it: Scroll down a ways and look at how freaking big the cannon that replaces the toy's arm here is. Then, imagine that the cannon is actually at least twice that big, and it's firing and destroying things before it actually fires.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Reel Robot Wars Sunday: David's Sling Has Been Replaced With Sticks

Not much else to say about it. Ivre (the stick-carrying robot) goes on to face the champ of Robo-One, King Kizer.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Unofficial Robot Week: The Exciting Conclusion

So, I suppose Unofficial Robot Week has finally come to an end.

(From a film called "The Returner.")

Well, I suppose even the best things can't last forever.

I hope the robots don't get too mad. Some of them are kind of scary.

Hopefully, they won't try to kill me either.

Thank you, thank you. I'll go back to a slightly less focused blog next week.

Friday, August 1, 2008

How To Build A Really Awesome Robot (In Fiction)

I got the idea to do this column when I suddenly realized, late yesterday, that this is clearly Unofficial Robot Week. (The week is unofficial, not the robot.)

First things first. The kind of robot I'm talking about is an autonomous self-motivating or self-aware robot. Thus, sadly, no "super robots" by my definition.

Second, I'm specifically talking about the kind of robot that is either an aid or an obstacle in a significant way for a protagonist (or potentially is the protagonist) in an action story-i.e., a robot that fights. (Granted, a receptionist robot could potentially pose an obstacle, even in action, but that's not what I'm talking about. Such a robot is less of an obstacle than a speed bump.)

Anyway, here are my Three Laws of Really Awesome Robotics (obviously, completely incompatible with Isaac Asimov's similarly named laws):
  1. The robot must be adaptable/intelligent enough to cope with challenges presented to it. (This becomes more important with antagonist robots.)
  2. The robot can't be a pathetic pushover in terms of power.
  3. The robot pretty much has to be fast, either in land speed, mental abilities, or agility-related faculties.

One example of a robot that fails the first law is any of the various Spider-Slayers. These robots are obviously fast and strong, fulfilling the second and third laws reasonably well-I mean, they fight Spider-Man, don't they? But they're all really narrow in function, and thus tend to suffer because of it. Spidey is able to outsmart the average Spider-Slayer and defeat it in approximately eighteen pages, which in recent comics may be equivalent to less than five minutes, depending on the title (obviously I'm being facetious). They're generally one-trick ponies, which is why there are at least twenty different models.

The Sentinel robots vary a lot with each iteration, which means that they frequently are breaking at least one of the Really Awesome Laws. (There's a phrase I can't say I ever thought I'd use.) Many iterations of Sentinel aren't terribly adaptable, although this series is one that rarely suffers overmuch in this department, ever since the Mark II, which apparently had the ability to instantly adapt to most mutant powers. They often seem pathetic pushovers in power, regardless of what we're told, although I suspect many instances of this were the fault of Wolverine and Rogue. And except for a case here and there, such as Nimrod, who obeys all of the Really Awesome Laws handily, most Sentinels seem to be pretty slow (except when travelling across the continental United States, when they can reach supersonic velocities-there's irony right there).

Then there's LOTA. If you've never heard of LOTA, then you've never read Schlock Mercenary (or like me when I found it, are taking a few weeks to plow through the archives for the full experience). Why haven't you read it yet?!

LOTA is a very new newcomer to Schlock Mercenary (first appearance here, first appearance after activation here), but he clearly strictly adheres to the Laws of Awesome Robotics. LOTA even obeys the Zeroth law of Awesome Robotics: An awesome robot must have some kind of personality, whether a literal "personality" or an imaginary one linked to an unusual appearance. (Fun fact: There are, in fact, four of the aforementioned Three Laws of Robotics; the last, the Zeroth law, was added retroactively as a sort of "uberlaw" which a very intelligent robot invented and taught other robots to follow.) LOTA (who has no use for puny organics' pronouns) also obeys the First, Second and Third Laws with ease, as indicated here.

Unusually for a non-antagonist robot, however, LOTA is not only highly intelligent, but very chaotic (in a deterministic kind of way, ironically) and occasionally terrifyingly direct. LOTA also earned, even before LOTA started moving, an awesome nickname: "Longshoreman of the Apocalypse." (EDIT: I belatedly realized "LOTA" is actually an acronym for "Longshoreman of the Apocalypse" late at night.)

Yes, LOTA is definitely a Really Awesome Robot.

Of course, not all robots need to be Really Awesome. Some appear in great numbers to offset their lack of awesomeness, and others overcome their deficiencies through sheer size/power. Pretty rare for them to do so through sheer speed or intelligence/adaptability, however.