Gettin’ Good Again

Sunday’s Episode of BSG wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected and even had a surprise or two that tied it into the main plot. No surprise that it was written by Jane Espenson, of Buffy/Angel credit. I was poking around on Television Without Pity and discovered that the writer of the episode that I hated,”The Woman King” also wrote the one where Saint Helo decides to kill the Infected Cylons in a fit of righteous indignation, thus preventing them being used as biological weapons. The guy seems to think BSG is the Helo show. I wonder if he’s ever sat down and watched any of the previous seasons? It would probably help his future scripts a little to know what show he’s writing for, rather then continuing to turn in episodes form the Universe Next Door, where BSG is just another Star Trek rip off, staring a cardboard cutout wearing Helo’s uniform. As to why Ronald Moore thought that episode was worth shooting rather than just burying is beyond me (which isn’t entirely true. I understand shooting budgets and you have an allotment of episodes that have to delivered by date X and you can’t do an instant rewrite and necessarily get something better. Even Ron Moore admits that the previous two episodes were Black Market week). Listening to the podcast, I get the notion that they had intended for there to be a sub-plot involving the Sagittarans but that it got dropped and added and drooped and added until it eventually backed into the script ass first, which is just clumsy. And I can see what they were shooting for with “Day In The Life,” but it didn’t come off well. which is fine. They can’t all be winners.

Meanwhile, Jane Espenson knows how to float a subplot and make it work. Chief got to play Cesar Chavez, we learned something interesting about Baltar (that may or may not be true– see, ambiguity works!) and it segways into the pending trial and overall thrust of the greater story, about people in horrible situations doing the best and worst they can for reasons that are not always ethical but are always human. Chief got to be a hero, but only after having his family threatened and he never once came off like a petulant super brat like Helo did two episodes back. That’s how to write a show!

Remembering RAW

Reason Magazine has a nice obituary for Robert Anton Wilson:

Given his enormous influence on pop culture, from Lost to Laura Croft, you might have expected Wilson’s death to get more attention in the mainstream press. But while there were a few more notices in the newspapers — a detailed story in the London Telegraph, a short UPI dispatch that was basically cribbed from the Times — none I’ve seen has suggested that his work had an impact beyond the fans of the fringe, and only John Clute’s account in The Independent displayed any appreciation of Wilson’s oeuvre. Instead, the best tributes to the writer have appeared in the medium that most resembled the beautiful cacophony of his books: the Internet. On LiveJournals, e-mail lists, and blog comment threads, Wilson received the praise he was due.

He was honored on the bigger sites too. At The Huffington Post Paul Krassner, who started publishing Wilson’s articles in The Realist back in 1959, quoted one of my favorite things that Wilson wrote in the last year of his life: a haiku sent to his email list a day after he announced what looked like his pending death.

Well what do you know?
Another day has passed
and I’m still not not.

There were respectful memorials in places you’d expect, such as bOING bOING and 10 Zen Monkeys, and in places you wouldn’t expect, such as Wonkette. Even the conservative forum Free Republic got in on the act, with a thread that included the remarkable statement, “The modern right was greatly influenced by Wilson.” While you’re digesting that, I’ll note that elsewhere on the same site another reader greeted the news with the phrase “one less leftist nut.”

Link via Boing Boing.

Preachin’ It

Ursela K. Le Guin really likes libraries:

[…] I feel above all that I’m here as a proxy, a stand-in, for Literature. Literature is too busy to come collect her prize, and she’s too big to get into the building, even this building which was built for her. Literature is huge — they can’t fit her even into the Library of Congress, because she keeps not talking English. She is very big, very polyglot, very old, even older than I am by about 3000 years, and she weighs a lot. When we come to judge civilisations we see how heavy Literature weighs in the balance. Whole peoples are dismissed as ‘savage’ or ‘primitive’, meaning they didn’t write things down, while others are seen as supreme because they left a literature. Take the Ancient Greeks. If it weren’t for Homer and Sophocles and Thucycides, all we’d know of them is that they were awfully good with marble. We wouldn’t know that they invented tragedy and democracy. We might not even know that democracy had been invented.
There have been governments that celebrated literature, but most governments dislike it, justly suspecting that all their power and glory will soon be forgotten unless some wretched, powerless liberal in the basement is writing it down. Of course they do their best to police the basement, but it’s hard, because Government and Literature, even when they share a palace, exist on different moral planes. Each is the ghost in the other’s bedroom. A government can silence writers easily, yet Literature always escapes its control. Literature cannot control a government; poets, as poets, do not legislate. What they can do is set minds free of the control of any tyrant or demagogue and his lies and disinformation.

Librarians like her, too. And librarians, for that matter. Alas, our library has none of her books. I’ll have to work on that…

link via Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny revolution.

Six Little Words

Wired asked authors to write a story in six words. Some of the best:

Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.
– Joss Whedon

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
– Alan Moore

With bloody hands, I say good-bye.
– Frank Miller

1940: Young Hitler! Such a cantor!
– Michael Moorcock

I’m dead. I’ve missed you. Kiss … ?
– Neil Gaiman

Osama’s time machine: President Gore concerned.
– Charles Stross

I decided to join the fun, even though my novel hasn’t been published (yet):

Tragically, she died. Oh, what beauty!

Jesus returns–as comet! Robertson: “Shit…”

No, pa, not the axe, again!

Man eats mushroom, becomes Better Angel.

Satellite calls God. No one home.

Robert Anton Wilson Update

Via Boing Boing:

Dear Friends, my God, what can I say. I am dumbfounded, flabbergasted, and totally stunned by the charity and compassion that has poured in here the last three days.

To steal from Jack Benny, “I do not deserve this, but I also have severe leg problems and I don’t deserve them either.”

Because he was a kind man as well as a funny one, Benny was beloved. I find it hard to believe that I am equally beloved and especially that I deserve such love.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, know that my love is with you.

You have all reminded me that despite George W. Bush and all his cohorts, there is still a lot of beautiful kindness in the world.


Robert Anton Wilson

Help RAW

Robert Anton Wilson, philosopher, author and all around bright spot in the cosmos is in dire straights. He’s no spring chicken and due to health problems, has very little of the long green needed to make his last few months on planet Earth pass comfortably. if you can, please help. Nickles, dimes, whatever you’ve got.

There’s absolutely no reason that a great mind should have to scrape and beg just to have a warm bed and a decent meal as his body slowly falls apart, so please, if you can, contribute.

I can’t tell you how much Wilson’s writings mean to me. He opened my mind to ideas and possibilities that simply didn’t exist to a sixteen year ld in suburban Virginia. Space exploration, mind expansion, conspiracy theories, science, and epistemology. The Big ideas that make our heads spin, he tackled all of them with wit and vigor and it’s in large part because of him that you are reading this now. he made me the wide eyed, wooly weirdo, struggling to write his own novels and share his thoughts with the world. And he needs us, even if just for a little while longer.

Dr Gonzo Rides No More

I rolled out of bed at four AM this morning, kissed my wife goodbye and hopped a plane back to the Nation’s Capitol. 600 miles of screaming air and fog and rain to come back here and wrestle the swine, to sit in my office and read the news: Hunter S. Thompson is dead.

My world is unhinged, just a little more. And not just because of the teenaged, spanish speaking Civil War re-enactors sitting behind me on the plane, munching popcorn. Though, that is something that puts the fear into you. To stumble down the umbilical tunnel, into the belly of a 747 and see the Union Army come for this Southern boy at last… And gibbering in Spanish, no less.

A drowsy haze of careening followed. On my iPod, I listened to Jeff Tweedy sing about the ashes of American flags. It was the only thing that kept my wits intact. And now this.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the most crystalline, brilliant pieces of prose ever written and I’ll bare-knuckle box anyone who says otherwise. Especially if they’re Republican and whine about it’s drug addled jangle or Mr. Thompson’s crazy eye, and how he and all us Gonzo dopeheads are somehow responsible for how we got here, to this crazy day, slipping down the slope towards Communism, Socialism, Gay marriages or whatever the hell it is we’re supposed to hate this week. You know what I hate? Fascists dressed like corporate executives, selling my American Dream, driving one of my heroes to blow his brains out at his kitchen table, one February morning.

God damn you George W. Bush, you’ve robbed us all again.

Update: Giblets spotted the Good Doctor just hours ago, while the King of Zembla points us to his last column.

Den of the Invisible Whistling Octopus

Salon1 reviews the starkly contrasted legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, just in time for the much anticipated collection of his stories about to be published by Library of America:

Lovecraft’s narrators routinely rave about the “hideous,” “monstrous” and “blasphemous” nature of their revelations. Wilson went on, again quite reasonably, to observe, “Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words — especially if you are going, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus.” That octopus crack is a particularly low blow, since the most celebrated of Lovecraft’s stories and novels partake of what has been dubbed the Cthulhu Mythos, an alternative mythology involving an enormous and malevolent being whose tentacled head resembles a cephalopod.

In classic form, a Lovecraft tale begins with a narrator explaining that ordinarily he’d never impart the terrifying secrets he is about to relate, but some urgent cause compels him. Initially, apart from the occasional allusion to “unmentionable” horrors, the voice is relatively calm, authoritative and rational. Often the story is presented as a semi-scientific or semi-official report, compiled from multiple partial accounts. The story’s hero encounters some mystery — a strangely blighted plot of farmland, a friend or relative’s research into bizarre and secretive religious cults, nasty goings-on among the residents of a small New England town, etc. — and in the process of investigating it has his entire conception of the universe overthrown.

What Lovecraft’s typical protagonist ultimately discovers, underneath the placid surface of conventional reality, is the existence of heretofore unknown “gods” and other less exalted but equally unpleasant beings. Important figures in the mythos include Cthulhu (“The Great Sleeper”), Yog-Sothoth (“The Lurker on the Threshold”), Shub-Niggurath (“The Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young”), Hastur (“The Unspeakable One”), the ever-popular Nyarlathotep (“The Crawling Chaos”) and the supreme entity, Azathoth, a “blind, idiot god,” who, we are told, resides at the center of the universe where he/it “gnaws shapeless and ravenous amidst the muffled, maddening beat of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes.”

Lovecraft intended this pantheon as a metaphor for mankind’s harsh encounter with the mindless, mechanical universe unveiled by modern science at the turn of the century. Extensively self-educated, he took a keen interest in science (this makes the scientific passages in his stories particularly convincing) and wrote about astronomy, chemistry and other fields for newspapers and journals. “All my tales,” he wrote, “are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large.

I’ll admit, Lovecraft isn’t the greatest prose stylist to come out of New England but he does have style, of a singular sort, and that is why he’s popular. Someone once said that what makes poorly written pulp stories and movies fun is the enthusiasm of their creators. MST3K proved this: even if you can see the wires on the flying saucer, you can still enjoy the story if the people involved in creating it have an unswerving commitment to the internal reality and genuinely convey their sense of glee at their work, whistling invisible octopus be damned. And that’s why fans of Lovecraft love his stories– they are illustrative of an imagination that, like the reoccurring evil fungi in his stories, is unrestrainable. They may not be the prettiest creations in the world but you’ll never forget them.

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