Monthly Archives: August 2016

Space Trucker Bruce: Possibly the Best SF Movie I’ve Seen All Year

Space Trucker Bruce, an indie movie filmed mostly inside the house of a guy who lives in Juneau, is currently available on Amazon Prime. It’s also on YouTube (courtesy of the filmmaker himself).

This 2014 movie cost all of $10,000 to make.

It is awesome. It has a few pacing problems and the comedy parts could be tightened, but it is awe-inspiring all the same.

Basically, it’s a hard sf story about a space trucker (Bruce, played by Karl Sears), who rescues a space newbie (Max, played by filmmaker Anton Doiron) whose ship ran into distress. They’re both on their way to Titan Station, with about a month to go. Neither of them are entirely on an even keel, thanks to various stresses. Still, they get along okay. So  it seems like boredom will be their only problem, but the universe has some surprises in store.

But it’s also a very strange comedy. (And pretty clean comedy, all things considered. I’m not saying you should let your eight-year-old watch it, but it’s a lot more PG than most PG flicks these days.) And when I say strange, I’m looking at you, Mr. Sour Cream.

There’s some pretty darned decent sets and special effects, mostly because the filmmakers knew their limitations and worked with them. There are also some neat worldbuilding bits and hard sf moments. There are some bits that go on a bit long, but stick with it. The good bits of the movie outshine any mediocre parts.

And did I mention hard sf? There were some bits in here that really work well, but never seem to make it to the big screen in Hollywood. The worldbuilding is interesting, because it rings pretty true to human nature.

The amazing part is how you do get sucked into this future world by the end of the movie.

Although I’m still a bit worried by Mr. Sour Cream.

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Realism with Angels in Fiction

People do not strive for realism with angels or demons in fiction. They just don’t. If you’re basically looking for knockabout comedy guys, or silly applications of folklore, or some kind of weird metaphor for the Cold War, they reach for angels and demons. The freaky thing is that they reach for them for romance novels, too. In that case, you really ought to be reaching for your Japanese “not really demons, but the closest thing we can use to translate it is demons” sort of demons.

1. Christian angels and demons can’t change their minds. They can’t become good guys. They can’t become bad guys. They can’t. They picked their path already. You have to be dealing with some seriously weird groups before you find any theologians who think otherwise.

Since they aren’t going to have a character growth arc, the way to get around this is for humans to have an arc of getting to know these beings, or beginning to understand what is really going on with them. For example, Jim Butcher’s wizard character, Harry Dresden, gradually gets to know a demon better, and it’s not a particularly happy thing for him. (Although remaining in ignorance until it was too late would have been worse.)

2. The only way angels can learn is experientially. Fiction writers could have a lot of fun with this, because there are always new things to be experienced. If an angel has been ordered to take on a human shape for an assignment, and suddenly needs to play nose whistle as part of his assignment, the angel will do it for the first time. Probably he will be suspiciously good the first time he does it, because angels are smarter than humans and have access to amazing knowledge as well as all their own previous experience. But it will still be his first time.

3. The good angels are constantly hooked into the mind of God via the beatific vision, same as we will be once we get to Heaven. Now, how much they get from the mind of God is apparently based on the sort of angels that God made them to be and what they need for their jobs, or choose to contemplate, or are able to receive. But mostly they just know stuff, so the idea of angels being startled by new stuff is kinda silly. But you could have angels having the need for a certain kind of info brought to their attention, at which time they would then have the info.

4. Demons can’t really learn either. They are awfully good at deducing things about us stupid humans, and they are awfully good at information gathering. And they can acquire experiential knowledge. But they are actually getting narrower and narrower in their thinking, even though a human might not notice that. Evil narrows them,
and their constant state of hate and resentment makes them like getting narrower and stupider.

5. Any demon dating someone would be planning to get that person dead and damned, so as to enjoy tormenting that person forever. Everything about the relationship would be total deception, because demons don’t actually possess real bodies. Also, even demons are so much smarter than humans that it would be ridiculous. It would be like a human dating a talking amoeba: not exactly a relationship of equals. So the only way you should have a demon dating woman is as the ultimate bad boyfriend. Whether he’s suave or openly abusive, a demon should hate one down to the last molecule.

Any angel dating someone would also not be a real relationship. You could picture an angel being assigned to date someone for an extremely short time, just in order to get that person out of harm’s way for some reason. But it would be a guardian thing, not a romance thing. (Of course, angels are often assigned to be matchmakers, a la the Book of Tobit. So presumably your heroine wouldn’t mind breaking up with an angel, if he also sets her up with her real guy.)

6. A guardian angel would presumably be fond of his charge, especially if you go by the theory that each guardian angel only guards one human being in all of eternity. (There are also some deductions that some people actually acquire more guardianship at different times of their lives, so you could probably write up a whole protective squad story if you wanted, or if you liked the old Touched by an Angel show.) But just like we’re happy to spend time with babies for totally unromantic reasons, a guardian angel would be engaged in something like parentlike protective behavior. If your parents were actually alien beings who were incalculably older and smarter than you.

7. Angels don’t have a sex. Neither do demons. They don’t have bodies; they don’t have gender except the grammatical kind. The Thomist view is that every individual angel and demon is his own species of spirit, no two alike.

8. Let’s not even get into eschatological ends of the world. It’s depressing. And no, a good angel is not going to be trying to fight God and all of the good angels in order to prevent the end of the world.

Yeah, yeah, I haven’t written anything lately. But it’s the middle of the night, I can’t sleep, I have troubles I can’t talk about, and so it’s a good thing to complain about.


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What’s the Big Deal about Crossing That Little River?

Seven Fascinating Facts about Crossing the River Jordan. Showing through old photos that the river is considerably deeper in some places, and that the flow and flooding used to be a lot bigger deal.

Via Paleojudaica.

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Canada, About That “Strong and Free” Thing…

Our Northern ally, Canada, has abandoned its only Arctic deepwater port. It also doesn’t have any armed forces up there.

The article points out that China doesn’t acknowledge Canada’s title to the Northwest Passage, and apparently intends to ship stuff through there without asking Canada’s leave. And Canada can’t stop them, because they no longer have a blue-water navy, or even much in the way of icebreakers and Coast Guard cutters. The Coast Guard in Churchill doesn’t even own a boat.

I guess the only question is whether they sell their port to a “Chinese company,” or just wait for Putin to invade instead.

Obviously, I’m not in favor of having the Northern door to the US stuck wide open, but I’m not sure what we can do about it. (Other than having a heavily armed “American company” buy the place, and that seems like overreaching.)

Sigh. Why do I feel like we’re playing a game of Risk, and the US is about to get clobbered?

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The 2016 Worldcon and Hugo Awards

Not much to say about it, other than that the Worldcon committee has dug themselves deeper. New depths of intolerance. New depths of bad conrunning. Obviously they don’t want anybody to attend.

1. The bright spot of the convention was the Preliminary Business Meeting, where oldschool fans and Worldcon administrators indignantly voted down the proposal that Worldcon committees should be able to add any and all of their own Hugo nominations to the ballot. Such an eventuality would not just be a corrupt use of power; it would also mean that every committee member would be continually pestered by crazy people wanting to be nominated. So it wasn’t just a matter of ethics; it was about concom survival instinct!

2. Mary Robinette Kowal, a longtime conventiongoer and allegedly professional editor/author, openly served Scotch at her book signing, in a hotel public area. This was against the convention rules, as well as being a violation of the hotel’s contract with the convention and the local liquor licensing laws. Despite endangering the convention and breaking both the contract and the law, Mary Robinette Kowal was only given a gentle explanation of her wrongdoing and suspended from the convention until midnight.

This is the sort of behavior that usually gets one tossed out on one’s ear, and uninvited from all other conventions who hear about it. No con committee wants to pay penalties to the hotel or get fined by the state/city/county. But she says she was punished the same as anybody else, even though they didn’t even take her badge away temporarily and have her pick it up at Ops the next day or after midnight. Yeah. So very punished.

It is always true that fans should check local laws before assuming that their customs from home will be okay. Usually one reminds first-time congoers of this fact.

3. Dave Truesdale, a longtime conventiongoer and panelist, as well as a professional editor, moderated a panel on short fiction. He was thrown out of the convention on his ear without explanation. Later he was told that it had been because his words during the panel “made people uncomfortable.” You can listen to the audio of the panel here. Not exactly controversial fare or a particularly exciting panel. Opening statements are pretty darned common from both moderators and panelists, and I’ve heard a lot longer ones. So I’m not exactly sure where these horribly shocked people attend cons.

4. The Hugo Awards continued their new tradition of hideous behavior by No-Awarding any category where it looked like a non-SJW might win. Previously to the last couple years, No Award was only given in categories where there was really no candidate that was worth any support, or where nobody bothered to vote. The awards ceremony also included more ritual shaming of unpersons, including the new tradition of harassment “skits.”

5. Fortunately, Dragoncon and Comicon are now the real world science fiction conventions, and Dragoncon’s new Dragon Awards look like they will really reflect the tastes of all of fandom. So it doesn’t really matter, except as a sort of morbid observation of the death throes of a dying con. But it is a shame.

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Vox Day’s No Good Very Bad Proposal

I hate to mention this, because of course there are great problems afoot in the world, and the alt-right people like Vox Day are in many cases fighting all sorts of bad stuff. I may disagree deeply with the way they go about it (and I do), but at least they recognize the problems that need fixing.

Unfortunately, Vox Day’s blog recently advocated that immigrants to the United States and their descendants should not be allowed to vote or hold office, unto the fourth generation. (The fifth generation would be okay.)

This is a stupid thing to say. Indeed, it is even a dumb thing to say, because it eliminates the ability to say that most people in America are Americans. For example, any guy who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or was stationed outside the US, and who brought home a local bride, would have disenfranchised his descendants for the next 120 years or so (if you take the traditional 30 years = 1 generation). Or maybe only 70-80 years, if you believe in child brides.

(Wow, what a great way to give American men an incentive to refuse to serve overseas or join any military force! Disenfranchising soldiers and their kids managed to kill ancient Rome, so let’s copy them! Maybe we should automatically draft all soldiers’ sons for twenty years of service, too!)

More seriously, none of the Founding Fathers (as far as memory and some quick research go) could have held office or voted by these rules. And indeed, I don’t think many then-living Americans in the Thirteen Colonies could have managed it, except for full-blooded members of the various Indian tribes. Possibly it could have been done in Quebec or Spanish Florida; but the original settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, didn’t have many descendants that didn’t marry outside the community, and I don’t know that people would have wanted to be ruled by those natives of Plymouth, Massachusetts who only married their own.

(I guess we could still have Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, who were descended from John Alden, except that John Adams was only a fourth-generation descendant of the immigrant Thomas Boylston, on his mom’s side. And John Adams’ wife Abigail was only a second-generation American, which makes John Quincy Adams only a third-generation American. Bad, bad immigrant presidents!)

But let’s say there would have been an oligarchic core of maybe 1000-2000 white Colonists, and maybe 10,000-20,000 Native Americans living inside the Colonies. Of course non-landowners like most Indians would have been unable to vote, and in most colonies women and children would have been straight out. So your oligarchic core of fourth-generation natives becomes awfully small.

But fine. Let’s take it the way Vox Day was taking it, with his fine quote from Alexander Hamilton (the St. Kitts and Nevis-born child of a mother who was half-English, half-French and a father who was an immigrant Scotsman; after they died, he then took the further step of immigrating to New York City). Let’s pretend that the only real Americans were those Colonial men who had been calling themselves Englishmen until after the Stamp Act. Then you still have to get rid of all those American colonists and patriots who on the side called themselves Irish, Scots, Germans, French (bye-bye, Paul Revere), Dutch (bye-bye, Schuylers of New York), Portuguese, Poles, and so forth. Because early America was a country of ports, and a country of immigrants.

(And Alexander Hamilton married a Schuyler! Horrors! Good thing their son didn’t live long enough to be unfit on both sides to vote or hold office!)

As for those presidents having Irish or Scots-Irish ancestry… well, that’s pretty much everyone after the War of 1812 was settled.

But yup, it would be an interesting project to see how few American politicians would be left in our history, if only fifth-generation Americans were permitted to hold office. I don’t think even the Cabots and the Lodges would make it, though I could be wrong.

As it happens, if you read the whole article quoted by Vox Day (The Examination, Number VIII: January 12, 1802), Hamilton was only warning against having huge numbers of immigrants instantly dropped into the US without any thought. He was totally okay with himself coming to America, and he didn’t feel that his French Huguenot ancestry was too weird to be incorporated into the US. I’m sure he felt the same way about his wife being descended from Dutch patroons. His point was against “the too unqualified admission of foreigners,” not against all immigration or all foreign blood.

In point of fact, Alexander Hamilton argues for a relaxation of the residency requirements for naturalization, to reduce them from a period of “fourteen years,” which is “the very long residence which is now a prerequisite to naturalization, and which of itself, goes far towards a denial of that privilege” to only “five years.” He remarks that

“there is a wide difference between closing the door altogether and throwing it entirely open; between a postponement of fourteen years and an immediate admission to all the rights of citizenship. Some reasonable term ought to be allowed to enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire American attachments; to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government; and to admit of at least a probability of their feeling a real interest in our affairs.”

He then proposes that even during the reduced five-year residency period, some of the privileges of citizenship should be extended to those who are working toward naturalization:

“those [rights] peculiar to the conducting of business and the acquisition of property, might with propriety be at once conferred, upon receiving proof, by certain prescribed solemnities, of their intention to become citizens; postponing all political privileges to the ultimate term.”

In fact, the whole article was written only against an instant naturalization and citizenship that was being proposed by the ultra-liberal Mr. Jefferson:

“To admit foreigners indiscriminately to the rights of citizens, the moment they put foot in our country, as recommended in the “Message,”* would be nothing less, than to admit the Grecian Horse into the Citadel of our Liberty and Sovereignty.”

* President Jefferson’s first annual message to Congress, December 8, 1801. A sort of early State of the Union speech.

So presumably this is a humorous proposal on Vox Day’s part, because I’m sure he would never misrepresent Mr. Hamilton’s views on a subject so nearly touching his own political rights and those of his Schuyler relations, or propose to disenfranchise pretty much everybody.

(Including me, as I am only fourth generation from immigration, although my last immigrant ancestors immigrated from their various countries at the end of the 1800’s. We’re a long-lived family who marry late. But apparently service by the family in all the American wars since the Revolutionary War, and coming over on the Mayflower, doesn’t make most of us worthy to be American citizens! What a joke!)

As for his comments about the Irish and the Jews ruining America, that really goes too far to be a joke. The last time anybody said something like that to somebody in my family was when the Klan had their biggest rally ever, in Greenville, Ohio. That was when my O’Brien relation who was a florist put on the Civil War O’Brien’s brass knuckles, and kept them off his property with his own two fists. (And of course I have Jewish family too, although they mostly seem to have become Huguenots before they came here. I have a little bit of everything in me, including Native Americans and Pilgrims, Protestants and Catholics, and I have relatives who have even more exotic heritages. I’m proud of all of them, and they’ve all been good citizens who have done their civic duty. And since the Civil War O’Brien, we’ve mostly been Republicans. Perhaps stereotypes don’t cover everyone, huh?)

It would make a great deal more sense to argue that big city political machines have ruined America. The specific ethnic origin of the people feeding the machines doesn’t really matter, which is one of the reasons they tend to persist. Anybody native to the country will fit, and anybody new to the country will do.

But since the proposal is so absurd in so many different ways, I have to conclude that the whole thing is some peculiar absurdism. It’s not a joke in good taste, but maybe I’m missing the bits that make it funny.

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Peter J. Floriani: “Laboratory of the Gospels: The Rosary”

Peter J. Floriani, computer science and Catholic adventure/sf novelist extraordinaire, has written several interesting nonfiction books too. His newest one is about the Rosary as… something really geeky….

Laboratory of the Gospels: The Rosary.

The Rosary is a thoroughly Christ-centered prayer, a most intellectual tool for deep exploration of the Gospels, a thoroughly rational action which demands your intellectual power as well as your creative skills. This is what one expects from such a simple tool, designed with the genius of both engineering and art, yet endowed with all the power of theology, history, and philosophy.

If you want to know more about Christ, you need to study His life constantly, and the Rosary is a most suitable way of accomplishing that purpose. Even if you had the mental power to carry all four Gospels verbatim in your memory, you should still use the Rosary, for the Gospels are just the written description we have available, and the Life of Christ is far larger than they are. One of the most critical parts of every lab report and every journal article is titled “Discussion of Results” – and that is part of what the Rosary entails.

Floriani’s novels and books are only available in dead tree format. (Alas!) But they are worth any added trouble or expense. His writing is eccentric in a pleasant way, but he is an eminently sane and sensible thinker and believer. So I bought the book just based on the description, and am waiting for it to arrive so that I can chew on it.

But there is a free sample in the Look Inside feature on Amazon. His opening quotes link The Amateur Astronomer’s Handbook (“An unrecorded observation is an observation wasted”) with the Gospel of St. Luke (“Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart”). To record, to remember, and to ponder are intimately bound together.

The book also apparently provides a scheme for internalizing the new twenty Mysteries format, as opposed to the older fifteen Mysteries. (There had historically been zillions of different schemes of Mysteries before the fifteen Mysteries common today were developed, so there’s no single original one.) I’m the kind of person who likes having a scheme, so I’ll be interested to see his idea worked out. The free sample is quite extensive, though, and lets you see all sorts of interesting discussion. So check it out. (Did you know that “Gethsemane” means “olive-oil press”? Poor Jesus, that’s exactly what His agony was like….)

Seriously, though, this is impressive. It is hard to say anything new or surprising about the Rosary without straying into BS, but Floriani has managed it.

UPDATE: Got it. It’s another gorgeous and geeky Floriani book, and I’m learning a lot.


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