Sunday, April 29, 2012

Z is for Zombies from A to Z

I'm sad to say that this is the end of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Though undoubtedly half the bloggers still participating will choose this exact same topic, I've decided to post on one of today's most popular subjects – zombies. But since this is the final post, and I have a few too many zombie-related favorites, I've decided to do something special.  Something . . . alphabetic.   So for the last and final time, z is for:

Zombies from A to Z

is for Apocalypse:
The Zombie Apocalypse. We all know it's coming. It's my hope that by studying all the following movies, books, TV shows, games and comic books, I'll be prepared. 

B is for Max Brooks:
Max Brooks is the author of two of my favorite zombie books - The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Stay tuned, because both are headed for the big screen.

C is for the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
On May 16, 2011, the Center for Disease Control blog issued a warning about zombie apocalypses, advocating preparedness. In reality, it was a clever way to promote readiness for any potential disasters including the upcoming hurricane season), but the post became an instant hit zombie fans nation-wide. CDC representative Dave Daigle reportedly announced, "If you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, you'll be prepared for any hazard." Congrats to the CDC for having their priorities straight. If you're worried that you aren't prepared, check out the the site here

D is for Dawn of the Dead:
Dawn of the Dead is the 1978 George A. Romero film featuring several survivors of a zombie pandemic who've barricaded themselves in an abandoned shopping mall. There was a 2004 Zack Snyder remake, also entitled Dawn of the Dead. It does not make my favorites list. 

E is for Eat Me!:
Eat Me! is an independent film released in 2009 about a band who unwittingly survives the world's transformation into a zombie apocalypse, and then must battle their way out of the city. I think the tag line really says it all: "Sometimes you get the munchies. Sometimes they get you."

F is for Frankenstein:
I've been told, repeatedly, that Frankenstein doesn't count as a zombie novel. But hey, it's about a reanimated corpse (or, uh, corpses), so I say it counts. Plus, I wanted to mention it for my "F" post and didn't get a chance. We'll just call this one zombie-adjacent. 

G is for Glee: 
Though I've stopped watching Glee (it got a bit to dramatic for my taste), I occasionally tune in to interesting-looking episodes. And the zombie episode following the 2011 Super Bowl was definitely interesting. Great costumes. Great music selection. If you haven't checked out their mash-up of "Thriller" and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Heads Will Role", I'd recommend it.

H is for Horde:
Geese come in gaggles, birds come in flocks, and zombies . . . come in hordes. And if you see one coming at you, RUN. 

I is for Inferi:
Harry Potter fans, this one's for you. Basically, the Inferi are corpses that have been re-animated by a dark witch or wizard to do their bidding. They are the zombie-esque creatures guarding Voldemort's locket horcrux in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The only defense against them is fire and/or light. 

J is for Milla Jovovich: 
Milla Jovovich famously portrays Alice, the zombie-hunting hero of the Resident Evil franchise. Though Alice isn't a member of the game series, she more than makes up for it in each of the four (soon to be five) films. 

K is for Stephen King:
One of my favorite titans of terror, Stephen King's "Home Delivery" was one the short stories featured in the 1989 anthology, Book of the Dead (said to be the very first zombie-related anothology). As usual, King delivers a tale dark and gory. 

L is for H. P. Lovecraft:
H. P. Lovecraft is another of my favorite horrors authors, and a master of the undead. His 1921 novelette, "Herbert West - Reanimator" is said to have defined zombies in popular culture. Inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (yet another reason her masterpiece made this list), Herbert West is a mad scientist who practices at reanimating dead bodies, unfortunately, into uncontrollable, violent beings

M is for Marvel Zombies: 
Marvel Zombies is a five-issue series of comic books published from 2005 to 2006. It features several famous Marvel superheroes, including Iron Man, The Fantastic Four and Captain America, who've all been turned into zombies. It's fantastic. Check out the cover:

N is for Night of the Living Dead: 
Night of the Living Dead is the 1968 film directed by George A. Romero. It is the mac daddy of zombie movies. The progenitor of it's kind, the founding father of the zombie horror film genre. It redefined the term "zombie" to its present day meaning, aka. reanimated, cannibalistic corpse. It lead to countless sequels and remakes, but none can ever touch this cult classic. 

O is for On Stranger Tides: 
The fourth installment in the Pirates if the Caribbean franchise, On Stranger Tides boasts a number of seafaring zombies, all brought to life by the infamous and terrifying Blackbeard. 

P is for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:
I'll admit it, I bought this book for the title alone. It combines two of my favorite things  Jane Austen and zombies. Who would have thought the Bennett sisters would make such a good zombie-killing team? I'm looking forward to the future film adaptation.

Q is for Quarantine:
Quarantine is the 2008 zombie film about a reporter and camera man trapped in a building that's been quarantined by the CDC. Not the best movie I've ever seen, but I did like the ending. 

R is for Resident Evil and the Redfields:
I already mentioned the Resident Evil film franchise under "J", but the game is, if possible, even better. And brother and sister team, Claire and Chris Redfield, are my favorite characters. 

S is for Shaun of the Dead:
Shaun of the Dead is one of the few light-hearted zombie films, as well as one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. You just gotta love Simon Pegg. 

T is for Thriller: 
Finally, we get to "T" and my personal favorite of this list. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video is one of the most recognizable and remembered music videos of all time. It's not only a terrific song, but comes with a great dance as well. Check it out: 

U is for the Umbrella Corporation:
The Umbrella Corporation is an international pharmaceutical company from Resident Evil, responsible for the development of the T-virus, a powerful drug responsible for the creation of a zombie epidemic. 

V is for Virus: 
There are many theories surrounding the creation of zombies. Magical interference, like the Inferi in Harry Potter, is one. Viruses are another. Like the T-Virus. Or the "Rage" virus from 28 Days Later. With modern biological experimentation, I vote virus. 

W is for The Walking Dead:
The Walking Dead is a comic book series created by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. It follows Rick Grimes and several other survivors of a zombie apocalypse as they make their way through a grim world populated by flesh-hungry zombies, and even more dangerous human beings. The comic books spawned an AMC television series of the same name. It's great, but seriously dark. 

X is for Xombies: 
Written by Walter Greatshell, the Xombies series centers around a world where the Agent X virus has turned most of the world into mindless zombies. I haven't read any of Greatshell's novels yet, but they're next up on my to-read list. 

Y is for Yikes! Zombies! Hide!:
I'd never heard of this game before I frantically began researching for something to put under the letter "Y". But I watched a few YouTube videos and it looks hilarious. From what I can tell, the basic premise involves digging in the ground to hide from zombies. Somehow . . . these zombies just don't seem so terrifying. Here, see what you think:

Z is for Zombieland:
Zombieland is possibly my favorite zombie film. It's comedic, a nerd who saves the day, and it has a zombie clown, which is doubly terrifying. Not to mention, the "rules". Forget the CDC's list.  These are the rules to live by if you want to survive a zombie apocalypse. Though it's not a complete list, here's what we've got:

1. Cardio
2. Double Tap
3. Beware of Bathrooms
4. Seatbelts 
6. Cast Iron Skillet
7. Travel Light
8. Get a kick-ass partner
12. Bounty Paper towles
15. Bowling ball
17. Don't be a hero
18. Limber up
21. Avoid strip clubs
22. When in doubt, know your way out
29. The buddy system
31. Check the back seat
32. Enjoy the little things
33. Swiss army knife
34. Clean socks
48. Hygiene 
49. Always have backup 

Well, that's all. I hope you enjoyed the A-Z of zombies. Thank you so much for all your interest and comments. This has been a great challenge and I can't wait to do it all over again next year. Happy A through Z blogging!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y if for YA and Sci-Fi

Science fiction was always a very prevalent genre in my life from a young age. My parents gave me a very early appreciate for sci-fi films (I watched The Terminator for the first time when I was eight years old), and A Wrinkle in Time was one of the first chapter books I remember reading with my mother before bedtime. Furthermore, several novels and short stories from the genre were allocated as school reading. Here’s a quick breakdown of everything assigned to me from from the ages of 11 to 16:

6th Grade
The Giver by Lois Lowry, “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
7th Grade
Anthem by Ayn Rand, “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
8th Grade
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and Animal Farm by George Orwell
9th Grade
1984 by George Orwell, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
10th Grade
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

It’s funny now, when I glance down the list I realize how many of these books are still my favorites  to this day – as evidence by the fact that I already wrote about many of them for this blog challenge. But I must admit, I didn’t like every single one of them at first. For example, I absolutely hated Fahrenheit 451 in the eighth grade. It wasn’t until I re-read it my junior year of high school that I finally appreciated it.

It surprises me sometimes that many of these are considered appropriate “Young Adult” reading. There are some really heavy themes contained in these works. Xenophobia, the effect of totalitarianism, the psychological consequences of propaganda, dehumanization and alienation via cloning technology, censorship and the destruction of knowledge in exchange for trivia, the trading of civil liberties for government protection – just no name a few.

Sometimes I wonder if children are really capable of comprehending and synthesizing these advanced thematics. I certainly wasn’t at times. But on the other hand, I firmly believe that we shouldn’t underestimate our youth. I appreciate authors who don’t baby their young audiences and trust them with profound concepts. It's something I'll strive to do in my own YA and Middle Grade writing. 
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

X is for X-Men and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters

Well, this might not be the most original topic for “X”, but I simply couldn’t let this blogfest pass me by without talking about the X-Men at least once. And since I’m running out of steam a bit in this challenge, I decided to abandon my original idea for this post (in which I planned to give a long, drawn out – and probably pompous – speech on metaphorical mutant racism and its real life counterparts). Instead I thought I’d talk about something a little more personal.

To begin, the X-Men comics are my favorite comic book series, and have been since I first found my way to the superhero genre. I was immediately drawn to the concept of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, where Professor X taught teenage mutants to harness their powers and work together as a team. I always found the idea of young kids fighting evil exceptionally interesting, and more importantly, I love the idea of those same kids going through training, studying superherodom the way normal kids study to become an engineer or lawyer.

This concept stayed with me over the years, until the fall of 2011 when it – along with a few other books and movies – sparked the idea for my current novel. Unsurprisingly, the storyline involves three young high school students who are recruited into an elite, superhero team and taken through several months of intense training. While it doesn’t resemble X-Men too closely, my story certainly draws on Stan Lee’s for inspiration.

And for those of you who, like me, are X-Men enthusiasts, I wanted to mention a TV show called Alphas that friend Steven introduced it to me last year. Alphas is a SyFy channel series created by Zak Penn – better known as the writer X-Men 2, X-Men: The Last Stand, Elketra, The Incredible Hulk, and The Avengers (which he co-wrote with Joss Whedon). Here’s a quick synopsis:
The series follows five people with super abilities, known as "Alphas", led by noted neurologist and psychologist Dr. Lee Rosen as they investigate criminal cases involving other suspected Alphas. Rosen and his team of Alphas operate under the auspices of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the criminal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. While investigating these crimes, the team quickly discovers that a group known as "Red Flag", which was thought defeated and eliminated long ago, is using other Alphas to commit crimes.
If you haven’t seen it already, I’d highly recommend watching it. Season 2 begins this summer!
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

W is for Wells, Welles and The War of the Worlds

So for today’s “W” post I want to talk about one of the most interesting literature-related stories I’ve ever heard . . .

In 1898, H. G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, one of the first novels ever to depict a battle between humans and an alien race – sometimes known as “invasion literature”. He uses the novel as a platform to discuss many of his political opinions on subjects including imperialism, unquestioning faith in military technology, evolutionary theory and the continuation of the human species. Here’s a brief synopsis:
It begins with a series of seemingly mundane reports about odd atmospheric disturbances taking place on Mars to the arrival of Martians just outside of London. At first the Martians seem laughable, hardly able to move in Earth's comparatively heavy gravity even enough to raise themselves out of the pit created when their spaceship landed. But soon the Martians reveal their true nature as death machines 100-feet tall rise up from the pit and begin laying waste to the surrounding land. Wells quickly moves the story from the countryside to the evacuation of London itself and the loss of all hope as England's military suffers defeat after defeat. With horror his narrator describes how the Martians suck the blood from living humans for sustenance, and how it's clear that man is not being conquered so much a corralled.
Needless to say, it’s a fascinating story, and the movie adaptations (particular that of Tom Cruise) didn’t do the book justice. However, one adaptation managed to capture the terror of an alien attack perfectly . . .

On October 30, 1938, actor/director Orson Welles did a radio broadcast for the Mercury Theater on the Air over the Columbia Broadcasting System, featuring Wells’ The War of the Worlds. It was presented to the audience as a news bulletin imitation. And was apparently very realistic.

The series was a “sustaining show”, meaning that there were almost no commercial interruptions during the broadcast. As people tuned in at various points throughout the show, missing the key introduction at the beginning of the program, many were convinced that the faux new reports were actually real, and widespread hysteria quickly ensued. Many fled their homes, terrified that the Martians were on their way. Panicked listeners began calling the studios in terror, and when they were assured that everything was fine, began to outrage at an intended “cover-up”.

CBS came under heavy fire after the incident. Though they argued that there were several announcements informing listeners that it was merely a performance, they still received a good deal of public censure.

Two years later, Orson Welles interviewed H. G. Wells about the event and ensuing panic. Wells admitted that he’d been shocked by the public reaction. But I’m not. I think it demonstrates a genuine fear of alien invasions – perhaps developed in response to our ever expanding technological and scientific progress. Each step bringing us further out into the reaches of space, and conceivably bringing whatever’s out there closer and closer to Earth. 

It just goes to show how fiction – or in this case, science fiction – can shake up our lives and teach us something about ourselves. Never underestimate the power of a good performance.

And when it comes to alien invasions, I always keep in mind the immortal words of Mad-Eye Moody, “Constant vigilance.”
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

V is for Vonnegut and V for Vendetta: Visions of Dystopia

A concept that has proved very popularity within science fiction is that of the dystopian world. They're anti-utopias, dark visions of society. And the more I read about them, the more I think about their opposite. Utopia. How would they function? What would they resemble? How people would act? But I’ve recently come to a very important and revolutionary conclusion. Utopias do not – and more importantly cannot – exist.

A utopia is defined as a visionary system or state of political and/or social perfection. On the surface, it sounds ideal; who wouldn’t want to live in a perfect world? Except humanity isn’t perfect. We are an imperfect race. It isn’t within our capacity to live together in harmony. The differences that define us, that make us who were are, are at the root of our every conflict with one another. Religion, politics, race, ideology – we’re all different in some way. And these differences make us unique individuals. But our differences also tear us apart. It not pretty, but it’s human nature.

In order to create the perfect conditions necessary for a utopian world, one without conflict or strife, we’d need to eradicate difference. This is the point where science fiction comes in, giving us an idea of what that would look like – only when difference is ultimately stamped out, the world becomes decidedly dystopian.

To start off with, in utopian societies everyone would ideally be equal to one another. But how do we accomplish equality when some people will always be smarter, or more athletic, or artistic, or beautiful? In Kurt Vonnegut’s famous short story “Harrison Bergeron”, citizens above average in any way are given handicaps – doled out and enforced by the Handicapper General – as an equalizer. People with exceptional intelligence wear radios that broadcast sharp noises to break up their thoughts, citizens with outstanding good looks wear masks, those that are strong must carry heavily weighted bags, etc. The result is a society of “equal” citizens, or so the government says. But what’s equal about maiming and punishing people for their innate extraordinary qualities? And really, at the heart of it, is there any way to ensure equality without causing harm? Equal opportunity, yes, but equality of intelligence or strength? Absolutely not.

Utopias are just illusions. They’re dreams that can never be realized. Dystopias, though. They’re very possible. Even probable in a way.

Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s comic book series V for Vendetta shows a more straightforward dystopian vision, reaching its objective in a fashion congruent with Vonnegut’s vision. Following a nuclear war that ends in social and political catastrophe, a fascist state has taken over, promising to restore stability and peace. But it’s not really a shelter they offer . . . it’s a cage. Because in order to maintain their control, to maintain tranquility throughout Britain, the hegemonic government “purifies” the country of anyone different. Anyone whose differences might cause them to rebel against the party – including black people, Jews, lesbians, and potential political activists. It’s forced samenesss to ensure passivity and acceptance.

Again society is faced with the total annihilation of difference in order to maintain a peaceful society. Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Lowry’s The Giver . . . these stories all tell us one thing. Utopias do not exist. The only recognizable vision is a dystopian one. Beware sameness disguised as equality. Beware the utopia.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

U is for Unbreakable

Okay, so here’s the thing. I like comic books. But more importantly, I’m fascinated by the relationship between superheroes and their nemeses. It’s basically the natural progression of all literature, which is itself no stranger heroes and villains. Beowulf and Grendel. Van Helsing and Count Dracula. Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Like comic books, these classical stories highlight the correlation between good and evil.

But what if there was no evil? Would we have need for heroes, if they had no one to vanquish?

This question lies at the heart of one of M. Night Shyamalan’s lesser known films, Unbreakable. When David Dunn miraculously walks away the lone survivor of a train crash, Elijah Price – a comic book enthusiast with a rare brittle bone disease – seeks him out, claiming that superheroes are real . . . and David’s one of them. With Elijah as a mentor, David learns to use his incredible strength and previously undeveloped psychic abilities to stop criminals.

Spoilers: However, at the end of the movie Elijah reveals that he was the mastermind behind several acts of terror, including David’s train crash. You see, Elijah believed that where he was fragile, his exact opposite existed somewhere. And so he caused accident after accident, sacrificing hundreds in order to find one person who was unbreakable. Which he did; and in finding David, he discovered a hero.

I think it’s clear that Elijah didn’t start out evil. But he did unspeakable acts of evil in his quest to find – or create – a real life superhero, becoming his villainous counterpart in the process. He tells David, “now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I’m not a mistake. It all makes sense. In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch villain is going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero.” This quote – this belief, demonstrates just how closely linked heroes and villains really are. One defines the other. It wasn’t just Elijah that needed David in order to understand his place in the world. David needed Elijah as well. Heroes and villains are dependent upon one another for their purpose in life, their very existence.

DreamWork’s 2010 animated feature, Megamind, shares a similar theme. At a loss after the death or his archenemy Metro Man, supervillain Megamind decides to create a hero to battle against. It’s clear that both he and Elijah, aka. Mr, Glass, believe that their lives have no meaning without an adversary. And it makes me wonder, would we have need of superheroes without villains? Does good have context without evil?
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for The Terminator and Time Travel

Time travel is one of the most fascinating and widely explored themes in science fiction. But more to the point, it’s one of the most theorized subjects in the scientific field. For years the likelihood, rules, and shortcomings of time travel have instigated numerous debates, and while many agree that trekking forward seems reasonable, theories on backward time travel are mere conjecture at best. And yet speculation – and interest – continues to grow at a substantial rate.

There are more theories than can possibly be discussed in one short blog, so I’m going to focus on one I find particularly interesting: the Grandfather Paradox.

The Grandfather Paradox (which Rene Barjavel first described in his 1943 novel, Le Voyageur Imprudent), is based on one of the most debated hypothetical situations of backward time travel – what would happen if a traveler went back in time and attempted to kill their grandfather, preventing the traveler’s parent from ever being born, and by extension, the time traveler themselves? Some argue that the very possibility of this occurring means that going backward simply isn’t possible. Others state that it is possible to go back, but the past cannot be changed (unless, of course, there are “alternate/parallel universes”, but that’s a subject for another day). It is this second theory that science fiction writers often put to good use . . . like James Cameron's The Terminator.

Let me begin my saying that The Terminator is my all time favorite movie. Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been somewhat liberal with the term “favorite” over the course of this A-Z Challenge – possibly because I have many, many favorite books and movies. However, The Terminator ranks at the very top of the list. It has absolutely no equal.

But back to my original point. For those of you who’ve never seen it – first off, go watch it. Immediately. Secondly, the premise of the film revolves around an impending future where terminators (aka. machines) have become self aware and declared war on mankind. Their totally annihilation of the human race is prevented by one man, John Connor, who leads the resistance against them. The machines decide to send a terminator back in time to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, and prevent his from ever being conceived. In response, John sends back his own soldier – Kyle Reese – to protect her.

Major spoilers ahead: Now, if the terminator had managed to kill Sarah, it would fly directly in the face of the Grandfather Paradox. Instead, she survives and conceives her son with Kyle, following in the footsteps that the future already set in motion (as Barjavel stipulated). Furthermore, this acts as a Predestination Paradox – where a time traveler becomes caught in a loop that predestines them to travel back in time in order to fulfill their role in history (like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry saves himself from the Dementors with the use of the time-turner). 

Continued spoilers: For the record, it's the addition of the photograph that makes this my favorite film. I find it incredibly lovely – and tragic  that Kyle stares at the picture of Sarah, wondering why she looks so sad, only for the viewer to later realize that it's capturing her grief at his death. It's such an elegant catalyst for the movie's plot. And though I think Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the best action films ever made (and perhaps my second favorite sci-fi movie), I love its predecessor more for its devotion to these small, but rich, details, and perfect demonstration of time-travel paradoxes. 
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Sleep, Stealth and Body Snatchers

What if you woke up one morning and your spouse, or roommate, or loved one was gone, and in their place was someone – or something – else? And what if slowly everyone around you becomes replaced as well? And worst of all, what if no one believed you?

This is the challenge faced in Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers and its most famous adaptation, the 1956 film (and perhaps even better 1978 remake), Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The story begins with Dr. Miles Bennell, who is somewhat confused and suspicious when several of his patients, his former girlfriend Becky, complain that their loved ones are imposters. However, he starts to believe that they’re not merely paranoid when his friend Jack discovers a body which, though not yet fully formed, bears a striking resemblance to Jack himself. His fears that the townspeople have been replaced in their sleep with copies are confirmed when duplicates of Jack, Becky and Bennell emerge from pods. Unfortunately, by the time they return with the police, the bodies have vanished and their desperate pleas as chalked up to just another case of hysteria. By the time anyone believes them, it may already be too late. It’s rather a genius plan on the pod-people’s part, I regret to say.

If you stumbled across something like this, would you be able to sleep at night? I certainly wouldn’t – which as it turns out, isn’t such a bad thing. Insomnia . . . aka. sole defense against alien replacement.

I think the creepiest part of the story is the pod-people’s utter lack of emotion. They remain completely passionless, seeming to only concern themselves with getting to every remaining human holdout. This lack of emotion – of love or anger or hatred – might make for a more peaceful planet, but as Yorish says in The Invasion (yet another Body Snatchers remake), “To imagine a world where every crisis did not result in new atrocities, where every newspaper is not full of war and violence. Well, this is to imagine a world where human beings cease to be human.” And these pod people are definitely not human. It makes me think violence might, in this one instance, be the answer.

I have to say that, as much as I love Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy in the 1978 film, perhaps my favorite adaptation of the novel (which is actually more of a hybrid between Body Snatchers and Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters) is the 1998 sc-fi/horror flick, The Faculty. It’s completely ridiculous and unreservedly campy, but I just love it. For those of you who’ve never seen it, let me sum it up in one quick sentence: Pod-people meet high school social hierarchy.

And yet, as absurd as the movie is, it doesn’t lose sight of Finney and Heinlein’s original themes: as destructive as they may be, humanity is lost without emotions. And more importantly, extraterrestrials may be stealthier than we ever imagined. It’s not all war of the worlds or Independence Day invasions. Sometimes they sneak in through the unsuspected back door, infiltrating the earth without causing any immediate alarm.

So whether it’s being taken over in your sleep or an ominous trip to the principal’s office, beware the pod-people. And from the body snatchers, may I say . . .

Sweet Dreams.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Ripley and Roswell: Close Encounters of the Alien Kind

I believe I’ve already mentioned what a HUGE fan I am of the Alien franchise in past posts. Ellen Ripley is, without a doubt, one of my heroes. But as much as I want to talk about what an action icon she is, this post (unlike this one) is devoted to her foe . . . the face-hugging, chest-bursting Xenomorphs. Thanks to their creators – Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett – these are some of the scariest creatures in the film industry.

The aliens start out looking innocent and non-threatening; no one would suspect while gazing upon them in their un-hatched eggs that they’re natural born killers. But then the shell comes off and the little hell beasts come out to play. The image of one leaping out and attaching itself to a crew-members face haunted my eight-year-old nightmares for months (thank you so much for that one dad).

And yet, this terrifying scene is a picnic compared to what comes next. (Prepare yourself.) The alien implants an embryo into its victim’s stomach before falling off and dying, and then, just when you think all is safe, the now-matured embryo violently bursts through its host’s chest in one of the most iconic scenes of all time (I'll leave out the corresponding image for this one). It’s so shocking and disgusting that it’s incredible. You just don’t expect it to happen. And when it does, you simply have to scream and cheer at the same time. With their speed, strength and acid blood (which, unfortunately, they spit at their targets), these Xenomorphs are the crown jewel of deadly species and top of the extraterrestrial food chain.

But not all aliens are created equal (or equally petrifying). Some look remarkably . . . human. Like those from the 1999 TV series Roswell. They are able to blend in among the humans of earth, hiding in plain sight. Of course, Max, Michael and Isabel are only half alien. In fact, they’re hybrids. They maintain the gifts and abilities of their alien ancestors, such as the power to heal or mind-control, which looking like normal teenage kids.

Or nine-year-old Allie Keys from the TV miniseries Taken (played by Dakota Fanning). She too is a human/alien hybrid, and a product of decades of alien experimentation with both species DNA. This series, for those of you who’ve never heard of it, was a Sci-Fi channel sleeper-hit (produced by Steven Spielberg), and some of the best television I’ve ever come across.

There are of course many other alien designs, from the adorable E.T., to the Prawns of District 9 and tentacle-baring villains of Independence Day. But none of them will ever compare with the the masterful Alien franchise. 

This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quantum Leap

I was only recently introduced to the 1989 hit TV series Quantum Leap. In fact, I’d never seen an episode until about a month ago when I was struggling to come up with a topic for the letter “Q”. When my mom mentioned that the show was one of my aunt’s favorites, I immediately looked it up on Netflix Instant. It wound up being a lot of fun.

The show follows Dr. Sam Beckett, a physicist from the future who becomes lost in the past after a time travel experiment goes awry. He “leaps” from person to person, temporarily taking their place as he rights old wrongs with the help of his friend Al.

But how does this work? Sam theorized that life is like a piece of rope, with one end representing a person’s birth, and the other their death. If you tie the two ends together, they form a loop – a time loop. By balling the loop up in the palm of your hand, different “periods” of your life (aka. sections of the string) start to intersect, allowing you to leap across time almost instantly. And that’s what Sam does, with the use of his Quantum Accelerator. Through this machine he’s able to jump to any time period within his own lifespan.

What struck me most about this explanation of “quantum leaping” was how much it reminded me of the Tesseract from one of my favorite books of all time – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

If you think about it, this is pretty advanced stuff for such a young audience. And while I've never been much of a physics buff, it's pretty interesting to partake in some of the science behind Science Fiction. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that Quantum Leap was voted a cult favorite. 

Though there are a few plot holes in the series – namely the disregard of basic time travel theories like “the grandfather paradox” (which I’ll be discussing in more depth under “T”) – it’s definitely entertaining. Check it out!

***Special thanks to Aunt Anna, Connor and Keegan for not only introducing me to a fun show, but also being such amazing followers.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Pern, Paolini . . . and Plagiarism

When I was a little kid, my parents introduced me to the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. To this day I still love the series, though I’ll admit that I only read the original trilogy – Dragonflight (1968), Dragonquest (1970), and The White Dragon (1978). They discuss several of my very favorite subjects, including telepathy, time travel (which I’ll write about in more depth under “T”), and of course, dragons.

The series is set on the fictional planet of Pern. For centuries the planet has been plagued by Threads, an alien spore that falls from the sky and devours all organic matter. Their one and only defense against the Threadfall are the Dragonriders of Pern, who tear through the skies torching the enemy on their fire-breathing dragons. But these magical beasts can do so much more than that.

They also have the ability to teleport from place to place in the blink of an eye by passing through the “between”. It’s a place of cold and nothingness, but by crossing the Between, dragons are able to teleport themselves – and their riders – anywhere. Spoilers: In the first novel (Dragonflight), they further discovers the dragons can jump between time, as well as place. Though this discover comes quite by accident, they’re able to utilize this ability to time-travel in order to save Pern from a Thread attack.

However, the most interesting feature of the series is the telepathic connection between dragons and their riders. Upon hatching, dragons immediately imprint on a boy or girl, who then become their bond-mates (or riders); they remain inextricably linked for the rest of their lives. The bond is largely empathetic, allowing them to read one another’s thoughts and emotions. Riders whose dragons have died are said to be half-men, a shadow of their former selves. Riderless dragons frequently commit suicide by passing into the between. The bond between man and beast is, by far, the most interesting and memorable aspect of the series.And one that I discovered made its way into another series many years later.

Many of you may have heard of Christopher Paolini and his Inheritance Cycle series. Paolini began writing the first novel, Eragorn, when he was only fifteen years old. I remember hearing a lot o buzz about it when I was in high school, and quickly raced out to buy the first novel. Boy was I ever surprised to find telepathic dragons that empathetically bond with their riders. It’s a complete rip-off of Anne McCaffrey’s original concept! And not a very good one. I only made it about halfway through the novel before I gave up and stopped reading. I’m not sure what bothers me most – that he plagiarized, or that he did it so poorly. If you’re going to steal an idea, at least have the decency to improve upon it.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who’s commented on Paolini’s literary piracy; however, most critics focus on the similarities between The Inheritance Cycle and big names like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. But MaCaffrey fans know the truth about Paolini’s “best selling” novels. So if you ever want to read a redundant, and ill-written, dragon series, check them out.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.