Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

A Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix thought

It was all in the title. Phoenixes burn bright and then fade away into ashes -- but someday they will be reborn. But also, old things are reborn and burn bright.

I'd like to post more, but keeping this spoiler-free is a pain. More in a few days, when folks have had time to digest things.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

New York State of Mind

There was a very sad story on Good Morning America this morning about a woman who was killed in a Tough Man contest, in front of her family and children. But I got a bit derailed from the horror of it when Charlie the cohost confided that he'd never heard of Tough Man contests. I'm not sure how one could avoid hearing about them, given all the ads they run around here when they come to town. Right up there with "Bill Goodman's/Gun and Knife Show/Call a buddy/Bring a friend" for market permeation.

To See All Heaven in a Grain of Sand

Now, the other odd story of the morning was the Boston folks who can make out a figure of the Virgin Mary in some kind of stain inside a hospital window. Now, laughing at that I don't mind. It's funny. But I couldn't believe how the anchors were asking each other, "Where do people like that come from?" Ummm, hate to point it out to you veteran newsies (or at least media personalities), but Boston Catholics have been having a wicked bad year. Anyway, I bet Charlie wouldn't be too proud to stop and look at a potato with a profile like Walter Cronkite's. We made a national park out of the Old Man of the Mountain (before it collapsed). Even an atheist who's not looking for God wouldn't be above rubbernecking at the Jesus-shaped stain-plus-shadow on that one oil tank out by 75 in Findlay. (Which was why the company finally painted the oil tank.)

So, even though I laugh, I don't scorn those folks who are driving up to see the Virgin Mary. They're not doing any harm. (Other than blocking traffic, and I guess that's been taken care of by the hospital administration.) Some of them are a little over-devout and some over-curious, but they've got a right to want a little comfort after all the trouble they've been going through. If they can see a holy purpose in the shape a stain takes, then they still have that childlike capacity for awe and wonder that lets them see the world as special and God-touched every day. The way we're all supposed to.

And who knows? If God can work through the intricate laws of the universe to touch a few human hearts through the cracking of a humble windowseal and five winters of Boston cold, how is that less classy than showing his love through the beauty of a flower, the taste of fresh-cooked food, the mystery of God being born in blood and goo like any mere human? And even if it's just coincidence, surely there's something nice about saying thank you to the Creator of a world that can come up with such wild and weird coincidences as a nature-made portrait of His mom.

Get Your Recommended Daily Allowance of Giant Robots

Has anyone else been watching Kikaider on Cartoon Network? (Midnight EDT). It's the story of an android (he's called Jiro, but his more robotic form is known as Kikaider) marked for destruction because he has one horrible new feature which can't be allowed -- a conscience. Meanwhile, he is sought by friends as well as enemies, but his friends don't know what to do with him any more than he knows what to do about himself. Especially since he's fallen in love with a human woman, who to both their horror, just may be falling for him as well.

This series, based on a classic Japanese manga series, blends the original "Speed Racer"-vintage character designs with today's animation styles. It's disconcerting at first, but the story more than overcomes any oddness in the art. It has some violence -- mainly giant robot battles -- though that's not as cartoony a violence as usual, since the androids and robots are Kikaider's brothers and sisters. It's moody, melancholy, and hopeful as well. It's edgy without having to resort to extremes of nudity, violence and bad language because it makes you think and feel. I really hope this series gets aired in prime time; this is the kind of stuff that's not made for young young kids, but which slightly older kids ought to get to watch.

Btw, keep an eye out for the return of The Big O at midnight in August. It's set in a city where, forty years ago, amnesia struck everyone. (People still go to church and celebrate Christmas, though they don't remember why. One of the oddest and most touching Christmas episodes ever, with a great deal to say about faith and the usual odd Japanese perspective to make your head hurt.) It's a dapper noir negotiator and his android friend Dorothy against the corporation that rules the place and may have caused the amnesia. And it's the negotiator's giant robot which we are told was "Cast in the name of God." An interesting alternative to the usual Buddhist/Shinto settings of anime.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Auto Da Fe

I'm finally really learning to drive. Yes, I took driver's ed. Lessee...hours and hours in the classroom, and a few minutes of terror on the road. Not to mention the terror of driving around on the highway, at sixty-five miles an hour, with my best friend in the car...when I'd only driven three hours altogether. (My dad loves me way too much to be able to stand to see me drive. He didn't even have high blood pressure back then. But I had much worse hand/eye coordination when I was sixteen.)

"It's on the curriculum. You have to go on the highway." Yeah, well, the driver's ed teacher became very sorry he made me do it. Almost as sorry as his face was pale. I actually got kinda interested, since my family's pilot reflexes kicked in for perhaps the first and only time in my life. But almost killing my best friend and three other people put a damper on that interest. I got an A on my report card in Driver's Ed while being perhaps the worst driver in the state of Ohio who didn't have disabilities as an excuse. (Actually, I think most people with disabilities drove better than me.) With great relief, I decided that I was just going to get along without a car.

Yeah, well, except I don't live in New York. I live in Dayton. Not driving is a baaaad thing, especially when it's winter and you have to go get groceries. More than that, though, it puts you out of the running for any kind of real job or life. I need to learn to drive so I can get my life off hold and start doing something. (It became fairly obvious to me that there was no way I could take teaching classes at Wright State without a car, as I would need to drive to go student teach.)

I have a very patient friend named Nancy. My hand/eye coordination is a lot better, I can actually tell where the car is in relation to me and the road, and I haven't killed anybody yet. However, your prayers would be much appreciated, especially for my attempts at reverse.



Choir's over for the summer, but there's summer choir. I haven't managed to get up there the obligatory half-hour early for the nine-thirty Mass yet, so no summer choir yet for me. We have a new priest, Fr. Martin Fox, helping out. He's really not that young; he worked in DC politics first. Actually, none of our new priests in the diocese this year are all that young. Anyway, here's the story at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Father Manning did ask us to pray we'd get somebody, but I also think Fr. Manning's skill in running our parish while staying a nice and respected guy has something to do with it. You couldn't ask for a better trainer and good example. (He's a saint. Really. The active kind.)

Oh, yeah, and my older brother's getting married in October, in case I didn't tell you, and I've been tapped to sing for them. I'm really looking forward to this, especially as I've been asked to help with music selection. Mwahahaha....

While I Was Out

I finished my unofficial translation of Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass. The parody bits continued to be fun and interesting, and the original fantasy got more original. I learned that I was really, really ignorant of Pushkin's works. Finally, I found that of all the really cold things I've seen novelists and filmmakers do to their characters, there's just nobody colder and more matter-of-fact about it than a Russian. And this is a kid's book!

Not that that's a bad thing. Kiddie life is so much colder than kiddie lit that the cognitive dissonance can get hard on a kid. Also, after years of drippy issues books, there's something to be said for an author who just admits that there's a lot of alcoholism in Russian life, uses tiny references to build up to one character revealing his father's alcoholism, and then lets it go at that. That was the past; there's nothing the friends in the present can do about it but feel for him. That's life, even for kids.

But that's just one tiny shard from a book so bubbling with humor, inventiveness, and the creatures of Russian fairy tales that overall, it just makes you smile. I like Tanya and her friends. Heck, I even like her enemies. It breaks my heart that there are five Tanya Grotter books out now in Russia (and over one million sold), but no English translations out here. I want to find out what happens in Tanya Grotter and the Disappearing Floor! And I don't want to spend four months and change of my free time to find out!

(Well, actually I had it down to a chapter a week, or even less, by the end. But my point still stands.)

Sweet Nihils

If Nihil Obstat has noticed I've been gone for a bit, maybe it's time to start blogging again! *scared look*

*grins* Seriously, Nihil, thanks for noticing. It makes me feel loved.

Btw, Nihil, did you notice this quote from the aptly-named Francine Prose in The Observer's article, "Hillary's 6,000 Crises"?

Even those of us who have given up the losing battle against the misplaced modifier
and the dangling participle still believe that certain rules of English grammar are not
optional, and that their importance is not merely linguistic, but philosophical and

We need our Nihils.