Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Inklings vs. Crowley: Heaven's War

Oh, c'mon, this isn't exactly Yamato vs. Enterprise here. Tolkien coulda taken 'im with both hands behind his back. And he's the nice one.

I remember hearing vaguely about this before, but now Amy Welborn's linked to it and everybody knows. Basically, there's this graphic novel called Heaven's War coming out in November (just in time for C.S. Lewis' deathday and the Dr. Who anniversary!) in which three of the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, to be precise) try to stop Alistair Crowley from butting into the wars between two groups of angels (whom I'm guessing would be St. Michael the Snake Stomper and Co. vs. the usual gang from Hell -- and again, it's fairly obvious who's going to win....). So either this is going to be cool, it's going to suck, or it's going to be like your average Charles Williams supernatural adventure and do both. The whole sacred geometry thing is just the kind of weird stuff Williams would've liked, of course.'s reviewer says he read this puppy a long time back and liked it.

Read the five page preview at the artist's webpage and decide for yourself whether it's worth $12.95.

"Elemental, querido Watson."

I thought I was joking about seeing another ep in Spanish. But this Friday, we got "The Man with the Twisted Lip" in Spanish, too. This time the English track was turned up to the same volume as the Spanish one, however. Oh, joy.

I just wish I'd gotten up a few minutes earlier, so I could've taped it all instead of just two acts. Well, my sloth was its own punishment.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

"Claro, Lestrade."

Some of you may be aware that I am slightly crazed in my dedication to the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. I can therefore tell you that in its American premiere on Fox, an entire scene and a bit of the one before aired with no sound. (And there were other sound problems during other airings.) During its first syndicated run, one episode was run with the descriptions for the blind audible to all, and indeed overrunning the primary audio channel. But was a red-letter day in the history of SH22 sound transmission. Because today the "DiC Kids Network" (unfortunate initials, what?) broadcast in Spanish.

Well, mostly. You could still hear English way back on one of the stereo channels (which made it even funnier) and the closed captions were still in English (with the usual CC spelling and word errors). Unfortunately, although the opening credits had the theme song in Spanish ("Sherlock Holmes en el Siglo Veintidos estaaaaa"), the voice acting credits were still the usual ones, so I don't know who to praise there. But it was a great thing, and I not only taped it; I intend to turn it into an MP3 for my perpetual listening pleasure. I will almost certainly transfer the whole alternate version of "A Case of Identity" to DIVX as well, and include it as an "extra" on my personal DIVX CDs.

The remarkable thing was how well-cast the Spanish version was. Dubbing is highly controversial in the anime community. The translations are often dubious and the acting skills on English dubs vary wildly. Usually, there's at least one person whose voice is just wrong. Of course, this can also be true of the writing and acting in the original. (I have to admit I'm still not overly fond of DiC's original Watson voice, though the actor was good and grew on me.) But this production in Spanish was definitely an argument in favor of dubs.

I can say confidently that I liked all these voice actors. This Holmes had a deeper voice than Jason Stanford-Grey, interestingly, making him sound more like a standard "hero". (But since Stanford-Grey is one of my all-time favorite Holmes actors, his portrayal wins out in my mind.) The Watson did also, which was nice, but it was the calm warmth and intelligence in his voice which made him wholly convincing -- and instantly one of my all-time favorite Watsons! The Greyson was unexceptionable (I'll say more after a rewatch). But the Lestrade. (Pronounced in the Spanish version to rhyme with "trade" not "God" as in the English one -- which will tell you which movies each crew watched when young.) Oh, yes, it was obvious the voice actress was having just as much fun with her part as Akiko Morison did, while definitely performing it her own way. Also, all the Puerto Rican accents ("yo" pronounced as "jo", which makes Lestrade a "Jardie") really added something! Alas, their Deidre and Wiggins didn't appear in this ep, and thus can't be judged.

There's a lot to be said about the translation. As far as I could follow it while getting ready for work, it seemed to be a very skillful one. Some of the jokes in English were lost, of course. When Holmes in the original deduced things about Lestrade's new partner from the sound of his boots on the stair and Lestrade told Holmes he didn't miss a step, the Spanish version merely had the good inspector tell Holmes he didn't make mistakes. But the colloquial Spanish of the translation had its own nifty bits, as did the Spanish acting. In the original, Constable Abner Angel has a bit where he ingenuously offers up info and then hesitates about it. Cute, but not funny. In the Spanish version, when the actor rattles off the info at transwarp speed, then hesitates, it's hilarious. (To me, anyway.) I also picked up a few new words, like "pareja" for "partner". But mostly I was just language geeking. I like "Typical rookie stunt!" fine, but it was really neat to hear "Clasico novato!" instead.

All in all, it's clear that I have been remiss about searching the Net for info about "Sherlock Holmes en el Siglo XXII". I've now done so, but found nothing but TV listings. I guess it must not be available in Spanish on DVD or video. I'd love to see the pilot ep performed by different actors, and find out whether certain phrases have more resonance in Spanish or less. I should probably also go looking for the Quebecois dub, if there is one; I remember now that Cybersix was dubbed superbly into French. (Or so people who spoke French said....)

So...let's not tell DiC they made a mistake. Maybe we'll get the Spanish dubtrack tomorrow, too!

Monday, September 22, 2003

Cabell Complains of a Lack of Technology Filk

Ballad of Plagiary
by James Branch Cabell, from The Certain Hour

"Freres et matres, vous qui cultivez"
-- Paul Verville.

Hey, my masters, lords and brothers, ye that till the fields of rhyme,
Are ye deaf ye will not hearken to the clamor of your time?

Still ye blot and change and polish -- vary, heighten and transpose --
Old sonorous metres marching grandly to their tranquil close.

Ye have toiled and ye have fretted; ye attain perfected speech:
Ye have nothing new to utter and but platitudes to preach.

And your rhymes are all of loving, as within the old days when
Love was lord of the ascendant in the horoscopes of men.

Still ye make of love the utmost end and scope of all your art;
And, more blind than he you write of, note not what a modest part

Loving now may claim in living, when we have scant time to spare,
Who are plundering the sea-depths, taking tribute of the air, --

Whilst the sun makes pictures for us; since to-day, for good or ill,
Earth and sky and sea are harnessed, and the lightnings work our will.

Hey, my masters, all these love-songs by dust-hidden mouths were sung
That ye mimic and re-echo with an artful-artless tongue, --

Sung by poets close to nature, free to touch her garments' hem
Whom to-day ye know not truly; for ye only copy them.

Them ye copy -- copy always, with your backs turned to the sun,
Caring not what man is doing, noting that which man has done.

We are talking over telephones, as Shakespeare could not talk;
We are riding out in motor-cars where Homer had to walk;

And pictures Dante labored on of mediaeval Hell
The nearest cinematograph paints quicker, and as well.

But ye copy, copy always; -- and ye marvel when ye find
This new beauty, that new meaning, -- while a model stands behind,

Waiting, young and fair as ever, till some singer turn and trace
Something of the deathless wonder of life lived in any place.

Hey, my masters, turn from piddling to the turmoil and the strife!
Cease from sonneting, my brothers; let us fashion songs from life.

Thus I wrote ere Percie passed me. . . . Then did I epitomize
All life's beauty in one poem, and make haste to eulogize
Quite the fairest thing life boasts of, for I wrote of Percie's eyes.

Cabell Does Kipling!

James Branch Cabell is probably one of the more cynical authors ever to spring from American soil, and as a woman I find that "all women are one woman" thing realllllly annoying. (Just as annoying as "all men are like that", actually.) But he was also funny and smart, and did write some really good stuff. (And he's one of the great fantasy writers, too.) Here's a piece I found today, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. He has quite a few works available online, so check 'em out.

Ballad of the Double-Soul

by James Branch Cabell, from The Certain Hour

"Les Dieux, qui trop aiment ses faceties cruelles"
-- Paul Verville.

In the beginning the Gods made man,
and fashioned the sky and the sea,
And the earth's fair face for man's dwelling-place,
and this was the Gods' decree:--

"Lo, We have given to man five wits:
he discerneth folly and sin;
He is swift to deride all the world outside,
and blind to the world within:

"So that man may make sport and amuse Us,
in battling for phrases or pelf,
Now that each may know what forebodeth woe
to his neighbor, and not to himself."

Yet some have the Gods forgotten,
--or is it that subtler mirth
The Gods extort of a certain sort
of folk that cumber the earth?

For this is the song of the double-soul,
distortedly two in one,--
Of the wearied eyes that still behold
the fruit ere the seed be sown,
And derive affright for the nearing night
from the light of the noontide sun.

For one that with hope in the morning
set forth, and knew never a fear,
They have linked with another whom omens bother;
and he whispers in one's ear.

And one is fain to be climbing
where only angels have trod,
But is fettered and tied to another's side
who fears that it might look odd.

And one would worship a woman
whom all perfections dower,
But the other smiles at transparent wiles;
and he quotes from Schopenhauer.

Thus two by two we wrangle
and blunder about the earth,
And that body we share we may not spare;
but the Gods have need of mirth.

So this is the song of the double-soul,
distortedly two in one.--
Of the wearied eyes that still behold
the fruit ere the seed be sown,
And derive affright for the nearing night
from the light of the noontide sun.

Did You Really Want to Go There?

Liberals are chortling about this satirical sf piece by Charles Hoffacker about the Anglican schism. Um...gee, do realize that no conservative would ever compare a gay person to an animal. It took friendly fire to introduce this little rhetorical flourish. Sheesh. With friends like these....

Beyond that, there's a substantial misunderstanding of the scriptural issues involved. Dogs are loved in our culture because they no longer operate solely under the fallen laws of the fallen animal kingdom, but rather have allowed their own desires to be ruled by human law (which is also fallen, but is still a step up). They have become something different, something new, something more like what they were in Eden before the Fall. Something which speaks of Creation, which fell with humans, being redeemed and repaired by humans -- because and somewhat as we are redeemed and repaired by Jesus' death and resurrection.

So...basically this article's rhetoric is really advocating that all gays abandon having sex with other gay people, deal with their attraction to those of the same sex like any other temptation, and take up their calling to a life of patient chastity. So they should go join Courage and tell 'em Mr. Hoffacker sent 'em.

Not that there's anything wrong with that....

The moral of the story is...quoting the Bible in any argument opens up ye bigge canne of wormes. Don't open it unless you really like a big helping of wormy goodness.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Anime That's Good in Both Senses

I've been watching anime this afternoon. The Rurouni Kenshin movie, in fact (which for marketing reasons is called Samurai X: The Movie here in the US). If you've never caught Rurouni Kenshin on Cartoon Network, you might want to check it out. It's set in 1879, twelve years after the Meiji Restoration, in which the power of the shogunate was thrown down and the emperor made a constitutional ruler. But the present government is far from perfect, some people resent the European customs and technology being brought in while others use them for their own gain, and rebels and the dispossessed are everywhere.

Kenshin Himura, the main character, was once the most skilled swordsman among the Meiji rebels and employed as their assassin. (A true historical fact.) But when they won, he didn't take up the high position he'd earned. He disappeared into the life of an anonymous wanderer, repenting the killing he'd done, vowing never to take a life again, and carrying a sword with a reversed blade lest he break his vow. At the beginning of the TV show and manga, he ends up settling at one of the first kendo schools, where Kaori and her pupils only use wooden swords and also swear not to kill. There are a host of interesting characters: Kaori, running her dojo and half in love with Kenshin; Yahiko, the stubborn orphan boy who's her best student (and Kenshin's); Sannosuke, the martial artist from a much less aristocratic background than Kenshin, Kaori, or Yahiko; and Hajime Saito, also a historical character, who was a Shinsengumi guard for the Shogunate and now is the best policeman in Tokyo for the Meiji government. (His slogan, also historical, is "Aku Soku Zan" -- Kill Evil Immediately. There is a certain winning simplicity to it, no?)

I think Rurouni Kenshin would have been popular at any time. It's a good show. But I suspect the reason it got so popular so fast, even while it was only available in fansubs, is that it is set in a complicated time and gives the characters complicated problems, but espouses a morality as simple as a sword's edge. Kenshin does everything he can to fight evil, but he stays within the law and he will not kill. There is also a great deal of exploration of where patriotism and idealism becomes terrorism, and where you have to cut your losses for the sake of the common good. The Rurouni Kenshin movie includes some very good examples of that. One character talks about his father's illness, but is willing to forget about it for the sake of what he's doing. But another character asks him, "If we cannot take care of our families, what are our qualifications for caring for a country or the world?"

That said, for its "important episodes" the TV show also espouses the same slower-than-molasses story style as Dragonball Z, in which a single swordfight may last for four or five episodes worth of slo-mo, thoughts by the participants, commentary by the spectators, speculation on what will happen next, and gradual increases in damage, philosophical battle patter, desperate determination, and moral authority.

I've also been thinking about .hack//SIGN. (I've mentioned this before, too.) The more that I watch it, the more I think the popularity of the show rests on its sensitive but clear-eyed portrayal of gamers and the gaming community. Not since Otaku no Video have I seen such a fan-oriented production. But Otaku no Video is also savagely self-critical. .hack//SIGN just uses realistically flawed characters, and uses more of the time-honored Japanese technique of saying little and assuming you can see all the implications. It's flattering, in a way. Usually, we Western viewers are watching anime shows in contemporary settings from the outside, as foreigners. Suddenly we are on the inside as long as we are gamers. (Of course, if you've played MMORPGs (Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games), or the various .hack videogames, you are even more an insider and know even more secrets and implications. But hey, I'll take what I can get.)

The show also plays a bit with the classic gamer contention that, darn it, we know more than people give us credit for. This is "let geeks figure out what's going on and help their fellow gamers" instead of "give geeks guns and power" (Undocumented Features or The Hunt for Red October) or "geeks can fix any situation with duct tape and a Swiss army knife" (McGyver), but it's essentially the same fantasy, or empowerment scenario. Since we geeks don't get very flattering portrayal in most media sources, we are suckers for shows that let smart people kick butt.

Of course, it's not a show for gamers without a little meditation on the nature of reality in games versus the "real world". :) But I suspect the real attraction of the character interaction is the complicated nature of socializing online. How much can you say to people whom you don't know in real life? How can you give them advice without pushing into their personal lives farther than they want you to go? Which in-game actions are beyond the pale, and which should you just chalk up to "playing the game"? Millions of people do these things every day, and yet most of the media totally ignores it. Only through fanfiction, and a very few professional works such as this which are written by and directed toward fans, can people see their own lives reflected in story.

(Insert "mainstream literature is out of touch with most people's lives" rant here.)

But just as with Rurouni Kenshin, .hack//SIGN espouses a fairly simple morality of looking out for people, caring for the common good, and celebrating life. I don't think such simple things are celebrated enough in modern culture. When they are, especially in a subtle but built-in worldview of the characters, I think their power often increases a show's popularity. It made Due South a hit. (And then brought it down again, as the show lost touch with its own values.) It probably also makes the cast and crew more enthusiastic about performing, because they can put their hearts into something that deserves it. Values do matter, and a good show is often good both in its workmanship and its message.

(Sorry if you're getting bored with all the anime talk here. But just think how this blog is sparing my friends from getting lectured!)