Thursday, April 30, 2009 Robot Attacks!

Maybe it's just a publicity stunt for the new Terminator movie gone awry.

From the April 28th edition of some Swedish news site:
Robot attacked Swedish factory worker

28 Apr 09 10:12 CET

A Swedish company has been fined 25,000 kronor ($3,000) after a malfunctioning robot attacked and almost killed one of its workers at a factory north of Stockholm.

Public prosecutor Leif Johansson mulled pressing charges against the firm but eventually opted to settle for a fine.

"I've never heard of a robot attacking somebody like this," he told news agency TT.

The incident took place in June 2007 at a factory in Bålsta, north of Stockholm, when the industrial worker was trying to carry out maintenance on a defective machine generally used to lift heavy rocks. Thinking he had cut off the power supply, the man approached the robot with no sense of trepidation.

But the robot suddenly came to life and grabbed a tight hold of the victim's head. The man succeeded in defending himself but not before suffering serious injuries.

"The man was very lucky. He broke four ribs and came close to losing his life," said Leif Johansson.

The matter was subject to an investigation by both the Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) and the police.

Prosecutor Johansson chastised the company for its inadequate safety procedures but he also placed part of the blame on the injured worker.

Clearly, our only hope lies in getting the machines and the zombies to fight each other!

Thursday, April 23, 2009 Half-Ass Creature Hoax Thrills Dozens

From today's Gulf Times (Qatar):
Mysterious figure ‘spotted’

A mysterious figure resembling a human being was sighted on the Doha Corniche’s parking lot, according to a report published in a local Arabic daily.

The report is based on the statement of an Arab expatriate lady who said she had seen the strange figure near the Oryx statue while walking in the area.

Quoting the woman, the daily said she took a picture of it in spite of being terribly frightened.

“She was very soon surrounded by a large number of people who also attested to the fact of what she had seen . But it suddenly disappeared out of their sight when they tried to go near it,” the report added.
The Doha Corniche is a waterfront promenade similar to Chicago's Navy Pier. There's more background on the area and creature at Loren Coleman's Cryptomundo blog.

But the picture in question? It's this:

With all the technology out there, all the image editing programs and 3D modeling software, all the advances in latex creature SFX, this is the best they could come up with? A rubber toy propped up against a rock?

You're letting me down, people.

Highlander vs. the Dry Cleaners

From Tuesday's Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA):
Man with sword, dressed as ninja attempts Weymouth robbery
After being scared out of Tedeschi store he vainly tried dry cleaners

By Jack Encarnacao
Posted Apr 21, 2009 @ 07:00 AM

WEYMOUTH — A man witnesses said was dressed like a ninja used a sword in an attempt to rob a dry cleaner on Main Street, police said.

The man, wearing a ski mask and a sword in a sheath on his belt, walked into the Tedeschi convenience store at 1039 Main St. around 8 a.m. Monday, Sgt. Richard Fuller said.

“All the witnesses said he was dressed like a ninja,” Fuller said. “He was in all black including the black ski mask. And they said it was a ‘ninja sword’ (he was carrying).”

A clerk, alarmed by the man’s appearance, called police. When the man noticed her, he pulled his mask off and asked if she was calling about him, Fuller said.

When she said she was, the man left the store and walked into nearby Galaxy Cleaners.

There, Fuller said he pointed a sword at the register and asked a clerk to give him all of the money inside. She told him she couldn’t open the drawer, and the man left the scene, Fuller said.

Police are still searching for the man, who witnesses said appeared to be in his late 20s.
Being immortal doesn't mean you're bright.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 Things I Found Looking For Something Else #4

Japanese art-noise cover of a ska classic.

Sunday, April 19, 2009 The Last Boy on Earth Returns

DC announced a while back that it would be launching another weekly comics experiment. This time around it actually sounds interesting.

Wednesday Comics will be a 12-issue series published in the same format as the Sunday comics delivered in newspapers every week. There will be 16 features in every issue, and right now it looks as though each strip will take up an entire 14” x 20” broadsheet page. The impressive roster of talent includes Neil Gaiman, Paul Pope, Brian Azzarello, Kurt Busiek, and Kyle Baker, and the list of characters that will be featured is fairly eclectic.

It's exactly the kind of project an art director would dream up - in this case, DC's Mark Chiarello. Dark Horse did something similar a while back, with its weekly Dark Horse Insider giveaway that featured three half-page strips and a giant poster in every issue. But this is the first time such a project has been done on this scale.

I thought the idea was pretty cool, if for no other reason than it sends comics fans into a tizzy, fretting over fold lines and the non-traditional format. However, I am still unemployed and really can't afford to be picking up any comics right now. And then I saw this preview of Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook's beautiful, Hal Foster-inspired Kamandi:

Dammit. Sold.

Saturday, April 18, 2009 The Riddle of Red Mercury

"Take a bogus material, give it an enigmatic name, exaggerate its physical properties and intended uses, mix in some human greed and intrigue, and voila: one half-baked scam."
Red Mercury: Caveat Emptor, a 1992 report from the US Department of Energy

Imagine some of the world's most notorious terrorists and despots on a hunt for the ultimate weapon. Imagine a worldwide smuggling operation dedicated to buying and selling a product that most likely doesn't exist. Imagine the Nigerian Bank Scam, only with nukes. That's the story of red mercury in a nutshell.

The intertubes are awash with the tale of the Singer sewing machine craze in Saudi Arabia. Rumor has it that older models contain red mercury, a mythical substance that can be used to make nuclear weapons, command spirits, and increase the size of your manhood. People are paying insane amounts of money for fifty-year-old sewing machines in the hopes of obtaining this modern philosopher's stone.

This isn't the first stir red mercury created, only the biggest and goofiest. Rumors of red mercury first surfaced in the international black market during the late 1970's. It was named for its supposed origins in Soviet Russia, where scientists developed it as a means of triggering a fusion reaction with high explosives. However, it wasn't long before the substance itself took on a red hue; some claimed that the color was due to it being a special form of cinnabar, the ore form of mercury that is the source of vermilion and is also significant in alchemy.

The big red mercury boom came in the early 1990's. The fall of the Soviet Union led to a flood of Russian weapons and technology into the black market, including genuine nuclear material. Red mercury was one of the most sought after goods, with such notables as Sadam Hussein and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic among those eager to lay their hands on the stuff. Smugglers throughout Europe and the former Soviet Bloc rushed to meet the demand, but samples procured through arrests in Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, and other countries have turned out to be such (relatively) mundane materials as depleted nuclear reactor fuel and mercury tinged with brick dust. One enterprising Russian con artist managed to secure a contract to supply red mercury to a US company and an export license from then-President Boris Yeltsin, but nothing was delivered except promises.

The abundance of fakes for sale didn't stop anyone from believing that red mercury was real. Terrorists contianued to line up to purchase the stuff, with deals reported as far away as Macau. A string of slightly shady deaths of chemical engineers and arms merchants in South Africa was rumored to be the work of Mossad agents working to prevent the sale of red mercury to Middle Eastern clients. Even high-ranking members of the Russian government seemed unsure as to the legitmacy of the substance.

Stories about the properties of red mercury grew over time. At first "merely" an alternative to the radioactive isotopes used in the production of nuclear weapons, soon the substance was said to be capable of producing bombs that were smaller and far more potent than normal. And its uses quickly expanded far beyond arms manufacturing. It is the prime ingredient in a paint that renders aircraft radar invisible. It can help create perfect counterfeit currency. It can break up clots in oil wells and thus greatly increase oil production. It has many miraculous medicinal uses, such as curing impotency and extending one's natural lifespan. It sought after by practitioners of witchcraft and voodoo.

And now we learn it can be used as genie chow, a reward treat for good little jinn who bring their masters treasure. From the on-line edition of the Saudi Gazette for Sunday, April 19th:

Paying the price for red mercury mania

By Abdullah Al-Maqati
Sunday, 19 April 2009

DHULUM/JEDDAH/NAJRAN/BAHA – Saudis in search of a quick buck have begun paying the price for investing in rumors that the Singer make of sewing machine contains the so-called “red mercury” substance.

As the rumors started sweeping the Kingdom a few days ago the prices of Singer sewing machines rocketed from SR200 to hundreds of thousands, with one reported case of a machine being sold for half a million riyals.

After various authorities around the Kingdom denounced the rumors and clarified the existential status of “red mercury” – that its very existence is entirely unproven – some Saudis who saw the opportunity for a quick buck were subsequently left with painful losses.

“I heard the rumors and went straight out and bought a sewing machine for SR11,000, hoping to sell it on for maybe 50,000, as I’d read about such prices on the Internet,” said one Saudi in Taif who wished to remain unnamed.

“I’ve been trying to get rid of it now for two days, but without success.”

The young man said he had been saving the money he spent on the Singer to buy a car.

Financial losses have not been the only upshot of the rumors. Friendships have also fallen by the wayside, and fights over sewing machines have sparked family disputes.

“Some of the women in the villages around where I live have ended up in fights,” said a man in Dhulm. “They’d been going to each others’ houses asking to borrow machines so they could do some sewing, and then instead took them to the market.”

“Other people,” he continued, “have been going to friends’ houses to demand back the sewing machines they gave away as presents years ago, and I’ve also heard of guys getting into fights with their brothers over sewing machines belonging to their mothers and grandmothers.”

In Jeddah, the head of forensic evidence said he knew who was behind the rumors. “The rumors about red mercury were started by African conmen,” Saleh Zuweid said. “Laboratory tests have shown that the sewing machines do not contain the so-called red mercury.”

“These conmen claim that the substance can be used as food for the Jinn who will then bring you lost or buried treasure from deep in the ground,” Zuweid continued. “They also claim it can be used to multiply your money ten times over.”

Abla Hasnain, a social criminologist from King Abdulaziz University said the whole issue was due to a lack of awareness.

“We used to think that people susceptible to this sort of thing were ignorant illiterates, but what we’re seeing now is educated people and academic people falling victim to this nonsense,” she said.

In Baha events even reached the courts, when a Saudi man accused another of stealing a sewing machine in order to sell it on.

The claimant, however, refused to swear the oath before the court, and Judge Waheed Abdullah Aal Abdul Qadir dismissed the case.

So what is red mercury really? It might be a codeword for some unknown nuclear material. It could be a weaponized nuclear isomer, capable of creating chain reactions that would give a bullet the force of heavy artillery. It might be a case of mistaken identity involving such common substances as mercury iodide, used by the Soviets in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, or mercury fulminate, an explosives used in blasting caps. It could be leftovers from a failed attempt to cool breeder reactors with a mixture of mercury and antimony, packaged and sold off by enterprising black marketeers. But it's most likely just a myth, an urban legend sustained by greed and the desire for power.

Whatever the reality, red mercury continues to be the highly larcenous, possibly dangerous stuff dreams are made of.



"Deadly Alchemy" by Paul Sieveking, Fortean Times #69 (July, 1993)

"Red for Danger" by Joyanta Acharjee, Fortean Times #127 (November, 1999)

"A Blast from the Past" by David Hambling, Fortean Times #178 (January, 2004)
I gots me a lot of FT, I do.


BBC News article on the trial of three London men accused of trying to buy red mercury

One of many news reports on the Saudi red mercury furor

I created the image at the top of this post. It'd be kinda cool if it became widely used as the symbol for Red Mercury.

Friday, April 17, 2009 Because We're Not All Time Lords

If you're like me, and I know I am, then you probably have a very clear idea of what you intend to do if you ever get your hands on a time machine. Of course, when one is all wrapped up in picking stocks to buy up during the 1929 market crash, saving Lincoln from an assassin's bullet, or getting really good seats for the Crucifixion, it can be easy to lose sight of the small but important details. That's where this poster from Topatoco comes in.

Now the poster doesn't always spell things out in the most helpful way (I've no idea just how to hook up the magnet and water wheel contraption, frex), but it makes for an excellent cheat sheet after you've done the research. The image is also available as a t-shirt, in case you'd rather wear it discreetly under your Elizabethan hose and tunic.

Speaking of t-shirts, Topatoco offers a couple of other designs I really like.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 Random Image: Gateway to Hell

The Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan.

From the unfortunately-named "Top 10 Amazing Holes Photos" at Photos Gallery.
The shot of California's Monticello Dam is also very cool.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Woody Is On Our Side

From CNN's Entertainment bureau:
Woody Harrelson claims he mistook photographer for zombie

By Alan Duke
updated 9:56 p.m. EDT, Fri April 10, 2009

(CNN) -- Woody Harrelson defended his clash with a photographer at a New York airport Wednesday night as a case of mistaken identity -- he says he mistook the cameraman for a zombie.

The TMZ photographer filed a complaint with police claiming the actor damaged his camera and pushed him in the face at La Guardia Airport, according to an airport spokesman.

"We're looking into this allegation and if it's warranted, we'll turn it over to the proper authorities," said Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman Ron Marsico.

The photographer, who was not identified, captured the encounter on a small camera after his larger one was broken.

Harrelson, who is being sued by another TMZ photographer for an alleged assault in 2006, did not deny his involvement.

"I wrapped a movie called 'Zombieland,' in which I was constantly under assault by zombies, then flew to New York, still very much in character," Harrelson said in a statement issued Friday by his publicist.

"With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie," he said. posted two videos of the incident, including one recorded by the larger camera before it was damaged.

The first video shows the photographer following Harrelson and his daughter down an escalator and out of the terminal. It ends with Harrelson apparently reaching for the lens.

The second video begins with the photographer accusing Harrelson of breaking his camera.

After Harrelson returns the camera to him, a scuffle appears to ensue.

"Woody, this is assault. Woody, this is assault," the photographer is heard saying. "Woody, chill out. Would you please chill out?"

The photographer continues to follow Harrelson for another four minutes as the actor and his daughter walk to the airport parking lot. At one point, Harrelson again turns toward the cameraman.

"I'm being chased by Woody Harrelson while I'm talking to you," the photographer says as he talks to an unidentified person on a cell phone.

"He hit me in my face, he broke my friggin' camera, he broke the camera in pieces," he said.

Harrelson, his daughter and a driver get inside an SUV and the encounter ends.

In the movie "Zombieland," Harrelson plays "the most frightened person on Earth" looking for refuge from zombies, according to the Internet Movie Database

Filming on the movie wrapped in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, according to director Ruben Fleischer's Web site.
It is reassuring to know that, when the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse occurs, there is at least one man in Hollywood ready to stand with us. Unless he gets really, really baked instead.

Another Triumph of Indian Tech Expertise

From the Times of India for April 4th, 2009:
Techie found dead in front of burnt computer

4 Apr 2009, 0442 hrs IST, TNN

CHENNAI: A young software engineer working with Tata Consultancy Services was killed in a suspected computer blast at his home on Telugu Brahmin Street in Velachery late on Friday. The incident took place when Vijayakumar (28), hailing from Madurai, was working on the computer.

Police said his charred body was found in a sitting posture. "We are yet to ascertain the cause of the blast. The computer was completely damaged and the deceased was charred," a police officer told TOI. Vijayakumar was sharing the house with two other software engineers, Vignesh (26) and Ram Prasad (26). When the accident occurred Ram Prasad was in the room with Vijayakumar, police said.

"Ram Prasad had gone to take bath. He told us that suddenly he heard a blast and when he rushed out he saw the charred body of his friend and fainted," the officer said. However, the case has baffled the investigating officers. "It sounds quite unbelievable. We have not heard of such a case before. But the scene of the accident seems to suggest that the youth was killed in an accident as his body was in the sitting position in front of the burnt computer," the official added.
And now, to comment on this story, is Evil Fozzie Bear!

"Wow, when you get fragged playing Indian video games, you really get fragged! Wakka-wakka! Or maybe he was just surfing a really hot porn site! Get it? HOT! Ahhh! Fun-nee!"

Friday, April 10, 2009 Highlander vs. the Granny

From yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle:
Indianapolis woman dies trying to stop sword fight

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A 77-year-old woman suffered a fatal stab wound while trying to break up a sword fight Thursday between her grandson and brother-in-law, police said.

An autopsy determined Franziska Stegbauer died of a wound from one of the swords, police Sgt. Matthew Mount said. Both men were hospitalized with stab wounds and one was critically hurt.

"We're unsure yet who started this fight, how the swordplay got involved," Mount said. "We're not sure who it was who stabbed the woman. We'll have to do some testing on the swords and figure out who had which sword, whose blood is on which sword."

One of the weapons was a World War II-era Japanese officer's sword with a thin blade, and the other had a thicker blade, Mount said.

Police placed Stegbauer's grandson, 39-year-old Chris Rondeau, under arrest on a preliminary charge of attempted murder. Stegbauer's brother-in-law, 69-year-old Adolf Stegbauer, suffered several serious stab wounds, police said.

Franziska Stegbauer was not breathing when officers arrived about 1 a.m. at the home on the city's northwest side and she was later pronounced dead at a hospital, police said.

Adolf Stegbauer was listed in critical condition at Wishard Hospital, a spokesman said.

Rondeau also was taken with stab wounds to Wishard. Police said he was alert at the scene, but a condition update was not immediately available. He was being held in the hospital's detention unit.

I bet you feel bad now for complaining that your own family was too weird.

I had a hard time coming up with a title for this post. Everything I came up with would have been in very poor taste considering an elderly woman was killed. And yet the jokes keep scrolling through my head, like an evil Times Square marquee.

EDIT: And, as of Monday, the duel has claimed a second fatality.

Thursday, April 9, 2009 First Strike in Inevitable Zombie War?

In New Orleans, appropriately enough. From Tuesday's Times-Picayune:
Metairie man says stranger chewed, swallowed after taking bite out of his arm

by Michelle Hunter, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday April 07, 2009, 9:51 AM

A Metairie resident is recovering after a stranger bit a chunk of flesh out of his arm and swallowed it Saturday afternoon.

Joseph Lancellotti, 67, told authorities he did not know the suspect, later identified as Mario Vargas, 48, or why he was attacked in his front yard.

Lancellotti was gardening at his home in the 4400 block of Kawanee Avenue about 2 p.m. when he noticed a man walking toward his house, shouting angrily, the report said. Lancellotti said he couldn't understand the man because he was yelling in Spanish. But when the man got within two feet, he slugged Lancellotti in the head, the report said.

Lancellotti said he tried to defend himself with a garden rake. As the men struggled over the rake, the stranger bent over and bit Lancellotti on his right forearm, the report said. Lancellotti's flesh ripped away as he fell to the ground. The man then got on top of Lancellotti and began choking him, the report said.

It was then that neighbor Chantal Lorio, a podiatrist and director of the Wound Center at East Jefferson General Hospital, came out to check on Lancellotti. Lorio said Monday that she first thought Lancellotti was having a heart attack and the other man was trying to help him.

The stranger was still gripping Lancellotti as Lorio noticed her neighbor was lying in a pool of blood. She didn't learn what happened until she began dressing the wound -- with the stranger still clutching her neighbor's shirt.

"He said, 'He bit my arm, chewed the flesh and swallowed it in front of me, ' " Lorio recalled. She said the bite measured almost 3 by 1 1/2 inches, and was less than 1/4-inch deep.

The pair tried to calm the stranger, who never made any attempt to run away. He eventually let go of Lancellotti and walked two blocks to a parking lot, where he hovered near an empty police car, the report said. The suspect was still standing there when deputies arrived and took him into custody.

Vargas, of 724 Camp St., New Orleans, was booked with second-degree battery. He was being held Monday at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna in lieu of $25,000 bail.

Lancellotti's wife, Bonnie, 60, said Monday that her husband was recovering from the bite, physically and mentally. She said his sense of safety in his neighborhood has been shaken.

With all the bacteria involved, Lorio said a bite from a human is worse than an animal bite.

Bonnie Lancellotti also has concerns about the suspect, who apparently had been treated at East Jefferson General Hospital earlier in the day for a finger injury. Vargas was released 45 minutes before the attack, according to the incident report.

Bonnie Lancellotti wondered whether hospital staff noticed anything amiss while treating Vargas. "This person's clearly lost his sense, " she said. "I mean, what else can you say, eating people's skin?"

Keith Darcey, spokesman for the hospital, said, "We cannot comment on any individual patient because of privacy laws. But as a matter of general hospital policy, the emergency department has behavioral health nurses available to help diagnose patients who might require mental health assistance."

I love this post from the comments section:
"I like stories that just get to the point.

"The whole point of living out in Metairie is to not be eaten. That's more of a downtown thing."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 The Collection Is Not Enough

While writing my post on movies I would buy if I had the cash, I was reminded of some films I couldn't buy even if I was making Republican money. Of no interest to anyone but myself, here's a list of the top five movies I wish were available on DVD.

5) Shanghai Blues - To be honest, I don't really remember a lot about this film other than I really enjoyed it. It was my exposure to Tsui Hark (outside of a segment of The Incredibly Strange Film Show), and I was lucky enough to catch it on a big screen at the Art Institute of Chicago some twenty years ago. There's an expensive (and rather shoddy) Japanese disc and a better-looking French release, but neither have English subtitles. While poking around YouTube in a fruitless search for a trailer, I think I've learned that a stage musical version of the film has been produced. Hopefully, that's a sign that a proper HK release with English subs might surface someday soon.

4) Hickey & Boggs - As per my previous post, this film is long overdue for a DVD release.

3) Black Belt Jones - Scatman Crothers as a martial arts master! Beach bunnies on trampolines! Isaac from The Love Boat as a Black Panther! I picked up a VCD of the film in Bangalore, but it's absolutely staggering that this crowd-pleaser hasn't been treated to full digital glory. "Hey everyone, we're going to McDonalds!"

2) The Falcon and The Saint - I love old detective movies and I love professional cad George Sanders, so it's no surprise that the Saint and Falcon films have a special place in my heart. The two series are practically indistinguishable - when production of the Saint films shifted to England, RKO simply changed a few details and carried on Stateside with the Falcon. The resilient serial even survived Sanders moving on to "A" pictures; his real-life brother, Tom Conway, was brought in as a replacement starting with The Falcon's Brother. While they're never going to give The Maltese Falcon a run for it's money, the films are breezy, lightweight fun. Chan, Moto, and Holmes have all made the jump to Digital Versatile Disc, so it's high time Templar and the Lawrence Boys have their chance.1) Dark of the Sun - I first caught this on a UHF station one Sunday afternoon long ago, and it's been a favorite ever since. It has a solid cult following and is supposed to be one of Quentin Tarentino's favorite films, so why hasn't it been released already?

Runners-up for the most wanted list include:
  • Judas Kiss - Southern-Fried noir starring the delightful Emma Thompson and the mouth-watering Carla Gugino. Disqualified because DVD's were released in Australia and France, the only two countries where the film generated any interest. Sadly, both are out-of-print.
  • Return of the Musketeers - The less-than-satisfying follow-up to the Richard Lester Musketeer movies, appropriately based on Dumas' Twenty Years After. Disqualified because it is currently available on DVD, albeit only as part of a French box set with its two predecessors
  • The Fighting O'Flynn - A slight but enjoyable swashbuckler starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. As much as I like this film, I just couldn't find a place for it in the top 5.
  • Sabotage - An above-average DTV actioner starring Mark Dacascos, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Tony Todd. I believe this got a (full screen) DVD release in Australia, but it's also now OOP.
Attention, studios! I refuse to convert to Blu-Ray until my demands are met!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 No Blade of Grass, Part Two

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here's the 1970 film adaptation of John Christopher's No Blade of Grass. I haven't actually seen the film myself yet - it's been sitting in the digital equivalent of my DVD watch pile - but I understand it isn't a patch on the original novel. However, it's directed by Cornel Wilde so it's bound to be interesting at least. Christopher "Johnny Alucard" Neame and the late Wendy Richards play supporting roles.

Click on the links below to be taken to the RapidShare download pages. You will need to download all 5 parts before attempting to unzip the files using WinRar or a similar program.

Monday, April 6, 2009 No Blade of Grass, Part One

Back in high school, I aced every exam in US History. It was still history, after all, despite its appalling lack of knights, samurai, and musketeers. However, test scores weren't enough for my teacher, who insisted on basing most of our grade on classroom participation. The class started at 7:30AM. There was no way in Hell I was participating in anything at that hour.

Luckily, the teacher offered extra credit for book reports on various titles he had selected and supplied for the classroom. In addition to novels set in various eras of American history, a bunch of utopian and dystopian novels were also on the approved reading list. I stuck with the dystopian books, no surprise, and went through the small collection in no time at all. I ended up suggesting titles from my own collection, though not all of them were approved.

Some of the works, like 1984 and Brave New World, were only absorbed long enough to crank out a report before being purged from my memory banks. Others never even made it that far; I'm embarrassed to admit that I gave up on a couple of classics, including A Canticle for Leibowitz and A Clockwork Orange, within a few dozen pages. But there were a few books that stuck with me for a long time. Neville Shute's On the Beach. Andrew J. Offut's Burgess-inspired The Castle Keeps. And John Christopher's No Blade of Grass.

The heroes in most doomsday stories represent civilization in the wake of chaos. They uphold the morals and ethics of the old ways. (Even Hell Tanner, the gritty anti-hero of Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, felt certain obligations as Earth's last surviving Hell's Angel.) Atrocities are something the bad guys commit.

This isn't the case with No Blade of Grass. Rather than stalwarts whose morality is only tempered by the fires of disaster, its protagonists are ordinary people who find themselves utterly transformed by catastrophe. In the name of survival, they commit acts that they themselves would normally find abhorrent. One of the band's most valuable members could easily be the villain in another story; for some people the group comes across, he is. Rather than focus on how society adapts and survives after a global calamity, Christopher explores how individuals might react, how they might be changed by cataclysmic events far beyond their control. No Blade of Grass is a grim but worthwhile read.

It's also darn hard to find, apparently, so I'm offering the next best thing. It's a very recent (March, 2009) four-part BBC Radio adaptation of Christopher's novel under its original name, The Death of Grass. Faced with the collapse of civilization in the wake of a worldwide famine, a small band of city dwellers attempt to make their way to a remote valley and the hope of sanctuary.

Click on the link below to be taken to the Rapidshare download page.

Thursday, April 2, 2009 Shameful Naked Avarice

I've still got a lot of DVD's I haven't watched, but there's some recent releases out there that I'm really jonesing for. Here are the top 5 DVD's I buy in a heartbeat if I was still employed:

5) The Room - A staggeringly bad film that I'm dying to see in its full glory. I've heard a lot about this new cult favorite over the last couple of years, and the snippets I caught on Adult Swim this week lived up to the hype. I do love how they tacked on some quotes at the end of the trailer to make it look like an intentional comedy.

4) Venture Bros Season 3 Blu-Ray - I'm still not 100% sold on Blu-Ray, but for ten bucks more you get an HD print and a copy of the soundtrack? Done!

3) Ip Man - There's a lot of positive buzz on this biopic starring Donnie Yen as Bruce Lee's wing chun instructor, though most reviewers give it higher marks as an action film than as biography. I actually had a copy, a gift from my cousin who picked it up in Alberta's Chinatown; it looks to be a legit Mainland release with excellent sound and visual quality but incomprehensible English subtitles. I need an upgrade before I can watch this film!

2) Cinematic Titanic - I was a huge fan of MST3K even before my cable provider carried it ("keep circulating the tapes", indeed), and I was lucky enough to catch the CT crew live when they played Chicago last December. However, I don't own a single one of their DVD releases. That needs to be rectified ASAP.

1) Thundercrack! - I was lucky enough to catch a screening of this legendary film during a trip to London, and I've been itching to inflict it on my friends ever since. The long-promised official DVD looks like vaporware, but there's a new release from a Scandinavian company called AWE that is rumored to be the best version yet available. However, even a really good transfer of this film is still going to look like hell (see the segment below, taken from a previous release). Of course, that's part of Thundercrack's charm as far as I'm concerned.

Runners up include The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, part two of Red Cliff (so I can finally watch part one), and the latest Futurama movie. Cripes, I need a job.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 Dyscotopia

So April 1st has come and gone without Conficker bringing about a new Dark Age. I can't help but be a little disappointed. I always suspected I'd be around for the End of Civilization As We Know It. It's probably for the best that I'm not, as I'm too old and out of shape to do little more than provide a nice meal for some neo-cannibals. Still, recent events, my 2 Tone post, and my buddy QuiteContrary's rediscovery of the word "dystopian" has me in a retro-apocalyptic mood.

Our parents may have grown up with the possibility of nuclear war, but we Gen X'ers believed it was a certainty. After all, we came of age under a President whose religious convictions preached that Armageddon was not just inevitable but desirable. Sabre-rattling between the United States and Russia hit a height that had not been seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis, except this time around, our leader was joking in public about launching the nukes.

Meanwhile, one of Prime Minister Thatcher's advisors was proposing permanent incarceration for the infected as a solution to the emerging AIDS crisis. Crack cocaine appeared, and violence in urban areas skyrocketed. Chernobyl went boom. Our nation was waging undeclared wars in Latin America while the Soviets invaded Afghanistan*. It seemed like all the ingredients were coming together for a heaping bowl of DOOM.

Of course, being typical teenagers suffering from typical teenage angst, we ate it up with a spoon. We did try to have fun with it, though. We went to movies like The Road Warrior and Escape From New York, played a post-apocalyptic RPG called Aftermath!, and listened to music that we felt reflected the times.

Here's a hastily slapped-together playlist of some of the songs that fueled such morbid thoughts. They're all punk and New Wave songs from the era (although I cheated a bit and included a PWEI track from '89) with relevant lyrics or a thematically-appropriate music video. I left off that REM track on purpose, but I'm sure I've completely forgotten some others. Let me know what I've missed.
Blondie - Atomic
Call, the - The Walls Came Down
Clash, the - London Calling
Duran Duran - Planet Earth
Fixx, the - Red Skies
Heaven 17 - Let Me Go
Idol, Billy - Dancing With Myself
Killing Joke - Eighties
Police, the - When the World Is Running Down
Pop Will Eat Itself - Def. Con. One
Red Riders - Lunatic Fringe
Ruts, the - Babylon's Burning
Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen
Sigue Sigue Sputnik - Love Missile F1-11
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Cities in Dust
Smiths, the - Panic
This Mortal Coil - Strength of Strings
UB40 - The Earth Dies Screaming
Click on the link below to access the Rapidshare download page and do your fascist groove thang.

*That trick never works.