Saturday, June 8, 2019

Batman – Robert Pattinson

Word is officially out. There’s a new Batman! The dark knight will be played by Robert Pattinson. Uh, Robert Pattinson?

photo by Nicolas Genin 

Do not get me wrong: Whether you like the first Twilight movie or not, it is a model for inciting incidents, try/fail cycles, and of course, the climactic moment when the hero desperately has to perform a forbidden act to save the day.

But it seems to me he lacks the gravitas to play Batman. He’ll have to bulk up a lot to play the part. I’m not sure millions of people will pay a lot of money to see him as the caped crusader.

What next, Kristen Stewart as Wonder Woman?

public domain 

That might attract a few people.

But who would play Superman?

photo by Eva Rinaldi

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Review - Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time by Michael Palin

Michael Palin’s chief fame comes from his being a performer and lead writer for the comedy group Monty Python. Since then, he’s served as the president of the Royal Geographical Society and has produced travel documentaries such as Pole to Pole.

In Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time, Palin chronicles the work of the HMS Erebus and her sister ship the HMS Terror as they explore the “Southern Ocean” and encounter the forbidding continent of Antarctica.

The Erebus and the Terror head down to Antarctica no less than two times, stopping back in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and New Zealand to renew supplies. One of their first sights was of a wholly unexpected active volcano, which they named after their ship—Mount Erebus. To quote from one of the logs, “It would Shew first with a volume of Smoke, as dark as Pitch which would gradually become of a lighter hue and then the Flame would burst forth with great fury for some time.” Then there was the eerie wall of ice two hundred feet high, that seemed to have no end. “McCormick clambered up to the crow’s nest, ‘but could see no termination to the great ice-wall, which we have named the Great Southern Barrier.’” That was just the edge of what is now called the Ross Ice Shelf, named after James Clark Ross, captain of the Erebus.

At one point, both of these wooden sailing ships were completely locked in by ice. They made the best of it by going out onto the ice and performing plays to maintain morale! It is hard to believe these ships survived the ice, the waves, the lightning, and other perils.

Later, the Erebus sailed north in an ill-fated attempt to find the Northwest Passage. Palin has less to recount here, since he has to piece together what happened from scraps of information.

So some application for science fiction writers (if you’re not one, ignore this paragraph): If you’re writing about ships in space, you can profit greatly from reading this sort of non-fiction—especially of older ships. There are gripping scenes of near disaster from forces far mightier than these ships. The feel of awe from encountering a volcano or the wall of ice are essential for good adventure fiction. On long voyages, something like a hologram deck or live plays would be a must for crew morale. And of course, there is the friction among officers as to who will be chosen for the glorious attempt to find the Northwest Passage.

All in all, Erebus is a beautiful book. Palin does the Royal Geographical Society proud.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Norwescon III Supplemental

So as promised, here is the most beautiful cosplayer at Norwescon.

This is Torrey Stenmark. I’ve somehow become a fan along the way. Here she is as Captain Marvel.

[click to enlarge]

I was surprised she was able to make the costume so quickly after the Captain Marvel movie. She was on a panel in which she spoke quite conversationally about the Marvel Universe and costuming, despite being in such a heavy-duty outfit.

The next day, I saw a woman in an intriguing costume, complete with helmet. I asked if I could take a picture, and she immediately went into a pose.

Later, I realized they’re the SAME PERSON. It was Torrey again. This happened to me last year, when I took pictures of her as Power Girl, and I didn’t recognize her.

So I knew ahead of time she was going to appear as Galadriel this year. Still, I was stunned when she debuted.

She knows how to pose with gestures appropriate for the character.

This view from the back shows the elaborate work involved. Keep in mind, she makes the costumes herself.

Here she is, breaking character to show off her 1st Place award. And no one can deny she earned it.

[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Norwescon II Supplemental

As promised, here are some of the cosplayers from Norwescon.

We’ll start with a fairy.

[click to enlarge]

At least, that’s what she resembles. I assume she’s some sort of magical being.

Now we have someone who was all armored up.

Keep in mind, it’s not a real gun. Some attendees do bring edged weapons, and those are peace-bonded, using the same thick plastic used in plastic handcuffs.

Now we have a winged being.

I’m not going to assume this is a fairy. Use some imagination.

I’ll pause from the amusing narrative. Some of these folks work all year on their costumes. The attention to detail is impressive. If you attend a convention like this, the polite thing to do is ask permission to take a picture, then show it to the person after it’s snapped.           

I asked, but the I took this picture when her eyes were shut. (I actually kind of like it.)

Thanks to the miracle of smart phones, I could quickly see my error and take another one.

She was a good sport.

And here is the Star Trek couple.

They were as cute as they look.

Here we have an elegant woman.

I’m guessing such outfits are incredibly hot after a while.

This is a member of the sheriff’s office. For real. She was patrolling in the hotel.

They say they get mistaken for cosplayers.

She could always protect us from the Dalek.

It actually moved around at a good rate.

So tomorrow, I’ll have the most beautiful cosplayer.

[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Norwescon I Supplemental

Norwescon is an annual science fiction and fantasy convention held in SeaTac (to the south of Seattle) each year. If you’ve never been to one, it’s a lot like other business conventions (except for cosplayers—more on that later).

For instance, there are many booths on the floor.

This one was for the Renaissance Faire.

And there are panels. This was one was on YA (young adult) writing. I don’t write that, but I like to go to such panels because the writers are so dynamic.

Fonda Lee, G.S. (Gabrielle) Prendergast, Marta Murvosh, and Brenna Clarke Gray. Marta Murvosh is asking aspiring writers to raise their hands. I couldn’t because, you know, camera. Apologies to Spencer Ellsworth, whom I couldn’t include in the shot.

Brenna Clarke Gray explained to me afterwards that YA has a maximum age of eighteen for protagonists. A protagonist age twenty to twenty-two would not work.

Novels with protagonists in their early to mid-twenties are called NA (new adult) by some. There is an expectation of a certain amount of sexuality, and if not, some discussion as to why there is no sexual activity.

Another panelist was Cat Rambo.

She emphasized that all writers need agents to read and understand the publishers’ contracts. Publishing houses try to get all the rights they can from the writer—for instance, rights to audiobooks. But if that publishing house has no history of doing audiobooks, the author needs to retain those rights or have the publishing house spell out in detail how an audiobook of the novel is going to be made.

But writers need to learn about contracts. Also, writers need to understand the agents’ contracts. Ultimately, it is the writer who signs the contracts and is responsible.

Rhiannon Held was also there.

She’s a professional archaeologist known for urban fantasy. Now she’s starting to do space opera.

The Artist Guest of Honor was Tran Nguyen.

Look at her art and be astounded. 

So my next entry will have cosplayers.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Conan Meets the Wizard of Oz

I was watching the movie Conan the Destroyer (not the first one, the reprehensible Conan the Barbarian), when I realized it had strong similarities to The Wizard of Oz. This might sound insane at first, but as I watched it again, the similar plot points were astonishing. Note that characters slide around, e.g., sometimes Conan is Dorothy, sometimes the Princess is. See if you think this is just coincidental. (The first few comparisons may seem unremarkable, but the whole is greater than the parts. And obviously, these are spoilers.)  

The Wizard of Oz starts with Dorothy running on a road.
Conan the Destroyer starts with soldiers galloping on horseback.

Dorothy descends from a tornado.
Soldiers on horseback descend on Conan in a plain.

Dorothy sings of over the rainbow (out of sequence)
Witch-Queen promises Conan to bring back the dead Valeria.

Dorothy greeted enthusiastically by Munchkins.
Conan greeted enthusiastically by crowd.

Evil Witch threatens Dorothy.
Witch-Queen plots to sacrifice Princess.

Good Witch sends Dorothy on her way.
Witch-Queen sends Conan and Princess on their way.

Dorothy acquires three companions: Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.
Conan acquires three companions: Thief = Cowardly Lion, Wizard = Scarecrow, Female Warrior = Tin Man.

Dorothy falls into a perilous sleep.
Princess falls asleep and is snatched away.

Confrontation with high gatekeeper of Oz.
Confrontation with wizard in high castle.

Dorothy and companions get spiffed up.
Princess and companions tend to each other’s wounds.

Dorothy meets the great big fiery head of the Wizard of Oz.
Princess walks into a great big mouth through blazing fire.

Attack of the flying monkeys.
Attack of the guardians of the horn.

Funny pratfall by Lion (out of sequence)
Funny battle of wizards.

Dorothy taken.
Princess taken.

Companions go after Dorothy.
Companions go after Princess.

Evil Witch prepares for Dorothy’s death using a red hourglass.
Witch-Queen prepares Princess for sacrifice using red wine.

Sneaking into the castle.
Sneaking into the palace.

Castle battle.
Palace battle.

Evil Witch killed abruptly.
Witch-Queen killed abruptly.

Dorothy brings Evil Witch’s broom to Wizard of Oz; confrontation with the Wizard.
Princess brings horn to evil god (out of sequence); Conan battles evil god.

Wizard gives gifts to each companion.
Princess invites each companion into her service.

Wizard tries to take Dorothy home by balloon; Dorothy steps out of carriage.
Princess asks Conan to rule with her; Conan goes off to find his own kingdom.

Dorothy returns home.
Conan eventually gains his own kingdom.

Obviously, Conan the Destroyer is its own story, with needless violence every so often. And the character of Bombaata, who betrays them, is unique to that movie. But do I think this proves the writers used The Wizard of Oz for their basic plot? Perhaps, perhaps not. At the least, it shows the lack of originality in Hollywood.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Astronaut Suit Does not Fit

Okay, March 29 was supposed to be a historic moment in space: the first all-female spacewalk. Astronauts Christina Koch and Anne McClain were scheduled to go out of the International Space Station—not as a stunt; it just so happened with the crew rotation that it would be two women and no man.

But Anne McClain decided to pass. She felt uncomfortable wearing the large spacesuit, and they only had one medium spacesuit, which Christina Koch would wear. See the account here.

Generic Spacesuit
photo by Adam Jones

One day they probably will have an all-female spacewalk—but not for the sake of being all-female. Whatever is practical.

So I’m going to use this as a lead-in for an excerpt from my novel manuscript, Alpha Shift. Christina has been badly hurt, but she has to pull on a flexible spacesuit.


Undressing was not difficult. Dressing was hard. The exo suit was a one-piece, bulky with compressed air on the back, that had to go on properly. A sloppy job would still be airtight, but it would crimp and pull tightly in the most private parts.

The most expedient thing to do was lie down on the deck. That eased her back while leaving her particularly vulnerable. Then there was the long effort to pull the thing on left-handed while twinging her tailbone and jarring the hot-and-cold packs on her right elbow and shoulder enough to pepper her vision with red spots of pain. Try as she might, she couldn’t help huffing and moaning with the effort.

In the end Christina  stood, reeking of bitter sweat, panting, suit not quite closed.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Your WiFi Password Hacked from Your Lightbulbs

So you have your WiFi password all secured, right? Now you feel confident enough to set up your smart light bulbs to go on or off or even dim at your command. If you’re really smart enough, you can set them to dim or brighten to match what you’re watching on TV, like reruns of Star Trek or your DVDs of Babylon 5. And everything is secure, right? Think again.

photo by Elgato

Your smart bulbs store your WiFi password. If you casually throw away these bulbs, any enterprising info thief can dumpster dive and derive your password from these innocent bulbs. And it pretty much goes downhill from there. This was pointed out by boingboing, but if you want the profanity-free summary, go to this forum.

This flaw may be a key plot point to one of my future stories. Do you want to sneak into a secure facility? Get one of the discarded lightbulbs (or something that seems just as innocuous), hack into the security system, then make sure the system doesn’t sense you. Just make sure you use your power for good.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Backstreet Like It’s 1999

I’m going to see the Captain Marvel movie for research purposes. It’s set in the 1990s, which they make very clear in the trailer by having her crash-land into a Blockbuster’s video store in the trailer. So . . . what’s the research?

One of my urban fantasy novels, Werewolf in the Fold, is set squarely in 1999. The following scene has James walking through the drab brown cubicles of his office—yes, that’s how they looked before the nicer gray cubicles came in. There are no werewolves in this scene. Or are there?


He passed a brown corner that had suddenly sported a bumper sticker that read “I am the Anti-Spice.” What? The Spice Girls had imploded a couple years ago. Now there was the crappy rivalry between The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, which had led to the festering growth of other boy bands. James wanted to remark about being stuck making fun of an old fad, if only he knew the joker who had placed it there well enough to—

He felt eyes on his back. James looked over his shoulder at some cubicles near Robert’s office. A couple women were talking to each other, heads visible over the cubicle wall that divided their desks. But they were looking at him and grinning, as if they approved of his scent.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Movie Review: Happy Death Day 2U

Happy Death Day 2U is a satire of slasher movies. If you saw the first movie (which I reviewed here), you’ll get some of the references, but it’s fine to watch as a standalone.

Tree (Jessica Rothe), the main character, had the misfortune of being targeted by a serial killer. Every time she died, she woke up on the same morning, to relive that day and get killed again.

But this time around she notices some details are different, like someone not walking into a room. Then she notices a lot of things are different, including who was in on the serial killings. But why? She discovers a few lab rats on her campus have bungled a quantum time machine, which has shifted her to an alternate universe.

So this time around, it’s not just a matter of screaming and running around to stop the serial killer to break the time loop. It’s a sideways hot mess as they guess their way around and through the multiverse.

The trailer showed too much, so here is an interview with Jessica Rothe with the quantum machine in the background.

Happy Death Day 2U is one of those rare comedy sequels that is funnier than the original. It’s especially hilarious to see how screaming mad Tree is when she finds herself in the loop—again. They changed the genre so that it is not just horror and comedy, but also science fiction. They not only play around with the wacky alternate reality, but it increases the tension with each attempt to solve the quantum dilemma.

The first movie rested entirely on Jessica Rothe’s shoulders. But now there are multiple people trying to figure out what is going on, each contributing to the humor.

Do not make the mistake of walking out when the credits roll. There is a remarkably long set of scenes after them, ala the Marvel Universe.

As a caution, Tree decided to kill herself a few times rather than getting murdered. Her suicides are funny, but if you or someone you know should not watch that sort of thing, be cautious.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Israeli Moon Mission

Today, Israel launched its first moon mission. If successful, the tiny spacecraft will make Israel the fourth nation to land a probe on the moon. (I would list the first three, but that would be telling.) It will also be the first time a private company landed a probe on the moon, as opposed to a government.

The spacecraft is named Beresheet. This is a transliteration of the first word in the Bible. In Western transliterations, it is usually spelled Bereshith. It means “In the beginning,” and that is the Hebrew name for Genesis.

Since I can’t get a public domain picture of the spacecraft, here is the first part of Genesis:

Since Hebrew goes from right to left, Bereshith, or בּרּאּשּיּתּ  is the first word to the left of the number 1. (There are too many dagheshes in the letters, but this is what I had to work with.)

So go to the moon, little craft. And the rest of you read Genesis. It’s good for you.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Deepfake—Jennifer Lawrence and Others

I’ve just discovered the deepfake phenomenon. Seriously, for the first couple seconds of this, I thought, “So that’s what Jennifer Lawrence looks like without her makeup.”

I can’t embed the video because of copyright issues, but here’s

[Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence]

Yes, this has been done before by multi-million dollar studios. But now this can be done cheaply in a short amount of time.

It gets more serious. Here is how lip movements from a real video can be altered.

[Obama’s lip movements altered]

Note that the actor is not lip-synching. Obama’s lips are being altered. You may have seen movies featuring pigs with animated lips. But this is being done realistically with a real person. And again, this can be done much cheaper now.

Now here’s how easily a person’s voice can be faked.

[Cloning a voice]

I’m aware these are different technologies. But imagine them melded together and easy to access in a few years. Anyone with a sufficiently good computer and enough patience could fake a video of you. Anyone could take a video and some audio of you from Facebook or some other source and come up with a deepfake video of you saying anything.

The nightmare scenario is someone putting a deepfake video of the president online, saying he has launched nuclear missiles towards Russia, China, or North Korea. On a more personal level, it could be a video of you saying something racist, or admitting to a sexual scandal, or bragging about embezzling from work.

In the anime series Ghost in the Shell, videos are no longer used in the future as evidence. One murderer hacked the security footage to substitute a detective’s image for his or her own. This caused consternation among the police when that detective arrived.

I’m not sure how all this will turn out in the future. But it may be important to include in science fiction stories.

In the meanwhile, to include an image in this post, and for those of you who thought I was uncharitable towards Jennifer Lawrence, here’s the soundtrack for The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games [Original Score]
Order from Barnes & Noble
Order from Amazon

I recommended this and other instrumental music here

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War

Joseph Loconte’s book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War is advertised to be an account of J.R.R. Tolkien and  C.S. Lewis in the First World War. So it was with great eagerness that I started to read it.

Unfortunately, I have to report it is no such thing. Readers of this blog will know this is not a negative blog, so this is more of a warning concerning truth in advertising.

Loconte is obviously an educated man who has done a good amount of research. His chapters are quick essays on important and somewhat overlooked aspects of societal trends before and during the war. He reveals how eugenics was popular among intellectuals in America and Britain, as well as in Germany, and the influence Darwin’s family had on it. He describes in detail how liberal theologians tended to identify the kingdom of God with their own nations, whether Britain, France, Germany, etc.

What is frustrating is he tends to describe an important movement or trend in society, then state that it must have had a great influence on Tolkien or Lewis. He may use no quotations, or a quotation from one of them that kind of has to do with the subject, or a quotation that has nothing to do with it. And he sometimes describes The Lord of the Rings incorrectly.

Back to this not being a negative blog. If you want a series of essays on those societal trends, with occasional quotations from Tolkien or Lewis, or other thoughtful people, this book can be eye-opening.

What really killed it for me was when Loconte started to have some good quotations from Tolkien, then he revealed he was getting them from some weighty tome out there called Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. I stopped reading Loconte’s book halfway through. Maybe I’ll get that other book.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Hymns at the Mall

This is a little late. At a mall before Christmas, I noticed a group of Indian singers assemble. The women were wearing traditional saris. So I prepared myself to listen to some multi-cultural music. I was quite surprised when they sang Christmas hymns.

They are the Indo Seattle Christian Fellowship. After singing traditional hymns in English, they sang in Hindi, Telagu, and Tamil. So yes, multi-cultural music, and a good time was had by all.


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