Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Barington Encounter: Part Five

Finally, some dialogue! ~ MSM


[1] * [2] * [3] * [4]

Now one of them, the tallest and thinnest and bluest of the lot (with the silveriest, shiniest pompadour but, in Andromedan terms, also the most ordinary), emerged from the back of the lorry first, peering up and down the suburban paradise that was Juniper Mews as he did. He waved his compatriots past him into the house, and once they’d all scurried safely indoors began directing the removal men (who, technically, were arrival men in this instance) from the ideal vantage point he’d only just discovered on the back of the lorry, wherefrom he was also able to operate the hydraulic lift, which he did now with considerable glee carefully disguised by the most stoic expression he could muster.

That the others had disappeared into the house so quickly was much to the consternation of Mrs Felicia Fripp, the biddy in the dreary British Home Stores frock who lived next door at Number 12. She'd only just gotten to the curtain in time to see their oddly blue group as it blurred behind the garden wall and through the faux-Georgian door into number 14, and was not at all happy to have seen even the little bit that she did. To Mrs Fripp the notion of five men (for they all looked like men to her) sharing a house together either smacked of hippies or much worse. She was determined to see no shirts lifted in Juniper Mews, no matter what sort of a lift it might give to property values.

There are kings and presidents and generals who would rather die than confront a mere journalist, let alone a space alien with a potential craving for human casserole; unfortunately for all involved, Felicia Fripp was no statesman. ‘Can I have a word with you?’ she said, stepping over her threshold onto a doormat which was rather too tasteful upon which to be trod. At least the mat, unlike the expression on Mrs Fripp’s face, said ‘Welcome’.

The alien’s body turned jerkily, while his head turned fluidly; seeing her, he set his lambent grey eyes upon her, then seemed to bore them into her. She felt her face flush - and that was just for starters. ‘Good morning madam,’ he said, approaching her gently, his voice like a kind of liquid honey which filled her ears and from there seemed to ooze its way down her body at a very leisurely pace indeed.

Blood she didn’t know she had was flooding into places on her she’d forgotten she had; gathering her breath, she batted her eyelashes at him and said: ‘Moving in are you?’ Having said that she cast her eyes down coquettishly - feeling almost as though they were being pushed down independently of her, like someone else had over-ridden her central nervous system; all her previous fury having suddenly, inexplicably, turned into the sultry equanamity of an especially cougary MILF, she raised her left arm and leant into the door frame, back arched, chest out, lips moistened...

He chuckled warmly and his eyes twinkled as he looked around him. ‘We are madam. My colleagues and I are so looking forward to our stay here. I must say, I can see why they call it ‘Jolly Old England’; it’s jolly old all right!’

At this rather pedestrian sentiment (at which she wouldn't have laughed even had it been uttered by Russ Abbott) she giggled like she hadn't giggled in years - mainly because she hadn't - just managing to spit out ‘Isn’t it just!’ before turning and bouncing off the aluminium siding, spinning into the house, and slamming the front door behind her so hard it sent the tasteful brass knocker nailed to it flying off it when she did.

Inside, in the antiseptic stench and ill-lit gloom of her foyer, she managed to shake all the befuddlement out of her head; her befuddlement gone in a shower of stars, she found she was still shaking, only by now it was more than just her head... It was her whole being - clenched as a fist and a hundred times as hostile...

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

See It Today: Gus Van Sant's "Milk"

To be quite honest, the thrill I felt when I heard that Gus Van Sant was to direct a biopic of Harvey Milk* was quickly tempered by the news that Milk would be played by Sean Penn...

Back in the day, of course, Penn was married to Madonna; tabloid reports at the time seem to have been borne out subsequently by Material Brother Christopher Ciccone that Penn was himself a noted homophobe - or at least he was, back in the 80s when he was spousally assaulting Madonna as well. Then again, Madonna seems to have a habit of marrying haters, if recent reports about Guy Ritchie are to be believed - clearly the world's most gay male woman enjoys a challenge.

Nevertheless, based on all I've seen and read recently, Sean Penn may just have pulled off the greatest redemption in the history of the gay community - although, as penance goes, even the straightest guy on the planet would have to admit that kissing James Franco ain't exactly gruelling. I mean, he may be a dude but he's no Andy Rooney.

The movie Milk opens in North American wide release on December 5th; with this performance, the buzz has it that Penn is poised to embrace another man in February, this time a little golden one...

*Who, in case you've been living under a rock (or a Mormon) was the openly-gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors assassinated on this day in 1978 alongside the city's Mayor George Moscone by their former colleague Dan White.
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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Barington Encounter: Part Four

In Part Four of The Barington Encounter we're almost to the part of the novel with, you know, the dialogue! Up until now the author - who for some reason has a reputation for writing spot-on dialogue - hasn't seen fit to let the characters speak for themselves, preferring instead to drone on with what seems like an awful lot of exposition, doesn't it? Anyway, after this bit of jabber he's seen fit to write an actual scene in which humans interact with aliens, which is more or less the whole point of sci-fi. Duh! ~ MSM


[1] * [2] * [3]

Indeed, the contest caused more excitement than had ever been caused on Andromeda, which wouldn't have been hard to do, yet somehow never had been tried nor had ever even been contemplated, sad to say... It caused so much excitement, in fact, that even the deadliest dullest documentarian – an astonishingly earnest creature called Naynin - couldn’t help but make an interesting programme of it; plagued by the guilt that he’d actually been entertaining - even accidentally - Naynin later committed suicide by watching an entire episode of a Mexican sitcom live via satellite onstage at Emperor Stadium in Andromeda City. According to the hundreds of thousands who’d witnessed it in person it was not only the most brutal thing they’d ever seen, it would have made for a really brilliant documentary. Out of respect for his memory, though, all those in attendance agreed to leave said documentary unmade, lest it prove entertaining and thus perpetuate the vicious cycle until all 300 billion of them had died similarly, albeit in increasingly smaller venues and before increasingly smaller live studio audiences.

That every single living Andromedan - including all three of the judges of Andromedan Idol and even the Emperor himself - had entered such a contest might surprise you; it certainly surprised them, which in addition to the all the excitement at having finally discovered the formula for making celebrities after nearly two decades of trying, made for quite a day. Unaccustomed to being surprised (let alone excited, especially all on the same day), this turn of events naturally took them by an entirely different sort of surprise. Not merely doubling their initial surprise but multiplying it – by a factor later determined as 85,152 - opened a wormhole in the space-time continuum, connecting Andromeda to Earth by means of a short, tastefully decorated corridor, thus rendering obsolete their entire space program, collapsing their economy, and making them the butt of jokes in the chat show monologues of a thousand different species.

On the plus side, the black hole created to get their orbit going again soon collapsed the wormhole - which meant that the five chosen for the mission would be able to use their pretty new spaceship after all, or would have, if it hadn't already been scrapped by a petulant Andromedan rocket scientist overtaken by a fit of pique owing to the extraordinary events of Discovery Day. Only the fact that all this surprise and excitement had resulted in an entirely new field of mathematics – shockulus – was able to return Andromeda to its original boring normalcy.

That every single Andromedan had applied to be removed from their planet forever wouldn’t, however, surprise you if you’d ever been to Andromeda; charitably put, it’s the most ordinary place in the universe. There, all the birds are wrens, and all the wrens sing the same single note without so much as a hint of the avian jazz for which our feathered friends on Earth are rightfully renowned; the planet grew just the one species of tree, and it was grey even on the first day of spring, when it ought to have fairly glowed with that juicy green colour of new foliage which is (or ought to be, anyway) the reward for surviving a long winter. The weather - owing to a series of powerful satellites, as has previously been mentioned - was 21 Celcius and partly cloudy wherever one went on the planet, from the West Pole to the equator to the East Pole. Despite a tourism industry responsible for routinely generating revenues in the quadrillions - mainly from vast relaxation spas - there was no place an Andromedan liked less than home boring home.

The only reason the Andromedans were known as the most peaceful race in the universe is that they all had one thing in common: a desire to get off such a quotidian lump as Andromeda. Leaving was their only religion, their only sport, and their only political issue. It was also the only theme in their pop music, which made Andromedan pop music so boring that it almost couldn’t help but be hugely popular yet somehow just wasn’t; this probably accounted for the reason why the Andromedan word for ‘good luck’ sounds, to human ears, exactly like a snicker.

Yet it was for precisely this reason that Andromedans were forbidden from leaving Andromeda; whereas ‘brain drain’ was a major problem everywhere there were carbon-based humanoids (except in the Centauri system, where it was a cocktail) the Andromedans had come up with what was, to them, an elegant solution. The punishment Andromedans suffered for getting caught trying to leave or leaving Andromeda was the life penalty; for most, the thought of being made to survive on respirators long after they’d earned their death was enough to bully them into compliance; so they stayed put, and without much toil built a society that was the envy of non-egotistical races everywhere.

Even though a scant few Andromedans had ever thought they’d live to see actual salvation, they still all believed it might be coming anyway; in fact, a faint glimmer of hope was in effect the state religion. Whenever they worshipped (essentially just at holidays and when things weren't going well for them) they did so in a low-key way, in unadorned chapels, so as not to appear to get their hopes up - which anyway was a capital offense on Andromeda. The rest of the time they greeted each other with rolling eyes and heavy sad sighs, which is the Andromedan word for either ‘peace’ or ‘escape’.

When in a single day celebrity technology was perfected, every single member of an entire race applied to be exiled from the only planet any of them had ever known, and a resultant wormhole was opened, many millions of Andromedans actually died. The official cause of death was ‘dreams came true’, and the myriad events of Discovery Day itself were soon the subject of many tens of thousands of hours of mind-numbing documentary programming, not to mention an equivalent number of fervently worked-out shockulus calculations, although the less said regarding the deadly dull documentaries about the fervent shockulus calculations (not to mention those who made them in either case) the better.

And so, for an entire week, as the sun seemed to hang in the same part of the sky, greater numbers of Andromedans agglomerated outside the stadium where the auditions were being held, shuffling in their queue past the Selection Committee to have their auras photographed (their auras being as distinct as their faces were identical) before depositing their resumes (which were more distinctive than their appearances but not as distinctive as their auragraphs).

So dire was the potential crisis there was even the fear that the orbit would stop again; ennuiwobble or not, a normal week on Andromeda lasts 10 Earth months, so you can imagine how endless a thing the process had actually been to spend one sifting through 300 billion resumes (not to mention 300 billion auragraphs) to find the five most ordinary of them to send.

But find them they did...

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Barington Encounter: Part Three

Part Three of The Barington Encounter picks up where the author had been rambling at the end of Part Two: to whit, some explanation of the nature of Andromedan society, along with some of the story about how these aliens managed to come all the way to Earth, only to end up hopelessly enmired in suburbia. Which, for a race who makes a cult of mediocrity, sort of makes sense. Of course, along the way the author also seems to have become enmired in exposition... C'est la vie ecrivaine! ~ MSM


You see, in an effort to improve Andromeda’s image overskies, the Andromedan government decided that its people were ready for their first celebrities - in addition to a space program, seeing as virtually every other planet in the universe worth its frontch already had oodles of both. Since the Andromedan zeal to be like everyone else amongst themselves had been readily manifested by them externally - making their race one of the most competitive in the entire quadrant - not only did they all want to be exactly like each other, they also wanted the very best of everything everyone else had; to give them proper credit, they may have been greedy, but at least they were discerning about it when they were.

Despite having such a mad pash for things, though, the Andromedans tempered their acquisitiveness with a work ethic so strong that it wouldn’t allow them to steal, not even a spot of light pillaging should a riot break out or something - not that it ever did or would or had - Andromedans being far too smugly comfortable in their culturally advanced state to hurl an imprecation, let alone a brickbat. Alas, the very quality which should have made them the natural leaders of the universe rather made them the laughingstock instead. The Centauris - all bluster and bravado - pretty much steamrolled over anyone who got in their way or between them and something they wanted, and therefore by bluff humour and occasional sudden outbursts of force they had come to rule the known universe; the Andromedans, with their work ethic and sense of fairplay, usually got the onerous task of cleaning up after the Centauri’s messes, and often shouldered the burden of ill-well left in the Centauri wake with a kind of supercilious resignation.

That it took the Andromedans as long as three or four months to develop technology which was so exceptional - both in form and in function - so as to allow them to send a team to explore the Earth for Andromedan television meant that for centuries the term ‘Andromedan rocket scientist’ was the most universally accepted shout out in the known universes - more so than ‘homey’ or even ‘jyllbak’. Along the way they even invented television (in the Earth year 1485) and reality television shortly thereafter, which ought to have dimmed their reputation, and would have, if anyone else but them actually watched Andromedan television. It turns out, though, that rocket science and advanced telecommunications were a piece of piss to concoct compared to celebrity, at least for Andromedans...

In just about every system in the universe with even a modicum of sentience - and in every one without any sentience at all - there were celebrities; for instance, all of the Pebblepeople of the planet Gravelpit were celebrities, precisely because there wasn’t a functioning neuron in the entire sector and therefore no faculty to help them to tell the difference between someone with actual talent and a pretty face with a good agent.

Everywhere one went from world to world, celebrities developed like viruses and spread like mould, and not merely on those planets ruled by super-intelligent viruses or drop-dead gorgeous moulds, either. On Andromeda, though, the notion that one person should get more recognition, be better known, or in any other way jut one's head above the parapet was an even worse anathema than their universal horror of being entertained.

Naturally, there were Andromedans who were well-known for their efforts - be they political, artistic, or philosophical - but aside from their output (and a government-regulated ‘reasonable amount’ of input on it generated by a handful of fair and even-tempered critics) little else would be known about them; an Andromedan, for instance, would certainly never be flatteringly photographed in his tastefully appointed flat holding a pet - be it dog, cat, kluuurth, or child - all the while crowing about contentment, which made the Andromedan version of Hello magazine drier than a mouthful of sand and far less interesting.

Should he be given a prize he was never the ‘winner’ of said prize, since that word had been long since been expunged from the Andromedan languages, at the same time as the word ‘loser’, in fact, coincidentally during the reign of Emperor Hllu the Loser; they were, for a time, said to be ‘appointed to the honour roll’ or ‘honoured with’ this or that, although the word ‘honour’ was beginning to fall from favour (as was the word ‘favour’ also on the wane, since their very existence naturally implied the reciprocal existence of dishonour and disfavour). Increasingly, Andromeda’s ever-burgeoning corps of linguistical correctness freaks preferred to say one of their number had been ‘given a trophy’, or else as having ‘received a brass reacharound’ if they were feeling cheeky.

Not only had developing the technology to create celebrities prove well-nigh impossible to these alleged geniuses, but the entire schamozzle had involved massive cost overruns, supporting a culture of corruption which by law had lined everyone's pockets equally - from the lowliest glorn to the mightiest fnorp - which, while it had made them by far the wealthiest race in the universe, also made them all aware that their zeal for fame had corrupted them even more than their zeal’s concomitant riches had enriched them. Rather than shame, though, they were gripped by a profound collective guilt over their success, which in turn brought about more than enough fodder for ten generations’ worth of deadly dull documentaries which nobody watched except for deadlier, duller documentarians, who were quick as ever to decry even the merest whisper of entertainment potential in their own output despite the fact that there was never going to be any.

For many years, at top secret facilities all over Andromeda, volunteer test subjects were routinely chased around by photographers, forced to live for weeks at a time on a diet consisting of nothing but cigarettes and alcohol, and encouraged to spout off ill-considered politics at will into any open recording device within range; all to no avail. Not a one of them ever became so much as infamous, let alone notorious, since the Andromedan ability to see all sides of an issue was as renowned on Andromeda as it was reviled everywhere beings were actively taking sides (which, frankly, was everywhere except Andromeda).

Not even putting several of these would-be celebrities together in a house with a hundred cameras and having their behaviour manipulated by the most craven of producers yielded anything like the sort of drivel it would have done on Earth. The only talk around the water cooler their programme provoked the next morning was the same identically shallow discussion of the day’s weather that had taken place on the show itself, which talk in any event was of the exact same weather the planet had been having every day for decades, thanks to Andromeda’s extensive system of weather satellites, which had been designed and launched specifically to deprive any given day of the right to be called better (or worse) than any other one.

When, after centuries of experimentation, no actual celebrities had been created - save for a few wonky prototypes who inevitably (if illegally) found their way off of Andromeda, onto other planets, only to never be heard from again - far from being outraged or infuriated by the barrage of scandal on top of scandal, the Andromedan chattering classes merely became apathetic, which apathy sooner or later crept into their documentaries, making for the deadliest, dullest ones yet. The less said about the impact this turn of events had on the planet’s pundits the better... (In three words: they all died; whereas, in four words: they all died horribly. You see what I mean.)

As Andromeda’s celebrity scientists - that is to say, their scientists in charge of creating celebrities - toiled over the problem so did their philosophers opine; meanwhile their legislatures debated, their pundits snarked, their pollsters manipulated, and their quantity surveyors surveyed various quantities of assorted surveyable things while they all in their turn grappled with the mess of pertinent ethical dilemnas created by the situation in pretty much equal measure, until such time as the Andromedan government decided to come to terms with it in the only appropriate manner - by ordering a Royal Commission... And so it came to pass that, as a people, they should spend the next decade slogging through their entire bureaucratic repertoire until such time as the issue being studied was rendered irrelevant and the entire process had ground to a halting pulp...

The week before the final report was due from the Royal Commission on Celebrity felt so interminable for so many Andromedans that it actually manifested itself, going so far as stopping the planet’s orbit. Within a single news cycle Global News Network had dubbed this phenomenon the Andromedan ennuiwobble, and because of it the hologram of an Andromedan astrogeographer entering Galactic Astrographic Society headquarters in Gordlinginin - the Centauri capital - would thereafter often be pointed out and giggled at mercilessly by his fellow scientists. Overnight, the term ‘Andromedan rocket scientist’ became the most ubiquitous dis in the universe, replacing all existing favourites, including ‘douchebag’, ‘cocksucker’, ‘motherfucker’ and even the worst of them all, blarf. (You should pardon my Centauri.)

Fortunately, a team of physicists were able to jump start the planet’s orbit, seeing as it had, in their words, “fallen asleep” - thus literally stopping time. It took the creation of a black hole and the destruction of three or four rather pretty nebulae in the vicinity - which were then rather ingeniously fashioned into solar sails - but soon enough they were able to get it going again. Ironically, it was Andromeda’s precipitous fall from acclaim to disgrace that broke their scientific impasse, in much the same way you might find your great-grandfather’s long-lost heirloom cufflinks while looking for your temporarily misplaced keys.

Meaning that the first working model for creating celebrities was discovered at such time as many Andromedans had simply lost interest in even trying to develop celebrity technology at all, or else had intellectually come to terms with considering it so statistically difficult as to safely enable them to refer to it as impossible. Alchemy had come as easily as tabletop fusion to them; even terraforming seemed like a walk in the park by comparison. And yet... Andromeda's celebrity-industrial complex had utterly failed in its one and only endeavour. Trillions of kloxars had been spent - wasted, essentially - when all the impetus Andromeda needed to create celebrities was the scornful approbation of their former admirers.

There then arose the prickly dilemna of who to choose for the mission; trapped at an impasse which threatened the very core of their glorious if anodyne civilization the Andromedan Emperor, in his best Andromedan way, did the most ordinary thing he could think of, and held a contest to allow the five most deserving of them to be the first of their race allowed to leave the home world.

The contest did cause excitement, though. Did it ever...

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Tracy Morgan Predicts... Black Is The New President

Ah, remember the good old days... Like, way way back in what, March 2008? That's when Tracy Morgan returned to his old stomping grounds at Saturday Night Live in order to throw his support behind Barack Obama, as well as sharing a little banter with Seth Meyers. You see, in those days the Democratic nomination was still up in the air between Obama and New York's Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton; the previous week Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had proclaimed their support for Clinton with the ingenious line 'Bitch is the new black.'

It took me awhile too warm up to Tracy Morgan, who today turns 40; his performance as Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock, however, has turned me into an unreserved fan.
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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Books Wormed: "A Garden Of Sand" by Earl Thompson

Owing to my recent deployment at a locale where there's more time to do it in than actual work to do while there, I'm back on a reading kick in a really big way. I figured I might as well put all that bookworming to good use - while it lasts - by adding to one of those features which has been much-neglected of late, namely Books Wormed... ~ MSM

When Earl Thompson's novel A Garden of Sand first appeared in 1970 the 1930s was still, for a lot of people, within living memory. Yet human nature seems fixated on the idea that the past was some G-rated paradise, so there seems to have been no shortage of shock at the contents of this novel, which is almost entirely shocking even today. Epic, yet intimate, lurid, yet honestly so, A Garden of Sand blows the lid off a seemingly lid-proof Depression-era America - a time when even good people, it seems, were forced to resort to their most craven impulses every minute of the day just to survive.

Ever since they occurred, the Thirties has served as a pretty convenient shorthand for artists everywhere; when times are bad, it seems, storytellers of all kinds - be they novelists or film-makers - like to turn to those hardscrabble days for perspective, especially when a contemporary setting would seem to be lacking in the necessary gravity to convey whatever threat or privation needs conveying.

There are enough hard-luck losers in A Garden of Sand to populate a dozen Tom Waits albums, with enough left over to keep him busy telling their myriad stories until he's a hundred; in following Odd 'Jack' Andersen almost from the moment of his birth Thompson has fashioned a story which contains not only all of those lives which intersect his, but a powerful morality tale as rich in philosophy as it is in imagery.

Amazingly, A Garden of Sand was Earl Thompson's first novel, yet it's no typically tepid freshman effort. Thompson's masterful handling of prose - laced with equal parts dynamite and poetry - suggests bullying, sweet-talking, and in general a situationally ethical approach to getting the story told; it's a surprisingly muscular way of handling the despair, apathy, and inevitable ruin to which many of his characters find themselves inexorably drawn. If this were journalism (which, in a way, it is) his every subject would leave their author's presence in either tears or handcuffs and often enough both.

Having extensively perused numerous works either from or about the Thirties (as research for my own novel, set in 1934-5) I can safely say that A Garden of Sand reads as brutally true as any I've read; if God is in the details then Earl Thompson is God... His evocation of time and place teems with finely-observed insight. So completely realized is his universe - centred on Wichita, Kansas - that upon closing the back cover I wanted to re-open the front cover and experience it all over again.

Now that's what I call a good book...
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The Barington Encounter: Part Two


In the previous part the town of Barington was described, and some anecdotal insight was given into the nature of its residents; the aliens have arrived, and been described, but invariably the narrator has wandered off on some wacko tangent or another about the various other races known to enjoy Earth, so who knows when he (or she) will get down to the whole "humans interacting with actual aliens" shtick. ~ MSM

I should explain that, on Andromeda, it is not a crime to be ordinary like it is in other places. In fact, it's rather a requirement; because special people invariably had an unfair advantage in life, and equally invariably got special treatment because of it, and because to the Andromedan mind this was spectacularly unfair, over many thousands of millenia each and every Andromedan had come to have the same build, the same intellect, the same salary... It was, to the highly evolved if highly pedantic Andromedan mind, the only way they could all be equals.

Had they been Centauris, though, these Andromedans would have been among the first to earn a free trip to Earth as exiles (whom they called borings); Earth’d, the most popular programme on Centauri television, twice daily featured the dullest of their race being lured to Earth by attractive females then abandoned, often without their clothing (especially if it's a week in which ratings are compiled, cruel nudity being almost as popular there as short video clips of blokes getting clocked in the goolies on Earth).

If in your workplace you have a coworker who is large and silent, chances are you have met an Earth'd Centauri. If you’ve seen a Yeti or better yet, a fellow with an excellent Wookiee costume at a nude beach, known anyone or anything even remotely Sasquatchian (including Sasquatch), chances are he - for they are always a he - was a loser on Earth’d. They are large and hairy because they are Centauri and they are silent because they’d rather not talk about it, thank you very much, denial being a rather chic pastime of their race. Still, you should always hug one if you can; in Centauri mythology it’s said to either ‘bring luck to the helper’ or else ‘help the hugger get lucky’. Exactly which, naturally, has been the cause of much sectarian strife between the intersecting systems of Alpha and Beta Centauri, as translations vary - a situation scarcely remedied following twelve centuries of bloodshed known as the Translation Wars, during which the good people of Gamma Centauri were wise to keep well out of by professing a deep affection for atheism, until they and their planet were devastated by an attack from the agnostics of Centauri Delta.

Likewise, if you’ve ever seen a leprechaun, a pixie, or a fairy (especially when potted) you’ve seen an Oriononian - since normally the only way a human being can see fast enough to make one out is with the aid of some chemical assistance. On the other hand, a gnome who just stands there leaning on his rake and grinning insipidly - whether beside a water feature or as the focal point of a rock garden - that’s an Oriononian ‘colonist’, a variety of layabout whose slackdaw ways are so anathema to the flibbertigibbet Oriononian majority that he (for again, they are always a he) is exiled forthwith to concentration camps (which on Earth are known by the twee euphemism 'garden centres') and from there they are sold into what constitutes slavery on Orion - being forced to slowly farm the most shadowy corners of the dampest countries on the most obscure planets forever. Oriononian colonists, it should be noted, are the most contented exiles ever, though they do not brag about it like, say, Australians.

So Centauris and Oriononians you may have seen, but you wouldn’t have ever seen an Andromedan on Earth; until, that is, May 12th. That’s because these five were the first of their kind ever to come here, and, as has already been alluded that was the day they arrived. The reason for this is a long and convoluted one, and one which is scarcely believable besides; still, I'm going to tell you anyway...


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Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Watchlist - November 7th

Bessie Smith - "I'm Wild About That Thing"
Of Montreal - "Disconnect The Dots"
U2 - "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"
Demons and Wizards - "Crimson King"
The Libertines - "The Last Post of the Bugle"
Luba - "Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry"
Doris Day - "Ten Cents A Dance"
Guns 'n Roses - "Locomotive"
Ima Robot - "Creeps Me Out"
Destiny's Child - "Say My Name"
The Specials - "Friday Night Saturday Morning"
Good Charlotte - "Time After Time"
ZZ Top - "Tush"
Adam Rickett - "Everything My Heart Desires"
Pansy Division - "The Biggest Lie"
Kate Bush - "The Man With the Child in His Eyes"
Eva Cassidy - "Songbird"
The Buzzcocks - "Lipstick"
Dar Williams - "Farewell to the Old Me"
The Punters - "Candlelight and Wine"
Robert Johnson - "Honeymoon Blues"
Incognito - "Deep Waters"
George Michael - "Too Funky"
Alannah Myles - "Still Got This Thing For You"
Gwen Stefani - "Hollaback Girl"
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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Yes We Can!: The Election of Barack Obama

On Election Night President-elect Barack Obama accepted the mandate of the American people with his usual aplomb, addressing the crowds in Chicago's Grant Park with a stirring, classy acknowledgement of American ideals; yet whatever change was wrought on that extraordinary night must be tempered with the knowledge that a substantial minority of people in the most populous US state lost their civil rights on the same night when yet again an American electorate jazzed on change voted for it with one hand and for the same narrow-minded view of equality with the other...

Growing up gay means growing up aware that even second-class citizenship is a mirage in the distance, an illusory opportunity - but an opportunity nonetheless... All the legislation in the world - even if, by some miracle it should actually be enforced - doesn't make for equality all by itself; therefore, the same applies to state-sponsored discrimination. By voting Yes on Proposition 8 the voters of California haven't banned marriage equality but merely deferred it; oppose it though you might, it will one day happen - as it has already in Holland, Canada, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, and soon in Norway, whereas as recently as 2002 none of these countries did. How many more nations will have to come to the simple realization that equal rights mean equal opportunity for all before they all begin to? How many people will end up on the losing side of history because they were unable to comprehend that simple fact?

For my part, I believe the presidency of Barack Obama will render greater change for good than the previous administration did for evil - maybe even undo what hatred and bigotry Karl Rove's neoconservative agenda has wrought by poisoning the wells of people's minds with fear. If I may paraphrase the President-elect's own words, we can always hope... Yes we can. Allowing marriage equality doesn't weaken marriage or family but strengthens it; nor does allowing it make it mandatory - as a simple majority of California voters seems to believe - any more than passing hateful propositions will undo the heartfelt vows of the 16,000 gay couples whose California marriages have now been rendered null and void.
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pop History Moment: The Election of Barack Obama


It was a hard-fought campaign, filled with the kind of lies and outrageous pandering to the lowest common denominator we've come to expect from the Republican Party, but also with a charismatic candidate the Democrats can only seem to muster up occasionally (although, not often enough for the liking of the Pop Culture Institute).

We knew going in it would be an historic campaign - from early on it was clear the Democrats were either going to field a black man or a woman - but for weeks now those in the punditocracy have been likening this one to the 1960 Presidential campaign, which pitted Senator John F. Kennedy against Vice President Richard Nixon, for the way it has gripped the zeitgeist not just in the United States but around the world.

Now it's official... Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has handily defeated the senior senator from Arizona, John McCain; the brief bump in the polls McCain got from selecting as his running mate Alaska governor Sarah Palin appears to have backfired on him, whereas Obama's selection of Joe Biden seems to have sufficiently quelled fears of Obama's lack of experience for the majority of American voters.
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The 2008 Vice-Presidential Debate (According To "Saturday Night Live")

So, I've been pretty mum on politics this election season, at least since the primaries got underway in January; anyway, I figured Election Day was the ideal time to break my silence, by posting my favourite bit of comedy from the entire campaign - a spot-on parody from Saturday Night Live of the 2008 vice-presidential debate; the debate was held at Washington University in St. Louis, and was itself the most watched vice-presidential debate in history with more than 70 million viewers.

It stars, of course, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden, and Queen Latifah as moderator Gwen Ifill...

SNL's parodies of Sarah Palin have been just about the only things that have gotten me through the muck and slime of the current campaign; judging by how quickly they've each gone viral, I'd guess I'm not alone in that. Fey has gone on record as saying she hopes to be done playing Sarah Palin on November 5th, so I say bravo to her for making the most of this unique opportunity and stepping into the spotlight for the sake of pop culture.
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Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Barington Encounter: Part One

In honour of the fact that my friend James Mullin has managed to trick me into reading at this afternoon's open house at Vancouver's Tanglewood Books, and in honour of the fact that the blog is caught up to date for the first time in a long time, I've decided to launch a new feature here at the Pop Culture Institute, namely that of serialized fiction. Beginning today and running each Sunday from now on until either I finish the damn thing or the damn thing finishes me, it's the completely un-awaited, utterly unsought-after novel-in-progress The Barington Encounter, which is dedicated to Douglas Adams...



Barington was a very normal town in Sussex. I say was, because… Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves before we've even begun, shall we?

Barington, as I’ve said, was a very normal town in Sussex. As a place it consisted of a medieval centre, little changed since the 14th Century, except for the number of shops offering Tandoori chicken, which had lately increased exponentially, although only since 1982. It had a minor cathedral, two even lesser stately homes (which could more rightly be called stately cottages - were there such a patently ludicrous designation), and a stand of trees where Henry III once got a hangnail, an event commemorated there now by a somewhat tatty brass plaque placed in the vicinity by the local chapter of the Society of Sticklers for Historical Minutiae in 1991. Wreathing this ancient if entirely ordinary red-brick jumble was a ghastly grey sprawl of tract houses punctuated here and there by even ghastlier blocks of council flats, most of which dated from 1964.

In other words, Barington was a very normal town in Sussex.

The residents of Barington were a God-fearing lot, naturally. They attended the cinema and garden shows, and occasionally even church; they drank any number of pints in any number of pubs, took picnics on the village green and even bought tickets in the National Lottery - but only if they were deliberately cultivating a reputation for thrill-seeking. Likewise, they shopped for goose liver pate and veal chop and unfairly traded, inorganic, cruelty-enriched biscuits from the Fourth World at Selfridge’s - the Third World having recently been deemed by The Daily Mail to have become far too uppity for demanding a tenth of the lifestyle enjoyed by its consumers, and therefore unworthy of any further custom.

Baringtonians could be counted on to always vote for the government candidate in by-elections, provided he was a Tory, and might even profess a poignant longing for the good old days (whenever they were) whether drunk or merely awake. Poll after poll showed time after time that while the average Baringtonite went up to London eight times a year, it wasn’t always for the reasons one might think, whilst every single time any of them went to Brighton it was for one thing and one thing only. Otherwise, why bother, eh?

On any given day, say May 12th, they would be as comfortable in their suburban smugness as they inevitably were in their carpet slippers... So then it came as quite a shock to the residents of Barington, not to mention the Nation, when on that selfsame day Andromedans turned up at a rented house in Juniper Mews with a hired lorry full of furniture.

Actual Andromedans mind you, from the planet Andromeda. Not a Greek family from, say, Clapham. And not some Doomsday cult in matching trainers and trackies, either, though that is what they resembled.

Andromedans. Five of them.

They were quite a sight, they were. They dressed alike, and even from behind fluttering curtains up and down the mews they looked alike, though to each other there was no resemblance whatsoever; aside from the superficial of course, which distinctions their race had long since ceased to recognize, since they were both highly advanced and well smug about it besides. They were all tall and thin, these five, though their tallnesses and thinnesses did vary somewhat, if only slightly. They all had sky blue skin of identical tint and shiny silver pompadours of similar sheen - like Michael Rennie in The Day The Earth Stood Still. Not that they would have known that, though, since ironically none of them were very keen on sci-fi, which anyway wasn't terribly popular on Andromeda owing to the fact that it was frequently quite entertaining.

Yet even in this the longer one looked at them the more it seemed that their bluenesses varied even as different corners of the same summer sky differed, and as they each had different hairdressers (who naturally sold each of them different hair care products) even their shiny silver pompadours varied in shininess and silveriness despite the uniformity of their pompadourability. Their expressions could either be called ‘serene’ or ‘blank’ (depending on which newspaper one read) and their demeanour on this day consisted chiefly of movements somehow jerky and fluid at once; like their skin and hair colours entirely the result of withdrawal from suspended animation and not merely a splendid affectation of their race. More’s the pity.

Their manner of dress resembled boiler suits, only better fitting and with more pockets, in a quilted silver material that was not unlike oven mitts, which could be considered quite sexy to them as was into that sort of thing. These were, in fact, pyjamas, which had been cleverly designed for space travel, with each pocket designed to hold its own specific organ. Beneath these they wore their more normal costume, a one-piece unitard which, if the silver jumpsuit didn't get you, the unitard certainly would, clinging lovingly as it did to each agreeably situated bulge. Again - provided you were into that sort of thing. Their outfits were each completed by a pendant - an eyeball with a pewter coloured iris in a triangle of platinum hung by its two upper corners on a heavy silver chain - which like them unblinkingly looked this way and that and unlike them recorded all it saw and transmitted said images back to Andromeda.

Yet for all their clever coveralls and classy blue skin and despite the altitude of their shiny silver hair - even in consideration of their lithe swimmers' builds with their gymnastic proportions packed into clingy undergarments - these were five very ordinary Andromedans indeed. In fact, Andromedan Idol had over 300 million applicants that week when the finalists were chosen, and these five had won out, simply by being the most ordinary of them all.

That they'd been so chosen for their mission specifically because of their stupendous ordinariness isn't such an odd thing if considered logically; after all, what good does it do a truly advanced alien race like the Andromedans to send off its really extraordinary people to a place where they might be captured, tortured, and/or autopsied during prime time on national television? Not that Andromeda had any truly special people (for reasons that will be gotten into later) but just as a for instance...

And so, knowing considerably more about Earth than most Earthlings knew about Andromeda (or in fact Earth) and taking into account the savagery of the race therein ensconced - gleaned by scientists who'd been forced to watch literally every episode of Crimewatch, many of whom had to be put on life support to get them through the entertaining bits - the Andromedan government was taking no chances at losing one of its Glorgap Prize appointees to the scalpel of something that was, in Andromedan terms at least, still within spitting distance of the ooze out of which it had evolved.

See? Here we're getting ahead of ourselves again...


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