Friday, October 31, 2008

'DANCE OF TIGERS' is dead. Long live 'ASLAM'.

When Tethys was finally done it still wasn't finished. When you come to think about it, stories seldom are; it's just that some are better off not told, and many, let's face it, should have been aborted long before they were.

At the time of concluding Tethys, I was also going through a period of fascination with Tigers. Truth be told, I am still fascinated with them, but after some time of reflection, occasioned by...well, 'circumstances' I guess...I've come to the conclusion that, appropriate though it is in terms of its main theme, the title 'Dance of Tigers' for the sequel to Tethys is wrong. I guess I always knew that, but even I occasionally live in denial. So sue me.

Anyway, above is the first design—emphasis is on 'design'!—for the cover of Aslam. As with the other covers it's a representation or a scene from the book. In the event, the scene gained shape in my head even as I started on the cover design.

A note on tools. The images are done using a 3-d design program called DAZ Studio, which you can get free from DAZ3D. I've given up on Poser, which I've used in the past, because after years of development, DAZ Studio, despite a bunch of configuration issues and being a PITA to set up on the Mac, has overtaken Poser as a 'usable' 3D modeling and rendering environment. The props, figures, clothing and hair used to create the 3D-part of the scene(s) can be obtained from DAZ3D at very sensible cost. Also, my old Poser libraries can be accessed from DAZ Studio, which means that the software transition doesn't mean I lose existing content. (I know this is geek-speak to a lot of people, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.)

I've learned not to set up the whole scene in one render, but in bits and pieces, that can be put together, and combined with photographs and tarted up with some TLC and my trusty graphic tablet, in Photoshop. What you see in the image above are the mostly un-Photoshopped compotite images. They'll still need a lot of work. It's always the last pase of the work that takes up most of one's time.

The title of the book, by the way, is the name of the largest of Tethys's continents. Aslam and what we'll find in its center derives from several sources. One is drawing of a 'land' that I wanted to use for another novel, but now decided to take as a setting for Aslam instead.

Never leave a perfectly good map unused.

The other motivation is that Fontaine and Tethys already created an initial social backdrop for the people of the giant oasis in Aslam's center. When Naela disguised herself as an 'Aslatrix' in order to leave the Valley a whole new story-thread was started, that culminated, of course, in the apperance of a 'real' Aslatrix in the character of 'Teris'. (And, yes, if you haven't read either of these books: tough cookies!)

Thus do story-tellers get themselves into trouble. The question about where Teris comes from, combined with the imminent appearance of the 'Controller', Gaston Huil, on Tethys, and just exactly what his plans are and how this all comes out...

Of course that's just 'plot'. 'Theme' is something else altogether, and what that is, is for me to know and the reader to find out—when I'm done. The privileges of the one who knows, over those who don't.

The central characters of Aslam are: Teris; Falcon; Mac; Naela; a friend of Mac's called 'Daveed', whom we first met in Tethys; a Sareen called 'Sendee', who appeared briefly in Fontaine; the Controller, Gaston Huil. Plus there's a supporting cast of the usual suspects, with a few new ones, some of them scary.

And that's all for this time. Aslam is definitely coming.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wolves and Dogs, TV, Computers, Stupidity: Domesticated and Dumbed-Down


Wolves are smarter than dogs.

(Actually wait for the laugh: initially I wrote that as 'Wolves are smarter than gods', which occasioned a chuckle or two, and might have been more than just a dyslexic typo.)

Back to wolves. The conclusion from this study is that domestication makes animals stupid.

If I had been kinder I would have said something more cautious than 'stupid', like 'less intelligent', but the bottom line is that domestication apparently suppresses the development of intelligence. The same, so a number of troubling studies have shown, does extensive exposure to TV and computers. There's some evidence that browsing the internet in the manner of a CSI detective following clues to find or uncover some critical item of information—but that's about the best news that comes out of computer and internet use in relation to human intelligence; and even that isn't all as simple and cool as it appears at first sight. The rest of the news, however, is all bad. Generation X may well be the dumbest ever, despite having more information at its fingertips than any that have gone before.

You can see the trend, yes? Computers become more 'intelligent' (as if anybody actually had a concept of what that means!) while people become dumber with each generation. One curve goes up, the other one goes down. Only question is where they'll cross...

The other issue in connection with that dog/wolves study is the whole 'domestication' thing. I mean, what is 'domestication'? Basically it describes what we do to certain creatures' behavior—and physical characteristics; think Chihuahuas!—in order to make them useful to us for our purposes; be it by providing of food, entertainment, companionship, protection or whatever we care to use them for. We would like them to do this without pissing or crapping in our houses, attacking us, running away and generally behaving in ways we consider to be inconvenient to us.

The leap from thinking of the domestication of animals to the domestication of people isn't that great. And when I look around me, I see nothing but domesticated people. Domesticated by civilization. Domesticated of their own free accord—or at least with their tactit, un-considered assent—and getting more so every day I'm watching them.

I know, in many ways it's been that way for a long time. Humans are social creatures, much of our intelligence is derived from our need to handle social interaction(s) and society demands conformity and humans have conformed for a long time; to the point of having this incorporated into their genes. Those who conformed were more likely to survive and breed than those who didn't and so on. So, in a way, one might argue that perhaps I'm just rediscovering the obvious, and what's so new about that?

Well, today's circumstances are different to, say, the ones, 1000 years ago. While then you definitely would have had 'conformance'—think of monotheist religions, which have the greatest conformance requirements—there was ample spiridiversity (diversity of the spirit, similar to 'biodiversity') because of comparatively primitive communications systems. There was also space to expand into; lands to conquer. I know this is un-PC, what with all the 'colonialist' baggage attached to it, but going out and conquering new lands or frontiers and doing what's known as 'pioneering', that's all about not being domesticated; indeed, about going out and searching for places in the world—and this extends to the 'world of the mind', if you will—that do not require one to be domesticated in order to be allowed to exist.

Mind you—and again the parallels between 'physical' and 'mental' pioneering should be obvious—a lot of pioneering was done by people who looked for places where they could establish a domesticated life. But at the time of doing it they weren't domesticated; whether driven by despair or just as sense of adventure, they went out and did undomesticated things. The rest stayed at home. Besides, I'm not sure that those who went 'out there' actually thought of what it all would lead to, but often just wanted to live their lives and care for their families. And 'real' Pioneers seldom think ahead of the world that's to come anyway. The pioneering itself is their adventure; the journey more important than where it leads. Others just make the journey to get somewhere. There's a profound difference between these kinds of people.

It seems to me that the lack of physical expansion space is matched by a general trend for everybody and sundry to work on consolidating and expanding and developing further that which is established. That goes for philosophy in particular, and technology and science exhibit similar trends. 'Art', which tends to consider itself as the place for 'breaking new ground' and opening new vistas and perspectives, certainly hasn't done any pioneering for...well, a long time! It just provides an illusory veneer to deceive ourselves about our domesticated lives and make them seem like something they are not. Meaning that Art's social function is really about 'denial'.

So, are we all becoming more stupid? While, as a species, we acquire more and more information and find out more and more about how things work and hang together, is there nonetheless a fiendish corollary to that, which states that as individuals we are becoming less and less intelligent, flexible, versatile, adaptible and so on?

What a horrific price to pay that would be...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Queensland's Sky Is Falling

There's an epidemic at the moment, expressing maybe a deep-set fear of Queensland politicians that maybe there are large hard objects waiting to fall onto them from the blue, sunny skies—and I'm not talking about golf-ball sized ailstones, of which there are aplenty at the moment. How else could one sensibly explain the current propensity for everybody and sundry—though often female!—of wearing hard hats when being interviewed by reporters? It started with the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, and has—judging from todays appearance on the news by one of her female ministers, Judy Spence— propagated through the ranks of her government like the flu.

The Brisbane mayor also is fond of this kind of headgear. And, let's face it, he may have even more reasons to protect his precious noodle than the state's Premier.

And, yes, I know they'll explain all this away by pointing out that they're spending a lot of time on building sites and such-like. Excuses, excuses. Blahblahblah.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

US Elections, Outcome Predictions

So, folks, here I am going to stick out my neck and predict not only the immediate outcome of the US election, but also the longer-term effects.

Immediate:

Obama will win, by what may be a landslide. (Doesn't take a magic well to work that one out; though there's an off-chance that McCain will miraculously turns his fortunes around. The man will need help from God and there is no God.)

Longer-term:

The international situation will become very dangerous because of Obama's election, as—a scenario raised by Obama's running mate, the gaffe-ridden Joe Biden—every weirdo potentate, with Putin at the forefront, will have a go at trying the pipsqueak out for size. Said pipsqueak will blink—at least I hope he will. We wouldn't want a repeat of the Cuba debacle when JFK nearly got us all killed.

As a result of blinking—the first blink in a long line of what's going to look like pathological eyelid flickers—the US will eventually go from looking like a bullyboy to looking like a pansy. Obama's Presidency is basically going to be like a mix between the less savory aspects of Jimmy Carter's and Bill Clinton's.

And as far as the EEcOnomy is concerned—US and World—nothing will change where the juggernaut is heading right now. Human stupidity and CO2 have a lot in common. You go and figure that one out for yourself!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dollhouse

OK, so just to whet your appetite...



And here's more.

The Vultures Are Circling

One of the laws of...well, 'society' I guess...is that someone always profits from even the worst of things; and I'm not talking about things that are being made to happen, but just contingency. Relating to this, the following headline caught my eye:

Baby boomer deaths could fuel funeral industry

"...funeral directors await perhaps their greatest windfall ever: The death of the baby boom generation. ..."

No shit! I mean, this is getting kind of personal, what with me plus a lot of my friends being a member of that generation. Thinking of these people rubbing their hands in anticipation makes me want to puke. Never mind the 'everybody has to make a living' and crap like that. And there's also the argument that what's quaintly called 'funeral homes' actually perform a community service. Yeah, right! Indeed, I know people who have either worked in such places or have expressed an interest in doing so. In each case they have expressed their belief that they're rendering a service to the grieving ones left behind.

On a personal level, I don't doubt these folks' sincerity and compassion. But as an 'industry' and from a managerial point of view I doubt very much that anything but 'profits' and cold, hard business sense are the driving motives for running these enterprises. And if you thought that the rapaciousness of those currently actually profiting from the worldwide economic slump was objectionable, what about those making handy bucks from what is, by and large, the worst thing that can befall any of us?

You know, with all the anti-war, anti-MacDonalds, anti-'corporation' movies having been made, how about someone picking on the funeral industry? I'd also suggest anti-church, but that's been done, too. But the whole religious thing is closely tied up with the 'death' issue, so one could handily combine a really serious, nasty satire of funeral industry and churches all in one go.

Meanwhile, here's one corpse that your friendly next-door 'funeral home' won't have to process to any great degree, as the relatives already took care of most of that.

Family cremated mom on BBQ, kept benefits

I wonder what the actual charges are going to be, next to 'welfare fraud', of course. Maybe something like 'performing an unlicensed cremation'; or 'conducting funeral business on unlicensed premises'?

For something just a tad more cheerful, here's this:

Graffiti wall is vandalised

What's the world coming to?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Body of Lies



Films involving 'current events'--particularly those relating to anything happening in the Middle East and Terrorism--tend to be soaked in the writers', producers' and director's politics, which usually end up very much in-your-face and spoil the film, because you suddenly lose the story and drown in the preaching and proselytizing.

Ridley Scott, who has already addressed the West-East/Christianity-Islam issue in a previous film, Kingdom of Heaven, this time bit the bullet (instead of the sword) and continued KoH's story about 1000 years later. Body of Lies is very much a Ridley Scott movie and this translates into the film's politics as well. Thing is, you can't leave politics out of a political movie; and so what do you do?

Well, here's a newsflash for the poli-preachers on all sides: it's possible to have it all, and just watch Ridley Scott do it. Just like KoH, it's all about even-handedness and realizing that (1) every side in a conflict has a point of view, which, to itself, is perfectly valid; and (2) every side has people you'd probably like and some you really wouldn't, (3) the way to peace lies with understanding (1) and (2); and not with having just one point of view, no matter how righteous it may appear. Both, Islamophobes and Islamophiles--or those on the extremes of any aspect of the political spectrum--will probably find ample elements to dislike about this film. Others of a more moderate and even-handed disposition will find much to like and appreciate.

All of this, rather profound, stuff is wrapped up in a gritty Ridley Scott production and direction, that keeps your full attention for its full 2+ hours. Leonardo DiCaprio has really grown up and cast off his annoying persona, which was so prominent in just about all his movies; until 'Blood Diamond' came along. Russell Crowe is basically a secondary character, eclipsed almost completely by DiCaprio and Mark Strong. The latter has come a long way since I first saw him in the BBC production of Jane Austen's Emma. The gentle and understated romance element provided by Golshifteh Farahani as 'Aisha' provided a nice contrast to the testosterone-soaked male world in which this drama plays out.

The movie confirms what I've known for a long time: Ridley Scott apparently can do no wrong.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Eyes Have It



The Good, The Bad and the Ridiculous

Let's start with the Bad:

Global Credit Crisis.

Shit finally hit the fan and is being sprayed all over this lovely world of ours. Main villains: The opportunist, selfish and utterly despicable rip-off artists profiting from this. I think I prefer serial killers.

The Good:

We live in Australia now.

The Ridiculous:

Barrack Obama and John McCain. The one an vacuous, but messianic, figure; laughing his ass off about those retards who think he's going to save them and the world. The other an old, tired, spent loser. One of them will be the next US President. The mind boggles.

Not that we have anything to crow about. Helen Clark in NZ and Kevin Rudd in Australia...

One of these days—maybe, probably not—we'll be graced with a 'statesman' in a leading position in one of our democracies. But I wouldn't hold my breath! And I do have utopian daydreams every now and then, too.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

'The Unit' Returns

Only thing better than CSI:Miami on TV right now is The Unit. And they're back, after far too long a time, because of the damn Writer's strike earlier this year.

But when they came back, they did it with a bang. Had me on the edge of my seat and panting for more. Still the best show around.

So, of the current shows, here are my favorites from the selection of those I actually have time for, and that isn't for much:
  1. The Unit
  2. CSI:Miami
  3. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  4. Bones
  5. Heroes
Yeah, I know, how can Heroes be down there in 5th place? Well, it's very cool, but too big and portentous in many places. The other three shows make do with 'mere' human drama and without grand 'concepts', and they show that it can be done really well and without needing fancy, complicated and significant back stories. Just good old murder and betrayal and revenge and love and all the good things in life. What else do we really need?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Why I Love CSI: MIAMI (All In)

I started watching CSI shows way back, when the CSI (Las Vegas) was the only one around. Then came CSI:Miami and I never looked back. Las Vegas became an option, and CSI:NY was cool but never could hold he water, or the gator or the sun and guns, to CSI:Miami.

Yeah, I know, David Caruso, a.k.a. Horatio Caine, a.k.a. 'H', is an arrogant pain in the ass. He has some very annoying habits, and Caruso wears him like...well, Caruso. But he's infinitely more interesting as a character than the other leads from the CSI shows. So are the other characters. There's a good reason for that because, as someone once said, everybody in CSI:Miami walks around as if they expected a bomb to go off at any moment. It's been like that since day one, and it never stopped, and it keeps working.

Above all, CSI:Miami minimizes the 'procedural' aspects over human drama. 'H' is happy to push the notion that 'the evidence' will get the bad guys behind bars or under ground, but he doesn't have the fervor of Gil Grissom or Mac Taylor. Also, Grissom and Taylor, despite being 'edgy', are just about as law-abiding as you can get; with occasional lapses. 'H' on the other hand is much more visceral end emotive. He's painted as a very ambiguous hero, but still a definite 'hero'; definitely larger than life. Cross him the wrong way and you're meat. But he's also your classic chivalrous guy when it comes to women, has almost infinite compassion with children and teenagers even if they're on the way to being scum, and he's fiercely loyal to his friends and family. When his wife of just a very short time, Marisol—sister to one of Caine's underlings and friends, Eric Delco—is murdered, he has no qualms about following the murderer to Brazil and offing him there.

When later that year (Episode 6-15) the thing comes home to roost, and Horatio is extradited to Brazil to face charges of murder there, he is confronted with an official who basically hands him a gun, tells him "good luck" and sends him out to face down a bunch of gangland buddies of the man Caine killed.

And it is here that the incredible genius of the whole damn show is revealed. Because I always kind of thought that maybe if Sergio Leone had ended up producing a CSI show, CSI:Miami would have been the outcome. If you play the first clip below, the homage to Sergio Leone is completely in-your-face, with a variation on the harmonica theme from Once Upon A Time In The West as the soundtrack. This is from the beginning of Episode 6-16, All In.




There, hope you enjoyed that.

The next clip is from the end of the same episode, where the boys from the crime lab rescue their kidnapped colleague, Calleigh. Note the reprise of the Western themes, together with a homage to Tarantino flicks as well.

Genius. As I said, the other shows don't even come close.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Chameleon

A very cute birthday present that I was given. And not made in China!

Obamania Rulz

In case you can't understand the lyrics—you're forgiven, because they're so just complex and intricate and...ahh...just...—here's a sample:

We're gonna spread happiness
We're gonna spread freedom
Obama's gonna change it
Obama's gonna lead 'em

We're gonna change it
And rearrange it
We're gonna change the world