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The World’s Foremost Authority October 30, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, libertarians, Other, Robert H. Heinlein, Science Fiction, speculative fiction, web 2.0.

One of the most generally prescient science fiction authors, and one of my favorites, has always been Robert A. Heinlein.  That first sentence requires a lot of qualification, which I won’t do in this post–perhaps later when I have more time.  I’m posting this today for two reasons. 

1) My wife reminded me this morning that it only takes five minutes or so.

2) My nine-year-old son was doing research for his Spanish class last night using Youtube (looking at and listening to Flamenco music and some other things.)

So that research reminded me of a passage in a book called Friday, by the aforementioned Heinlein, written, if I am not mistaken, (no, I won’t take the two minutes it might take to look it up) in 1990.  The protagonist, a young, genetically engineered combat courier named Friday, is doing some research at a facility in Pajaro Sands, California.  She gets off on a tangent, as researchers often do, following links on a world-wide web that did not yet exist, and sees a video of Professor Irwin Corey, the World’s Foremost Authority. So I’m linking to one here:

He’s pretty funny.  The crowd is perhaps funnier, in an entirely different way–they know all the gags and repeat the lines, ad tedium.  I chose this particular one because it popped up first on the list.

Kinda makes you think.

Lost in Translations April 18, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Japan, Other, Science Fiction, speculative fiction.
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My lovely wife told me yesterday that she couldn’t find the post on Ultraman on my blog.  I had to tell her that that was because I hadn’t finished it yet.  My son and I have been watching old episodes of Ultraman, which we have been renting from Netflix.  And I intended to start a series of posts about this latest interest, but the fact is, I’m having some trouble with it.

For those who didn’t grow up with Ultraman, the show is basically a series of abbreviated Japanese monster movies (less than 30 min long) that were dubbed in English and imported to the U.S.  In a typical episode a monster appears and begins to wreak havoc, the elite Science Patrol attempts to dispatch the monster, then Ultraman steps in to save the day.  My brother and I watched the show for a while when we were the age my son is now (nine), back in the early 1970s. 

Here’s a picture:


I’m having trouble posting about the show, though, because I’m extremely confused about what to make of it all.  The first hurdle is the fact that the DVD lapses in and out of English at odd moments.  Since it is a DVD, I just turned on the subtitles (my son is a pretty fast reader).  This unearthed a new dimension to making sense out of the show, though.  The subtitles are radically different from the English dubs.  Take the theme song, for example, which has an early-1960s surf music feel to it.  The English dubbing goes like this:

Ultraman, Ultraman, here he comes from the sky,
Ultraman, Ultraman, watch our hero fly.
In a superjet he comes from a billion miles away.
From a distant planet-land,
comes our hero Ultraman.
[repeat first verse]

Incredibly insipid, yes, and there are problems with what little is reported: 

  1. Ultraman did not come in a “superjet.”  He was chasing a monster and crashed into Hayata’s VTOL jet crashed, and saved Hayata by absorbing him and becoming him.  I guess that one could argue that Hayata came in a superjet, but not from a billion miles away.  Hayata came from Science Patrol headquarters, which seems to be near Tokyo.  Ultraman came from the M-78 nebula, which can be seen in the constellation Orion (RA: 5:47, Dec: 0:03), which is 1.6 thousand light years away.  So, it is like 9.4 quadrillion (thousand trillion) miles away, which screws up the meter of the song.  But it is not as if it would be screwing up perfection.
  2. “distant planet-land.”  That’s just bad writing–word chosen to rhyme with “man.” 
  3. Our hero doesn’t “come from the sky.”  With a couple of notable exceptions, like the episode where Hayata has to jump off a building to reach his beta capsule, Ultraman appears standing firmly on the ground.  Then he sometimes flies around.  He exits by flying away, but only as a cover to keep Hayata’s dual identity secret. 

The subtitles to the theme music are very different, much more cryptic, and much more interesting: 

The emblem on the chest is a shooting star.
With the pride-worthy jet, shoot the enemy.
From the Land of Light, for our sakes,
he has come, our Ultraman.
The capsule in hand, Flashes Sparkling
It’s a shine of one million watts.
From the Land of Light, for justice’s sake,
he has come, our Ultraman.

The subtitled version is problematic, too.  Watts, for example, are not units of luminousity, they are units of power.  Light is measured in lumens, a common American confusion, because we purchase lightbulbs according to wattage.  (The reason we do that has more to do with heat generated by the things than their light output, but these are closely related with incandescent bulbs, of course.) 

But mostly we are left with more questions.  Why is the emblem a shooting star?  “Our sakes”?  Justice’s sake”?  Is that sake, with a long A sound and silent “e”, or sake, like the rice wine?  Why is “Flashes Sparkling” capitalized? 

The theme music is just the easiest thing to point to with regard to the dual translation problem.  The dubbing and the subtitles are constantly at odds in unexpected ways.  I could just examine these episodes based on the reactions of ill-informed American pre-teens.  But everytime I think about this show now I get caught up with the additional questions that the dual translations reveal. 

I’m paralyzed, but in a good way. 

Books–Tribulation Force February 21, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Books, narrative, Other, speculative fiction.
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Left Behind Series #2–By Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

I’m guessing that this will be the least memorable of the Left Behind series, because it is mostly set-up for the events of the next few books.  The first book in the series was action-packed, since it covered the rapture and the rise to power of the Anti-Christ.  The second book takes a small band of new believers, who missed out on the rapture but understood that they had better become Christians very quickly, and positions them so that we can see the seven-year period of tribulations through their eyes.  It is, thus, a little tedious.  And I wouldn’t post on it at all, except that wanted to be absolutely certain that I never say to myself at some future point “Hmmm, I wonder if I read that one.”

All of this positioning in the service of later installments in the series will be forgiven, of course.  Harder to forgive is the fact that the book is also really, really, really, really, really wordy.  Really. 

My favorite part:

The book contains a romance, which is also a comedy of errors.  The errors, the “Three’s Company”-style misunderstandings, are supplied by the Anti-Christ. 

Warning: Spoiler Ahead.

Two of these new Christians are naturally having difficulty with the idea of falling in romantic love during this period in history.  There are only seven years left before Armageddon, after all.  Is this any time to think about raising children?  And what if we really want to, you know, but don’t want children.  Shouldn’t we be thinking about more serious sorts of things?  I’d be confused, too, folks.  But other things complicate the already complicated affair, most notably, somebody anonymously sends her a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  She thinks it’s him, as a sort of apology for her accidently finding out that he already has a fiancee (he doesn’t–that’s another misunderstanding).  But it is finally revealed that the Anti-Christ sent her the flowers so that her father would accept a job as his personal pilot (reasoning that having secret admirers is dangerous, he would move them both to Washington, DC.)

That’s where we get the word “devious,” folks.

The Code February 12, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in fiction, literature, Other, Philosophy, Science Fiction, speculative fiction.

Both my son and I were sick this weekend with some sort of stomach/intestinal plague that’s going around.  So yesterday I went to the video store to find something to stare at for a few hours.  He used to be interested in Dinosaurs, a phase that lasted only about four or five years.  So when I saw that Dinotopia, a miniseries, had been released on video, and that it was in the “Family” section of the store, I hoped that he might retain enough interest to agree. 

My interest is not in dinosaurs so much as utopias, although I certainly don’t mind dinosaurs.  I love reading utopian novels because the authors self-consciously attempt to make a whole society fit together.  These tales tell every bit as much about the author as they do about the society the author lives in, and they stretch “systems-thinking” to its limits (usually they go past the author’s ability to think about social, economic, and environmental systems, and that is sometimes their charm.)  Utopian novels, of course, also delineate the authors view of contemporary problems, which is also fun.  Speculative fiction often does these things, too, but speculative writers are usually too narrow in their interests to make a good case for social change (and often they are writing about technological change as their primary interest anyway).

Anyway, he agreed to watch it, and I think he enjoyed the four-hour-long set of two DVDs.  I certainly did.  The original Dinotopia novel, by James Gurney, lays out the foundation of Dinotopian society as a code.  I love it when utopian writers codify their thoughts so concisely.  In the novel the code is:

  1. Survival of all or none
  2. One raindrop raises the sea
  3. Weapons are enemies even to their owners
  4. Give more, take less
  5. Others first, self last
  6. Observe, listen, and learn
  7. Do one thing at a time
  8. Sing every day
  9. Exercise imagination
  10. Eat to live, don’t live to eat
  11. Don’t p..

Late in the miniseries you find out what the 11th rule was, and it’s kinda dumb, mystical.  But I prefer my own interpretation, which for this weekend was: Don’t puke.

Rules to live by.