Friday Omar Blogging

Omar Little in his Sunday best.


Thursday Comic

Bleach (Vols 1-4) - Tite Kubo

Although I can certainly see why Eiichiro Oda's One Piece is the best regarded of the popular boys' mangas, I have to admit that its interminable, slow-paced fights scenes started to grate a bit after reading seven volumes of it. Compared to the high-seas nonsense of One Piece, the concept of Bleach - high-schooler secretly fights ghosts gone bad - may seem more prosaic and cliched, but you're at least guaranteed that something will happen between the first and last pages of a book.

But more than that, what drew me back to this comic were the memorable and colourful characters - whether it's Rukia, an ancient soul reaper lying low as a school girl, with her frosty exterior and courageous heart; or sensitive giant Chad who fights spirits he can't even see using sheer brute strength.

Okay, there are much more 'worthy' books out there, but Bleach is lively, fun and full of personality.



Thurday Book

The Quiet American - Graham Greene

Greene's amoral tale of idealistic American agent Alden Pyle interfering with the war between the French and the Viet Minh has often been hailed as prophetic. It also happens to be tautly written, evocative and thematically complex.

Yes, the way it's framed around the competition between Pyle and an old Englishman for the affections of a child-like Vietnamese woman has racist and sexist overtones, but that's kind of the point - that for all their posturing and concern, neither of them every truly considers her capable of independent action.

Whether he meant it to or not, Greene's book would go on to become emblematic of the next half-century of American foreign policy.


Messy Moon

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Image Source

The influence that Saturn's moons have on its rings is nicely illustrated by this Cassini image of the feathery mess Prometheus has made of the F-ring. (There's a good description of Prometheus' shenanigans here.)


I'm not going to write any kind of comprehensive post on the anniversary of the moon landings, because there's enough of that elsewhere, but I think a nice addendum to the celebrations can be found in this article by Mars Rover big-wig and Planetary Society president Jim Bell.

Yes, the Apollo missions were a fantastic acheivemement. But complaining about the lack of effective human spaceflight since then ignores the massive sucess of our unmanned exploration of the solar system.


Feynman Online

So it turns out that Bill Gates owns the rights to the recordings of Richard Feynman giving some general lectures on science and physics. If you have Silverlight installed, you can watch them here.

I watched the first lecture - in which Feynman describes the nature of gravity and orbits, both topics dear to my heart - during my lunch break on Friday. It's great to see how Feynman was able to be entertaining while actually teaching physics. He even writes an equation on a blackboard. By comparison, the kind of science shows on television at the moment seem both intellectually bankrupt and boring.

And it's also great to hear how the man often described as the second greatest physicist of the twentieth century (after Einstein) sounds very much like a regular guy, with his fantastic Brooklyn accent.

Anyway, if you want to get some real science in you, please check out at least the first lecture. Captions for the hearing impaired come as standard.


Friday Blog Blogging

It still needs some work, but I've put together a crappy new blag. In part it's a place for updates on the games I'm working on (although major news - such as new releases - will still get posted to Space Cat Rocket Ship as well).

But I've also thought for some time that text-only games could do with an equivalent of the Indie Games Blog: a place where a screenshot and short description can be posted for new IF. Too often, otherwise not bad games seem to get just a blank post on the IFDB or IFWiki, and I think it might be cool to be able to get a peak at what's inside the game itself - even if it turns out to be yet another 'my first game' game.

To that end, I give you:

Text Games for Space Crows


New District 9 Trailer

Setting quite a different tone, but also starting to look like an extremely well put together movie.
Hat tip: Twitch, as always.


Monday Movie: The Duellists

When the dispassionate D'Hubert is sent to arrest fellow soldier Feraud for duelling, Feraud takes it about as badly as he possibly could, doggedly seeking D'Hubert out time and again, year after year. And despite his better nature, honour moves D'Hubert to accept each challenge and risk his life in each new duel.

The Duellists - Ridley Scott's first feature film, adapted from a short story by Joseph Conrad - takes in gorgeous landscapes, gritty period realism and tense duels, while musing on the nature of honour and duty.



Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders: Part 48

Part 48: Ever After

The sun woke me, shining through the open window, red light against my eyelids. I rolled over. The sheets beside me were slightly disturbed, an indentation in the pillow, a warmth lingering to my side. I swung my legs out of bed, and stood, throwing a robe around myself.

The marble floor was strangely warm beneath my bare feet.

She glided into the room quietly, treading carefully, naked and drying her hair with a towel.

“Did I wake you?” she asked.

I shook my head. “You're always up so early.”

She shrugged, brassy metal flowing organically into the gesture. “The pain used to wake me. Fear of the dangers of the world. Worry for my uncle. I suppose I got into the habit of waking at sunrise. Don't let it bother you. You should lie in.”

“I can't. Knowing you're up and about.”

She pulled down a dress from a coat hangar hooked on the wardrobe door, stepped into it. I zipped her up. She slipped her arm in mine and said, casually, “I think a visitor may have slept on our doorstep.”

“Is the doorbell broken?”

“You know how she is.”

We walked downstairs, arm in arm, her feet pattering sharply on the marble steps.

Sigrid looked up at us as we opened the door and stepped out onto the street, her calm eyes waiting for us as if she'd known the exact moment we'd leave the house and had aimed her gaze accordingly. She looked lost without her rifle. Incomplete.

“You should have woken us,” Una said. “You could've slept on the sofa.”

Sigrid barely considered the idea. “Can hardly sleep inside anymore. Or lying down. Not used to it.”

Una met my eye. The world changed, but our sleep patterns stayed the same.

Sigrid stood. “I just came to say goodbye.”

I wasn't surprised. “Where are you going to go?”

“I don't know,” she admitted. “Across the sea. Into the Twisted Forests. Anywhere away from here. I can't make it in Unity City. It's too strange, and everyone else seems too calm and quiet. And I don't want to stick around anywhere nearby either. Too many people from Fortress City wandering around on the wrong side of the wall, still loving the memory of Kirkham and hating the people who killed him. Seen too many of their friends come here and wind up with Sky Spider machines in their heads.”

Una pulled Sigrid into a hug. The riflewoman bore it with obvious ill ease, uncomfortable to be so close to Sky Spider technology. When she turned to me, I just shook her hand.

“Hey,” she said with a toss of her head, “maybe I'll go and finally find EON-2, see what it wanted to say all this time.”

She turned away from us and walked off, into the perfectly white streets of Unity City. We watched her until the road carried her out of sight. She didn't look back.

“I'd be dead several times over if not for her,” I remembered, all of a sudden.

“And she'll die out there,” Una said coldly.

I laughed. “And we'll die in here. That's life. Human life, anyway.”

Una laughed too, looking down at herself, her six, oil-slick black, arthropodal legs, her polished brass bust, her human arms. “Human life isn't what we thought it was anyway.”

The sun had crept up higher into the sky, its white light almost painful as it played on the city's bright rooftops. Figures stirred in the distance, some of them with their heads wrapped in glowing coils, others tall, ethereal, androgynous.

“Our kind of human life is well on the way out,” I said.

Una squeezed my arm. “Everything changes,” she said. “What matters is breakfast.”

She lead me inside.

We sat on the balcony to eat, looking out at the incandescent city. Immense forms moved on the horizon, reshaping the world with slow, powerful grace. And my hand rested in hers.

We looked at one another and smiled.



Moon-Moon Eclipse

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

So Cassini has shown us eclipses of one kind or another enough times. Saturn is a lot bigger than its moons, so they're always throwing their little shadows onto its clouds, or wandering into the shade of their gargantuan parent.

But around Saturn's equinox, something new becomes possible. With the sun and Saturn's moons all on a similar plane, an observer on one moon could now potentially see one of the other moons blotting out their view of the sun. Which is what's happened here, with Enceladus casting its shadow onto Mimas.

There's a time-lapse video of the event that you can watch here.


Monday Movie: James and the Giant Peach

James has been living with his two horrible aunts ever since his parents were eaten by a rhinoceros. He's lonely, mistreated and miserable. All that changes when he grows an enormous peach using magical crocodile tongues, and sails away with the transformed invertebrates who live inside it. He'll have to face up to a mechanical shark and a crew of drowned pirates (among other dangers) along the way, but it seems he may finally get the chance to fulfil his parents' dream of reaching New York.

Director Henry Selick adaptated Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach into a mostly animated, part live-action fantasy full of magic and adventure. Stepping out from Tim Burton's shadow, Selick created an eerie, visually rich dreamscape suffused with the most fantastic dreams - and darkest fears - of childhood. It's marred only by that usual blight of American animation: gratuitous singing.


"Dany Boon est Bazil."

Twitch have all eight of the new teaser trailers for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest film - each of them focusing on a different character - right here, on the other side of the link that I know you just clicked on.

Yes, Dominique Pinon plays one of the characters. Why do you ask?


Thursday Comic

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life - Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim is an aimless twenty-something in a rock band that's not really very good. He shares a bed with his gay room-mate and is obsessing over one girl while dating another. Oh, and that first girl is using a sub-space portal in his head to deliver packages for Amazon.ca.

Lee O'Malley has a perfect ear for hip, self-aware, snappy dialogue, something he put to excellent use in his earlier Lost at Sea. In many ways, I think Scott Pilgrim is sharper and funnier, with its self-deprecating humour and constant video game references. And then you get to the last act, which sees the main plot arc kick into gear in a sequence that's kind of like the first moment in a musical when everyone starts singing, only the rules are taken from a fighting game instead.

It's a sequence that I'm certain will be amazing in Edgar Wright's upcoming film adaptation, but it seems a little rushed, and for something that should really be setting up the plot of this whole series, it leaves a lot of important questions unanswered. Lee O'Malley doesn't seem like the kind of guy to write about a woman as a passive trophy to be won by fighting her ex-boyfriends, and yet that's undeniably the set-up we're left with by the end of this volume. I'd like to imagine that future instalments acknowledge and subvert this, but as will be the case with most new readers, I only have the first one to judge.

It's weird, because, as I've mentioned frequently before, I'm usually all for mixing up the mundane and surreal, but the impression I've got from this first Scott Pilgrim book is that I much prefer the moments when it's being down-to-earth to when it's hyperactively adhering to old-school video game tropes.


Happy Earth Birthday, Cassini!

NASA's Cassini mission has been orbiting Saturn for five Earth years as of June 30, 2009. That's about one sixth of a Saturnian year, enough time for the spacecraft to have observed seasonal changes in the planet, its moons and sunlight's angle on the dramatic rings.

Visit the Cassini homepage here.