Friday, 20 August 2004

80's Cartoon Flashback!

Am having a blast doing one of my favorite assignments yet - the 20th Anniversary of Transformers!

In case you haven't heard of the Transformers before (in which case you are probably too young to remember any cartoons before the 'classic retro' Pokemon, or too embarrassed to admit you worshipped Lion-O and He-Man when you were young), they were giant robots who could transform into Earth vehicles and items, and were divided into to faction - the goody-goody Autobots and the Evil (they want to take over the universe! Gasp!) but dumb (as most 80's cartoon villains are wont to be) Decepticons.

Researching the subject (which I gladly did, for it gave me a legitimate reason to hang out at the Transformers websites) led me to a score of other websites dedicated to 80's cartoons. It brought back a wave of nostalgia, and I had fun remembering how cheesy they were, but how cool it all was to an eight year old boy in the 80's.

One thing that always irritated me about the cartoons was how in end of the episode, a character would always crack a really corny and tacky joke, and all the other characters would laugh along with it. It made me wanna strangle the scriptwriters.

Anyway, here are some of the cartoons I remember quite well (whether I liked it or not is a different matter altogether, I watched them ANYWAY):
  • M.A.S.K. - Following the exploits of the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (M.A.S.K., geddit?), a secret organization that uses specially charged masks to fight V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem. Don't you just love the name?), this cartoon also featured vehicles that could er.. transform into other 'battle modes', for instance, a F1 type racing car could sprout wings and missile launchers and fly around shooting bad guys. Cool concept, cool toys, silly names.
  • Thundercats - Who could forget this? A bunch of heroes who with the power of big jungle cats, run around saving the world from a skeletal evil overlord called Mumm-Ra. The Thundercats' leader, Lion-O, had this rather pathetic sword that could er... expand in proportions when its powers are called upon (who says cartoons are free of sexual connotations?) .
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra- Yer Gods. These two cartoons were one of the cheesiest of all, and probably the most unpolitically correct, but they were still cool to kids back then. They had so many baddies and um.. goodies that it was interesting to watch just for the thrill of spotting a new character (at least that's how I remember it). Other than that, the usual sword expanding thing, changing from 'meek prince/princess' to 'The Most Powerful Man/Woman In the Universe' and ORKO (possibly one of the most irritating characters ever created in TV history), made this one of my worst memories of the 80's. Although Skeletor scolding his stupid minions was always fun.
  • Voltron - Giant robotic lions that combined to form an ass-kicking giant robot. What's not to like? Besides the usual bad dialogue, stupid jokes and boring baddies, of course.

Other cartoons that I remember watching but can't remember the details very well are -

  • Silverhawks - Silver spandex-clad guys and girls with bird powers flying around saving the world
  • The Centurions - Guys clad in 'Exoframe' armour and weapons flying around saving the world
  • Jem - Blonde female rock star who sings about saving the world
  • Starcom - Peacekeeping force in a planetary community uses sophisticated vehicles and state-of-the-art technology to er.. save the world
  • G.I. Joe - Real American Heroes who actually HAVE reasons to save the world from villains who actually HAVE Weapons of Mass Destruction (even if they were a bit tacky)
  • Visionaries - Knights with magical powers of transformation battle with Darkling Lords to... yup, save the world. (You were expecting something else?)
  • Smurfs - You know the drift. Blue pixies thingies run away from Smurf-eating villain. Plenty of running away and irritating high-pitch voices. No world-saving involved

Lots more out there, but these were the ones that stuck in my head. Now, excuse me while I get back to my 'research'...

Friday, 13 August 2004

Not-So-Warm, but Funny

I'd been meaning to post this for a long time, but due to some unfortunate circumstances (also known as 'Too-darn-lazy Syndrome'), somehow have not been able to until now.

Daphne from Places You Will Go (who is pregnant with her third child, BTW. Congrats Daphne!), wrote down a list of her 'comfort books' - books that she reads when she feels down or sad. Check out her lists here - Warm and Fuzzy.

Me, on the other hand, have no comfort books. When I feel down in the dumps, I don't read, I turn on some music (preferably something loud and with guitars) and scream me head off. Alternatively, I play badminton (especially when I feel like smacking something really, really HARD).

Anyway, while I have no comfort books, that I DO have are books that I read when I'm bored, unadventurous, or nostalgic. I have some books that I read when I just want something to relate to, something familiar and does not require too much thinking. Here are four that I can think of right now:

  1. The Lord of the Rings - Yes, I am aware that it is a three book tourturous journey that most people wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, but I'm already so familiar with the series that I just skim through the books (conviniently skipping past the tedious first 300 pages) and read through my favorite parts of the books, which always seems to lift my spirits.
  2. The Death sub-series from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, especially Reaper Man. It's funny, puts Death into perspective, and that Death of Rats is always good for a squeak. (To tell the truth, reading most of Pratchett's stuff lifts my spirits ANYTIME)
  3. The Book of Bunny Suicides - Contains exactly what is in the title. Comics of suicidal bunnies getting chopped up by electrical fans. Morbid but fun.
  4. The Belgariad, by David Eddings - One of my favorite fantasy books, even if its considered fluff and shallow. It's funny, the characters are rollicking good fun, and plot? What plot? Who cares about plot when you have such fun reading the book?

I have a few more, but... just.. can't.. think of them right now.

Saturday, 7 August 2004

Foundation of Robots

Some time back, I spent almost two hours trying to explain the continuity of Isaac Asimov's books to a friend, especially the Foundation and robot books. You see, Asimov's Foundation and robot books may have started out as completely different entities, but somehow, they got meshed together as through the years, Asimov expanded his vision to incorporate robots into the Foundation series, even though the original Foundation trilogy did not mention robots at all.

As a result, the books can get rather confusing and some of the plot twists in latter books may be lost on some readers who may have left out some earlier books of his.

Having read all the Foundation books (yes, including those three rip-offs by the so-called 'Killer B's'), as well as the robot books, I attempted to construct a sequence that found maximizes the storyline and the twist in the latter books.

This is what I came up with:
  1. First things first - DON'T READ THE PRELUDES FIRST. Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation relate events that happen BEFORE the first Foundation book, and give away a good many spoilers to the latter books. Also, don't read the 'fourth' robot novel - Robots and Empire, for the same reason.
  2. Instead, start off with reading I, Robot first, as it gives you a nice history of robot-dom. Robot Visions is also recommended, as it includes some stories that are not included in the former.
  3. Next, move on to the Elijah Bailey books - Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and Robots of Dawn, which introduces Daneel R. Olivaw (and another robot, Giskard, who plays a major role later). All three are SF-murder mysteries where the 3 Laws of Robotics play a major role.
  4. Now that you've completed your Asimov-ian robot education, it's time to move on to the Foundation. Since Asimov first conceived of the concept in the original trilogy - Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation; start with these first, not the preludes.
  5. After finishing the trilogy, start on the subsequent books in the Foundation series (which continue in the same timeline as the original Foundation trilogy), namely Foundation's Edge, and then finally Foundation and Earth, which will take you one full cycle back to where it all started, and make for one heck of a satisfying climax.
  6. NOW, you can read the preludes without worrying about any spoilers. Start with Robots and Empire (which is set before Foundation timelines), and then Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation.
  7. After that, if you're a sucker for punishment and don't mind Foundation books NOT written by the maestro himself, then go read the Second Foundation Trilogy by the so-called 'Killer B's'- Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and David Brin - and comprises Foundation's Fear, Foundation and Chaos and (thankfully) last, Foundation's Triumph. IMHO, this 'Second Foundation trilogy' was confusing, boring and utterly unnecessary. Read it at your own peril, but make sure you've already read Asimov's books first.

So there you have it. A nice sequence spanning 13 books (16 if you include the Killer B farce), which not only follows a chronological timeline, but also maximises the impact of the story and plot twists.

Do bear in mind that this is merely a suggestion, and ultimately, it is up to you to determine which book you want to read first or last. After all, one man's Foundation may be another man's Empire...

Thursday, 5 August 2004

No shades of grey as one book closes

I'm a big fan of Terry Pratchett, and I came across this interview with him in the The Guardian book section from last December, about how he starts on a new book as soon he finishes one. I've always harbored dreams of one day writing my own fantasy novel, and it was enlightening to see how the so-called the 'masters' of fantasy writing start their novels.

You can read the full article here: As one book closes, another opens

Also came across this article by David Gemmel on why he is proud to be a fantasy writer. This line was particularly amusing, especially that 'heavens, no!' in the middle:

"J.K. Rowling's novels are not marketed as fantasy - heavens, no! - but as crossover fiction."

Anyway, to read why more people should read and write fantasy, go to this link here: No shades of grey

Wednesday, 4 August 2004

I, Like-A-Lot

Isaac Asimov's books are probably the only science fiction books that I have read more than once, and can can remember most of. In fact, in my humble and technologically-ignorant opinion, Asimov's Foundation series is the Lord of The Rings of Science Fiction.

Anyway, the reason I'm talking about Asimov now is because I just watched the I, Robot movie last night, and boy was it good. Before watching it, I was wondering how they would film a movie based on a book that is essentially an anthology of short robot stories, and not a complete novel.

As it is, the movie does not even pretend to be 'based' on the book, but is merely 'suggested by Isaac Asimov's I, Robot'. Nevertheless, I came away very happy with the film, mostly because it captures the essence of the book's stories while managing to stand alone as a story that happens apart from the book.

You see, most of the stories in the book revolves around Asimov's self-coined Three Laws of Robotics, which are:
  1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by the human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

You can read all about the history and how Asimov came up with the laws in this link here. For now, I just want to say that the movie's plot, happily, also revolves around the Three Laws, though it has more to do with the First and Second law than the Third (and even going into a Zeroth Law, which is another story). In this sense, the movie has captured the essence of what the stories in the book speak of, albeit, with hell of a lot more action, some Will Smith posturing and wisecracking, as well as a much prettier version of the uptight and severe Dr Susan Calvin than I imagined her to be.

It is probably one of the better movies this year. It combines good action sequences with great special effects, as well as a good storyline that is executed well. Add some cool 'acting' by Sonny the robot (Alan Tudyk in an Andy Serkis/Gollum-type role), some nice eye candy (Bridget Moynahan) and some sharp wise-cracking dialogue, and you've got yourself a good summer movie that is both entertaining visually, as well as intellectually. Go watch it.

Oh, and also, if you haven't read the book, what are you waiting for? Watch this space for more on the I, Robot BOOK and the rest of Asimov's work.