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Star Trek Week #4: Hooray!

After that vast acreage of writing about cult classic remakes this morning, it seems appropriate to celebrate our final day of Star Trek Week as succinctly as possible.  And, of course, to note that the new Star Trek movie is getting reviews that suggest that it might actually be a successful redevelopment of a cult classic.  We already have our tickets booked; I'll let you know on Monday.

So let's close out Star Trek week together, with a selection of two or three of the more wonderful things the internet can offer.

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Clash_of_the_titans_remakeI wondered about Gus Van Sant's decision to remake Psycho shot-for-shot. In theory, one remakes a movie with the belief that one can improve upon it. Remaking something like Psycho, widely considered a cinematic classic of the first order, leaves everyone associated with the project a little dimmer by association.

There's more room to argue that remaking a cult classic can actually improve upon the source material. Cult movies are, virtually by definition, flawed but resonant films that never found mainstream audiences, but have become revered by a smallish and rabidly devoted fanbase.  Without having done any research into the question whatsoever, I suspect that the majority of these cult movies have had much longer and more robust lives than their contemporary mainstream brethren, which may have made (a lot) more money but have gone on to relative obscurity. 

I understand, in principle, remaking a movie like The Clash of the Titans.  It did actually make quite a bit of money upon relase, becoming (fun fact!) the 11th highest-grossing film of 1981.It features the amazing stop-motion animation of Pornokitsch Hero Ray Harryhausen - wonderful for those of us who grew up on a diet of stop-motion classics like 1933's King Kong -  but unable to compete with the computer-generated wizardry of the Star Wars trilogy or Raiders of the Lost Arc, released within a few years of Titans.  And, to be fair, Titans suffers from a bit of bloat:  too many characters, including  the dead-eyed Harry Hamlin as Perseus and the pretty but blank Judi Bowker as Andromeda. Dull stretches make the film seem longer than its 118 minutes, and even the film's sense of its own overweaning importance make it faintly ridiculous, despite the wonderful Burgess Meredith's best efforts to lighten things up a bit.

(Bonus fun fact! The sushi restaurant in Monsters, Inc., is named Harryhausen's.)

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Star Trek Week #3: The Next Generation

Growing up in the US in the 1980s meant more than simply becoming acquainted with Star Trek.  It meant coming to refer to it as "classic" Trek - to distinguish it from Gene Roddenberry's new show, Star Trek:  The Next Generation.Startrek-1

I was seven when Picard et al. first blew across my television screen.  Though my parents ordinarily discouraged tv watching (Mystery! and 60 Minutes aside), they had both liked the original Trek, and our famiy tuned in to watch its new iteration.  And we weren't disappointed.  The new series, though it took a while to find reach its stride, not only updated Star Trek for a new world, but created its own iconography in the process.  Where  Shatner's James Kirk was impulsive, Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard was meditative; in place of Kirk's swaggering bragaddicio Picard brought the Enterprise thoughtful decisiveness.  Picard would prove to be every bit as passionate and devoted to his ship and crew, and every bit as tactically cunning as Kirk - Picard simply had a different style.  Softening his sharp edges were his First Mate, William Riker, whose youth and exhuberance provided a strong contrast to Picard's cerebral stability; the android Data, who represented the fundamental naivete of total intellecutalism, and a host of other characters. While some of these characters were less successful than others - neither Troy nor Dr. Crusher were particularly interesting characters - the majority of the Next Generation's main cast proved to be every bit as exciting and, eventually, iconic as their predecessors.

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Star Trek Week #2: The Wrath of Khan

Kirk+KHAN!A Pornokitsch classic, and one of the greatest geek culture movies of all time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan needs no introduction.  Khan is one of the most histrionic space operas ever  written.  Khan is one of the gravest cheeseballs ever produced.  Khan is the most glorious cult classics to emerge from the cultish swampland of classic TrekKhan is the primus iner pares - the first among equals.  Khan is one of the greatest movies ever made.

An advantage a long-running franchise like Trek has over shows stuck in a more restricted time-frame is that it can revisit plots and characters long after they're first introduced.  In the case of The Wrath of Khan, Kirk finds himself forced to face the consequences of decisions he'd made decades before.  Years earlier, Khan had tried to overtake the Enterprise.  Kirk exiled Khan and his people,  genetically-altered supersoldiers, to a lush but dangerous planet and rode off into the sunset, apparently never giving the group a second thought. 

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Underground Reading: Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy

Master of the Five Magics Lyndon Hardy's Master of the Five Magics  (1984) is an odd little fantasy book with an unusual perspective. Set in a fairly generic high fantasy setting (demons, wizards, knights, blah), Master of the Five Magics is a perfect example of a very rare sort of fantasy world building. 

The setting itself is left almost completely to the imagination - the landscape provides volcanos, castles and plains seemingly at random. The theology is dubiously constructed (mostly people just yell 'Sweetbalm!' at one another). Even the politics are left completely unexplained (somehow there's a queen, with suitors, and vague mentions of court politics).

The entirety of the author's imaginative efforts are devoted towards a single purpose: creating a scientific system of magic.

The pedestrian and un-empathetic hero works his way through the various arcane arts of the realm, patiently evaluating each one. The reader learns (in great detail) the pros and cons, the costs, the materials, the history, the introductory rituals... the entire systemic process. 

As its best, Master of the Five Magics is interesting without being entertaining (like a well-written Wikipedia entry). At its worst, it reads like a programming manual for the occult arts.

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Star Trek Week #1: Classic Trek

The new Star Trek movie opens this Friday, and, frankly, it looks awesome.  To honor the coming awesomeness, Pornokitsch will devote a little time every day this week to that great arbiter of geek culture:  Star Trek4135-25

There's not much to say about the original series of Star Trek that hasn't been said a thousand times over, in Klingon.  What can I possibly tell you about William Shatner's corset, the cardboard sets, heavy-handed metaphors, the first interracial kiss that you don't already know?  And getting into a discussion about Star Trek's legacy would be even more laborious and even less rewarding.  We can merely gaze in awe, at this point, upon the three-season science fiction fantasia that spawned such mainstays in the geek cultural lexicon as "slash" and "red shirt"  and even "Mary-Sue" - words and phrases we might regularly find ourselves using in non-Trek situations, even non-fannish situations.  Words and phrases that non-geeks, certainly non-Trek-geeks, might even know and use.  The cultural impact of the original Star Trek is broad and very, very deep.

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"Writing Young Adult Fantasy" @ Sci Fi London, 2 May

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The event: In its 8th year, the Sci Fi London film festival has experimentally added a set of literature 'labs'  - panel discussions on a variety of topics. The "Writing Young Adult Fantasy" panel was the first. The seven panel members discussed the challenges and rewards of writing for a young audience, their own influences, whether or not 'young adult' was an arbitrary (or marketing) distinction and their approach to addressing adult themes (specifically gender and sexuality issues).

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China Mieville @ Forbidden Planet, 30 April


The book: The City & The City

The star: China Mieville was phenomenal. He made sure that everyone had a chance to ask questions, and spent several minutes with everyone in line. MiƩville is famously articulate, and this was no exception. He's honest, open and funny - happy to talk about gaming, authorial intent, writing method.

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This weekend: wear comfortable shoes

Last night's China Mieville "reading"/signing (more on that later) heralds a Bank Holiday weekend of excessive geekery. 

Not only do we have the SF London Film Festival and Free Comic Book Day, but Forbidden Planet, Gosh! and Orbital have all gone slightly wild with the guests (including Alan Moore). 

For less genre-specific book lovers, the V&A is opening an exhibit of Quentin Blake art on Saturday. 

And for shoppers, Fantasy Centre has announced special Bank Holiday hours.