Saturday fun with Doctor Who

Here’s a Doctor Who webisode I stumbled across. The Doctor (played by Matt Smith) and his wife, River Song (Alex Kingston), are out on a date gone awry. It’s a short clip, written by none other than Neil Gaiman. For those who have never watched this British classic series, this gives you a glimpse of what the Whoniverse is like (heavy on characterization, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, other times deadly serious).

Waiting impatiently for the Doctor’s return in November…


The chimera in the mirror

Mashed-up mutants aren’t only the stuff of legend and fiction.

Imagine a creature that’s part lion, part eagle and part snake, a creature that breathes fire, a bad-ass scourge. One that looks like this:



It’s called a Chimera, and it exists only in ancient Greek mythology. It’s not the only hybrid creature in literature and pop culture.

There’s also the Griffin, also Greek, a lion/eagle mix.


These creatures, imaginary as they are, are genetic abnormalities. They are not supposed to exist in nature, mythological metaphors to serve some higher literary purpose. In Left Among the Mutants I wrote about mutating animals (and humans) as a way to convey change, loss and grief.

But it turns out that, to some degree, many of us are freaks of nature. We may all be a little monstrous.

The New York Times published an article that suggests that many humans harbor cells with completely different genetic codes. Theoretically each one of our cells should have the same genetic codes. Not so.

For example:

–A British woman donated blood, and the cells were a mix of Type O and Type A. People are supposed to be only one blood type. Scientists concluded she absorbed cells from her twin brother

–Another woman gave birth to children who were not genetically hers. Doctors say that she originated from 2 separate genomes; some of the other genome gave rise to the eggs of 2 of her 3 children

–In one study, more than half of women had cells with the Y chromosome in their breast tissue. Women aren’t supposed to carry the Y chromosome at all – the Y is men only

Note that this is called chimerism, courtesy of that lion/eagle/snake creature.

How does all this happen? Scientists are just beginning to explore this question. What we do know-at this very early stage-is that we may not be who we think we are. We may be others as well.

Aside from the scientific implications, what could this mean for literature? Movies? TV?

Come on, writers, there’s a whole mountain of possibilities waiting to be mined.

Watch this movie: Attack the Block

British horror done right…


The British are known for many things: great music, bad food and teeth, and their one-time love of controlling the planet. But they’re not as well known for horror movies. Maybe this is good: they have little to prove, so there’s no pressure.

Case in point: two of the best horror movies of the past decade: 28 Days Later, a zombie-ish movie that starred Irish actor Cillian Murphy, and one of the coolest, underrated, most bad-ass and too-short-lived doctors from Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston. It’s a hard-edged, smash-bang-fun time. Whatever you do, avoid the sequel (which shall remain nameless), as it nearly ruined the whole thing.

The second film is a horror/comedy, Shaun of the Dead, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Couple dry British humor with gore and you have a classic. 

And then there’s Attack the Block, a low budget (I’m assuming) indie-style horror. Why low budget? Well, the monsters are kind of… rough. And the movie features the classic horror fail: the empty city streets. 

Get over it. I did, and it was worth it.

So here’s the plot in a nutshell, ripped straight from IMDB: a teen gang in South London protect their block from an alien invasion. There you go.

First, it’s great fun. The action starts pretty early, and once it starts, it rolls along, not too slow, not too fast. It lies somewhere between 28 Days Later (super serious) and Shaun of the Dead (tongue-in-cheek), though more toward the 28 Days Later end of the horror spectrum.

What stood out for me, most of all, was the unique set-up. You meet the teenage hero, Moses, as he, along with his juvy gang, are mugging Sam, a nurse on her walk home. Moses is cruel, someone who you would not choose to identify with, but over the course of the movie, he morphs into the hero of the story, in part because the other characters (drug dealers, vicious aliens) are so much worse, and in part because the extreme situation he finds himself in (battling aliens), forces him to grow as a person.

Rent this movie. It’s worth it, not just because it’s fun, but because it’s a great example of the anti-hero in drama, and it also shows another of my favorite literary conceits: the ordinary man (men and women in this case) forced to confront extraordinary circumstances. None of these people are Jason Bourne or James Bond, and their fight scenes reflect that, which makes it all the better. 


Want to kill Hitler? Good luck with that

Attention time travelers, killing Hitler, while noble, may not be as easy as it sounds.

One of my favorite web sites,, compiled several literary/TV attempts to kill Hitler, and the results are not particularly encouraging.

In a nutshell, all the literary/TV tries either 1) fail miserably due to the bumblings of the time traveler, 2) end up working, only leading to an even worse outcome, or 3) actually CAUSE Hitler and WWII as we know it.

Now, I wasn’t aware that this was such a common trope. I’ve seen the Doctor Who episode, Let’s Kill Hitler, which actually had little to do with the big bad himself, and was more about developing one of my favorite Who characters, River Song (for a good intro to all things Who, watch the two-parter Silence in the Library). Hitler was quickly forgotten in the first ten minutes or so.


And I remember watching one of the items on io9’s list – the Twilight Zone episode (in full here) where Katherine Heigl (!) time travels to visit baby Hitler. She’s not there for a friendly visit, and not to give it away, but history incorporates her mission with no noticeable change in the timeline.

Several of the other books/stories/etc on the list are intriguing, and worth a look. Read this clever short story here, in its entirety.

The moral of this story?

Time travel as a dramatic device is great for one reason – there are endless permutations and possibilities. One simple concept – killing Hitler – can be spun in countless entertaining ways. As long as it’s well executed, it will work.

Smashing pumpkins, and worn-out cliches

“There’s a long-established concept that gets bandied about which is misery makes for great art…[so] you’re basically saying suffering’s good for business.” — Billy Corgan

Billy Corgan and his band Smashing Pumpkins ruled the rock world some years ago, for good reason. Listen to Bullet with Butterfly Wings for a taste.

I just stumbled across this short clip from a CNN interview where he spouts some wise words that blast the old cliche that artists must suffer for their art. That’s a lie. Good for him for calling it out. The truth is, suffering artists are too busy suffering to get to the art part. I’ve been there.

Corgan also talks about the next taboo in rock – God, while deflecting the Christian rock genre. Click here, or below – it’s worth a quick view.


Holy autopsies, or, nuns with knives


Take a look at this photo:


No, he’s not the victim of some slashing monster. He’s been autopsied by a bunch of nuns way back in the Dark Ages.

Fiction aside, science is one of my other fascinations, and I came across this article on medical science in the Dark Ages in Scientific American. It turns out a lot of what we know about these centuries is dead wrong. For instance:

–Most people did NOT believe that the world was flat. Then knew it was round

–The Catholic church was a leader in scientific study, not a suppressor

The Catholic church was believed to be against autopsies. Again, not so. In fact, the church often performed “holy autopsies,” in which a corpse was dissected in an attempt to uncover a relic. In 1308, nuns performed an autopsy on an abbess and reported to have found a tiny crucifix embedded in her heart (How did that get there?).

File this under truth is stranger than fiction.