Friday’s Top Five

Here’s the countdown:

5. Say Hello to the Aliens!

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Thanks to a fantastical machine that would leave its namesake believing in witchcraft, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has pinpointed more than 1,200 new planets in the universe. It’s been estimated there are BILLIONS of planets (I think it was Carl Sagan who said that). So far we’ve only found a few of these billions (and by found, I mean hypothesized based on such magic as the wobbling of light from distant stars). Now we’ve verified a whole lot more. Can’t wait for the day when we actually visit these planets. Well considering I won’t live that long (and neither will you) I’ll just have to settle for exploring via sci-fi. (The dude in the photo is Johannes Kepler, a 17th century German astronomer. NASA stole his name for their pet project. Not sure why.).

4. Throat-biting Rick Grimes

This one’s a throwback. It’s from a few years ago, but it’s a classic. The Walking Dead is a seductive show. It’s a soap opera disguised as a horror show, a soap opera about power, not love. And no one pulls off the melodrama quite like Rick Grimes. The Georgia cop turned reluctant survivalist is a strange hero. On one hand, he’s fearless and crafty, willing to do whatever it takes to keep his makeshift family alive. On the other hand, he’s a melancholy head case (he was getting phone calls from his dead wife!) who is prone to drama. And this scene, where Rick bites the neck out of a man (human, not zombie) is either the pinnacle or the low point of Rickness. But in all fairness, his son was about to get raped. I’m on team Rick here, and that’s why throat-biting Rick Grimes is my spirit animal. No one does tortured crazy like Rick.

3. Music Not Meant for the Masses

I recently stumbled upon John Grant after spending some time descending into a YouTube rabbit hole (something about Prince and Sinead O’Connor…). Grant was being interviewed in Icelandic, then he launching into song with Sinead as his backup singer(!). It turns out this lumberjack-looking American is actually the love child of Karen Carpenter raised by the caretaker of a sanatarium. Not really, but that’s what his voice sounds like. He’s an odd duck unafraid to put his oddities on full display. So as obsessive I get, I’ve been listening to him over and over (along with Gojira, Grimes, Tame Impala, and FKA Twigs – don’t ask). Queen of Denmark is one of my favorites. And apparently Sinead too, since she covered it.

2. May

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It’s not my favorite month of the year – that would be my birthday month of February. May is a close second, this year especially. Our winter sucked. We got barely any snow, and I only went snowboarding five times. The conditions were…well, sucky. A bad day of snowboarding is still better than any other day, but I expected better. If the winter was too warm, then spring has been too cold — damp, London rainy chill. . That’s all changing now that May is here. It’s turning beautiful : blue skies, sunshine, warmth on the skin. May would have won the week, but it can’t top snow…

1. Jon Snow Has Had Enough of Your Shit, Night’s Watch

Oh, Game of Thrones. Like The Walking Dead, you’re another soap opera disguised as a beautifully written and acted drama with cinematic production values. After you killed off the hero, and then the hero’s wife and son at THE WORST WEDDING EVER, I realized you would never give me the justice I craved. Sure, you killed off the bad seed inbred golden boy Joffrey, but his vile mother Cersei is still alive. Last you killed Jon Snow, he of the resting bitch face and high moral character. Of course he would die, he’s a Stark after all. But in one of the worst kept secrets in GoT fandom, Jon Snow was resurrected by Melisandre (who should never take off that necklace). Finally we had some justice. That alone would be enough to earn the number one spot, but then we got to see Jon preside over the hanging of his murderers, including that surly teenager Ollie. I cheered when the brat’s eyes bulged and his face turned purple. the scene ended with Jon Snow taking off his ugly feather coat off and quitting the Night’s Watch. If you’re going to quit, do it Jon Snow style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre TV: a golden age or too much of a good thing?

It is a sad fact that there are too many great books in the world, of all genres, that I will never have time to read. I’m sure that I’m missing out on some life-changing classics, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

Star TrekWhen it comes to TV, though, there used to be a time when you could be up on all the great TV shows. For fans of all things sci-fi/supernatural/horror like myself, it wasn’t that hard, because there were so few TV shows that had a sci-fi or supernatural theme. Back in the 1950s you had The Twilight Zone and in the 1960s came The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and in England, Doctor Who. Along the way there were a smattering of other TV shows, notably the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the ’90s, but with only a handful of networks (and the BBC in England) the options were severely limited.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

That’s all changed. Now there seems to be a new network popping up every week, along with new TV shows. When Lost premiered, it reinvigorated the genre by making it commercially and critically viable. As flawed as Lost was, the emmy-winning series showed the powers that be that genre shows could make money and win awards.

Lost

Since then, there’s been an explosion of genre shows. A few decades ago, who would have predicted that two of the most hyped television shows would include dragons and zombies? These two shows, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are worldwide cultural events. Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead bring more than just supernatural/fantastical/horror elements: they have high production values, are well acted, and have great writing.

Walking Dead

And these are just two of the latest and greatest. The past couple of decades have given us so many great genre shows, from SyFy’s Farscape and the Battlestar Galactica reboot, to BBC’s relaunched Doctor Who and BBC America’s Orphan Black. I should be happy, right?

Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany

In a way, I’m not. There are SO MANY genre shows out there I can’t keep up. And neither can the people who are writing them. The Walking Dead has given us the derivative Z Nation. The second season of SyFy’s Helix was a mess (a glorious, batshit crazy mess, but still a mess). And Netflix’s Hemlock Grove was half-baked camp. We’ve got a glut of genre shows out there, some of which should have never been made, and others that could have used a little more seasoning.

helixNot to mention that I don’t have the time to watch the vast majority. I’d love to watch The Strain, and there’s a new Salem TV show with Lucy Lawless that looks interesting. But between work, writing, play, family, how could I possibly fit all these shows into my life?

Maybe Hollywood needs to scale back a little — if not in the number of shows, then at least in the number of episodes. In the UK, it’s a common practice for TV shows to be short runs. Each season is perhaps six episodes, and the TV shows only run for a few seasons, if that. What you get is concise storytelling that does not require a lifetime commitment of the viewer. I’d fully support this idea; even the best shows suffer from episode bloat and could use some trimming (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead).

Game of Thrones meets the World Cup

While waiting impatiently for season 5 of Game of Thrones (only 10 months away!), any stories even remotely related to the show are catching my attention.

And now, in the spirit of the World cup, along come the Game of Thrones soccer uniforms, courtesy of a Spanish designer named Nerea Palacios. Read this interesting Q&A with Palacios. She says if she had to choose, she would align herself with House Lannister. Really? With Cersei?

Regardless of her taste in warring factions, she has great design taste. Take a look at a few of my favorites:

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Night's Watch

For more Game of Thrones meets the World Cup, check out this clever article from the Washington Post that compares the warring clans of Westeros to the international rivalries of the World Cup. Over the top? Sure. But fun nonetheless.

(Images courtesy of Nerea Palacios)

Game of Thrones vs science

The Mountain vs Prince Oberyn vs science: who will win?

First, this website is not a spoiler-free zone. Never has and never will be. I’m fine with spoilers. Sometimes I even seek them out (I was that kid who opened up his Christmas presents and then re-wrapped them). So, if you HATE spoilers, and aren’t up-to-date on Game of Thrones, stop reading now.

I love science, and I love fiction (and I also love science fiction). Fiction shouldn’t have to live up to the standards of science, especially when we’re talking about fantasy, sci-fi, or supernatural/horror, all of which require a level of disbelief. But sometimes it’s fun to see if what happens on the page (or screen) could happen in real life.

Let’s look at Game of Thrones and the epic battle between The Mountain and Prince Oberyn. Quick recap: Tyrion was accused of poisoning his nephew, the spoiled, vicious King Joffrey. Facing near certain conviction in a sham trial, he chose a duel to decide his fate. If his chosen fighter won, he would be set free. Cersei, Joffrey’s mother, who hated her brother Tyrion, selected The Mountain, a hulking beast of a man.

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Prince Oberyn, aka The Red Viper, a fiery, bisexual Dornish prince renown for his fighting skills, volunteered to battle The Mountain on behalf of Tyrion in order to extract a confession from the villain who raped and killed his sister years earlier.

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Well, the fight didn’t go too well for either man. The Mountain was mortally wounded, and Prince Oberyn got his confession, but that was just before The Mountain crushed Oberyn’s skull with his bare hands.

It was shocking and gruesome, even for a show like Game of Thrones.

This article asks the scientific question: could The Mountain really have crushed Oberyn’s head like an overripe watermelon?

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First the facts. The actor who plays The Mountain, Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, is 6 ft 9 inches and weighs over 400 lb. Bjornsson is the third-strongest man in the world and can deadlift 994 lb. The guy is seriously strong. The strength and size of Pedro Pascal, who played Oberyn, is irrelevant here, but this picture of the actors shows their difference in size.

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So could he do it? Probably not. Based on bike helmet crash data, it would take 2x the amount of force to crush a skull than human hands could muster, even hands as strong as Bjornsson’s. But, like much of science, this isn’t settled. One study suggested that it takes as little as 16 lb of pressure to fracture the skull, while another study pushed the skull-crushing requirement to 1200 lb.

My vote? Let’s get Bjornsson a skull to crush (not mine). Then we’ll see if George RR Martin’s words were based on scientific fact, or were pure fiction.

Game of Thrones: revenge is a killer

I suppose I should blame George RR Martin, whose twisted head thought up all this deviousness. Or maybe David Benioff and D.B. Weiss who brought Game of Thrones to television.

No. I blame myself for not being able to turn away.

I got through Ned Stark’s beheading. I made it through Catelyn and Robb Stark’s undoing at the Red Wedding. And last night it was Oberyn Martell, the revenge-seeking bisexual Dornish prince’s turn.Game of Thrones

The writers titled the episode “The Mountain and the Viper,” so I knew the epic fight between Ser Gregor Clegane (aka The Mountain) and Oberyn (aka The Red Viper) would take place in this episode. But they pushed it off until the very last few minutes. Tension, nonstop, waiting for it. Genius.

And it was everything I thought it would be, even more. Oberyn was carrying around 20 years of anger for what Tywin Lannister, via The Mountain, did to his sister (raping and killing her and her children). Oberyn was a badass from his first moment on the show (and in the books). All he ever wanted was justice, but his justice slid headfirst into revenge, and that revenge, full of blind passion, was his undoing. He could have finished off The Mountain (and in a sense, he does eventually). But he had to extract a confession from The Mountain. In his rage he made a fatal mistake. He let the wounded hulk get hold of him. What happened next was horrifying as we watched Oberyn get his confession while meeting his end in the most gruesome of ways.

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It gutted me (figuratively, of course). Those of you who are fans of Game of Thrones know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who aren’t, you’re missing a whole lot of masochism.

I suppose the moral of this latest episode (if there is one in the Game of Thrones universe) is that revenge is a killer. Or, if you need revenge, at least get it cold rather than hot.

On the lighter side, here’s Lena Headey, who plays arch-villain Cersei, “reenacting” that fateful scene with Pedro Pascal, who played Oberyn. Sometimes it’s good to laugh.

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Playing the Game of Thrones

I love this TV show, and I’ve read book 3 (mainly because I’m a sucker for spoilers) but I game-of-thrones-iron-throne-1024x576hesitated writing about Game of Thrones for two big reasons.

1) It’s more in the realm of fantasy (though with strong supernatural elements). I’ve never been big into fantasy — I struggled with the Lord of the Rings series.

2) Game of Thrones, both the print and TV versions, are deep and intricate. I don’t think my analysis, on an episode-by-episode basis, could do it justice.

Nevertheless I’m a big fan of all things Game of Thrones. I think it’s brilliant storytelling. ned starkThe show hooked me late in the first season, when Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean (the biggest name in the cast), met his fate. I knew then I was in for a wild and unpredictable ride.

On TV, the production values are excellent, the pacing is consistently solid, and the actors are all pros. My favorite, and I’m not alone in this, is Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion as played by Dinklage is the complicated heart of a complicated show. Catelyn Stark, played by Michelle Fairley, a woman who is smart and tough and willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family, is/was a close second.

TyrionIn the books, writer George RR Martin alternates character viewpoints as he bounces around the fictional world of Westeros and beyond — Daenerys, Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, Catelyn Stark, Jaime Lannister, and Tyrion Lannister. Each of these viewpoints is utterly unique and fully formed.

But neither book nor TV show is perfect. The books are rambling. No, I don’t need listings of every Ser who fought in a certain battle twenty years earlier. And the TV show revels in gore and violence to the point of overkill. One blogger commented that the show uses rape as a set piece. Okay, I get it — this world is brutal.

These are minor points. Game of Thrones is great entertainment. Very few moments in recent TV history can top when Daenerys ordered her dragon to burn the evil Kraznys.

Game_Of_Thrones Daenerys

And then there’s the infamous Red Wedding episode, where Catelyn, Robb and his pregnant wife weren’t treated very well by their hosts (huge understatement). Check out this link for some great reaction videos.

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Watch/read Game of Thrones if you’re up for some excitement. And for great postgame reading, the best I’ve found on the Internet comes from the A.V. Club. Their website has intelligent commentary, with articles geared toward those who haven’t read the books and those who have.

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