Sunday, October 30, 2005


The Legend of Zorro is fairly good as an action film and as a sequel, but it has some problems. Some are in the plot, some are with major anachronisms.

Some of the plot holes - a major sub-plot revolves around stealing some peasants' land so that a railroad spur can be finished. This is really more of an excuse than anything else since there are obviously alternatives for short-range transport.

Then there is the split between Zorro and his wife. She tells him that, if he answers a call for Zorro she should sleep elsewhere. The next thing we know they are divorced. Keeping in mind that they are Catholics and the year is 1850. Divorce just didn't happen then. Even today it doesn't happen overnight.

Then there is the Confederacy. The movie is taking place in 1850. They are very specific about that but the politics are 1860. They even have Abraham Lincoln presiding over California's acceptance into the Union. As a sop, he hasn't grown the beard yet but the real Lincoln was still practicing law in Illinois at the time.

I won't go into the southern soldiers in grey uniforms.

Now, if you are historically challenged then none of this matters.

There is a bigger problem - I don't think that there is a place for Zorro in 1850. A guy armed with a sword and whip works when fighting soldiers firing flintlocks and armed with sabers. Pit the same guy against cowboys armed with repeating rifles and it is a stretch. In some of the fights the cowboys pulled out swords. Fortunately for Zorro, they only used single-shot pistols. Colt revolvers had been invented by that time.

At one point the bad guy even says that Zorro is a relic who belongs in a museum. Since this is a second-generation Zorro who has already been active for a decade, he may well be right.

Still, the actions scenes work and they manage to gloss over most of the other problems.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Sad Life of a Trek Character

George Takei admitted that he is gay. While this does not mean that Sulu is gay (after all, Spock is Vulcan, not Jewish) it did make me think about the characters from the original Trek.

What sad lonely lives they led.

They spent decades assigned to a secession of ships named Enterprise. None of them were married. None of them moved on. They didn't even seem to have friends. Sulu was the only one to move on and get his own command.

TNG was a little better. There was some personal growth, especially Warf, Geordi and Data. Still Riker started as an ambitious young officer who thought that a tour of duty on the Enterprise would help his career. Years later he was still doing the same thing.

At least the TNG characters relaxed together and played cards.

Compare this with Babylon 5. By the end of the series everyone had been through some personal fire and no one was doing the same job as when the series started. Even bit-player Lt. Corwin moved up a bit.

UPDATE: When you look a how empty their lives are, the characters in the original Trek match the stereotype of the trekkie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Vampires and God

I was thinking of writing something about vampires for Halloween then I came upon this article. It seems that Anne Rice has found God and will only be writing for and about God in the future. Her next book will be a first-person account of Jesus's time in Egypt as a boy.

Rice has been the most influential writer of vampire fiction in 100 years. The previous writer, of course, was Bram Stoker whose Count Dracula defined the vampire in movies and literature until the 1970s. That's when Rice's Interview with the Vampire came out.

It is very rare for a writer to take a stock character like the vampire and turn it into a genre but Rice did it. She redefined the vampire. Stoker's version was noble, foreign, and evil. He drank blood, he slept in his "native soil", he could change form and he was burnt by crosses and the sun. Rice's vampires still drank blood and avoided the sun but they could not change form and religious symbols did not affect them. More importantly, they went from being a supporting character to being the star.

Dracula hardly appears in his namesake novel. Even when Harker is living in Castle Dracula he spends little time with the Count. In contrast, Rice's novels center on her vampires. Yes, they still drink blood and kill people but that is a subtext, lost in accounts of the life of an immortal in 18th century Paris or 19th century New Orleans. You no longer fear them, instead you want to be one.

There have been hoards of imitators since then. Many are best-sellers in their own right. I am currently reading P. N. Elrod's 14th vampire novel. Most of these are about a Depression-era vampire in gang-controlled Chicago. He's the good guy, saving people and only drinking from cattle.

Most of Anne Rice's 25 books have been about vampires. She probably peaked with Queen of the Damned (or maybe with The Vampire Lestat). Both of those books re-wrote her previous cosmology. In Interview we were told that no vampire could remember where they came from. In Lestat we find out that this was a lie and Lestat himself had met the original vampires. In Queen, we find out a lot more about them. Along the way she introduced the idea of spirits.

Although Rice never quite comes out and says it, it is obvious that all of the gods, spirits, and other non-living creatures are human (or near-human) ghosts who have forgotten their own history. She also took Lestat on a tour of Heaven and Hell that nearly ruined the character. The next several novels featured other vampires with Lestat having, at most, a walk-on roll. Finally in the last novel she returned to Lestat to wrap up all the lingering plot threads from the vampire and the Mayfair Witch books.

In a way, it is a good thing that she moved on. New Orleans was central to many of her books and it will not be in any condition to inspire such literature for a long time.

Will Rice's new series be any good? She seems to think that she pulled it off. I don't know. I hope that she doesn't start a new wave of first person books about Jesus.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Babylon 5 Governments

Unlike most Science Fiction shows, Babylon 5 concentrated on several alien races in detail. Although details are sketchy, we have some idea of how these governments were run - a better idea than we have of Star Trek's Federation, even after five series. Also, during the run of the series all of the governments suffered a major upset.

(note - I'm doing this all from memory. I may get details wrong and I probably will mess up spelling.)

First, there was Earth. The central government was Earthdome in Geneva. We know it had a president and a Senate but I don't remember a House or an independent judiciary. This might be how Clark was able to grab so much power. They did have the Nightwatch which seemed to function separately, more as a party than an arm of government. This was probably meant to suggest the KGB officer in USSR submarines with Nazi overtones.

The Mimbari were ruled by the Council of Nine. The number 3 was basic to their civilization and the Council was three members from the three castes. Later it was replaced with a council that had five members from the Workers and two each from the Religious and Warrior castes. At times there was also an individual who was separate from the Council and advised it. He could override it when he felt he had to.

The Centari had an emperor and a secondary body, the Centarum. The Centarum chose the emperor and seemed to have some political power. There was an implication that the emperor had total power but often chose to delegate most of it to the Centarum. Presumably membership in the Centarum was either directly hereditary or indirectly with the major houses putting forth a representative.

The Narns were overthrown before we learned much about their government or their world. They had a ruling body known as the K'aree and G'kar was the youngest member. How did you get to be a member? In the first season the Narn played up their role as the recent winners of a nationalist struggle against a colonial government. I'm going to take a guess here and say that they were set up something like Cuba in the 1960s with people who fought for the revolution getting government posts. After they Centari conquered them and left, G'kar refused to lead them and we have no idea what happened after that.

We know very little about the Vorlons and only slightly more about the Shadows. Kosh II said "We are all Kosh." On the other hand, Kosh II had a different personality than Kosh I and the two even fought. At the climax of the Great War, both races agreed to leave the galaxy. All of this implies that both races are individuals who can communicate through some form of telepathy to resolve all issues. No government would be needed in this case.

Babylon 5 itself started as sort of a UN, a place where the races could meet and air differences short of war. Like the UN, it was not very successful at preventing war and its ambassadors did not have much real power. This was replaced by an alliance which seemed to follow the Earth model of a president and a senate (council). The exact powers and roles of each were still evolving during the first year. Sheridan seemed to surprise people when he exercised actual authority through the White Star fleet. He also had to bargain with the council and they were free to use their own military resources as they saw fit.

So what do we learn from all of this? Probably the biggest lesson is that science fiction writers don't waste much effort on designing new types of government. Or, given the limited time available in a movie or TV series, the writers choose to save time by using types of government that are familiar to the viewers.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Government and Science Fiction

I got to wondering about this after watching Serenity. The movie was at least partly publicists through conservative websites. Why? Where is the conservative message? I can see it there a few different ways.

First, the biggest Republican stronghold these days is the south. Serenity should appeal there. The rebellion is the confederacy without the stain of slavery. We are told in the first two minutes that the outer worlds rebelled because of states' rights. They didn't want a strong central government telling them what to do.

Then there is the Libertarian ideal that the crew of the Serenity tries to live. They don't think of it that way but it is there.

We don't know much about the Federation. It has a Senate but no House is mentioned so we can assume that it is a single-house legislature. We have no idea if there is an administrative wing or if the Senate runs everything. We do know that they have a strong military.

This matches the Empire in Star Wars. There is a Senate and a military (and eventually an Emperor) which was originally inspired by Rome.

Then there is Star Trek and their Federation. In the original series the Federation seemed like a natural extension of the United States. The cold war between the Federation and the Klingons with the Romulans on the side matched the politics at the time with the USSR and China as our rivals. The relationship between the Federation and Star Fleet was never quite explained. Maybe it matches NATO with individual worlds contributing to a unified force. We do know that there was one star ship crewed by Vulcans.

By the Next Generation the Federation was closer to the European Union than the USA. Members got to keep their local customs and traditions but had to adapt laws and economic policy. Star Fleet was a generalized force with aliens freely mixing in the crews.

Why is Star Trek's Federation god and the others bad? I guess it is because of respect for individual rights but that is never made clear. Or, it could be that the Federation was good because our protagonists were part of the military while in Star Wars and Serenity they were opposed to the military.

I will examine Babylon 5's many governments later. It will take an entire post by itself.