Monday, August 27, 2012

Bourne and Generic Engineering

A few days ago I went to see the new Bourne movie and found myself completely caught up with the science behind the film. For years now this concept of genetic engineering has both fascinated and terrified me. As the daughter of a brittle Type 1 diabetic, I’m torn on the subject of scientific tampering. On the one hand, I pray for the day when we’ve progressed far enough to eradicate hereditary diseases and rid human evolution of this kind of genetic weakness. On the other hand, where is the line? How do we know when we’ve venture too far from our benevolent aims and begun tampering not only with DNA, but with human nature itself?

This is a common theme in the science fiction genre, and in nearly every literary and cinematic example, we see the terrible effects of cellular tampering. Like the Larx-03 agent from The Bourne Legacy. Spoilers: While physically he proved very advanced, ultimately he seemed to be little more than a human robot, completely devoid of emotional responses. They achieved their goal of creating an agent – or assassin – capable of immeasurable violence and destruction, but they sacrificed his moral understanding of the world in the process. Larx-03 seemed closer to a robotic Terminator than a human being.

This concept of creating a ‘supersoldier’ isn’t a new one. In fact, it’s pretty common these days with the popularity of comic book films like Captain America, and war-related video games such as Halo and Resident Evil. But what keeps me up at night is the very real possibility that governments are already developing scientific projects to create genuine ‘supersoldiers’. The truth is, having never underestimated the lengths to which political powers will go, I have no doubt that this is already under way. Government agencies like DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) devote their energies to the pursuit of any and all scientific and technological advancements that might give us a military advantage. They’ve delved into behavioral sciences already – why not genetic engineering?

Whether it’s for medical or military purposes, I fear that this concept of improving humanity could potentially lead us down a dark road. When does eradicating diseases or creating better soldiers transcend into something else – something more extreme?

When does it cross over into eugenics?

Historically we’ve seen the terrible repercussions eugenics can have. Segregation, marginalization – even sterilization, infanticide and genocide. This quest for enhancing human genetics is dangerously flawed. And while I approve of attempts to lesson mankind’s suffering via genetic exploration, I’m apprehensive about any scientific endeavors which could lead to such deadly consequences.

I’ll leave off here with one last thought. The human race is an imperfect one – to try to make us perfect is going against our very nature. I just hope we never lose sight of that as our scientific exploration of the human mind and body continues on its amazing path forward.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Trouble with Television

Let me preface this by saying that I am NOT one of those people who whines that there’s nothing good on TV. Quite the opposite, in fact. I love TV. I think many television shows these days are inventive, have wonderful characters and plot lines, and show genuine literary and cinematic merit.

What I do NOT love is the fact that the duration of said shows  are based on ratings rather than sustainable storylines. Time and time again I fall in love with a new TV series, only to have it ruined a few years later by some film exec who said “yes, let’s absolutely write a sixth and seventh season”.

Why do they do this? Why do they insist on ruining wonderful shows by keeping them on too long? The answer, of course, is money. If a series is doing well and the ratings are high, there’s no way they’ll pull the plug, even if they've run out of fresh material.

Which is exactly the disappointment I recently faced when watching what was once one of my most anticipated television shows – Bones. It was one of those series I looked forward to every week. Until last year, that is, when the show that I once adored finally ran out of steam. I trudged along, hoping it would get better until it got so terrible that I finally had to admit defeat. But what’s really disturbing is that in a month or so it’s going to begin airing again, beginning its eight season. Never mind that the plots have become ridiculous and the characters stilted – people keep watching so the executives keep ordering more episodes.

The same could be said of many other shows I once loved. The Office. 24. Even Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the beloved show of my childhood. Though it remains one of my favorite series to this day, I will never understand why they felt the need to make seven seasons. They really should have stopped after three of four. The only thing that consoles me about Fox’s premature cancellation of Firefly , Whedon’s later masterpiece, is that they never got the chance to run it into the ground with too many seasons.

Perhaps that’s why at the end of the day, no matter how much I love certain TV shows, I love movies more. There’s a certain conciseness about film that I find reassuring. Movies have a beginning AND an end, rather than this endless stream of cliffhangers we see with TV. Though of course there are certain film franchises that make the same mistakes as their television counterparts and produce too many sequels (to the detriment of artistic integrity)  that's right George Lucas, I’m talking to you  in general film is a little more conscious of quitting while ahead. 

Thought I must admit, I’ve become a bit concerned with the number of sequels, threequels and prequels being made these days . . .

Let me say one more thing on the subject of over-producing before I end my little rant here. I’ve been incredibly concerned with people’s interest in the continuation of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I constantly hear people saying things like “when is she going to write the next book?” and “I’d love to see what Harry’s like when he’s all grown up and working for the ministry”. To which I respond – ARE YOU SERIOUS? 

The seven Harry Potter books are some of the best young adult literature I’ve ever come across. THE best, if I’m being honest. It’s an epic, seven-part tale that should NOT be tampered with. There’s no way the series can ever be better than it already is, and to try to expand on it is to risk diluting that which is already perfect.

So please, think really hard before you ask for another book, another season, or another sequel. Because these days, you might just get what you wish for.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Was Your Childhood Monster? Blogfest

In honor of the release of her novella, Fearless (click here for more details), author and blogger Christine Rains is hosting a brand new blogfest – the “What was your childhood monster?” blogfest. Click here if you’d like to join and tell us all about the monsters and minions that plagued your adolescence.

As for me, I didn’t have ONE childhood monster. Oh no – I had hundreds of them. I blame this partly on my overactive imagination (both a blessing and a curse to a future writer), and partly on my parents’ eagerness to share with their one and only offspring their love of science fiction films. They called it “my education”, and as an adult I find myself very appreciative. But as a child, it had some unfavorable consequences. Namely, my terror of Poltergeists (and being sucked into a TV), aliens, Predators, T-1000 terminators (I’ll never be able to look at a black and white checkered floor without a sense of panic), killer Great White sharks, vampires, zombies, gremlins, graboids . . .

And the list goes on.

My response to this long list of threats was – apart from spending a lot of time wedged in between my parents in their bed (punishment for letting an eight-year-old watch Aliens and The Terminator) – keeping the doors to all the closets OPEN.

Now I know that’s not the typical reaction. Most of my friends and family have assured me that it’s better to keep the closet door closed so they can’t get out. But anyone who’s ever seen Terminator 2 knows that to the T-1000, a closed door is no real barrier. And really when one thinks about it, a closed door really isn’t much of a challenge to most monsters and/or demonic creatures. So I maintain that it’s better to keep the door open and maintain a visual at all times, thus ensuring that said monsters can never surprise you. If you can see them coming, at least that gives you a fighting chance of getting away, am I right?

Here are a few simply creeds I follow for combating childhood (and present day) monsters:
- Check the perimeter: It’s best to do a full sweep whenever entering a new dwelling, and a second sweep upon entering an empty room.
- Keep closet doors open at all times: Or at least until they’ve been checked thoroughly. Same goes for shower curtains. And if there’s any sort of dust ruffle on the bed that obscures visibility beneath, I’d suggest lifting that up (or removing it entirely) as well.
- Stay in shape: Be prepared to run faster than any monsters that may be hiding inside closets, under beds, etc. Or at least be prepared to run faster than other occupants of the house. Good rule of thumb, never be the slowest person around. That’s like the monster equivalent of being the slowest gazelle in a herd being chased by a lion. Not good.

And always, always, always remember the immortal words of one Mad Eye Moody: “Constant vigilance”.

I hope these tips come to your aid in future battles against any nameless monster-foe in your future. And share with us, what are some of your childhood monsters and/or tips for combating them?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

New York, Take Two!

Last week I had the pleasure of taking a trip to New York City, one of my favorite places to visit. It was an amazing trip, not only because I got to stay at the Marriott on Times Square (and thus had a view of the famous Broadway billboards from our hotel room), but also because it was the second year in a row that my mom, cousin and I got to go together (which with our crazy schedules is not easy). Hopefully we'll do the same next year and make it an annual trip. 

The theme of last year's trip was Harry Potter. Though we didn't plan it that way, it seemed everything we did had some sort of connection to my favorite book series - we stumbled across a Harry Potter exhibit we hadn't known about, there were billboards everywhere for the upcoming eighth and final movie, and best of all, we got to see leading man Daniel Radcliffe light up the Broadway stage in How to Succeed in Business (which was incredible). 

This year wound up having a theme as well - superheroes. What a shock, right? It seems this whole summer has been all about the heroes, and this trip in particular was just full of them. From all the posters hailing Nolan's final Batman masterpiece to the Marvel Avenger's exhibit on display at famous Madam Tussauds wax museum, New York was practically raining masked vigilantes. Not to mention the action packed Broadway play we saw . . .

And yes - it was terrific. We happened to be in the "fly zone" and quite literally had Spider-man flying through the air right above our heads. I even found myself ducking down a time of two when he came swinging in very close to my chair. Here are a few other highlights from our trip: 

Crazy New York cab drivers. 
Spider-man . . . and, uh, Spider-Allie.
Hamming it up with The Hulk. 
Me RUNNING from The Hulk.
Dark Knight Rises billboards on Times Square. 
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip. I cannot wait for next year - and I'm already wondering what our theme for that one will be!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, and time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. Thanks again to Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting this outlet for writers every month! So here’s my insecurity for August . . .

As a small respite from the endless wait for a publisher somewhere to finally decide my manuscript has merit, I decided to head to New York City with my family for a mini-vacation. And things were going really, really well. That is, until I got the dreaded email from my agent . . .

You've been rejected. Again.

Exactly the news you want to hear when you're on vacation, am I right? It certainly did some damage, spoiling what had been a really wonderful day of sightseeing and fun. However, I did my best to get past it (though I fear that my poor family had a rough time dealing with my resulting dip in enthusiasm).

For any of you who ever find yourself in a similar situation, I've developed the perfect antidote to what will heretofore be known as Publishers-are-sucking-out-my-soul-and-ruining-my-vacation-itus. The necessary ingredients include:

1. A good rant session with family and/or friends. Never underestimate the power of a good publisher-bashing. I've tested it many a time and believe me, it releases more endorphins than exercise.

2. Ice cream. Lots and lots of it. And if you've never tried mixing a scoop of peanut butter in with your ice cream, I'd highly recommend it.

3. D-List, guilty pleasure movies. Particularly of the disaster or science fiction persuasion. Watching an oversized crocodile terrorize a quite, lake-side town, a giant meteor heading for earth, or a half-man, half-hammerhead shark ripping people to shreds sure does put things in perspective.

4. The Olympics. Unfortunately this one is time sensitive, but there's nothing like watching Michael Phelps swim his way to history - and his 19th medal - to make you forget your troubles.

So there you have it. It comes with an insecure writer's guarantee! No prescription necessary. 

Side effects may include weight gain (ice cream, regrettably, tends to expand the waste-line), an irrational (or so they say) fear of crocodiles, meteors and hammerheads, and a potential overestimation of one's aquatic abilities.