Review: Maskerade by Terry Pratchett


(Visit the Great Pratchett Reading Project page for links to more Discworld reviews.)

Terry Pratchett hits on all cylinders with Maskerade, a send-up of Opera in it’s many forms, Discworld style. Now that Magrat Garlick has become queen, the witches coven is short a member. Granny and Nanny set their sights on Agnes Nitt, who has natural talent for ‘headology’. The trouble is, Agnes wants to sing and has headed off to Ankh-Morpork to join the opera. Unfortunately for Agnes, even though she can sing a duet with herself, she doesn’t have the figure for a prima donna, and is forced to into covering for the female star of the show. All the while, a mysterious masked man is killing people associated with the opera company, which, though making money hand over fist, seems to be losing it even more quickly.

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Human Organs Grown in Lab

Theoretical Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku (author of the non-fiction book Hyperspace) hosts Visions of the Future, premiering this week on the BBC. The show takes a look at the real direction of science and talks with some of the current pioneers. Dr. Kaku offers us a sneak peek into the show and the technology behind it, with a focus on growing human organs:

But one highlight of the trip was a visit to Dr Anthony Atala’s lab in Wake Forest University, North Carolina, where he is unleashing a revolution in medicine: growing entire organs of the body from your own cells.

In the future, we might very well have a “human body shop” that can replace ageing and diseased organs at will.

Dr Atala first creates a plastic sponge-like mould of the organ. Then he inserts cells from our own body into the mould, which are then treated so they grow into the scaffolding.

After the organ is fully grown, the plastic scaffolding dissolves, leaving a perfect organ. Already, skin, cartilage, bone, blood vessels, wind pipes, heart valves, ears, and noses have been grown.

Dr Anthony Atala; Tissue engineering a bladder (BBC)

Tissue engineering promises “off the shelf” organs

His lab made headlines last year when he grew the first human bladder, which was inserted into seven patients suffering from deformed bladders.

Dr Atala told me: “What we can foresee in the future is having a ready-made supply of human organs off the shelf that you can simply plug in, as needed.”

This is way cool. We’re witnessing the stuff that used to be science fiction. The implications of such technology could mean longer life spans and a radical change to our way of life. I love Kaku’s question about using “the wisdom of Solomon to control this power.”

I wonder…can organlegging (as envisioned by Larry Niven in his Known Space stories) be far behind? At least growing them artificially solves the problem of the decreasing supply of donors….

Tube Bits For 11/05/07

  • Now that the Halo 3 film is on indefinite hiatus, Peter Jackson is looking for his next movie challenge. He will be producing District 9 with directory Neill Blomkamp. Apparently, D9 is a live-action SF film that will be shot in New Zealand. No word on plot. Let’s hope it’s a good one.
  • Good news for all you Heroes haters out there, the looming strike just may force episode 7 to be the season finale! Wow. Just, wow. Maybe they can find some scab writers to straighten out the show.
  • American Chronicle has a nice long interview with directory David Winning. David has directed many genre shows, including Dinotopia and Stargate: Atlantis. Lot’s in interesting stuff here.
  • Skud’s Sister’s Brother (what a name), has reviewed the preview DVD of Charlie Jade. Jade tells the story of a detective who is able to move between three different realities. It looks really interesting, but it isn’t available in the US. Well, the DVD’s aren’t. I’m keen to watch this one.
  • BuddyTV wonders, with rumors that Smallville may be ending soon, what are the potential spin-off shows? Out of the four mentioned, I think Cyborg sounds interesting. Of course, do we need a Six Million Dollar Man meets The O.C.? Don’t we already have the Million Dollar remake covered with The Bionic Woman?

WINNERS: 2007 World Fantasy Awards

Winners of this year’s World Fantasy Awards (for works published in 2006) were announced this past weekend.

LIFE ACHIEVEMENT: Betty Ballantine and Diana Wynne Jones

NOVEL: Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe (Tor)

NOVELLA: “Botch Town” by Jeffrey Ford (The Empire of Ice Cream, Golden Gryphon Press)

SHORT FICTION: “Journey Into the Kingdom” by M. Rickert (F&SF May 2006)

ANTHOLOGY: Salon Fantastique edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (Thunder’s Mouth)

COLLECTION: Map of Dreams by M. Rickert (Golden Gryphon Press)

ARTIST: Shaun Tan

SPECIAL AWARD, PROFESSIONAL: Ellen Asher (for work at the Science Fiction Book Club)

SPECIAL AWARD, NON-PROFESSIONAL: Gary K. Wolfe (for reviews in Locus and elsewhere)

See also: The nominees and past winners.

[via Locus Online]

POLL RESULTS: Adapting Our Favorite Books To Film

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

Would you like to see your favorite book turned into a movie?


(97 total votes)

A few comments this week:

“After seeing the disaster they made of ‘The Dark Is Rising’, I pray Hollywood never gets its hands on ‘The Anubis Gates.’ My heart wouldn’t be able to handle it.” – Misty

“I think there oughtta be a 5th choice here – a qualified yes – yes, but only if the right director made it and put the right amount of time and effort into it.” – bloginhood

“Starship Troopers is my favorite book and I hated the movie. I think my high expectations ruined it for me.” – Kristen

“While there is a definitive chance that Hollywood will mess it up, a chance to see some of my favorite books on screen is certainly worth it. OR My/our imagination has the best production values possible. Pick one. My mind is split.” – General X

Be sure to visit our front page and vote in this week’s poll about Heroes season 2!

SF Tidbits for 11/4/07

SF Tidbits for 11/3/07

Tube Bits For 11/03/07

  • The November 8th issue of TV Guide magazine will feature four different covers celebrating the comic influence Heroes. Each cover was designed and drawn by a comic book artist: Tim Sale, Jim Lee, Michael Turner, Phil Jimenez, and Dave Stewart. The actual artwork hasn’t been released yet, but we’ll e able to see the covers next week. Stay tuned.
  • I’m not sure whether to be giddy or just sad: Sci Fi Channel has a pirate fantasy movie in the works called Drake, and will star Adrian Paul and Temuera Morrison (that’s the Highlander vs. Jango Fett for those scoring at home). Apparently, Paul’s character is trying to find the Tree Of Life to save his daughter, and must fight the Spanish Armada, sea monsters, a mystical Persian sorceress, the legendary Norse God-creature the Nidhogg, and a Star Wars character. See what I mean? It’s got pirates and it sounds interesting, but it’s on Sci Fi. How many ways can they think of to make this blow? Aside from cheap SFX that is. Let’s hope it turns out well.
  • Where do you go to find the lead character for the Knight Rider re-make? Why, All My Children of course! Justin Bruening is set to play Michael Knight’s son in the reboot of the 80’s talking car who secretly wants to be a Cylon series. Hasselhoff was also a soap star when he was tapped to be Michael Knight. Hopefully Bruening has a long singing career in Germany to look forward to.
  • Following on from recent MST3K news, I see that Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank) has his own animated series called Cartoon Dump. Not to be outdone, Best Brains, the, err, brains behind MST3K are working on their own animated series featuring everyone’s favorite set of robots on Nice!
  • BuddyTV has a short look at the upcoming Sci Fi original movie Tin Man. Now, I want to like this, I really do. I like the ideas they have for the new version, but I am expecting Sci Fi to screw this up as well. Remember, the creative team behind the new Flash Gordon is also the team for Tin Man. Doesn’t exactly instill confidence, does it?

Reviews: Interzone Issues 210, 211 and 212

I’ve been horribly remiss in my reviews, or lack thereof, for the the SF magazine Interzone. I just finished reading issues 211 and 212 and thought I’d toss together a quick post on my thoughts for issues 210 – 212.

First things first, most issues, aside from the short stories, have the same columns and such in them: book reviews, movie reviews, the occasional anime review, plus author or artist interviews. I’m not going to go in depth on any of these, unless it happens to be something unusual. The meat of each issue is the stories, and I’ll be looking at those.

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Watch Day Watch For Cheap sends us word of another special offer that might be of interest to some of our readers. They have the movie Day Watch available to download for $.99, good until November 6th.

Day Watch is a Russian horror/sci fi movie, the second movie (after Night Watch) of a series that has been receiving lots of accolades around the movie-sphere. I’ve seen the first movie and it wasn’t my cup of tea. Then again, horror movies aren’t really my thing, unless Kate Beckinsale appears in it wearing form-fitting leather outfits. Sadly, she doesn’t appear in Day Watch.

But for less than a buck, I’m thinking of giving it a shot.

Free Book: Postsingular by Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker Has released his new novel, Postsingular, under a Creative Commons License. Available formats are HTML and PDF, though more are sure to follow…

Here’s an excerpt:

Two boys walked down the beach, deep in conversation. Seventeen-year-old Jeff Luty was carrying a carbon-fiber pipe rocket. His best friend, Carlos Tucay, was carrying the launch rod and a cheap bottle of Mieux champagne. Gangly Jeff was a head taller than Carlos.

“We’re unobservable now,” said Jeff, looking back down the sand. It was twilight on a clear New Year’s Day in Stinson Beach, California. Jeff ‘s mother had rented a cheap cottage in order to get out of their cramped South San Francisco apartment for the holiday, and Carlos had come along. Jeff ‘s mother didn’t like it when the boys fired off their homemade rockets; so Jeff had promised her that he and Carlos wouldn’t bring one. But of course they had.

“Our flying beetle,” said Carlos with his ready grin. “Your program says it’ll go how high? Tell me again, Jeff. I love hearing it.”

“A mile,” said Jeff, hefting the heavy gadget. “Equals one thousand, six hundred and nine-point-three-four-four meters. That’s why we measured out the fuel in milligrams.”

“As if this beast is gonna act like your computer simulation,” laughed Carlos, patting the thick rocket’s side. “Yeek!” The rocket’s tip was a streamlined plastic cone with a few thousand homegrown nanochips inside. The rocket’s sides were adorned with fanciful sheet metal fins and a narrow metal pipe that served as a launch lug. Carlos had painted the rocket to resemble an iridescent blue-green beetle with toothy jaws and folded spiky legs.

“We’re lucky we didn’t blow up your mom’s house when we were casting the motor,” said Jeff. “A kilogram of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and powdered magnesium metal mixed into epoxy binder, whoa.” He hefted the rocket, peering up the beetle’s butt at the glittering, rubbery fuel. The carbon-fiber tube was stuffed like a sausage casing.

[via Quasar Dragon and]

Friday YouTube: Spider-Man Theme Song

SF Tidbits for 11/2/07

Top 10 SF Signal Posts for October 2007

As per Google Analytics, here are The Top 10 SF Signal Posts for October 2007:

  1. Authors You’ll Buy Sight Unseen
  2. How Do You Like Heroes Season 2 So Far?
  3. Giant X-Wing Rocket Set To Launch
  4. Used Bookstores Have 10 Years to Live
  5. Thursday YouTube: Star Wars Theme – Trumpet Version
  6. Monday YouTube: Bender’s Big Score Trailer
  7. REVIEW: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 1 edited by Jonathan Strahan
  8. Doris Lessing Wins the Nobel Prize for Literature
  9. What do you watch on TV? 2007 edition!
  10. Tuesday YouTube: Hollywood Actors Read Poe

Looking at the top overall hits, while ignoring those listed above, we get these stats for older posts that were popular in October…

  1. SF/F Writers Who Blog
  2. Solve Rubik’s Cube
  3. REVIEW: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  4. Oh Wolverine, Why Can’t You Be True?
  5. MEME: Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time
  6. Free SciFi Movies
  7. Top 10 Star Wars Spoofs
  8. Free Short SF Online
  9. Foundation: The Movie
  10. Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movies Lists

Tube Bits For 11/02/2007

  • Just when you thought it was safe to put a SF show on Fox, we learn that Joss Whedon and Fox are teaming up for a new SF show, called Dollhouse, and starring Eliza Dushku, about a group of people who are assigned various tasks, but then are mind wiped after each one. Sounds kinda cool. Any bets on how many episodes it lasts? Or how long before the suits start mucking with it? [via Deasil]
  • Following on from yesterday’s Star Trek casket item, Network World lists The Top 10 real life Star Trek inventions. The casket is listed as are a bunch of other cool, cutting edge gadgets.
  • In case you haven’t heard, Mulder and Scully will return to the big screen on July 25, 2008. Shooting begins this December in Vancouver, of course. Let’s see, that’s 8 months from shooting to release, ok almost 9 months. Must not be that SFX laden.
  • With the news that Heroes:Origins has been killed due to the ‘writers strike’, BuddyTV tells us that Heroes will be (SPOILERS ahoy!) pulling out the stops for sweeps week. They have spoilery synopsis for the next four episodes. I’ll let you decide how much spoilage you want to subject yourself to. The big question: Will it be enough to pull Heroes out of its tailspin?

REVIEW: The Hanging Mountains by Sean Williams


The Hanging Mountains is the third book in Williams’ Books Of The Cataclysm series, but in many ways it feels like the second book in a trilogy. The Hanging Mountains picks immediately after where the previous book, The Blood Debt leaves off. A flood of epic proportions has inundated the Divide and the group of Sky Wardens, along with the Homunculus containing the souls of Seth and Hadrian from The Crooked Letter head upstream, to the Hanging Mountains to discover the source and the reason for the flood. They discover an ancient evil, long thought vanquished, is stirring and has big, nasty plans for Earth.

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Heroes Season 2 Officially Sucks

I have not hidden that fact that I have a love/hate relationship with Heroes. I warmed up to the show in Season 1 despite my early annoyance and later misgivings. But in season 2, all my fears are becoming realized. The show is officially lame.


Jeez…where do I start?

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Tube Bits For 11/01/2007

  • If you’ve been wondering how to go out in style when you shuffle off this mortal coil, then perhaps you should consider this Star Trek Coffin shaped like a photon torpedo. Now you can re-enact the ending of Wrath of Khan, complete with bagpipes if you’d like!
  • Is Cavemen even still on? Apparently so, as Tony Figueroa at Blogcritics dissects the shows first two episodes. Metrosexual cavemen? No thanks.
  • UGO has a short interview with Jamie Bamber, covering many topics. Among them Razor, BG season 4 and what props Bamber plans on, um, keeping after the show wraps. I’ll take a Viper please.
  • Speaking of Galactica, the Battlestar Galactica game for Xbox Live Arcade is now available, as is the demo. I tried it and really, really didn’t like it. Which is too bad since who wouldn’t want to fly around in a Viper, fragging Cylons?
  • Terminally Incoherent has an interesting post about anti-intellectualism on TV. Specifically, the way SF fans or technically savvy people are portrayed on the vast majority of TV shows. Can anyone think of a show where the ‘geeky’ person was actually show as being heroic or sympathetic? I can only think of Hiro.
  • Maureen Buccellato from Flick Direct watches Heroes for the first time, and comes away confused. Not surprising as there is an entire season of backstory she’s missing, thus showing how hard it will be for Heroes to pick up new viewers, as the older ones appear to be leaving it in droves.
  • If NBC were smart, they’d use their new Hulu service to make older shows, in their entirety, available for viewing. Sadly, that’s not the case. Hulu went into closed beta on Monday, and new shows have only a five week window for viewing. The good news is that many older shows’ entire seasons are available. Shows like The A-Team. I love it when a plan comes together in a classic pincer movement!

SF Tidbits for 11/1/07

REVIEW: Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

REVIEW SUMMARY: Schroeder delivers an action-packed hard science fiction story that isn’t afraid to go as deep with the characters as it is with ideas.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Hayden Griffen lives in the world of Virga – a balloon of air supported by artificial suns. He is out to avenge the death of his parents and ends up working for his sworn enemy. What follows is a romp through the world-let of Virga complete with pirates, intrigue, and a quasi-steam punk world.


PROS: Characters evolve and grow, the science is interesting but not overwhelming, excellent wold-building ideas

CONS: The only thing I can think of is that it probably isn’t a book for those who don’t enjoy science fiction. It isn’t universally accessible, maybe.

BOTTOM LINE: Excellent hard science fiction that any fan of the genre would enjoy.

A science fiction blog featuring science fiction book reviews and with frequent ramblings on fantasy, computers and the web.