Monday, December 01, 2014

A Couple of Science Fiction-Related Causes that could Use Your Support this Holiday Season

As we enter the season where a lot is traditionally said about family, about giving, and about hope, we're often called upon to come out in support of one cause or another, generally very worthy, dedicated to helping others through troubled times. Looking out at that vast sea of the charities, fundraisers, and calls for support though, we, as fans, don't usually see any that speak directly to the family of science fiction and fantasy. But this year, I'd like to draw your attention to a couple of sf-related causes that are in need of your support.

The first is a fundraiser for author Spider Robinson and his daughter Terri. As some of you may be aware, Terri's fighting stage 4 cancer, and given the how expensive healthcare is in the US, you can guess how much of a financial toll this has taken on the family. It's been a rough couple of years for old Spider... first losing Jeanne to cancer back in 2010 (a blow which has severely affected his writing), then having to deal with Terri's diagnosis, and then a heart attack this past summer. This poor guy isn't just singing the blues, he is the blues, and yet, seeing him a VCon this past October, he's doing his damnedest to keep going and find a smile here and there, at a time when most of us would just pack it in. It's not often that we, as fans, get to show an author in a meaningful way how grateful we are for all of the hours of entertainment, thought, and perhaps wisdom he or she has given us, but this time we do have that opportunity. Consider following the link above and helping Spider and his family out.

The second is a call for subscription to, and support for, OnSpec Magazine. Back in August, word came down the pipe that after years of support, the Canada Council (Canada's federal government-backed grant organization for the arts), in its infinite wisdom, decided to cut funding to OnSpec in 2015. Flimsy excuses were given by the masters of culture at the Council, but it's pretty clear that the literati can't bear to fund something as low-brow as speculative fiction (despite many of Canada's past and present big-name authors having slummed it in the genre ghetto from time to time, whether they wanted to admit it or not). Stories of this kind of snobbery abound (so many that they would drag this particular post light years off topic), and I guess, with sf being so prevalent in pop culture right now, it was only a matter of time until the guardians of Can-Lit purity struck back. Since then, the magazine has managed to pull together enough support and make a few changes to allow it to keep operating. But it still needs your help. So what to do? Obviously, if you're a Canadian, or a landed immigrant paying taxes here, you can certainly write to the Council registering your displeasure and requesting that they overturn their decision. Fat lot of good that'll do, but you're welcome to try (I directed a tweet at the Council's Twitter account this summer before leaving for LonCon, but, not surprisingly, received no response). You could do one better, and write to the federal Heritage Minister — since the Council is funded by Ottawa — or your local Member of Parliament and say that, as a taxpayer, you'd like them to look into the situation and, acting on the instructions of taxpayers, request that the Council to overturn its decision. Or, since the die has been cast, you can skip the communications campaign that's surely doomed to be ignored, and just go straight to supporting OnSpec directly. Follow the links above and you can make a donation, or, even better, subscribe! It is, after all, a speculative fiction magazine, and magazines are meant to be subscribed to (unless you've got a time machine and you're going back a hundred years or so to the settler era, when magazines and seed catalogues were necessary fixtures in outhouses for more than just reading)! Every quarter, you'll get pages of awesome that'll showcase new talent in the field. I've been a subscriber for years (well, my wife has bought me a subscription for years as an ongoing birthday or Christmas present), and it's always a treat to find out where its stories will take me. The cover art's usually pretty cool too. Best part is, you don't have to be a Canuck to be a subscriber, they'll mail the mag anywhere in the world, and they've got an online subscription option too — all you have to be is someone who loves good speculative fiction — well, and someone with a few extra bucks to buy a subscription. But really, it's quite affordable, and worth every penny. Show your support and subscribe now.

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Shows that Jumped from Saturdays to Weekdays After School

Sometimes, after launching a new cartoon on Saturday mornings, a network would, at some later point, drop it into a weekday after school position. Once in a while, a show would keep running in both slots at the same time, but usually it was a hand-off from one to the other for good.

Why? I don't know. I don't think it had anything to do with the quality of the show, because some that were moved rocked, while others were utterly forgettable. Maybe it had to do with jockeying for ratings, though I don't know how much kid viewership outside of the coveted Saturday morning lineup really mattered. Maybe it had something to do with ideal times to promote shows which acted as marketing vehicles for toys. Or it could have been for some other reason.

In any case, here are a couple of good Saturday morning shows that made the jump to weekday afternoons:

First up, Robotix, the story of a group of humans stranded on an alien planet, who fall-in with giant robots controlled by AIs based on the personalities of that world's original inhabitants, who remain in stasis deep beneath the surface. While the robots were supposed to be rebuilding the infrastructure of their destroyed civilization, they ended up fighting with each other, and the newly-arrived humans split into two factions who take sides, with their help greatly augmenting the abilities of the robots. Aside from being a thoroughly kick-ass show, Robotix was also a marketing vehicle for the toy line of the same name, which was also pretty cool (you could use the large, Lego-esque pieces and electric motors in each set to build robots with a wide range of configurations). I got the Argus set (based on the character who lead the good guys in the series) for Christmas one year, and aside from having to replace it on boxing day due to a faulty part, it was one of my favourites for a while. (full pilot episode)

Released as part of the same mega line-up promotion as Robotix (along with the forgettable Big Foot and the Muscle Machines and Jem and the Holograms) is our next series: Inhumanoids. This show was about a team of scientists in league with various races of secretive monsters (a race of plant people, a race of rock people, and a couple of magnetic dudes at the Earth's core) battling a trio of demonic creatures called, you guessed it, the Inhumanoids. The show was also about marketing toys. In the show, vicious-Muppet-looking Metlar, who likes to hork-up fireballs and throw them at people, is backed by the viney, brainless titan Tendril (imagine the bastard child of Cthulhu and Swamp Thing), and D'Compose — think a hairless yellow gorilla for the body, with an exposed rib cage, and rat's skull for the head — who stashes prisoners in his chest cavity like coats in a wardrobe and turns people into zombies by biting them. After ages trapped in custom magical prisons, the Inhumanoids escape and then try various schemes to alternately conquer and destroy the world — everything from stealing nuclear weapons to unleashing stumpy cyclopses with appetites that would put the starting lineup of an American football team to shame. Episodes would occasionally take a turn for the disturbing (and of questionable appropriateness for a Saturday morning audience) when D'Compose got front and centre, temporarily turning characters into mutant-zombie things, unleashing huge zombie armies, and once raising a mad scientist from the dead in a manner that even the yellow demon himself found unsettling. But the good guys always won and there were toys to be bought. So, you know, there's that to keep in mind when you're a kid and trying to get to sleep later that night staring across the room at D'Compose and his open sternum prison. (opening intro)

And taking things back into space, in an Old West-superhero mashup kinda way, there's BraveStarr. It's the story of Space Martial BraveStarr, a man of First Nations ancestry with super powers (eyes of a hawk, ears of a wolf, strength of a bear, and speed of a puma) who keeps the peace on a mining planet in the future. Assisted by his trigger-happy, cybernetically-enhanced, intelligent, talking horse, Mr Ed, er, no, that wasn't it... uh, Francis? 30-30, yeah, that's it! — along with a couple of other deputies — BraveStarr arrests run-of-the-mill criminals when he's not battling the evil entity known as Stampede. If you take out the super powers and universe-threatening-evil-entity angle, the show's kind of like a kid-friendly precursor to Firefly — as told from the cop's point of view (now wouldn't that be a cool crossover to see?). (full episode)