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  • Room To Breathe

    4-newmaterials (image credit - popsci.com)

    They don’t look like much; but, then, neither do atoms.

    So, there are these crystals that can absorb oxygen at a tremendous capacity, sucking it right out of the air, water, wherever it happens to be.  At the University of Southern Denmark, researchers have invented a crystal with a ridiculously complicated official designation (written out as [{(bpbp)Co2II(NO3)}2(NH2bdc)](NO3)2 * 2H2O, where “bpbp” stands for 2,6-bis(N,N-bis(2-pyridylmethyl)-aminomethyl)-4-tert-butylphenolato, and “NH2bdc2” stands for 2-amino-1,4-benzenedicarboxylato), a spoonful of which can store a whole roomful and release it again later.  If you have a suggestion for a really cool nickname, please, share it in the comments.

     

    This, my friends, could revolutionize any number of fields.  Think of any profession that uses oxygen tanks, such as hospitals.  Instead of carrying bulky tanks around, a handful of these particles could service an entire patient wing.  Outpatients similarly would be able to lose their cumbersome carry-ons and stow their excess oxygen in their pockets.  Firefighters could replace their tanks with this new crystal, which theoretically could further be used to absorb the oxygen in a building that’s been set ablaze, helping extinguish the fire.  Miners, pilots, deep sea divers, you get the idea.

     

    Those little breathing devices don't look so far-fetched now, do they?

    Those little breathing devices don’t look so far-fetched now, do they?

     

    Respiratory applications aside, oxygen is also used for fuel, which is a double boon for space travel.  Now, astronauts can store both fuel and air supplies in much lighter quantities.  Of course, that could also make this new crystal much more combustible, which would have dangerous implications for all involved.  There’s no evidence of that yet, of course; they’re still in the early stages of this new compound’s existence.  We don’t know yet what all its properties are.  But it certainly has a great deal of potential.

     

    Stephen Monteith predicts a whole new wave of sci-fi stories set in space once word of this discovery becomes generally known.  You can read his own stories at Lulu.com.


  • Are Vampires Really Just Sexy Zombies?

    They’re undead.  They have multiple iterations.  They feed off humans.  Sometimes, they turn humans into them.  They require precise methods of extermination.  Is it fair to say that vampires are just another type of zombie?  You know, the good-looking kind?

     

    Vampires vs Zombies (image credit - rachelsreelreviews.blogspot.com)

     

    See, we’re not afraid to ask the tough questions here at Fourth-day Universe.  We’ve examined the similarities between vampires and werewolves, and now, for Zombie Month, we’re asking if vampires are a subset of zombies.  Both have had different interpretations over the years that have blurred the definition of what each are.  Zombies, for example, started off as simply anyone who was under the mind control of someone else.  Now, they’re people who have died and been brought back to a semblance of life.  Those are really the only two consistent characteristics of zombies in popular culture.  Some are created by science, some by magic.  Some retain their former personalities, some are mindless eating machines.  Some eat flesh, some speak, some run, some rot, some infect others, and some…simply don’t.

     

    It’s the same with vampires.  Some are immortal, some aren’t.  Some have to be killed with a stake, some need to be decapitated.  Some are superstrong, and others have their previous levels of strength.  Some are under the control of the head vampire, while others aren’t.  The only universal vampire characteristics are they used to be living humans and now aren’t; and they drink blood.  Sure, today there are “clear” distinctions between the two creatures, but historically, there really isn’t that much to separate them.

     

    In fact, vampires may have been the first zombies as we know them in film.  I want you to watch this trailer for The Last Man on Earth, a black-and-white film starring Vincent Price based on Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend (yes, that one):

     

     

    Those were vampires; slow, shambling, shuffling, mindless vampires who only occasionally speak (in low, muttering groans) and retain hardly anything of their former lives.  The narrator even explicitly describes them as zombies.  This movie came out four years before George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and if it weren’t for Vincent Price’s use of garlic, stakes, and sunlight, the two movies would have been indistinguishable from each other.  And Romero didn’t even use the word “zombie” in his film.  Maybe he meant them to be vampires, all along.

     

    But, times have changed, and with shows like The Walking Dead and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and movies like Dracula and Shaun of the Dead to help us keep the tropes of each firmly in mind, there’s no reason to have any confusion about the two monsters.  Right?  What do you think?  Take our monthly poll and let us know your feelings in the comments:

     

     

    Stephen Monteith almost wrote a zombie story once, but he’s saving it for when he has nothing better to do.  You can read his finished works at Lulu.com.


  • Final Interstellar Trailer is Awe-Inspiring

    interstellar-movie-hd-wallpaper-and-poster (image credit - moustachemagazine.com)

    The latest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s latest film is, in a word, incredible.  We’ve seen his beautiful use of IMAX in The Dark Knight trilogy and his mind-bending use of practical effects and CGI in The Prestige and Inception.  He’s continuing his streak of jaw-dropping cinematography with Interstellar, a tale of astronauts of a post-apocalyptic Earth searching for a new home for humanity.  Few details of the plot beyond those are known, but we can likely expect the story to be as fascinating as the special effects.  The movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, and many others, and reaches theaters November 7th.

     

     


  • Zombie Month: Jonathan the Zombie Master

    xmap (image credit - brainfrizz.com)This October is Zombie Month at Fourth-day Universe.  Each day, we’ll bring you a new example of these mostly creepy, sometimes charming creatures.  The first week is Magic Week, so we’ll only bring up zombies that are explicitly magical.  Today’s example is from one of the longest-running modern fantasy series:  Jonathan, the Zombie Master of Xanth.

     

    Xanth is a magical land with several unique elements to it.  The first, and most obvious, is the torrent of puns that exist as literal interpretations, such as money growing on trees, breadfruit plants that grow actual bread, and nightmares delivered by female horses in the evening hours (Night Mares).  The second is the fact that the kingdom of Xanth is a peninsula that exists exactly where Florida is (or Korea, or Italy), accessible only through magic, of course.  The third is that everyone born in Xanth can perform one magic spell, a “talent”, that only they can do.  Whether it’s magical healing powers or speaking every language or controlling the weather, no two people in Xanth’s history have the same talent.

     

    Castle Roogna (image credit - fantasticfiction.co.uk)Jonathan’s talent is making zombies.  He raises and commands the dead.  He lived a long time ago in Xanth’s history, and when he died, he became a zombie himself.  Revived in more modern times, he went back to being one of Xanth’s most powerful magicians and reunited with the love of his life (and afterlife), Millie, who had also died, became a ghost for centuries, and was brought back to life.  Their story is told in “Castle Roogna” and subsequent books.

     

    Xanth zombies aren’t (exactly) mindless eating machines.  While they do obey Jonathan’s commands, they retain plenty of their own personalities from when they were alive.  When left on their own, they form societies and even have a king.  They’ve fought in Xanth’s wars, and certain zombies, like Jonathan, have even been brought back to life; or, at least, pretty close to it.  Bottom line, if you take a road trip to Florida or are backpacking across Europe and get lost on your way to Italy and end up in a land where the dead walk the Earth, you can mostly relax.  It’s the ogres, the goblins, the harpies, the dragons, the Roc-birds, the demons, the mermaids, and occasionally the plants you need to watch out for.  Just stay on the magical path, and you’ll be safe.  Oh, and don’t eat any pineapples.

     

    Piers Anthony, the author of the Xanth books, once used Stephen Monteith’s suggestions in his writing.  You can find the Xanth novels in any book store, and Stephen’s writings at Lulu.com.


  • Once Upon a Time’s Missed Opportunity

    Last night was the season four premiere of ABC’s hit fairy tale mashup series, Once Upon a Time.  Featuring such famous characters as Snow White and Prince Charming, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, the Wicked Witch from the Land of Oz, and, of course, the “Evil Queen” Regina, this series has broken all kinds of new ground in its three-plus years on the air.  Between this show and its ill-fated spinoff Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, they have sampled virtually every animated film in Disney’s vault (as well as a few non-Disney titles).  So, it was only a matter of time until they threw Disney’s incredibly popular movie Frozen into the mix.

     

    Once Is Frozen (image credit - Once Wonderland on Twitter)

     

    I won’t make this a review of the season premiere, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers…too much.  I will say this much about the incorporated elements of the latest Disney princess tale:  so far, they seem to follow the events of the movie directly, making last night’s episode, “A Tale of Two Sisters”, a direct sequel to Frozen itself.  And that’s a bad thing.

     

    I have no objection to including this movie into the franchise.  While I’d hoped there would be more time to explore the elements from The Wizard of Oz that were introduced in the last half of season three, I do feel this show does a great job in general of telling a sprawling, intricate fantasy epic.  I’m sure they can continue the tale of Elsa and Anna in an engaging, entertaining manner.  But, they shouldn’t be doing that.  OUAT isn’t just about taking a bunch of different fairy tales and putting them in the same story; it’s about retelling those tales in new and exciting ways.  Remember when I said this show broke new ground?  That’s practically its signature move.  Snow White, the wispiest of Disney princesses, is shown to have a backstory that’s even more heroic than her husband Prince Charming.  Every time a new villain is introduced, it’s not long until we’re discovering elements of his or her past that, with time, take us from hissing their names to cheering for them to get their happy endings.  And you’ll never believe who some of those villains were.

     

    As I said, this show is famous for turning old stories upside, and avoiding the sense of clichéness that doing so often brings.  As such, I was looking forward to seeing how they’d handle this new material, these new characters.  Would they embrace the opportunity that Frozen rejected, to turn Elsa into a villain?  Would she be a sorceress to rival Rumplestiltskin, dangerous and deadly until she gets a chance to tell her story, which would be similar to what we’ve seen since last November, but just different enough to make our eyes go wide and our jaws to drop, until we learn that one, last, crucial detail that makes us cheer for her again?  You know, like we’ve done for Regina, Cora, Rumple, and virtually every other villain on the show?

     

    Unfortunately, no.  Now, for perhaps the first time in the show’s history, it’s adapting a movie character’s backstory note for note from the original, picking up exactly where the film left off without the slightest variation.  Even Elsa’s dress, her snow monster, and her crazy rock troll mentor/healer are all exactly what we saw in theaters.  I suppose, in that way, OUAT is still defying expectations, assuming I’m not the only one who expected them to do something different with the character’s past.  And, though it may not be too much of an issue, making the show a direct sequel to the events of Frozen makes it much less likely there will be an actual animated sequel to the movie.

     

    Oh, well.  There’s still time to make Roger Rabbit an actual murderer.

     

    Stephen Monteith is actually hoping the next crossover will be between Once Upon a Time and Star Wars.  You can buy his original fiction at Lulu.com.


  • R.I.P. Thomas and Martha Wayne (or, The Triumph of Pettiness)

    The-Gotham-TV-show-7 (image credit - residententertainment.com)

     

    A columnist at the entertainment site Vulture is upset by the deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents, but not for the reason you might think.  The single event that is most directly responsible for creating the beloved comic book character known as Batman, he feels, has become so “overdone” as to be annoying.  Never mind that this is one of the most important elements of the Batman mythos and warrants at least a passing mention in any new incarnation; murder itself is one of the most heinous crimes a human can endure.  Tragedy is an important element in drama, and fiction thrives on drama.  For these reasons and more, the new “prequel series” set in the eponymous city of Gotham included the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne in its premiere last night.

     

    Apparently, Abraham Riesman wishes they hadn’t.  He was inspired to create a video “supercut” of all the times Bruce’s parents have been shown dying in film or television (and even in video games).  It’s a shame he had such petty motivations, because it’s actually quite a good video, and perhaps can subvert his original purpose of showing just how much we don’t need to see a new interpretation of it.  I agree that origin stories can be revisited a little too often, but ironically, this video has convinced me, at least, that this particular element of Batman’s origins isn’t getting “old” at all.

     

     

    Batman is Stephen Monteith’s favorite superhero (except when it’s Superman).  You can buy his original fiction, which admittedly contains a few origin stories, at Lulu.com.


  • Dance Magic–Er, Magnets

    A hundred years ago, if you’d taken a handful of metal shavings or a pool of liquid and made it dance around, then it would have been considered magic.  A few decades ago, it would have been considered movie magic at best.  Today, we have two examples of people doing those very things.

     

    The first, discovered at Maker Faire in New York, has a table with a “choreographed magnetic field”, a term right out of science fiction, where iron dust will literally “dance” with the music.

     

     

    If only they’d played it some Jackie Wilson.

     

    The next example is from a group of, no doubt, well-meaning scientists who certainly weren’t trying to awaken the nightmares of those of us who grew up with the scariest of all movie robots when they created a method for manipulating liquid metal into new and (somewhat) interesting shapes.  Researchers from North Carolina State University still need exterior stimuli to manipulate the metal, but still, it’s just one step closer to the Terminator:

     

     

    The T-1000, it’s not.  But, these scientists are surely mad enough to keep going until they’ve created it.

     

    Stephen Monteith believes there are some things man was not meant to invent, which might explain why he writes mostly fantasy stories instead of sci-fi.  You can read/buy them at Lulu.com.


  • The Maze Runner: Going Nowhere

    I have sort of become the resident “go-to” for all things Young Adult, especially when it comes to book-to-film adaptations. Typically by the time a movie has come out, I’ve read the book. I’m pretty adamant about that actually. With The Maze Runner, however, I had not read the book. The jury is still out on whether I want to read it, but I do know one thing: if I had read the book and then saw this movie, I’d probably be pissed.

     

    Maze Runner

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  • Dragon*Con 2014

    Last year marked my first foray into the wonderful world of sci-fi conventions.

     

    KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! (Wait, wrong kind.)

    CONNNNNNNNNNNNNNN! (Wait, wrong kind.)

     

    Before then, I had suppressed my inner nerd and rarely let it shine. Having now attended 5 conventions over the course of a year, I believe I’ve fully repented and am continuing to redeem myself for years of sinful neglect. At Dragon*Con 2013, I had no idea what to expect. I knew George Takei and John Barrowman would be there, and so I was excited to see some really famous people, but I honestly had no idea what I was in for or what I was doing.  I managed to have an incredible time, but later realized how much of it I had wasted due to my ignorance.

     

    dragoncon2014 (image credit - froggysphotos.com)

     

    This review, however, is all about Dragon*Con 2014! This was my chance to go back to where it all started and to do it over again, this time with experience under my belt and a plan literally in the palm of my hand. (Seriously, their smartphone app proved to be very useful.)

    (more…)


  • A House Is Not A Home

    Gerald-Webb-Creepy-Stairs-A-House-is-Not-A-Home-Still

    I was recently lucky enough to get a chance to see a perfectly creepy haunted house movie called A House Is Not A Home.  A House Is Not A Home is one of those films that I have wanted to see ever since I first heard about it last year.  I have to admit that, usually, whenever I find myself looking forward to a movie, I sometimes dread actually watching it.  There’s nothing worse than being disappointed by a film that fails to live up to your initial expectations.  That’s why I’m happy to report that A House Is Not A Home not only lived up to those expectations but exceeded them.

    A House Is Not A Home begins with a close-up of a bloodied hand.  An obviously unstable man (played, with a truly unsettling intensity, by Richard Greico) calls 911 and tells the operator that “they’re all dead” and it’s all his fault.  He then hangs up and, after shouting, “Take me!”, disappears into a bright white light.  It’s an effective scene, largely because it’s played totally straight.  You look at Greico and you have no doubt that something terrible truly has just happened and that not only was he responsible but he’s going to also be responsible for a lot more before the film reaches its conclusion.  It’s the perfect way to open up a haunted house scene, one that hints at the promise that the film itself will soon fulfill.

    Sometime after the man had vanished, the house is up for sale.  Architect Ben (Gerald Webb) and his wife Linda (Diahnna Nicole Baker) are given a tour of the house by a real estate agent named Paul (Bill Cobbs).  When we first see Paul, he seems like a nice old man.  He’s friendly, he’s always smiling, and he comes across like he could probably sell snow in Canada.  But, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s something a little bit off about Paul.  By the time he finishes showing the house, you start to realize that his friendly smile seems to be more of a self-satisfied smirk.

    Regardless, Ben and Linda buy the house and, along with their two teenagers, Ashley and Alex (Aurora Perrineau and Melvin Gregg), move in.  From the minute that they unpack, strange things start to happen.  Ashley is woken up in the middle of the night by mysterious laughter and, regardless of how many times she tries to move them, the same scary-looking dolls keep showing up on her dresser.  (Seriously, those dolls were creepy!)  Alex feels as if he’s being watched wherever he goes.  Linda, a recovering alcoholic, starts to drink again and her attempts to give piano lessons are made difficult by the fact that the piano occasionally attacks her students.  And Ben suddenly finds himself having nightmares and deliberately cutting himself so that the blood can hynotically drip down onto the kitchen table.

    Even more frightening?  The man from the first scene in the film keeps popping up, standing in the corner and watching.

    A-House-is-Not-a-Home-Still-Gerald-Webb-Ben-Williams

    Yes, obviously the house is haunted and eventually, even Ben is forced to admit it.  The family is forced to call in a voodoo priest, who attempts to exorcise the house.  (The priest is played by Eddie Steeples, who may be best known for playing the comedic Crabman on My Name Is Earl but  who actually gives a nicely intense and creepy performance here.  Just check out his eyes!)  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, then you’ve probably seen a lot of haunted house exorcisms but, even if it might seem like a familiar development, the exorcism scenes in A House Is Not A Home are really well-done.  If nothing else, they’re distinguished by the fact that the exorcist isn’t the typical quirky medium or self-doubting Catholic priest that most movies offer up.  For once, we’re given an exorcism that’s interesting to watch…

    But does the exorcism work?  Well — does an exorcism ever work in a haunted house film?  You’ll have to watch to find out.

    A House Is Not A Home is an effectively creepy movie, one that uses its low-budget to its advantage. Director Christopher Ray allows the camera to creep through the house, snaking its way through empty passages while the soundtrack is full of the sounds of restless spirits.  The end result is a film that, as opposed to relying on predictable CGI for its scares, instead creates a palpable sense of doom and dread.

    The film is well-acted by the entire cast, with Bill Cobbs especially giving a wonderfully sinister performance.  (I wish I could tell you about his final appearance in the movie without it acting as a spoiler but seriously, it’s a wonderfully acted scene.)  In the role of Ben is Gerald Webb, who will be a familiar face to anyone who regularly watches the SyFy Channel.  Webb (who also  earned a bit of pop cultural immortality by serving as casting director for both Sharknados) has appeared in several beloved Asylum films as characters who inevitably always seem to end up getting killed.  It was nice, in A House Is Not A Home, to get to see Webb play a leading role and prove that he’s capable of a lot more than just a good death scene.  He gives an effective, sympathetic performance here.  In fact, the entire family does.  One reason that the film works as well as it does is because you believe that these four characters actually are a family.  You care about what happens to them and, as a result, the horror is all the more effective.

    Finally, two final notes about A House Is Not A Home.  At its best, the film — with its emphasis on atmosphere and its scenes of the characters discovering that the house exists on its own plane of surreal logic — can compared favorably to the works of Italian horror director Lucio Fulci.  I don’t know if that was intentional or not.  But it’s definitely a good thing!

    Secondly, and perhaps a little sadly, A House Is Not A Home is one of the few “serious” films that I’ve seen recently that featured an almost entirely African-American cast.  That’s really saying something when you consider that I literally watch hundreds of films a year.  At a time when mainstream filmmaking (and the horror genre in particular) still seems to be struggling to break free from racial stereotyping, A House Is Not A Home is definitely a step in the right direction.

    A-House-is-Not-a-Home-Still-Bill-Cobbs-Paul



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