Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nostalgic for crafts

More on the nostalgic front, because we are what we were as children, are we not?

I've been feeling crafty lately - actually, ever since I was pregnant, when I started making a collage alphabet frieze for my daughter's bedroom. Each letter is a 6" square.

My retired school-teacher-mum made me change A for alien and O for owl because those words start with the letter name, not the letter sound, if that means anything to you. Far be it from me to corrupt my daughter's early education with improper alphabet lessons, so I've now redone them as apple and octopus. (My mum rates those baby alphabet books by whether they include giraffe and icecream (baaaaad) or goat and igloo (good).)

We kids were very crafty - we drew fanatically, and loved making models and stuffed animals - whether from kits or found parts. We made doll house furniture out of card, and peg dolls with pipecleaner arms. We knitted and crocheted. We traced pictures from books and meticulously painted them, and cut them out to make stickers for our bedroom walls. My sister had a kit to make a 1:12 scale plastic Airfix model of none other than Henry VIII. 

Image of vintage 1970s kit found on eBay
All three of us girls were given for Christmas one year a plastic doll in a kit where you glued together (ewww) a felt historical outfit. My doll's outfit was lime green, which was apparently all the rage in the year seventeen-hundred-and-something. Speaking of felt, I've been making felt food for my daughter. So far I've made a chocolate cake (below), some fondant fancies, and a slice of Battenberg cake (delicious marzipan/cake treats from my childhood).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life on other planets

This is the stuff of every sci-fi writer's dreams, except that it's true...

Astronomers have discovered over 700 exoplanets (extrasolar planets), of which 120+ are in the habitable zone - not too far or too near their sun for life. Of these, most are gas planets the size of Jupiter or bigger, and won't support life ("as we know it"). One reason for this is that bigger planets are easier to detect, so there's no reason not to think smaller Earth-like planets also exist in those solar systems.

Last month NASA announced the discovery of the first Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star. The planet is 2.4 times the radius of Earth and similar in temperature, with a 290-day year, while the star (Kepler-22) is G-class, the same as our Sun, and 600 light-years away.

Little is yet known about the composition of this exoplanet, so we can only speculate that it might be similar to Earth's - mostly ocean with a rocky core - in which case, it might harbor life.

There are probably tens of billions of exoplanets in our galaxy alone. Multiply that by the 100 billion galaxies in the universe and you have - well, squillions of planets! It's nice to imagine (hope) a few of them have life that we may one day explore, and even nicer if that life is sentient. Preferably friendly.

And even if the planets themselves don't support life, their moons might. Our moon might be a big ol' dusty pock-marked rock but they're not all like that.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: Battle: Los Angeles

I repeat myself from yesterday, with a minor twist: Battle: Los Angeles is more enjoyable if you watch it as a war movie than as science fiction. It borrows relentlessly from ID4 and Aliens, the former in plot and the latter in that it focuses exclusively on one platoon of US Marines as they go into evacuated Santa Monica to rescue civilians, then blow up a lot of alien stuff.

There are only two personal stories, really - the staff sergeant got the lieutenant's brother killed in Afghanistan (ooh, tension!); and a kid's dad dies - an incident that provides some out-of-place sentimentality and a chance for Aaron Eckhart as the staff sergeant to go all Marines Never Quit!! on us. They could've left that out.

We barely get to know the aliens. There is some hideous nonsense about them wanting our water (ocean levels have decreased several inches because they're using our water for fuel - what??!) but I'll just ignore that. The military stuff is handled believably to my completely untrained eye and - be thankful for the crumbs - there are two quite nice roles for women in this testosterone monsoon.

The movie is fun, in exactly the same way Cowboys and Aliens was fun. I think I would have hated this on the big screen, but the $5 blu-ray was just fine.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

We quite enjoyed this one as a popcorn movie. In fact we watched it on our wedding anniversary, so let's call it a great date movie.

I think you have to watch it as a Western, not an SF movie, in order to appreciate it. There's really not much to it. There are some cowboys (and indians) and some aliens, and they duke it out. End of story. It's pretty to look at, fun and forgettable.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: Far North

Two films I've seen recently - one to recommend and one... not so much.

The bad news first. Tomorrow, the good. I rented Far North because it has Sean Bean and it was MCP's idea to trek through his movies, he of LOTR and Game of Thrones. (The former we are rewatching on the Extended Blu-Ray I got MCP for Xmas, the latter we both enjoyed - incidentally, he has read both the LOTR and GoT series, I have read neither.)

Far North is based on a 4-page short story by Sara Maitland. The setting is the Arctic tundra at an unspecified point in time, where two women survive the hostile environment totally alone because the older one believes she's cursed. She raised the younger one from a baby, after rescuing her from her slaughtered village. They find Sean Bean on the ice and nurse him back to health, and he falls for one of them, making the other jealous. We get a lot of fairly interesting anthropological stuff while waiting for something Big to happen. Then Far North goes south, or pear-shaped as the Brits would say, and we get a sort of magic-realism slasher ending. (Which justifies me filing this under SF movies.)

It didn't work for me. Maybe the (very) short story worked, because you have so little time to establish character that the reader can fill in the blanks appropriately. But in a movie, we get to see the characters in detail. The ending comes from left field, making no sense in light of what we've seen before.

Which goes to show that just because you have a picturesque location and some great actors, doesn't mean you can translate a thousand words of prose into anything meaningful even when you make it a hundred times longer.

Tomorrow: Cowboys and Aliens.