For those of you who couldn’t make it to San Diego last week, Discovermagazine.com and the National Academy of Sciences’ Science & Entertainment Exchange present our panel discussion on “Mad Science,” featuring Jaime Paglia (co-Executive Producer of Eureka), Kevin Grazier (Battlestar Galactica and Eureka science adviser), Jane Espenson (Dollhouse, Battlestar, Caprica, and lots more), Ricardo Gil da Costa (science adviser for Fringe), and Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman (writers for Fringe).
Big thanks to Jennifer at SEE, to all of our panelists, and to the Bad Astronomer, who found time to moderate our panel while he wasn’t partying with Hollywood starlets (Phil – we kid because we love).
The geniuses of Eureka are inspired by a pretty good source: the geniuses of Cambridge, Mass.
Before his TV writing career took off, Jaime Paglia, co-creator of SyFy’s number-one-rated show, had a part-time gig as a program director of a science and technology public radio show called Cambridge Forum.
“It was this rare opportunity to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts where literally you have some of the greatest minds in science and technology,” Paglia told me in an interview recently. “Tim Berners-Lee, who literally invented the Internet, and Rodney Brooks, head of MIT robotics lab, the guy who made Sojourner, and who invented the Roomba in his spare time. Those guys, they see the world differently. There’s a unique way their brains work that allows them to be as creative as they are.”
These Cambridge geniuses eventually found their way into the show, if not as Nathan Stark or Douglas Fargo (Did you know he had a first name? I had to look it up), then at least as Walter Perkins or Carl Carlson. And Paglia also has another inspiration for scientific heroes: Dr. Donald Paglia, UCLA medical professor emeritus and Jaime’s dad.
We could probably go on forever with various interesting snippets from Comic-Con 2009—until next year’s con, at least—but we have to wrap this up soon so we can get on with covering the rest of the universe. So here are the last little important sci-fi news bitties from this year’s Comic-Con:
▪ Jeff Smith, whose epic graphic novel Bone is on track to be released as a Warner Brothers movie, spent a year boning up on quantum physics fundamentals for his current comic serial RASL. “I love the new wave of theoretical physics,” he told SciNoFi. “I’m a devotee of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, and Michio Kaku. It wasn’t a hardship to do the studying.”
The story mixes string theory, M theory and parallel universes with science conspiracy theories. “The glue between them is RASL, an inter-dimensional art thief,” he adds. “You have a guy with thermo-magnetic pads on his shoulders so he can step through parallel dimensions—add a shot of rye whiskey in his gut and he’s ready to go.”
Watchmen director Zack Snyder has a favorite added scene in the new Watchmen Director’s Cut. The blue-hued superhuman Dr. Manhattan has just taken his sporadic girlfriend Laurie Juspeczyk to Mars for a good heart-to-hyperconscious-heart. “We’re all puppets, Laurie,” he says. “I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.”
Is technology a panacea that can deliver man from his own idiocy or a neutral entity used for good or evil and locked the same physical laws as mere mortals? Such are the themes that Snyder tries to mine further in the re-edited version, which hit stores July 21 and includes 25 minutes of additional footage.
The initial buzz at the Terry Gilliam panel at Comic-Con last week centered on Heath Ledger and his final movie role as Tony in Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. “People want to see Heath’s last performance,” said Gilliam, “That is why we finished [the film].”
Gilliam also seemed eager though to move on to a broader discussion of the movie, saying, “The picture is really Parnassus’s picture.” In the movie, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a Methusulan entertainer who has made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits!) that requires him to hand over his daughter on her sixteenth birthday.
It isn’t a stretch to see Parnassus as a stand-in for the director himself, a visionary who has had a famously difficult time working with Hollywood to get his films produced. Gilliam seemed to encourage that line of thinking. “[Parnassus] is a man with a traveling show trying to get people to explore their imagination and no one is paying attention.”
This is the second part of the interviews arranged by the BBC to talk to luminaries from the Doctor Who and Torchwood universe. In this one, Russell T. Davies (executive producer), Euros Lyn (director of Torchwood: Children of Earth) talk about the unexpected success of “Children of Earth,” what it was like working on their childhood dream shows, and what they may be doing next. Unlike the last audio clip (with David Tennant), I did ask a question to Davies about the science of Doctor Who, but he didn’t seem all that keen on that line of inquiry.
Going to Comic-Con is awesome on many levels, but going as press is, if you’ll forgive my butchery of the English language, even awesomer. Not that we keyboard-stained wretches get into crowded events more easily than everyone else—Comic-Con is remarkably egalitarian that way—but we do get the opportunity to interview some of our favorite actors, directors, and creators. Some of those interviews I’ll be publishing as blog posts in coming weeks, but I thought I’d share the interviews with the of Doctor Who folks right way.
Few TV or film composers can command the attention of the entire cast of the shows they work on. But when composer Bear McCreary and the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra turned up on Comic-Con weekend to play two shows at the San Diego House of Blues, they had a few, shall we say, “special guests.” Specifically, both shows were M.C.ed by Edward James Olmos (Adm. Bill Adama), and he was joined by Grace Park (Boomer/No. 8/Athena), James Callis (Baltar), Michelle Forbes (Adm. Cain—stand back), Nicki Clyne (Cally), Michael Trucco (Sam Anders), and Michael Hogan (Col. Saul Tigh). I was at the Friday night show, but apparently at the Thursday show Hogan brought down the house by growling into the microphone, “Can anyone else hear that frakkin’ music?”
I met with McCreary in the basement of the House of Blues a few hours before the band went on show. He’s not a big man, maybe 5′ 8″ or less. He wears a goatee, keeps his hair long, and he has that pale-skinned pudginess that geeks earn by long hours in front of a keyboard, though McCreary uses a totally different keyboard. But he had none of the geeks’ renowned social awkwardness. Maybe that’s what happens when a composer starts scoring Battlestar at 24, and then held the gig for the whole run. Along the way he became the composer for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Eureka, among others. These days, McCreary is working on Caprica, the Battlestar prequel; he’s even written the Caprican national anthem.
SciNoFi guest-blogger Susan Karlin got a quick photo of this tattoo on the arm of Comic-Con treasurer (and creator of the Comic-Con iPhone app [link redirects to iTunes store]) Mark Yturralde. Yturralde is such a NASA fan that he has created a permanent shrine on his right arm to all the astronauts who gave their lives for the space program. (The astronauts are grouped into the three fatal American space missions: Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia.) He says, “I’m hoping there won’t be anymore deaths. So I purposely spaced out the names so there wouldn’t be enough room to add more.”
For any curious readers of the Loom, we’re already checking with Yturralde if he wouldn’t mind if we submit a pic of his tattoo to Carl’s Science Tattoo Emporium.
Radical Publishing’s Shrapnel is one step closer to becoming a real, honest-to-God movie now that director Len Wiseman (Underworld, etc) has signed on. The graphic novel—written by Nick Sagan, Mark Long, and M. Zachary Sherman, with art by Bagus Hutomo—is billed as a “Joan of Arc in space” story. During the last day at Comic-Con, Sagan, son of the famous cosmologist Carl Sagan and a respected science-fiction writer himself, spoke to SciNoFi about the project.
“I think of Shrapnel as the anti-Star Trek,” says Sagan, who wrote several episodes for the franchise. “Instead of putting aside our differences to boldly go and do great things, I’m not sure that’s the way it’s going to actually happen. Shrapnel is based on the idea that we do colonize the solar system, but it’s not clean and optimistic. The haves are putting the screws to the have-nots. The story is about the last stand of the last free colony in the solar system.”
But moreover it reflects about man’s battle with himself—pitting the thin veneer of civilization against millions of years of evolutionary programming. “Higher levels of technology allow fewer people to do more damage,” says Sagan. “That’s going to be a real challenge for us. There’s a belief that if we branch out into the solar system, if something goes terribly wrong on Earth, we have an escape route. That’s a hopeful idea, but we tend to take our problems with us wherever we go. As a science-fiction writer, I feel my responsibility is to look ahead and see the dangers of what might happen, and try to warn people of the potential pitfalls.