Antarctic Research Blog #82 – Retrograde

Film: Christopher Kulikowski: Retrograde (Luxembourg, Italy, U.K. U.S.A. 2004)

Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space is not the worst movie in the world. The worst movies are like this Dolph Lundgren late career vehicle, cheap, pointless and soulless things with no personality whatsoever.

Retrograde’s Antarctic elements are surprisingly accurate, but that’s a small consolation. The story is about a couple of guys from the future coming to the present to stop a virus from spreading and killing everybody. It’s set aboard a research vessel looking for meteorites along the Antarctic coast. Mostly, the movie involves a bored-looking Lundgren walking around and scowling.

IMDB tells me the movie was: “Filmed in only eighteen days, edited in two and a half weeks, and mixed in one day.” It shows.

Antarctic Research Blog #81 – Alone

Non-fiction: Richard E. Byrd: Alone (Island Press, 1938/2003)

This was one of the last Antarctic classics I had yet to read, an account of Admiral Byrd’s stay alone in 1934 at the Advance Base weather station. Staying alone through the Antarctic winter proved to be hazardous, and most of the time Byrd had to struggle with long-term carbon monoxide poisoning brought about by bad ventilation and running gasoline engines indoors.

It’s a good book, well worth its reputation. Although he makes effort to justify himself, Byrd seems more emotionally honest in his writing than predecessors like Scott and Shackleton.

At one point, stricken with weakness, Byrd contemplates why he has to risk death like this. He asks whether he could be a Martyr of Science, but discards the idea because he himself has no real idea what the work he does means. He does the observations, but doesn’t know why. It’s curiously like a workingman’s dilemma. Even though Byrd was an upper class man, he describes himself as a “jobber of science”.

More books about Byrd’s expeditions will probably appear here later.

Race in D&D

The way race is treated in Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy stuff becomes harder to swallow as I get older. Even when I played the game as a kid, I had trouble with the orcs and goblins because there was just no real world equivalent to the idea of good race and bad race I could accept. The idea of evil orcs and noble elves seems like nostalgia for a racist worldview.

I found a link to this essay by Chris Van Dyke about race and D&D at the Roolipelaaja forum. Near the end of his text, Van Dyke writes about going to the white supremacist webforum Stormfront to look for material for the essay. There he found this illuminating post by user Holy Roman Emperor:

From reading and posting on the Opposing Views section of the forum, I read a lot of foolish comments from the anti’s. Statements like “I know a black person who is really smart, therefore everything you say about racial intelligence differences is wrong.” Well, of course, the lack of understanding of statistics this statement shows is staggering. I try to recall when in my life when I could have fallen for such a foolish statement and I can’t think of when I would have.

I completely understood how there could be smart blacks and yet blacks be less intelligent than whites as a whole when I was a child. When was the first time I thought about an idea like that? When I got into Dungeons and Dragons at the age of nine or ten. I knew that elves were more agile than humans. I knew that because they had a +1 bonus (back when I started playing, now its +2) to Dexterity, I knew they were more dexterous even though the average elf had a Dexterity of 11.5 and humans could have a Dexterity of 18.

And this point may seem a bit silly, but it introduces an important idea that most white people are conditioned not to believe in – racial essentialism. The idea that race determines certain characteristics or tendencies. We knew that elves we dexterous, that dwarves were tough, that orcs were mean and nasty. We also knew that there were exceptions and that exceptions didn’t mean that general trends didn’t still apply.

D&D also has a lot about racial loyalty. Elves band together in protection of their forests. Orcs raid human villages and have to be stopped by the hero. In D&D, you have loyalty to your people and you know that sometimes a race in general can be a threat to your’s.

As I’ve grown older over the years I’ve continued to enjoy role playing games and my though the games I’ve played have advanced beyond just fighting orcs and finding magic items – but I think that some of those ideas I was exposed to as a child were good lessons that maybe helped me come to terms with ideas that are part of beings a White Nationalist.

As Van Dyke writes, this neatly summarizes all my misgivings about D&D.

Antarctic Research Blog #80 – At the Mountains of Madness radio play

Audio play: Sean Branney with Andrew Leman: Dark Adventure Radio Theatre presents H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, 2006)

Last entry was my first Antarctic video game, and now’s the first Antarctic audio play. This is a radio version of Lovecraft’s story At the Mountains of Madness published in H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s audio play series.

The Lovecraft story is a classic of Antarctic fiction, and will probably crop up again here in some format. This version was really neat. It has been produced in the fashion of authentic radio plays of Lovecraft’s period, complete with cigarette commercials and old-style sound effects. The production design, the packaging, the atmosphere, all are perfect. It manages to be campy yet still creepy at the same time.

The story is about an Antarctic expedition Lovecraft modelled after Richard Byrd’s aeroplane assisted expeditions. The expedition discovers the remnants of a society of Elder Things and other, more terrible horrors. I was especially impressed by the stuff enclosed with the CD, press clippings from the Arkham Advertiser, sketches of the murals of the Elder Things, and other beautifully made extras.

Antarctic Research Blog #79 – LittleBigPlanet

Video game: LittleBigPlanet (Media Molecule, 2008)

LittleBigPlanet is a game in which a little critter (pictured above) runs around complex levels. The selling point of the game is that users can create their own levels, which are then shared on the game’s network. A number of these user-created levels are set in Antarctica.

The best of the ones I found was based on H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. It was surprisingly atmospheric, with fancy shoggoths. Another one was a simpler Antarctic concept, based on the properties of ice, with the character slipping and sliding around. Another two involved hunting for a stolen egg in a good combination of Antarctica and Area 51 paranoia.