Better Vampires

Dracula TapeNovember shouldn’t pass with just the one post. I intended a post last Science Fiction Saturday to rave about the new Doctor Who episode (celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who), but the day slipped to Sunday before I got the writing motor started. I’ll rave about it now: it was really, really good! A wonderful, delightful milestone marker and, as always, built on a damn good story.

I’ve not been idle lately! Dedicated post-retirement loafing finally shook the work dust off my shoes, and I’ve gotten back into personal project work. Seriously into it. In the 16-hour sessions, sleep and eating are unwelcome distractions, not knowing what time of day (let alone what day of the week) it is sense of seriously.

And I read some really good vampire novels!

But first let me go on about Doctor Who. I can’t honestly say it’s my favorite TV show; others claim that rank. It is definitely my favorite science fiction TV show, no contest. For a long time, Star Trek held that honor, and because I grew up with it, and because it’s a part of my core being, it will always be something unique and special for me. In fact, as I’ve said, it transcends being a TV show — it’s an identity.

Doctor Who 50th

But Doctor Who continues to surprise, continues to deliver outstanding, well-told, interesting, thoughtful stories enacted by engaging, delightful people. (Reference point, opposite end of the spectrum: The utterly predictable, heartless, ugly and vile Game Of Thrones. I will never understand the fascination people seem to have for the idiotic and cruel.)

Hanging WhoDoctor Who is an affirmation of life and a celebration of the beauty of reality (and science). It’s also a show of absolute equality.

Tiny differences, such as gender or paint job, are mooted in dealing with aliens as fellow beings! (Many have speculated that alien races might be the thing that finally brings Earthlings together, which is one reason I wish for First Contact.)

But make no mistake: for being science fiction — as with all good SF — Doctor Who is about as real as it gets. Good science fiction is an examination of the human condition!

Kudos to BBC America for broadcasting this 50th anniversary episode commercial-free! Apparently this was a worldwide simulcast . Whovians all over the globe watched together, and I’m glad I chose to watch it in real-time. (It was odd and wonderful, about 20 minutes in, realizing there had been no commercial breaks!)


“The Studio”
[click for big]

As mentioned, I’ve been obsessively into project work lately, so watching TV hasn’t been on the menu much.

One big ticket is a massive POV-Ray project (“The Studio“) that brings together just about everything I’ve done into one huge project. It’s a giant “studio” building, 800 feet long, 400 feet deep and 100 feet high. Inside… well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.

I’ve been working on completing the scene (which is work enough), but also on making a “movie” that takes a tour through the scene. Thing is, animations take forever to render, especially at higher-quality settings. Currently I’ve defined about 10,000 frames (about 5-and-one-half minutes), which — at full quality setting — will take 31 (24-hour) days to render!

If I keep this up I’ll have to buy a new laptop just for rendering. (Which would be very helpful, since I can’t use POV-Ray while it’s busy.) This all means it’s going to be months before anyone sees the thing in all its glory, but the WIP (Work In Progress) is here if you’re curious. (I try to keep both this and the link above fairly current, but obviously it depends on when I get one of those round tuits required for uploading the latest.)

Mandelbrot basicThe long render times, even for a low-quality segment, remind me of the early days of computers when waiting was typical. It especially reminds me of playing around with fractint, a (pretty amazing, free) fractal-making program. (Had the coolest freeware license ever: “Don’t want money. Got money. Want fame and adulation!”)

Back then, with a current 133 mega-hertz, 16-bit processor (over-clocked to a blazing 150), we watched fractint generate Mandelbrots (in glorious 256-color, full-size 640×480 mode, no less!) agonizing line by agonizing line. (“Hey, while you were out buying more beer, it generated three more lines!”)

Twenty-five (plus) years later, my 2 giga-hertz, 64-bit chip is generating a 1280×720, 24-bit color image line… by… line. And while I’ll grant you that, at the lower-quality settings it gets down to under a minute per image, rendering a crap-load of them still takes some time.

So while POV-Ray is busy rendering bits of movie, I’ve been puttering with Python, which is pretty pleasing.

Python code

This code…

As computer programming languages go, it’s not the hammer for every nail by any stretch. As with most scripting languages, it gets cumbersome as code size increases (requiring strong code management and clarity skills).

I don’t much care for how it implements classes. No private instance data! Data hiding in general is more a matter of honor and custom in Python than it is a reality. I find the super keyword a horrific way (as in: incredibly error-prone and bizarrely redundant) to access the base class. And so far I haven’t found a good way to create class methods.

That said, Python is adorable! And fun! No other language comes so close to being like my pseudo-code, so Python is a natural way for me to express algorithms and experiment with them. I also love its listiness; lists are native data types, and functions like map and filter are just too cool!

I’ve been using Python recently to (once again) have a go at writing a BOOL Reference Implementation. I’ll leave that for my other blog.


…generated this maze!

I’ve also used it to accomplish something I’ve had on my TODO list for decades: write an algorithm that generates a maze.

Mazes fascinate me, but more on a theoretical level than on a drawing lines through them level. (Yes, I’m an über-geek; how have you not noticed that before?) I thought that an algorithm to generate a maze would be tricky to come up with, but my first cut at it turned out pretty well. I plan to write a Sideband article with details.

This, being Science Fiction Saturday, is supposed to be about (better) vampires, and I’m almost out of time! (For when the sun sets, I once again rise from my resting place…)

Way back in 1975, Fred Saberhagen published The Dracula Tape. Anne Rice‘s Interview With The Vampire wasn’t published until 1976, and Chelsea Yarbro‘s excellent Saint-Germain series began in 1978, so Saberhagen was out in front of the modern vampire interest by quite a stretch.

BerserkerSaberhagen (or as I like to call him, Saberhagen) is perhaps most famous for his Berserker stories, which feature giant doomsday robots dedicated to destroying all organic life. These stories began back in 1963, so he was out in front of the whole killer robots thing, too.

After The Dracula Tape came The Holmes-Dracula File (1978), which is a favorite due to my love of The Great Detective. (Am very much enjoying his latest TV incarnation in Elementary. Holmes plus Lucy Liu… works for me. Works very well, indeed!)

Both first books take place in the Victorian era; later books take place in modern times, although all involve the central figure: the original Count Dracula!

In these books the Count may not be the nicest being on the planet, but he is a man of honor and principle who never (well, almost never) takes human blood without consent. He isn’t someone you’d want to cross, though. Not an enemy you’d want to have, but a pretty awesome friend, especially when the bad vampires show up.

Holmes-Dracula FileThe first book, The Dracula Tape, re-tells Bram Stoker‘s Dracula from the Count’s perspective. Saberhagen uses excerpts and scenes from the original, but as seen and told by the Count.

Poor Jonathan Harker really misunderstood the Count’s honorable intentions. And don’t get me started on that oaf, Van-Helsing!

The Count just wanted to live peacefully and non-violently in English mainstream society. He wanted to be a part of modern life (got lonely in a drafty castle in the old country with nothing but gypsies and wolves for company)!

[I do find, upon re-reading the Stoker version that, if you take Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra’s diary entries seriously, it’s hard to credit the Count’s version of events, but it’s still neat reading the tale from another perspective.]

In the second book, the Count and Sherlock Holmes work together to combat a horrible chemical weapon of mass destruction (specially bred plague rats) that threatens the Queen’s Turn of the Century Jubilee (when visitors from all over the world will be in London). This is a book written in 1978, mind you. Funny how little the world changes in some ways. And funny how derivative “entertainment” is today.

Hotel Transylvania

Yarbro’s Saint-Germain; a way better sexy vampire!

From my perspective, between Saberhagen, Rice and Yarbro, the vampire thing was done (and done well) in the 70s and 80s. Today’s modern crop of vampires just don’t hold a candle. Not like the vampires in my day, let me tell you. It takes something a little special for me to find a vampire story very interesting.

Not being a teenage girl, I skipped the whole Twilight thing. Yarbro’s vampire, Saint-Germain beats all for sexy vampire stories. Adult sexy vampire stories!

The comedies can be cute, and I saw one recently that I really liked. It was a light-hearted spoof, called Vamps. It stars Alicia Silverstone, whom I’ve liked ever since Clueless. I wasn’t expecting much from Vamps, but it turned out to be very engaging. At the end, credits roll, and I realize it’s an Amy Heckerling film, which explains it. I like a lot of Amy Heckerling films! She, of course, was behind Clueless, the classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and others you’d recognize.

And, damn it, I don’t care what anyone says about it in particular or about movies with the name “Johnny” in the title in general. I really liked her Johnny Dangerously! It’s among my favorites, in fact.

“Dominus hubiscum habisco. Esperitu sanctum. Dey gas da bus. Me gas da bus. You gas da bus. We missed the bus. They missed the bus. When’s the next bus? Summa cum laude. Magna cum laude. The radio’s too loudy. Odesti fidellas. Centra fidellas. Hi fidellas. Post meridian. Ante-meridian. Uncle Meridian. All of the little meridians. Magna Carta. Master charga. Dume procellas. Lotsa Vitalis.”

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

10 responses to “Better Vampires

  • dianasschwenk

    Wait. What? You’re not a teenage girl??? I’ve never seen anything Dr. Who and yes, perhaps I live under a rock. That whole POV computer thing you wrote about…—> right over my head! I was happy when I figured out excel! 😉

    Glad you’re keeping busy and filling your days with stuff you love.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m pretty sure I’m neither teenaged nor girlish, although in these confusing times, who can really say for sure? Maybe I just have a really serious identity crisis and just think I’m a post-retirement aging guy. Perhaps a good shrink can make me right? (Yeah, as if! :lol:)

      The POV stuff is pretty geeky… fundamentally, I spend a lot of hours writing “code” that describes a scene — what’s there and what it looks like — and then the POV engine “draws” the picture for me (line by agonizing line). If you followed the links to the galleries, you at least got to see the final (or actually intermediate in this case) result.

      As for Doctor Who… IIRC, you don’t own a working TV (or am I thinking of someone else)? And you’re not one to sit and veg in front of a movie? (I can relate… lately the project work has been so consuming that watching TV, even “one-hour” programs, I get restless. Yet I can spend a lot of hours in front of the computer. Go figure.) To be into Who, you’d have to be both a science fiction fan and a TV watcher. I’m not sure you have either credential! 😀

      But what about sexy vampires? 🙂

      • dianasschwenk

        I watch TV but I have a short attention span! Vampires aren’t really my thing. I like CSI type shows and I am currently enjoying Once Upon a Time and Sleepy Hollow!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I kinda miss CSI:NY already! I haven’t seen either of the two you mention; my TV watching (especially these days) is fairly curtailed. (Which reminds me.. I have to tear myself away and watch last week’s shows! … Eh… maybe tomorrow. :))

  • Lady from Manila

    I got to see the Twilight movies. Except for the first one (which was passably entertaining), they were all so dragging and boh-ring.

    Alicia Silverstone has always been cute and hot, in my estimation. It makes me wonder why her star alternately burned bright and dim throughout her career. I heard she’s become a mother now.

    I remember watching Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves; I ended up liking it a lot. “Interview With The Vampires” with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise was interesting to me as well – even though horror or vampire genre isn’t on the top of my list.

    I echo Diana’s remark above. Glad to know the things you feel passionate about occupy your time these days. Happy to see you writing every now and then, too.
    Have a great week ahead of you, Wyrd.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, Silverstone’s kinda got that “hot girl” thing going, plus “girl next door” so she hits you with both barrels. After Clueless skyrocketed her into the public eye, she went through a bit of a sex symbol phase, and there are some sexy pictures from that time (and an erotic direct-to-video thriller I’ve never seen, called The Babysitter). Then she was Batgirl, which was embarrassing for everyone concerned (plus appearing in the absolutely hands down worst of the Batman flicks). Then came Excess Baggage, which was very cute, and then Blast from the Past, which I really like (just saw it again recently). I haven’t really seen her much since until Vamps.

      That Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one of the better modern versions! Fairly faithful to the book and quite exciting. (Gary Oldman is sooooo good!) Interview With the Vampire was pretty good, too! Generally speaking the straightforward serious vampire movies are usually fairly watchable. It’s when they try to turn it into something else (e.g. Twilight series) that it can come off so badly (or, when well done, brilliantly).

      It was nice to feel the passion come back! I was afraid work and age might have burned it out of me completely, but apparently not!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Funny how it works, like when you learn a new word and then start hearing it all over the place….

    So I’ve been using Python casually for a few years, and above made the comment about not finding a good way to make class methods. Then last night I was reading a couple articles about implementing the Singleton (anti-!) pattern in Python and stumbled on references to “decorators” and the staticmethod() and classmethod() functions.

    I thought, “Yeah, I’ve noticed those in the docs… sounds like high time to check them out.”

    So now class methods (static methods, actually), no problem! One more score for pretty programming in Python!

  • heysugarsugar

    Hello flower how’s you doing? I watched The Dr. As well and was gripped but then I love Dr. Who. Star dad and u always watched together. Twilight..blah! But you forgot Buff The Vampire Slayer! Ole Buffy and Angel and Spike and of course Giles ; ) Hugs C. X

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It was a wonderful episode, and I loved the appearances of the older Doctors (especially that little cameo at the end)!

      Buffy,… yeah. I’ve seen and enjoyed the movie a few times, but never watched the TV show, so I can’t speak to it. The movie came out in 92, making it part of the modern crop, and I’d file it under spoofs, which are often better than the more serious attempts. Definitely a worthy entry in the canon!

      Flower? 😕 Cactus, maybe…

  • Actors, Roles; It’s a Wrap | Logos con carne

    […] Fred Saberhagen did something similar, but with major characters. The Frankenstein Papers (1986) and The Dracula Tape (1980) each tell those well-known stories from the point of view of the “monsters” (who turn out to be innocent and massively misunderstood). Great books! […]

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