Contagion – ‘Jaws’ for the Flu


Comparison of physical copy vs a digital copy

Back in 1975 a movie came out that terrified people to not want to ever go into the ocean again. That movie was Jaws.

Similarly, there have been other movies that tried to be the “Jaws of [insert mundane activity here]” to no avail. But Contagion, at least for me, was quite successful in making me paranoid of every day life.

Contagion, written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh, follows a young woman returning from Hong Kong to a very serious flu/disease. The beginning of the film shows how this disease was contracted by about 5-6 different people. Eventually, the virus starts killing people within days of being contracted.

News breaks out soon that people are dying and the remainder of the film follows a Man and his daughter, the WHO as they follow the contagion, a CDC agent, and a freelance reporter.

The movie does a very good job of showing how easily a virus can become an epidemic and how easily the population can react to it. It even mentions the H1N1 virus and how the CDC didn’t do a very good job of informing the people about its actual dangers (or lack thereof).

There’s also a great deal of information on how the CDC and WHO actually create vaccines and the protocols for containing a virus of that magnitude. I learned a lot about bio-chemistry from this movie without even knowing it (Like what an R-0 of a virus is, or how a virus mutates, or that the average human touches their face 2500 times a day).

A social aspect of the movie that I found quite interesting was how it showed how some people followed rules and suggestions to the T, while others (mostly those who were in charge of said rules) created their own personal protocols for selfish reasons. See how sane people rationalize or go into a mob mentality when the urge to survive kicks in.

Another interesting theme I found was how it explored the idea of using a social network to bend the minds of the masses into either avoiding or taking a specific treatment. That is to say, how the use of Facebook or a blog can actually influence a certain population to do something that may or may not be the right thing to do, and how this control could be coming from a very unlikely place.

After the movie, I was literally scared to touch anything. I was scared to even use the bathroom in the theatre. This movie did exactly what it was intending to do, and that was to make me paranoid. I know this winter season, I’m now going to be carrying extra Purel and probably investing into a medical mask. All-in-all I would highly recommend this movie for those who like thrillers where there is no mystery, only the instinct to survive at the character’s grasp.

Review: Roger Zelazny, A Night in the Lonesome October

Review: Roger Zelazny, A Night in the Lonesome October

cover image

I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. I live with my master Jack outside of London now. I like Soho very much at night with its smelly fogs and dark streets. It is silent then and we go for long walks.

This is the opening of A Night in the Lonesome October. This is my favorite novel by Roger Zelazny after Lord of Light, which I consider a masterpiece. A Night in the Lonesome October is the last book that Zelazny finished, and it was nominated for the Nebula in 1994.

The story is told in a prologue and thirty-one chapters, one for each day in October. It is sometimes said that it should be read one chapter at a time throughout October. I had read it several times, but always in one go, so I decided to give one chapter per day a try, albeit a month and a half early. Frankly, I can’t say that the book gained from the experience. But if you haven’t read it, you might give it a try. Read in one sitting or 32, it’s a good book either way.

Beyond the fine story, what I like about Zelazny is his mastery of style: so simple, so fluid, and yet so compelling. He does not use big words or big sentences. And even for him, the style in this story is appropriate for a dog, yet not dumbed down. The story simply flows from the page.

The novel tells the story of a strange Game, a metaphysical conflict between those who want to open the way for the Old Ones, and those who would thwart them. Every few decades, when moon is full on the night of Halloween, players spend the month of October preparing for the night when the fate of the world is to be decided. Each player has an animal companion.

This time, the Game is played in the suburbs of London. The players are a motley crew. Besides Jack, who prowls the streets of London at night with a knife and his faithful dog Snuff, there is Jill and her cat Graymalk. Other players are the Count, a seclusive being, and his equally nocturnal familiar Needle (a bat); Owen and the squirrel Cheeter; the Mad Monk Rastov and the black snake Quicklime; Morris and McCab, whose familiar is the owl Nightwind. Then we meet the vicar, by all appearances a respectable clergyman — but those who know of his secret activities would differ, and he has a companion, the raven Tekela. Other colourful characters include the Good Doctor, who seems to not only have an animal companion, the rat Bubo, but also a human one, a very large man sometimes seen lumbering about his house; Larry Talbot, who could be his own companion; and the Great Detective, a master of disguise.

As the story progresses, the players learn about each other, form alliances, turn traitor. Friendships are formed, too, not always following the alignment of the characters as players. The last night may yet reveal some secrets.

Jack and Jill went down the hill. Gray and I ran after.

Amazon Kindle now servicing over 11,000 public libraries

Have you ever wanted to read a scifi or fantasy novel someone recommended to you, but didn’t want to pay for it? Or you wanted to see if it was good before making the purchase?

You would normally go to a library and see if it was available and then check it out. At least, that’s what we used to do before the internet.

Lately libraries have started to wane with their patron numbers largely due to online stores and ease of access to other, digital, means. Amazon (our favorite online shopping conglomerate), who produces the ever popular Kindle (and all the related mobile/desktop apps) has just agreed to allow wireless transfer of available ebooks from local libraries to patron’s Kindle or mobile device.

The only requirements for this amazing free feature: you need a library card from the participating public library, and an Kindle account (which is free).

The service is quite simple. You get your library card, and go to the library’s online establishment and sign up with the preferred eBook service (my library here in Kansas City uses OverDrive. William Gibson would be so proud!). You then enter your library card number and it will take you to the virtual library. You then find your selection and select “Send to Kindle” which will prompt you to sign into Then you will have the book sent to the device and available to read for however long the standard checkout time is at your library.

Hopefully, through this program, libraries will start to see more and more customers checking out books and enjoying the vast amounts of free information available to them.

To see if your local library is participating, click here and enter your zipcode (if you reside in the USA).

The Sci-fi & Fantasy Fall 2011 TV Season

The Fall TV season has begun, and so starts a torrential stream of new shows and new episodes of returning shows. Here’s a quick rundown of many of the returning and new Sci-fi and Fantasy shows.  Dates are for the USA – feel free to leave a comment with dates in your country.  Note that if you haven’t seen the latest seasons of currently running scif-fi/fantasy shows (e.g. if they are delayed in your country), then there may be spoilers ahead.

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