What I'm Watching: Extinction

What I'm Watching: Extinction

Extraordinarily dull first 20 minutes of a working stiff having bad dreams of war against space invaders. Then a pretty solid chase/urban combat arc. Then the plot flips, which I did not see coming, a rare pleasure.

Go watch this on Netflix and come back so we can talk about it.

SPOILERS: Please see the movie first. So copy this text and view it in advanced rot13 encryption

Gur zbivr arire rkcynvaf fbzr guvatf: Jul gur aba-uhznaf jbhyq or znqr gb ybbx yvxr uhznaf; va gur pnfr bs gur puvyqera, gung'f rfcrpvnyyl perrcl. Gur ryringbe tvey vf… lrnu, jr xabj jung ure checbfr jnf. Jul gur fbyhgvba gb n uneqjner ceboyrz vf zvyvgnel trabpvqr. Be jul gur vainqref unir fhpu jrveq fhvgf, bgure guna gur zrgn "vg ybbxf zranpvat naq nyvra".

Gur svyzznxref inzc sbe grafr ohg unccl raqvatf gbb bsgra, naq vg'f n yvggyr naablvat. Trg ba gur tbqqnzarq genva, erhavgr va fnsrgl.

But the reveal and resolution is great, this is a perfectly fine actual-science fiction movie.

★★★★½

Liberation in Art but not in Your Stupid Life: 2112, Real Genius, TRON, and Ready Player One

In which art is not blamed for the problems of the world:

2112

A man in a controlled, music-less dystopia finds a guitar, learns to play, and feels joy. The priests of Syrinx who rule the system in the name of "average" (a la Harrison Bergeron) crush him. The ancients of rock who created the guitar return and liberate the system with a prog rock concert.

Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here that's as strong as life
I know that it will reach you

Don't annoy us further!
Oh, we have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the plan!

TRON

A game designer dude lives in exile above his arcade, robbed by evil AI & corporate suit. His ex and her dork boyfriend let him into the building, and he goes into the computer world, which the evil AI & corporate suit rule as well. The ancient soul of the machine gives the dork's program access and lets it play Breakout against the AI, and the game designer sacrifices himself, liberating the inner world, deleting the evil AI & firing the corporate suit, restoring the game designer to power in the real world.

Greetings, programs!

Real Genius

A too-young, too-uptight student works for an evil professor, but makes friends with other weirdo students and loosens up. The evil professor and the military trick the weirdos and make a death ray from their work. The ancient student in the closet emerges and the weirdos hack the death ray and turn the evil professor's house into popcorn.

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

Ready Player One

A boy in a crapsack world, literally in a trailer home on top of trailer homes, finds solace in ancient movies and games from a book by an ancient nerd. The corporation which rules the world and the virtual world crushes him and his friends. The ancient nerd's program runs, and gives the boy power and he liberates the virtual world and the real one.

After a long silence she asked, "So what happens now?"

Just Stories

These stories, they're just stories of their time.

2112 didn't end the "Moral Majority" or censors. The PMRC of Syrinx was founded 6 years later to destroy rock 'n roll and rap; the PMRC is gone but Tipper Gore still lives and hates, and music is still censored; remember Fuck You, by CeeLo Green? You probably only heard the censored radio version "Forget You".

TRON didn't end centralized computing, AI, or thieving corporate assholes. Today EA has ruined large gaming, and Google & Amazon make AIs that will probably kill us all.

Real Genius didn't end all CIA/military weapons. Today the babykillers have unmanned drones that can fly anywhere and assassinate anyone (and any bystanders/witnesses).

Ready Player One didn't make the real Internet a "safe space". Facebook, Twitter, or Google can still track you, filter what you see, and give Nazis access to harass you.

This is not a failing of art, it exists for fun or catharsis, and to give you coping strategies. It is not a magic spell to fix everything.

So, you can do something inspired by art; make art yourself; or, if you are completely useless, just whine unreasonably about art and be held in contempt.

You'll Never Get Me Up in One of Those

I reference this comic regularly and nobody knows what I mean, and now all of you can know what I mean:

You'll never get me up in one of those
(from OMNI 1980-08)

It's so hit and miss. Sometimes there's an article or story that still blows me away. Flip flip flip past the junk. Most of the OMNI articles are rubbish, UFOs, James Lovelock's Gaia nonsense, psionics, cryptozoology, etc. I mean, I love that they serialized Stephen King's Firestarter, but it is a nonsense story about magic mental powers. And the other story in in this issue is a man finds a sarcophagus of the fictional character "Jesus", but melted because a magic sky fairy used energy beams to take him away or some such. Fuck that nonsense.

The archive.org scan is shit, so the pictorials (the Dune pictorial was hugely influential on me, long before I read the books) are hard to view, but I can search for them by title if I want a hi-res copy. The Internet's often bullshit, too, but you can always search for the good stuff, and there'd be more if people weren't such jackasses about old content.

What I'm Reading: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

Murderbot returns, looking for its origin story and some peace and quiet to watch stupid TV shows in. Along the way, it meets a transport with excess time/intelligence on its… well, no hands… and some dumb kid researchers who need security, and has to pass as something it can't even make eye contact with.

"Yes, the giant transport bot is going to help the construct SecUnit pretend to be human. This will go well."

As I was hoping for, there's more background, several mall-like stations are explored even if Murderbot can't do a lot of social interaction. Several nice fights and "how stupid can Humans be?" bits.

Short and SUPER breezy, but exactly what I want more of.

★★★★★

What I'm Reading: MagicNet

MagicNet, by John DeChancie (1993): What if there's magic in the modern world, but it needs a computer "network" to make it real?

Everything below is SPOILER, because I want to talk about ideas not explained until the end.

Skye King (he references the TV show, but not the Kris Kristofferson song ) hears his friend Grant get murdered during a phone call, and then receives a box of 3.5" floppies (the fancy kind) containing programs OUIJA and RAGNAROK. OUIJA allows him to type and soon speak directly to Grant's "ghost". RAGNAROK is a tool for revenge against Merlin; no, not that Merlin, just some guy named Lloyd Merlin Jones.

This is where things get weird and/or stupid. Witches and wizards are all over, using computers but no longer really needing modems to reach the "Magic Net". They can project hallucinations and in some cases "demons" all over, but maybe can't do anything real? It's suggested that non-magical people wouldn't perceive anything, and maybe non-magical explanations would be "true" in base reality.

Nobody in this says "Internet", despite being written 5+ years after most universities got Internet access and just before AOL & the September That Never Ended. From 1989-1993 I was spending most of my time on USENET and playing CircleMUD or LambdaMOO, which were essentially the magical world already. Once, a witch describes the magical reality as "cyberspace", but this is just buzzword-speak, not a meaningful comparison.

Far, far too much of the book is first-person narration of mundane activities like cooking, or a plane flight, as if the author had never done that before or wanted to pad out the page count. Characters are introduced and forgotten almost every chapter.

This is almost like one of Rudy Rucker's Transrealism books, but nowhere near as weird, trippy, or fast-paced, and it makes far less sense. But they even name-drop and visit a famous SF writer.

The final section finally does go full drug-trip and has a semi-coherent explanation of how the magical reality is created, and if you paid attention to mythology (in particular Zoroastrian) you'll recognize all the spirits/demons names.

Certainly this is a poorly-written book, and the premise has been handled better by better writers; in particular Vernor Vinge's "True Names" handles the computer/fantasy interface, and Victor Koman's "The Jehovah Contract" covers the myth/reality/sexy witches interface. But it's an interesting work despite the mediocrity.

★★½☆☆

What I'm Watching: Annihilation

Heart of Darkness with 5 female soldier/scientists, in Roadside Picnic crossed with Chaga, ending in Alien and 2001. I haven't read the books yet, I like some of Vandermeer's stories & anthologies, but the film really does feel like pastiche. Some of that is the director making a "subjective" adaptation.

The characters are wafer-thin, even Lena (Natalie Portman) and husband Kane who are closest to being people. I love Jennifer Jason Leigh from being Allegra Geller in eXistenZ, but as Dr Ventress there's nothing there.

Most of it is walking-in-woods scenes like any no-budget B movie. Possibly the weirdest part is it's supposed to be Florida… But they filmed it in England, and the plants and just the atmosphere are wrong. Which to some extent doesn't matter, since the area's "alien", but it's the wrong thing that's wrong.

The three "monsters" are… fine, really not that weird, the first one is like one of those terrible Jaws-ripoff flicks, the last one is literally just one of those creepy spandex bodysuits after some CGI bullshit. One monster scene is good (the chairs), the rest needed help from a horror director.

I'm disappointed, but none of it was terrible, just mediocre pastiche of better stories and movies. I expect people who aren't well-read think it's amazing.
★★★☆☆

Galaxy Magazine

James Nicoll reviewed Galaxy 1977-04, which led me to discover that the final run of Galaxy from 1970-1980 is up on archive.org. I read a bunch of these as a kid, some first-run (I was reading SF magazines by 6-8 years old) but mostly as back issues. Once Galaxy shut down I switched to OMNI, which was even more significant. Maybe I'll do an OMNI reread afterwards.

I'm probably going to skip around a lot in these. As usual, boldface for something worth reading, italic for things you can skip.

  • Galaxy 1970-02
    • The Shaker Revival, by Gerald Jonas: In a crapsack timeline of race war, terrorism, and "free love" with "feel-o-mats", by the 1990s the 18th-19th C celibate Shaker cult gets revived by a "Jag-Rock" band, and becomes a mind-control and suicide cult of under-30s. "No hate. No war. No money. No sex." Written in an epistolary and news-clipping style. Didn't like it, but it's interesting world-building from the perspective of 1970, the Summer of Charles Manson. ★★☆☆☆
    • Slow Sculpture, by Theodore Sturgeon: A quack cures cancer with electricity and radioactive injections, claims to have made a magic carbeurator which the car companies bought and buried, hundreds of other implausible advances for one person, but nobody buys them because they're all stupid! Then he's taught wisdom by a hobo girl and there's a strained metaphor about bonsai trees, thus the title. Sturgeon's Law that 90% of everything is crap applies to his own work, too. ★☆☆☆☆
    • Sleeping Beauty, A. Bertram Chandler: Interstellar delivery service with a hard-luck crew led by Mr Grimes is supposed to take cargo instead of passengers, and ends up with an overly demanding passenger. It all works out in the end. More or less a Futurama episode, amusing if not especially scientific (FTL, telepathy, ugh). ★★★½☆
    • Last Night of the Festival, by Dannie Plachta: Beautifully illustrated, poetic, dreamlike, horrific story. Reminds me quite heavily of H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands poems and stories. The last days before the Nazis/concentration camp allusions throughout are… perhaps the author's point, but I feel it would be better without them. But what is here, I like. ★★★★½
    • Downward to the Earth, part III, by Robert Silverberg: White Man's Burden trash novel, competently written but not worth reading. ★★☆☆☆
    • After They Took the Panama Canal, by Zane Kotker: A conquest and assimilation, by aliens who can somehow interbreed with Humans, can do interstellar travel but apparently need slave labor. But a breeder woman telling her 5-year-old hybrid child about "America! Einstein!" will someday free them. Trash. ★☆☆☆☆
    • Sunpot comic, by Vaughn Bode: Naked space-chick and ship full of incompetent aliens and robots try not to be seen by an Apollo spacecraft. Based on the real "UFO" (as in, unidentified) sighting by Michael Collins on Apollo-11, but very '70s. ★★☆☆☆
  • Galaxy 1970-04
    • Allison, Charmichael and Tattersall, by Stephen Tall: Bad astronomy punctuated by bad physics and chemistry, leading up to bad biology making GIANT SPACE DIATOMS. As a two-page gag story, it'd be fine, but this goes on forever. ★☆☆☆☆
    • Discover a Latent Moses, by Michael G. Coney: Earth covered by massive layers of snow and glaciers, a handful of survivors (5 men & 1 woman) live in ice tunnels through old shops and malls, and fight off "Flesh Hunters". So, A) Humans do not generally turn cannibal if they're not desperately starving right this minute, and this idea constantly knocks me out of any fiction that has it. B) These people keeping a lunatic and a senile old man don't otherwise show that kind of empathy, just passivity. C) Later it's shown that not all the Earth is barren frozen wasteland, but the idiots don't understand or care. There's a sequel "Snow Princess" in 1971-01, but Cockade isn't a very compelling character in this one. ★★☆☆☆
    • The Tower of Glass, part 1, by Robert Silverberg: Wealthy Krug is building a tower of Babel^W tachyon transmitters to respond to a vague, enigmatic alien signal, but first let's tell you an endless story about android workers and the replacement of 99% of humanity with artificial life which surely won't go wrong in the manner of R.U.R. "Most men regard it as, well, cheap, foul, to sleep with androids. I’ve heard it compared to masturbation. To doing it with a rubber doll." Ridiculous: Every man and woman would boink androids for fun if they were this common and human-like. Competent but dull work going nowhere fast as of "TO BE CONTINUED". ★★★☆☆
    • Darwin in the Fields, by Ray Bradbury: Poems about Charles Darwin observing nature, nature observing him. Trite but inoffensive. ★★★☆☆
    • The Rub, by A. Bertram Chandler: Another Mr Grimes story. Out of continuity, since he now has a wife and a lot of backstory from previous adventures on this haunted planet? And then a dream is more significant than it seems… WEIRD story, more Twilight Zone this time. ★★★½☆
    • Sunpot comic, by Vaughn Bode: Incoherent orbiting and exploration of Venus, which inexplicably is snow-white and blinding to look at, instead of the smoky yellow of our reality. Naked space-chick is told to fuck instead of explore a planet. Then a space-duck in a pod has a hard time landing, I think the panels are out of order. WTF. ★☆☆☆☆
    • No Planet Like Home, by Robert Conquest: Yes, the Robert Conquest who wrote "The Great Terror", also wrote some SF. This is a meandering piece about a species with an ever-increasing mutation rate, finding a suitable environment for a real misfit. Cue obvious ending. ★★☆☆☆
  • Galaxy 1980-07 (final issue)
    • Editorial: Oh, No! They've Changed It!: In which the editor explains the all-new format & future scheduling of Galaxy, which didn't come to pass since it shut down after this issue. There's a much higher density of editorial and non-story material, which probably convinced most people not to renew.
    • Famous Events of the Future: The Jovian Ski Party: Ad by the L-5 Society, with a bizarre and possibly racist comic scene, protesting the Moon treaty. Which is a fine cause, since that put a damper on commercial space endeavors for the last 40 years, but this is insanity.
    • Son of Calculator and the Electronic Lifestyle, editorial by Steve North: Editorial on personal computing, mainframes with terminals (Compuserve/GEnie, but doesn't name them), BASIC, comments from Ted Nelson (who never shipped a working Xanadu), Adventure, a puff piece on Adam Osborne, and prediction that the Dynabook would take 10 years to ship. Depending on your perspective: An '80s Tandy Model 100 or '90s early laptops were sort of a Dynabook, but Alan Kay to this day is incapable of being satisfied with anything that actually works, and never shipped anything himself.
    • Your Car and Its Computer, editorial: Predicts that automotive computers would allow diagnostics, but fails to realize they'll be an insecure, badly programmed mess that can kill you just as dead as old mechanical cars could.
    • If You Don't Talk to Your Stereo, I Will, editorial: Voice control of stereos from Japan! Coming soon! Talking over a loud source of music is still a giant clusterfuck of Alexas and Apple HomePods in 2018. Naïve.
    • Defending the Empire: Intelligent Games, editorial by Ed Teja: Computer games of the future will be complex simulations like SUPER STAR TREK, and educational like Speak N Spell.
    • Careers, editorial by Ed Teja: They are vaguely aware that there are programmers, marketing, and circuit design jobs in computing, but have no practical advice.
    • In the Shubbi Arms, by Steven Utley & Howard Waldrop: Earthman cunning temporarily defeats two sets of alien invaders. ★★★½☆
    • The Colony, by Raymond Kaminski: Very short and blunt dark humor joke, which would never actually work since we quarantine anything brought back from space. ★★½☆☆
    • The Night Machine, by Dona Vaughn: Low-quality story with vague catastrophe in space, mediocre naked illustration which has nothing to do with the story, a lot of moping and whining, and then deus ex machina happy ending. ★☆☆☆☆
    • In the Days of the Steam Wars, by Eugene Potter & Larry Blamire: Preposterous fantasy about 150' tall steam-powered mecha fighting in the 19th C. A) Mecha could not stand erect with the materials of the day, B) Artillery or simple bombs or even lines on the ground would make short work of them, and C) Coordinating and controlling such things before computers is ludicrously impossible. Steampunk is a stupid genre to begin with, but this might be the dumbest of such stories I've read yet. ★☆☆☆☆
    • Jem, part 5, by Frederik Pohl: I've reread the novel every decade or two since I was a kid, and love it. An alien planet that's treated as alien, Humans who make incredibly stupid but plausible political decisions, good fast-paced story. But I don't really need to read the serialization, do I? A couple of very nice full-page art pieces. ★★★★★
    • Mapping the Island in Images, by Robert Frazier: Poetry from an orbital habitat, 2080. Trying too hard, but not bad. ★★★☆☆
    • Michael Kaluta: Interview and a couple pieces by a pulp fantasy artist, who I think is the poor man's ripoff Frank Frazetta, but meh.
    • Projections, editorial by Robert Stewart: History of the movie Metropolis.

RIP Gardner Dozois

Sad loss, but: I only ever read a few of his own stories, and not memorable. I grew up reading the first two dozen of his Year's Best SF collections, and a few later; they were a good summary of what happened each year in short SF, then I'd follow up with the authors I liked from them. But I noticed by the '00s that his editorial selections went from 75% white male US/UK writers doing Ben Bova-style SF to over 90%. The early volumes always had some Pat Cadigan, "James Tiptree, Jr", Nancy Kress, and many more, and that faded out by the end; very few non-US/UK writers ever did make it in; I was going to say that no non-white writer ever made it in, but Octavia Butler is in #2 and #5, Steven Barnes in #34, and a few others, maybe 1% representation. I want more variety in "year's best".