What I'm Watching: Invasion S1E3-4

S1E3. So this is the episode of terrible decisions. Jarhead sole survivor walks off into the desert. Iranian refugee family in New York commits felonies that'll get them lynched if they're caught; this is not at all plausible behavior for these people, and later when recriminations are thrown around, nobody remembers that Mom is the lead felon. "Fuck off Harry Potter", I say every time the English kids show back up. Harry and Dudley bond, nobody cares. Japanese comms tech is far more capable than anyone in "JASA" (oh this makes me so annoyed), so the only thing she can think of to do is burn her career and/or get arrested. One alien word at the end, seems to be the pattern of dropping one hint.

Why don't the aliens communicate in English or some other recognizable language, instead of just repeating "Wajo" over and over? They'd have plenty of time, decades of travel time, to hear our radio & TV transmissions and learn. This nonsense of aliens being incommunicado is just silly.

S1E4. Sadly, Harry Potter and all the Hufflepuffs make it out of the gravel pit alive and don't eat each other, and I am disappointed. Jarhead's otherwise competent rescue and evac is pointless, borders on Twilight Zone-y. The Japanese linguists studying the word "Wajo" are not gonna make much progress. Mom just wanders off on her own little adventure, using her backstory skills for once. President Hillary Clinton "The President" gives a ripoff ID-4 speech, even tho absolutely no physical evidence of the aliens has been seen yet. In anything like reality, they'd call it an unexplained source, or blame it on the Russians or Chinese, who have not yet been shown hurting.

Still ★★☆☆☆, nothing really happens. But I do want something to happen, for even a single plot thread to go somewhere, like Jarhead's did for just a minute.

Apple TV+ continues to annoy. I hit play on a show, I want to see the show and nothing but; parasitic shit-tick marketing show me an ad for another show (Tom Hanks and another dog, we know how his dog movies end, I won't watch this emotional blackmail, fuck you Tom Hanks), then the video window resizes itself, then a long loading screen/title card which isn't needed, then the pre-credits, then a teeny tiny little "Skip Intro" box may or may not appear in the bottom right, which still doesn't skip all the intro, another 15s or so after that before it starts. Does anyone at Apple ever, like, sit down and watch this, and say "yeah, that's a great user experience! That's what an Apple-like video player should be like!"? I think not.

What I'm Watching: Invasion

An Apple TV+ show. The TV+ app is awful, first of all. It's all big boxes, and the actual controls you want to see what eps are available are hidden under mystery burger icons. And then the show launches in a separate window. Turning on CC/subtitles, which I like even when watching English-language shows, doesn't take effect until I close & reopen the video window. And I can only really watch this on desktop, or iPad; I would have to get an AppleTV (not +) to watch it in the living room.

The cinematography is generally cyan-and-orange, as usual. So hideous. Occasionally you get a full daylight scene with colors, and it looks like a totally different film. Probably they make second unit directors or interns do the scenes that don't look like shit, because if you filmed a scene that isn't dull and oppressive you'd never work in movies again.

Weird also: Obviously filmed before the pandemic. Before the end of the Afghan War. It's so dated already, and not in a way that 2010 and earlier shows are, it's the "present" but none of our current concerns exist.

Have I mentioned I'm getting Apple TV+ for free for a year, and will absolutely be cancelling it before it gets paid because this is dreadful? Well, they're not persuading me otherwise with this.

Anyway.

S1E1. It's told in a bunch of vignettes of different characters, presumably bringing some kind of plot together, but I don't see one yet.

Sam Neill, now very old and kinda frail, is a somewhat useless sheriff in BFE Oklahoma, with some good-ole-boys gone missing, except very quickly their exit location is found. The crackhouse full of Nazis sure seem to fold pretty quick, instead of making law enforcement without backup disappear.

Kids in school somewhere else have nosebleeds (CUBAN RAY GUNS!), and a mother figures out her husband's cheating on her, but the important part is that in a power outage, the iPad also loses power. Look, I don't make this nonsense, I just watch it.

The Japanese astronaut is weirdest… their agency is called "JASA" (with the old NASA worm logo; actual NASA has gone back to the blue meatball) instead of "JAXA" (spiky anime title logo) as it is in reality, some comm tech claims to be putting a "viral download" in the launch capsule, they have their own capsule, the capsule's a big empty tin can which is very unlike the actual Soyuz or SpaceX Dragon capsules anyone goes up in. Clearly nobody involved in this has ever seen a single space launch. I presume since they wasted character time on this, the launch isn't as final as it seems. Is this supposed to be very alternate reality? Or just incompetence?

There's like a 5-second shot of a glittering thing which might be an alien ship.

I'm here for weird alien invasions, but one ep in I give this a ★☆☆☆☆. They better do something interesting in ep 2 or the ride stops here.

S2E2. The broken family whines at each other in a basement, then later outdoors they reenact The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.

Japanese comm tech, barely post-teen idol girl, has an incredibly non-Japanese attitude towards management and older men. There's zero possibility of this girl being in her position and yelling at everyone, and not being dragged out of the building by security. What is even happening here. The technical bits of her typing really fast, with some C++ template code in a console for no reason, and making fanciful statements about satellite positions, are just the incompetent screenwriters trying to sound spacey. Probably fine for low-IQ audiences, but this is so bad.

Harry Potter wannabe listens to terrible music, no point to this kid. They keep coming back to the little weasel and more nothing happens.

Jarheads in Afghanistan dick around doing nothing, finally have a mission to find a missing squad, during a radio blackout, which is becoming a theme. OK, finally something sort of adventure-ish. Another different alien-ish thing.

So for two eps, ★★☆☆☆ and maybe I'll watch more, see if it improves. It's not worse than a lot of things I've seen.

Very very slow, dull, tedious, lot of waiting around… then doing nothing… then waiting… then something sort of happens, with no explanation.

What I'm Reading: Shadow Captain, Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain follows the other, less crazy sister, as she tries to revenge herself on pirate Bosa Sennen, then keep their ship supplied, and gain clues about what Bosa was up to. Very much middle-of-trilogy syndrome, nothing happens that's necessary to the overall plot, but it's adequately more of the first volume. We find out a new behavior of the Quoins. ★★★★☆

Bone Silence is split between the sisters POV, and wanders between some excellent lightsail ship combat, a bit of urban treachery, and then pursuit by the… not Navy, but thugs employed by the bankers, so essentially the East India Company, and like the pride of the English, they're honorless scum. All to the good, except midway thru they split the party, one ship goes to town and the other stays to fight the thugs. The author fails to remember the many Chekov's Guns hanging on their fireplaces, and so this is much more of a struggle than it ought to be.

And here the plot turns into a summary, dozens of characters are introduced who have no further purpose or interest, an insurrection takes place in the sewers of an O'Neill colony, and impossible machinery is turned on. An alien explains more about the Quoins, except this is couched in superstitious nonsense for the monkeys and I don't know I believe any of it except the behavior we see. This part's absolutely disposable, but clearly Reynolds was tired of the setting and couldn't wait to get to the last bit. Where a giant precursor starship is approached… the Baubles use stasis fields, but the ship doesn't, even tho it absolutely needs it. The nature of the emergency is made clear but not why they're in that emergency. Rather preachy finale, bad guy is sent off to… smash into the habitat windows? He should be spaced, to make the punishment work, but he's not.
★★★☆☆ at first, then ★★☆☆☆ by end

Possibly better to make up your own 3rd volume than read Bone Silence. I'd still dearly love an RPG sourcebook (preferably for Traveller/Cepheus Engine) covering the mechanics of ships and Baubles.

What I'm Watching: Love Death Robots S2

Previously, part 1 and part 2.

A short set of S2, maybe not trying to flood us like S1 did. I will note, S1 had very little diversity; a couple girl MilSF authors, and the worst story of last season was by a woman who writes vamp-fucker books. S2 has zero, 0, none, not a fig: It is all white male honkie dudes. Probably all straight. A couple are English, Dutch, kinda imperialist. Look, I'm not saying "you can't use stories by honkie males", some honkie males are my friends and I pass for one, but I am saying in every video, they're fucking all honkie males?! I'm very disappointed in you, Netflix.

Anyway, the shorts:

  • Automated Customer Service, by John Scalzi: Too obviously a Scalzi piece, so it's trying to be super funny but instead at best gets a snicker or chortle, and then has a terrible ending because Scalzi can't write his way in or out of a plot. Accurately captures how I think Judgement Day will go: Stupid consumer electronics and overzealous marketing AI start terminating all the Humans. I dislike the weird stretchy big-head geriatric Humans, and the dog has creepy Human teeth which is NOT OK, but the robots are cute so it gets a better rating than the writing deserves. ★★★☆☆

  • Ice, by Rich Larson: short story has a much less kind tone than this video. The premise that you can't genetically engineer someone after birth is just false, a pre-CRISPR/mRNA view. I dislike the art style in this, shadow puppets with minimal detail. ★★★☆☆

  • Pop Squad, by Paolo Bacigalupi: Blatantly ripping off Blade Runner, from the grim cops in black murdering innocents, cars flying up above a grimy city, punching thru clouds to sunlight, Vangelis-lite ripoff music, fake geisha looking entitled rich wench. Zero subtlety or writing, just blunt: "not having kids seems a small price to pay for getting to live forever".

    Done exponentially better in Ad Vitam despite its many flaws; yes, that's 6 hours instead of 15 minutes, but this had more money in it.

    I'd be more impressed with the sets if they were anything but stock "grimy cyberpunk city" and "house inexplicably next to ruins", probably bought directly from the Unity store. Ends with a direct ripoff of the Roy Baty "tears in rain" scene. This is so preachy, obvious, and trite, it's like every trashy non-SF writer's condescending opinion of SF was true. And I fucking hate Blade Runner ripoffs. ★☆☆☆☆

  • Snow in the Desert, by Neal Asher: An old survivor, albino (but incorrectly blue-eyed, not pink; I think an error by the filmmakers, but I don't remember the Asher story well) and full of weird surprises, tries to stay ahead of bounty hunters. Very nice modelling, the desert and scrapyard bartertown are spartan enough you don't really hit uncanny valley, and the not-always-Human people don't look cartoony. Plot's kind of trivial, the reveals aren't surprising if you know anything about Neal's Polity series, but it's all well-done, never stupid. ★★★★½

  • The Tall Grass, by Joe Lansdale: Fantastic oil-paint art style. HP Lovecraft-looking protagonist gets off a train and wanders into the grass. This is a very very dumb idea, but we have the advantage of having seen Children of the Corn. I'm extremely unimpressed by what's out there, the mood is great until they're revealed and then it's just "oh for fuck's sake". Ending is moody again, it's just the whole middle bit that needed a rethink. ★★★½☆

    Notably this is vastly superior to Stephen King & Joe Hill's In the Tall Grass.

  • All Through the House, by Joachim Heijndermans: It's Xmas in May! Brats sneak up on Santa and find out why you should stay in bed and be good. This was just delightful, and doesn't overstay its welcome. Every child should be shown this one, in between Frosty the Snowman and episodes of The Cinnamon Bear. ★★★★★

  • Life Hutch, by Harlan Ellison: So far there hadn't been any dumb Call of Duty videos. Well, here it is. After attempting to murder aliens in space, space murderer crash-lands on a planet, finds an automated survival shelter, and then the systems don't like him much. Which sentiment I share. Possibly unfair. The short story was Harlan's second published, and it fits in an arc of a Human-alien war with a little more question about "why", and the robot isn't self-motivated like in this video. BUT. It's still a dumb piece. ★★☆☆☆

  • The Drowned Giant, by J.G. Ballard: A long, talky, introspective story by Ballard turns into a long, talky voiceover video over a dead giant on the beach. Bored out of my skull by this. Narrator does nothing, learns nothing. Purpose and origin of the giant is unknown. Almost literally anyone else visible in this video would be more interesting to follow. ★☆☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Tenet

A bit of Robert Heinlein's All You Zombies, a bit of Doctor Who, a lot of every buddy caper flick. Not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Or I've just read too many competent time travel stories to tolerate most of what ends up on film.

The first half does its best to never tell you what's going on, and at the point where you'd get an infodump, the scene just switches away. Obnoxious writing trick to avoid having to think some of it out.

I don't much like the brown-on-brown film coloring for much of the footage, but it's not constantly cyan-and-orange, so I guess I'll let it pass.

Denzel's kid John David Washington is OK, he's slightly snarky or unserious when he should be serious, but competent enough. Robert Pattinson is a mess, his fake accent is weird, and he has zero affect, either a robot or a sociopath, as has previously been noted: He was perfect as the vapid lead in Cosmopolis but anything else is asking too much of him. My Cocaine Michael Caine has a somewhat pointless but fun little cameo. Kenneth Brannagh's beard looks super weird and artificial, I'm distracted from his generally superb scenery chewing by that weird growth on his face. Elizabeth Debicki is leggy and sleek, but totally extraneous.

SPOILER

















So, the trick is you can reverse time flow on an object or person, by just walking through a big iron turnstile; zero special effects budget, literally all they ever use is running some film backwards.

If you reverse bullets, a forward-time observer sees them pulled out of the target. All the Protagonist can think to do with that is a few parlor tricks, go "whoa" like Keanu, and does occasionally avoid standing in front of bullet holes. There's a lot of interesting things you could do with this, the film never does. Shoot a bullet now, pull it out "later" (by one perspective or another), it's the best sniper kill. Nobody else pays attention to bullet holes, damaged cars, etc. until it's too late, which is probably supposed to be suspenseful but it leaves me in contempt of these idiots.

There's a point where they clearly just brain-farted: A reversed driver car chases the Protagonist… driving backwards, in front of them. No. The car isn't reversed, the driver just sees the world going the wrong way around. The entire bomb caper is weird, often confused, but that was the weirdest.

And while it's not a major plot point, suppressed pistols are not silent. It's not "thwip", dead, it's more like a gunshot down the block instead of in your ears. The locked doors all over are weirdly inadequate, they have both keypad and tumbler lock; most such are very low-grade security, where you want fast access but a key in case you lose power. The good keypad locks are keyless, or a high-security tumbler that can't be bumped like Protagonist is shown doing. This is kind of a major plot point, and I don't believe the villain would use such shitty locks to protect his doomsday machine.

Very quickly they jump to spending long periods of time reversed, mostly hiding in cargo containers or ships with sealed air, so they can go back and fix their previous screwups. Their "temporal pincer attacks" don't make any sense, the people in reverse just end up fighting people in reverse because they're moving back before go-time. Protagonist does eventually figure out how to do things right: See the aftermath of something, wait for the event, follow it back to the cause. But he does it very badly, continuously gets beaten up and rescued.

The entire plot of the arms dealer's wife is extraneous to the 2.5 hour film, and adds about half an hour to it; it should've been the first thing cut. The only thing I liked in that entire bit was the diving woman.

And turning the entire thing into "oh, there's nine Horcruxes and we have to stop Voldemort from assembling them" is just silly.

The finale is just a big messy gunfight in a California gravel quarry, no better than classic Doctor Who but wasting millions of times more money. I'd rather watch Jon Pertwee spinning out his jalopy than this.

And of course the All You Zombies twist: There's never been any other mastermind. But where do all you zombies come from?

This movie makes me greatly miss the Netflix series Travelers[sic], which made intelligent use of knowledge from the future.

★★★½☆ — there's a better movie buried somewhere under the flab and stupid characters, but this ain't it.

RIP Ben Bova

For me, Bova's main achievements were taking over Analog and turning it from a rag full of pseudoscience published by the most loathsome person in SF, into something like an Actual Science Fiction magazine.

And a long string of his hard SF novels, from Kinsman Saga, Colony, and Mars.

But my favorite thing Ben Bova ever wrote is a short, so good that I forgive its use of "telepathy" as a narrative device, "Stars, Won't You Hide Me", collected in:

The Final Battle had been lost.
On a million million planets across the galaxy-studded universe, mankind had been blasted into defeat and annihilation.
The Others had returned from across the edge of the observable world, just as man had always feared.
They had returned and ruthlessly exterminated the race from Earth.

I Think We're Property

Dangers of near approach -- nevertheless our own ships that dare not venture close onto a rocky shore can send rowboats ashore --
Why not diplomatic relations established between the United States and Cyclorea -- which, in our advanced astronomy, is the name of a remarkable wheel-shaped world or super-construction? Why not missionaries sent here openly to convert us from our barbarous prohibitions and other taboos, and to prepare the way for a good trade in ultra-bibles and super-whiskeys; fortunes made in [155/156] selling us cast-off super-fineries, which we'd take to like an African chief to some one's old silk hat from New York or London?
The answer that occurs to me is so simple that it seems immediately acceptable, if we accept that the obvious is the solution of all problems, or if most of our perplexities consist in laboriously and painfully conceiving of the unanswerable, and then looking for answers -- using such words as "obvious" and "solution" conventionally --
Or:
Would we, if we could, educate and sophisticate pigs, geese, cattle?
Would it be wise to establish diplomatic relation with the hen that now functions, satisfied with mere sense of achievement by way of compensation?

I think we're property.

I should say we belong to something:
That once upon a time, this earth was No-man's Land, that other worlds explored and colonized here, and fought among themselves for possession, but that now it's owned by something:
That something owns this earth -- all others warned off.
Nothing in our own times -- perhaps -- because I am thinking of certain notes I have -- has ever appeared upon this earth, from somewhere else, so openly as Columbus landed upon San Salvador, or as Hudson sailed up his river. But as to surreptitious visits to this earth, in recent times, or as to emissaries, perhaps, from other worlds, or voyagers who have shown every indication of intent to evade or avoid, we shall have data as convincing as our data of oil or coal-burning aerial super-constructions.
Book of the Damned (1919), ch. 12, by Charles Fort

Eerily repeated in a lot of science fiction. Ironically, H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" is nearly a "we're property" story, but Wells irrationally hated Charles Fort. Likes repel, I suppose.

A few obvious ones, but there are dozens more (put them in comments if you like; archive.org links preferred!):

What I'm Watching: Deathsport

Deathsport (1978) is a sequel, of sorts, to Death Race 2000 (1975).

It immediately starts with some funky electronic music (the whole soundtrack is excellent if you like beepy '70s electronic music), and the best voiceover ever, the setting of every science-fantasy RPG setting I've ever run:

A thousand years from tomorrow, after the Great Neutron Wars,
the world consists of desert wastes and isolated city states.
A few machines remain as a reminder of the past,
but only the city-dwelling Statemen use them.
Between the cities roam the dreaded cannibal mutants
and the Range Guides. Guides are legendary warriors
leading an independent nomadic life,
owing allegiance only to their code.

Carradine and another range guide chick (an extremely drunk/coked up Claudia Jennings a year before her death) have a few battles against silver lamé-clad Statemen, riding "death machines" which are dirtbikes with some plastic plates glued on. I'm quite enamored of the clear plastic swords and light-up tube "blasters", not even a pretense of any gear being usable.

There's a child abducted by the mutants, who becomes a later sidequest. Or mutant lunch.

Eventually they're captured and spend entirely too long in bad prison cells, making small talk through a teeny grill. Some light torture, girls forced to dance naked under swinging blinky-light cables, nothing too interesting. The Statemen leader (David McLean, his last role while he was dying from lung cancer) wears black and is going insane, his sidekick (Richard Lynch, the only competent actor besides Carradine) wears black and is a traitor Guide, very very obviously some Star Wars influences.

Finally the big event, they're thrown into an arena (a dirtbike rally pit) against the Statemen. Mostly terrible teenage bike riders, but a few good explosive and pyro effects set off more or less at random. They blow up the force field walls to roam the wastes, hunted by the sidekick and a nigh-endless supply of goons.

A little bit of a "dungeon" crawl with torches, marching order, rats, some boinking in a cell. A lot of dirtbike fights, with these savage guides knowing exactly how to use the "death machines" better than trained Statemen soldiers. A second dungeon crawl in a "cave" with mutants. A third on-bike dungeon crawl/DOOM level with explosive barrels. They know what I like to see: Tits and explosions.

I'm somewhat impressed by the bike-front camera shooting. Trivial with a GoPro™ today, but in 1978, strapping a film camera to a dirtbike and getting any usable footage is amazing. Had to be some kind of stabilized rig?

The truth needs no introduction.
When the Sun rises, there's no necessity to announce it.
Clearly we have lost.
—sidekick contradicting his own thesis.

At least one of the writers must have played D&D or Metamorphosis Alpha, there's too many obvious gaming bits. The writing is all over the place, parts are somewhat clever and deep, there's what looks like some real setting lore, the rest is mashed together clichés and other movies; there were 4 writers, and probably Roger Corman fiddled with it, too. Carradine got in fistfights with the director, and another director had to finish it. Everyone was on drugs.

Dumb, only half-competent, but far more amusing than I expected.

★★★½☆

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine on Archive

I was looking specifically for Philip K. Dick's "Cantata 140", also found Roger Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and look at that great wraparound cover! But also all of F&SF is in there, and it's pretty much all good, the best of the more literary end of SF, fantasy, weird tales. Unfortunately it hasn't all been neatly organized in a category on archive.org, but you can just page down in the pulp magazine rack.

Anyway, there's your reading stack for the next year sorted.

LibriVox Short Science Fiction

Tons of audiobook readings of mid-20th-century short SF. Ran across #11 on archive.org, and "Accidental Death" by Peter Baily amused me. "Control Group" by Roger Dee is very talky but amusing, too.

Very much in need of downloading and playing back at higher speed, though, the readers are painfully, deliberately sssslllloooowwww, tolerable at 1.5x to 2x.