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: The Cloverfield Paradox

Cloverfield Paradox: I was bored and drunk and saw this while queue-cleaning. So buckle up, this is gonna be a rough ride. This makes the Lost in Space movie look like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Earth is "out of power", whatever that means: They still have gasoline, if in long traffic lines, and electricity and computers and lights everywhere, but somehow they're starving because no power. The Sun hasn't gone out, but they don't know about solar, wind, or hydro power? They can't bring nuclear reactors online?

But now there's a MAGIC particle accelerator IN SPACE, which starts up with the sound of a '57 Chevy turning over, visualized by purple neon tubes on a spinny disk, and it'll fix everything if it ever works. Which is not what particle accelerators are for at all.

So, multi-racial, multi-national crew, many from countries that have no manned space program, speaking their own languages instead of Russian-English pidgin real astronauts use. Station's gigantic, with artificial gravity and weird spinning bits attached to a spinning core—whee like a carnival ride!—heavy bulkheads, but no seatbelts on any chair, and they have a fucking foosball table. It's completely outside our ability to build in the next few decades, and yet Earth tech looks like the present. The writer clearly has no goddamned idea what our tin-can & duct-tape space programs are like, never spent 10 minutes watching NASA TV.

Spoiler times, as if anyone cares.

The MAGIC particle accelerator is some kind of FTL star drive (so double MAGIC), and they're so fucking stupid they say "did we destroy Earth? Kill billions of people?" Do you see the Sun, Moon, planets, familiar constellations, and a debris cloud? NO, you fucking moron? Then you didn't blow up the Earth! No "astronaut" would think that for a second in this situation! Take angles to distant pulsars and figure out where you actually are. Goddamn I want to shove a sextant up the writer's ass. Later: The writer thinks a constellation will be "upside down" if you're 2 AU away; does he think the stars are a geocentric shell and the station's now on the other side of it?

Oh no the gyroscope is missing, possibly because the moron writer thinks it'd vanish if you move FTL or something. The woman in the wall is not that weird by comparison.

Remember when I complained that Lost in Space 3D printer wouldn't make a gun until the Robot overrode it? You shouldn't make a gun on a space station. But that's OK, guy's full of worms. MAGIC severed arm like Thing Addams or the Night Gallery "Return of the Sorcerer".

Nothing here makes any sense. The bullshit excuse of a "paradox" from particles being in two "dimensions" (parallel universes is the au currant term for the last century, dumbass writer) wouldn't allow MAGIC to fucking happen. Someone being in the wrong place and phasing over, maybe, lot of conservation of mass/energy violation there. "Spooky MAGIC shit" is not a symptom of parallel universes.

Cut to Earth and half-assed tie-in to Groverfield. Asshole husband doctor drives while texting on his phone. He serves no purpose in the film and could be replaced with a framed photo. Giant monsters are also not present on any parallel universe Earth, because they'd require MAGIC to stand up.

Reality: Water in space is interesting stuff. In low-G, it makes a bubble because surface tension is higher than internal pressure. Space is "cold" but because there's nothing to conduct heat, just like a vacuum thermos, nothing loses heat rapidly. This fucking movie: Water exposed to vacuum instantly freezes into jagged ice spears and cryogenic ice cubes! Where did all the heat go? What's splitting the surface tension? FUCK.

Reality: Space station supply ships are minimally-fueled, barely able to be lifted to orbit and maneuver to dock, then return mostly by gravity. This fucking movie: "Pods" can fly across the Solar System in short enough time a passenger wouldn't die. Inconceivable with any drive that wouldn't also solve the "power crisis".

Reality: Debris blasted from a station would move steadily away in a parallel orbit. This fucking movie: Debris orbits around a pole like a stripper. "We can activate the thing remotely!" "No, I must heroically die and get out of this fucking movie!"

Jensen's awful sprightly and Terminator-like for someone who just had major surgery and blood loss a few hours ago. Continuity, right? Who fucking needs it.

Sending the plans for the MAGIC device to the second parallel is an extra stupid idea, since it'll fuck up reality every time it's used. Having it on the first parallel is bad enough, but at least it can't destroy or merge with the other station again. With two of them working, each parallel would fuck up the other. So stupid.

"Tell them not to come back (to a theatre showing a JJ Abrams film)! Tell them not to come back! AM I SHOUTING LOUD ENOUGH FOR AN OSCAR?!"

☆☆☆☆☆ and everyone is now dumber

What I'm Watching: How It Ends, Lost World: Jurassic Park

  • How It Ends: Mellow lawyer and Forest Whitaker's most annoying asshole character ever, take a road trip to rescue fiance/daughter in an indestructible Cadillac (sponsor!) from Chicago to Seattle after an unclear apocalypse. I can't stress enough how much I dislike Forest's character, even after he turns out to be useful. But the lawyer is OK, and Rikki picked up along the way is OK. Pretty exciting, realistic fight and car chase scenes. It's not a combat film, but there's some.
    The early parts of the apocalypse behave like atmospheric nukes: EMP, weather disruption, low-latitude aurorae borealis. Except no city is actually nuked? Later there's other effects that don't fit that, and I don't know what or if the writers had any clear idea.
    The response is that every community arms up a militia and there's bandits everywhere, the military are seen at distance but never live and doing anything useful. It's a fine post-apocalypse setting, but 1-5 days after the end is silly. It'd take months or years to fall apart like this. When Seattle lost power in terrible storms and flooding for days some years back, there was no mass hysteria, no banditry, no refugees, just generator rentals, calmly fixing things, and everyone got on with their lives.
    Still, I enjoyed this despite being almost the definition of cheap shovelware video. ★★½☆☆
  • Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997): So as to prepare myself to watch the new stupid JP movie, I went back to almost the beginning. I've seen the original Jurassic Park (1993) a dozen times, it's great; sure the dinos are leathery-skinned and it left out much of the novel's best parts like the Pterodactyl dome, but a classic good film, a ★★★★★.
    This second one is Hollywood sequel disease at its most fetid. I watched this one in theatre, and had forgotten almost everything about it, and I see I have made a terrible mistake watching it again. The first third is a tenuous premise and then a ripoff of the original with little charm; the cast is a lot to blame. Goldblum is fun but he spends half the film clutching at his face "OH NO my child!", Burke (Thomas Duffy?) is a shitty Sam Neill and I was happy to see him eaten, and Julianne Moore is not any kind of Laura Dern, Vince Vaughn and the late Pete Postlethwaite ("Best actor on the set of JW!", says Spielberg) aren't the worst, but they have very limited, stiff writing. The child is so annoying there should be a special Oscar award for most annoying child in a movie.
    Then a long running/being hunted sequence with disposable mooks, then San Diego. SD has potential to be fun, but Hammond Jr is pathetic, the dinosaur rampaging thru the city for comic effect is lame, the bloodless PG-rated kills are beyond lame. The very end shows a Pterodactyl hovering like a balloon, not like a hundred-kilo Condor-like glider. Goddamned horrible. I dread what is to come. ★☆☆☆☆

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.

What I'm Watching: The Lava Field, El Ministerio Del Tiempo, Low Winter Sun, Intelligence, The Break with Michelle Wolf, Steve Martin & Martin Short

  • The Lava Field: Dour, sometimes angry Icelandic cops chase down a faked suicide, with drug-dealing bikers named "Skipper" (no Li'l Buddy), and gloomy mourning at a child's grave. Basically perfect, even if it's only 4 eps. ★★★★★
  • El Ministerio Del Tiempo: A modern paramedic with a death wish, a smart 19th C girl, and a Renaissance swordsman become time cops in Spain. Very smart and funny, possibly the regionalism and low-budget classic Dr Who-isms will grate after a while but it's good as of a couple eps in. ★★★★½
  • Low Winter Sun: Detroit cops murder one of their own and then try to cover it up. Detroit is bleak, bleaker than you probably even think. Some police procedural, some small cop shop dramedy, some lives of the would-be gangsters in this shithole. Slower than I'd like and doesn't wrap up anything per ep, but I'm still along for it as of s1e4. I have to have the subtitles on for some accents, even tho they supposedly speak English in Detroit. ★★★★½
  • Intelligence (2005): Never heard of this when it was on, Canadian major crimes & espionage (much closer to post-9/11) try operating snitches and surveilling criminals. They kinda suck at it, but Canadian criminals aren't that terrifying, either. Matt Frewer (Max Fucking Headroom!) is a good treacherous bastard. LOOOONG-ass pilot movie. ★★★★☆
  • The Break with Michelle Wolf: Fresh from defeating the humorless orange gibbon at the White House roast, sure, I'll give her a short stand-up shot. Rude question: Did she have a stroke? Thus explaining the weird smirk and her voice? Yow, very hard to look at or listen to. Hit with a few jokes. The Alexa and Strong Female Lead video clips were amusing but not hilarious. She may improve, she did infinitely better than my final guests… ★★★☆☆
  • Steve Martin & Martin Short: I used to like Steve Martin on SNL and a while after, and then he fossilized. Marty Short is like a ventriloquist's puppet loose and off his meds. I dunno what I hoped for, but this was the opposite of it in every way. This is where humor goes to die. ☆☆☆☆☆

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".