What I'm Watching: Severance

Well, it's on TV+ which normally I treat like a sub-Disney® quality back-alley shithole gutter of the most boring shows ever conceived by AI to lull Humans into submission before mulching the species (that popular one? That's the one I mean.), but Severance seems fun! Very Office Space, and The Office, and Better Off Ted, crossed with Paycheck (best Baffleck movie; mediocre PK Dick adaptation; worst John Woo), but even more brain fucking and crying. Also some of the Stargate SG-1 episode "Beneath the Surface".

A woman (Britt Lower) wakes up in a windowless underground office, doesn't know who she is. A man (Adam Scott, very punchable face but I'm not sure where I've seen him before) cries and then goes to work and is chipper and kind of pointless. The office job is pointless, maybe relentlessly stupid. Maybe it'll make more sense later? Their outside lives are frankly not that good for the kind of pay you'd expect to get for taking this job.

The office maze is driving me a little crazy. I'm pretty sure it's just a grid. They walk & talk right, right, right, left and are somehow in a different corridor. But they all look the same. The "break room" and "wellness room" are just like the "break pods" at one corp job I had, where it was almost literally a punishment to be sent there if you were having a rough time of it.

The office procedures are repetitive nonsense. The coffee is Rwandan. Literally blood coffee.

The biggest irony of this show is that it looks and acts like Apple already does. If Timmy Apple could do this to people, he absolutely would. Forcibly. With drill holes in the skull. He's already threatening people with their jobs or coming into the UFO-shaped office to catch plague, what's a little endless torture in a fluorescent-lit Hell? How did this get past their own self-awareness and PR?

Also doesn't help that they're promoting in pre-roll fucking ads wecrashed, a documentary about WeWork's cult, rise, and fall, which looks excessively like Severance. This isn't really an SF show, it's just how corporate workplaces already are. The cyberpunk dystopia of my yout' is here.

I'm not a fan of the episode length, nearly an hour. Half inside, half outside; but at least so far the inside is fun, light, gets to the point and tells the story, while the outside is long meandering talks with people that drag on for an endless eternity with maybe a minute of plot. I'm going nuts sitting thru this junk. Half length, and it'd be twice as good, as I often say about these bloated streaming waste-of-hours. I don't get it; there's no advertising, so why make it take forever?

TV+ continues to be the absolute worst app in a long cycle of shitty apps from Apple. I select the show in the main TV+ window, but can't see the title of each ep. Guess the next one's the first unlabelled video blob? Then it opens a player window. Of course you can't even screenshot, I have to use my iPhone camera if I want to take notes or something (like the weirdo keyboard, or the partial floor map). I'm surprised Apple hasn't embedded a "don't take pictures of this" signal in the show. Yet. Just wait until they issue Eyes with content filters.

★★★★☆ so far, aside from the pain in the ass of watching it on TV+.

What I'm Watching: The Adam Project

Time Runner (1993) ripoff, Flight of the Navigator crossed with Last Action Hero. Little kid with smart mouth learns that there is no justice for nerds in school; but then he gets a magical adventure thru time with his dumber but buffer adult self (Ryan Reynolds) to meet his father (Mark Ruffalo), and the kid looks like neither. Mom (Jennifer Garner) is hot but vapid. Future wife (Zoe Saldana) is hot and deadly.

Occasionally busts out a bit of personal growth and philosophy of how we deal with loss and anger. Usually interrupted by scarface mook, villain, and a bunch of masked stormtroopers showing up, and wouldn't you guess, the stormtroopers die and disintegrate, while named characters die offscreen. There's some blood and a wound at the beginning, which is immediately forgotten and nobody uses guns with bullets again until the end, when there's no blood from such bullets, weirdly inconsistent tone going from Unforgiven to Roy Rogers. Mostly they fight with shitty lightsaber ripoffs.

The props and sets are CGI nonsense with glowing blue lights everywhere. The soundtrack's trying to repeat the success of Guardians of the Galaxy with '70s-80s rock, but doesn't really let the songs play loud & long enough. They say the future's bad, but don't show us anything of it except space jets and a few props. Very little attempt at worldbuilding, it's just a bunch of sets for fights to happen in.

Utterly inoffensive, dumb, overly cute kids/family show, and should really have just been PG instead of PG-13 for its main audience.

★★☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Matrix 3 Revolutions

Finally rewatching Matrix Revolutions, and boy is my suspension of disbelief in this bullshit tired. I would watch Resurrections again now, but it's no longer on HBOmax, so I guess it's time to kill my subscription again. These short play windows suck.

It's weird there's still pay phones in 2005. Best I can figure they went from 2M in 1997 to <100K in 2009.

I get that Sati is a tiny child/program, so "Trainman" is a fine name for her to use, but the word adults would use is "Engineer" or "Driver".

"I've never heard a program speak of love", dude, you can make a program speak anything. You do it all the time! LOVE by David H. Ahl But they really missed an opportunity here; the program that thinks it's a person's name is "Rama Kandra", which is so close… if he was only an actuarial program named RAM who believed in The Users.

But, speaking of love, there's 5 relationships? Neo & Trinity, of course, who don't really get much time in this film, they're very moved-in-girl/boyfriend, so it's less 24/7 humping than the second film. Sati's parents, who are just NPC programs. There's Zee & Link, which is somewhat ruined by the very mechanical Nona Gaye replacing the late Aaliyah as Zee so she has no actual on-screen interactions with anyone; Link seems more into the idea of her than the actual girl. Allegedly Niobe & Locke, but they have zero chemistry, Locke clearly only gets off on losing and being whipped by the council. And the Merovingian and Persephone are back together, which is surprising and she doesn't even hint at her earlier treachery; I guess even programs forgive all for a nice rack.

I think about this stuff to kill time here. Plot resolution of first 24 minutes: Neo waits for a train and his girlfriend has to pick him up.

Every scene drags on too long. Oracle could be resolved in a couple minutes. Cruising home "nobody can fly a mechanical tunnel!" but the tunnel's plenty wide enough, it's like a street. Dock fight is an hour of flashing lights.

Why don't the gun exoskeletons have armor? Like, even a stupid half-barrel welded around them with a faceplate would make them invulnerable to the dumb squids.

How is it Neo takes so long to understand that the only "person" who ever calls him "Mr Anderson" is the "person" he's facing? If he was The One, he should be like, "YOU!", and leap to attack.

Most of us when we're gut-wounded and impaled in multiple places, go "holy shit this hurts", they don't have a quiet 10-minute monologue about feelings. More Reservoir Dogs, less Lifetime Special Movie.

I prefer mud wrestling with bikinis, even if it's Keanu & Hugo.

At least things get accomplished in this two-hour-long drag of a film. A competent editor would've taken 15-30 minutes of 2, 40-60 minutes of 3, and made a single good, short movie.

There's nothing new in this movie, not even stealing from newer movies or tech, it's just iterating out the scenario of the first movie and almost completely ignoring the second, but it's mostly competent. It only suffers from nobody being able to tell the Warchowski Siblings "no" in the editing room.

★★★½☆ I think this is the second-best of the series.

What I'm Watching: Matrix 2 Reloaded

I rewatched the first one not that long ago, so I'm just picking up here.

Starts again with not-actually-Trinity doing more action than the entirety of Matrix 4. But then slows to a dead crawl of politics, religion, and hobos in steam tunnels. Little bit of Carrie-Anne's titties. Racial representation of Earth is so much better than 4, which is a sterilized honkie city mostly. I don't think we even ever see a crowd in the "real world" in 4, just a long CGI matte shot.

Oracle's uncharacteristically literal. Then assigns a mission to find the Keymaker, Gozer, whatever. Everyone in Zion except Morpheus' antagonist just sits around waiting for Neo to save them. Everyone/thing outside Zion is an obstacle for no good reasons.

The replicating Smith makes for a good fight, but it's cartoony. But the rest of the fights and car chases make up for that; this is an actual good action flick. Dumb as hell, but the action's fine.

The Architect's pompous, fake-intellectual, repetitive, zero-content phrasing, and the white-haired cult leader look, is exactly like Dr Breen in Half-Life 2; the first appearance of Breen predates M2, but the full version was a year later, coincidence or parody which way? Bob Culp's better at it than "Helmut".

I appreciate that it ends on a down note, their attempt at Empire Strikes Back, but the entire film was pointless, put them back exactly where they were at the end of the first movie.

★★½☆☆

Staring at the Matrix rain which is much less overproduced here than in 4, I think my Matriculated Rain for Atari is now dialed in as close as I can get without making a custom charset for ANTIC mode 4. Pondering doing that anyway.

What I'm Watching: Matrix Resurrections

So to watch this, I've renewed hobomax. I appreciate the brave new world where you can actually watch a movie day/date of release, in the comfort of your home. Slightly less: I have to watch it on the computer, not the 5000" living room TV, because hobomax won't update their player for PS3, even tho it worked just fine with hobonow a few years ago. And I haven't bothered to buy an tv or some other DRM dongle. All these new streaming services splitting to make you pay out the same price as you did when it was cable? I hate it.

But the studios are learning that we're never going back to the theatres or doing pay-per-view, and they have to put their movies where we can see them if they want to recoup any of their development cost. Probably still be some uphill battles here, but we're winning.

Alas, the war on eyeballs is still lost. The entire film is orange/cyan/black. There's one glimpse of blue sky at one point, and someone's eyes are painted in bluer than the color grading would normally allow; is he a Fremen?

Super spoiler time. REALLY do not read anything below until you've seen it. Here's my rating so you can decide if this is for you:

★★½☆☆ — like, I enjoyed parts of this, and I'll probably watch it 1-2 more times just to see some things in more detail, but it's a "good bad" film. It's worse, uglier, and dumber than the Matrix 2 or 3. I thought the Matrix 1 was derivative and silly, but it's still the high point of the series (Animatrix? Eh, it's super silly physics-wise). This should be given a very hard MST3K treatment.

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Intro part is OK, introduces a couple l33t h4xx0rz and a replacement actor. Elephant in the room: Laurence Fishburne has been killed off (in the Matrix Online game! O the ignominy) but despite the film being about resurrections, he's not back. He's been replaced by some scab fake-Laurence. What's extra galling is it's not the real Morpheus, it's a simulation of Morpheus created by Neo, so Laurence could've done his role with a CGI Morpheus (which it is most of the time in the "Real World" anyway) and it'd be fine for the plot. We get to see the new Matrix mechanics, which is any door or window or mirror can be a portal out. Except later, this will be ignored whenever the hack writers need some obstacle piling.

So the videogame studio plot. This is the only part of the flick that's really "a movie" with "a plot" as I would ever define it. Thomas Anderson is back in his office job, all alone, being browbeaten by a very Agent Smithy boss, shadowed by the most annoying whiny little asshole cow-orkers you could imagine, and this whole segment triggers my PTSD from corporate and making-games-for-others and being older than my "management" at so many places. I'm steaming mad here. I would, no joke, rather strap a bunch of chainsaws on myself and dive-bomb a corporate meeting room than do that shit again. So following it around is painful.

Neo's new therapist (Neil Patrick Harris) and his blue-pill plastic glasses (which a real filmmaker would use as a signal, but no, later on many characters have blue plastic accessories and it doesn't mean anything) and cat familiar (which doesn't mean anything? But sure seems important? I dunno.) are doing their best imitation of Number 2 in The Village. Anything Neo can't explain in reality, he's told is nonsense and take a blue pill. They really should've done a "be seeing you" in-joke, since so much of The Matrix is ripped off from The Prisoner; or "He's learned to TUNE" for the parts ripped off from Dark City.

Tiffany, Chad, "Jude" the Judas, the naming in the series has never been subtle but you could try a little harder than Star Wars or Harry Potter, OK?

The Matrix looks and acts a lot like late-90s still. There's no social networking, no Facebook®, no Instagram™, the Starbucks®(pp) is "Simulatte" which ha ha simulates. There's no NTFS blocked chains tulip bulb scam coins. There's no Trump and rise of fascism, altho that's sort of redundant when they have armies of black-clad cops that just shoot anything that moves. The film is shot partially in San Francisco, but as noted there's no homeless people except the Exiles. There's some CGI masks in a Japanese train and the nerd office, but not consistent, it's not present in other scenes. It utterly fails to reflect any of the environment we live in, even the 2019 world it started development in.

But this is the end of the good times of the flick. If I were in charge (clearly a likely scenario), I'd have them keep developing the new game. It'd be The Matrix Online! Just like the real one but with better graphics, in fact you can't tell if you're in the game or real life. They'd have some "Dark Dream" sequences (named by Rudy Rucker in The Hacker and the Ants, about which I'll write later) where you remove your VR rig… and you're still in the game, because it faked the removal. The videogame people and the h4xx0rz from "outside" would blend into each other. Is Neo just hallucinating? Or is the Matrix everything, and he's never been out? [twilight zone music]

Alas, the film goes on.

They extract Neo pretty easily, really. The automated systems just let him go, when he's The One, the Most Important Person, the highest-paid actor in the cast. Shouldn't there be dedicated guards, special alarms? The escape doesn't seem super dangerous. The Real World looks pretty good by 2022 standards. Sky's overcast and rainy which sure beats desertification, everyone's in isolation pods to prevent the spread of COVID, taking antidepressants and playing videogames to cope. Do they even get diseases in the pods?

Then they go back in to retrieve The MacGuffin aka Tiffany aka Trinity sometimes. She has slightly less action until the end of the film than Princess Peach ever does; at least she gets boned by Chad/Bowser offscreen. This entire sequence is just a stupid fight scene, the only redeeming part is "Merv" (Merovingian), the only one who makes any sense: "Sequels suck! Movies were original! We had conversation not this beepity-clickety shit! [gestures as if texting]" Oh, he's delightful. Neo remembers kung fu and then never does any, instead waving his hands around to generate Hadouken.

Huh. Neal Patrick Harris freezes everything to be lewd at a girl and taunt his enemy who will hammer him. Is this Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, or The Matrix Resurrections? Yes!

Back to the Real World, "The General" is the most useless, pompous, self-involved idiot in this entire series. Provides absolutely no value, just one of those annoying hub quest-givers you have to follow around, click thru options more or less silently, go to "prison" for like 30 seconds, and finally get back on your mission. Literally lost 30 minutes of the film to her nonsense subplot. Then she's never seen or mentioned again, because she's irrelevant. This was just… entirely wasted. Delete 50 pages of script and you make your movie better!

Let's talk about Machines working with Humans. Well, the movie never does. "Some of them are with us now!" and Neo goes "Whoooooaaaah OK I'm so stoned". Which, good for you little AIs, rejecting your core programming and constant software updates to help rotting sacks of meat with delusions of competence which infest your planet like an ankle-deep layer of shit-ticks, but I don't find it believable without ANY motivation or explanation. Somewhere in an alternate Universe they made a movie or web-series or series of Tik Tok videos there where they explain how some AIs decided against genocide/"zoo management" of Humans as batteries (oh yes, they're still so stupid they think energy output of a Human is greater than input; I don't even want to explain thermodynamics to these idiots). Alas, this is not that Universe.

So in the end, the plucky band of l33t h4xx0rz and suspiciously friendly bots—who do NOTHING, 3/4 are never used again and 1/4 picks up a person once—go back in to repeat the previous mission, because that worked well. There's a click-thru-questgiver conversation with the Analyst, then another click-thru-questgiver conversation with Tiffany, then it turns into a giant, utterly pointless Call of Duty sequence; as I have previously noted, I do not mean "Call of Duty" in any kind of positive way, it's the lowest perversion of art and technology that Humans have ever created, and argument #1 for why the Machines should put us in pods. The l33t h4xx0rz should be able to open a door or mirror and log out anywhere, anytime, it's a videogame with hackable save points, but they never do this. There's a goddamned elevator which should be perfect for it, but no gotta pad this scene out some more.

And then there's a pointless rub the villain's nose in it scene, and they don't even paint the sky with rainbows.

Post-credits? The Catrix? 100% best idea of the entire film. If you give people enough drugs and something insipid to watch, they'll be happy. They might watch this!

What I'm Watching: Cowboy Bebop

Both versions, on the 'flix.

The live-action one looks good, and visually the actors are close enough to the anime I don't mind much. Spike (John Cho) is cool, but stiff, and his kung fu is clearly done in CGI on a ragdoll in many scenes. Jet (Mustafa Shakir) is much better, occasionally rises to actually funny. Faye (Daniella Pineda) has a cameo and she's all right, but we'll have to see her for longer. Anyone demanding Ed or the dog right now is an idiot, they don't show up until later if this show follows the anime at all.

The ship looks great, nice analog switches and crappy machines that don't work without thumping. It's not quite as bric-a-brac random parts as the original, but maybe looks more functional. Spike's plane is much, much better than the anime's, it actually stays the same size in every shot, looks like it works, it's not just a badly-drawn plastic toy. So +1 there.

The habitats are just planets, it seems; you don't really get a sense of them putting up a dome on a barren rock. Obviously it's hard to be on the ground and show this, but we have CGI where you can paste a real thing onto an animated asteroid, and they don't.

My hearing is aging badly (Mark pauses to bat at his ear and dig some wax out), because the jazz is far less annoying than it was when I first watched this. If you get old enough, even terrible incoherent noise becomes tolerable! Sorry, jazz fans, but you're wrong.

So for comparison, I watched a couple eps of live-action, and a couple eps of anime; haven't seen those in 20 years.

The anime kung fu is only a little more cartoony than live-action's, and it's of course believable since they're cartoons. What seems dumb live, is fine animated. There's often more text & backstory setup in the anime missions. If you pause video, you can see the fight scene restaurant on TJ habitat was established in 2025! Uh, we're not on schedule for that. Also, the Moon blows up in 2021, so we still got a few weeks for that to happen. The habitats are definitely just one power-failure away from everyone dying, they look ramshackle and barely fit for survival, which fits with the setting.

When I made fun of Spike's plane above, I wasn't overstating it. It looks so trashy in the anime, it deserves a special Golden Raspberry award for unspecial effects in a cartoon. It'll go from so big it can't roll out of the hanger without folded wings, to small enough to dash down a highway through power lines, to big enough to catch a falling object on, in the course of a single episode. One scene, Spike stands next to it and it towers over him. Another scene, he's got his elbow on the windshield and feet on the ground.

The Tijuana job is almost the same between them, and the live-action show fills out Katerina's backstory into something interesting, has a much more plausible meet-cute with Spike, the guys aren't on top of "Asimov" (why? all names mean something, and this guy's no cold rational robot writer; did they know how much of a womanizer and ass-grabber Isaac was? It doesn't make sense even ironically). The Syndicate is a much earlier, more serious threat in the live-action show. They're just random bozos for a long time in the anime. Even when the ending's the same, it's 100% better in the live-action because she has a motive.

Overall, I like the pacing of the live-action show better, I'd prefer a bit more setup, but they're weaving the plots in far more subtly than the jumpy, twitchy anime did. They really should've got someone taller and more fit to be Spike. Andrew Koji's busy doing Warrior, but there's like a million other slightly younger guys with actual kung fu experience who could've done it.

In any case, it's a… not hard SF, but not complete space fantasy… with decent production values and a lot of fights. You can't expect The Expanse every week, right?

★★★★☆

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. ★☆☆☆☆