Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon is now on Netflix, based on the cyberpunk books by Richard Morgan (which I read about 15 years ago and am somewhat fuzzy on). I'm up to ep 5 of 10 now; time for binging is hard to come by but I'm trying.

"Avoid blunt force trauma to the base of the brain, and energy weapons fired at the head!"

Good story adaptation. Doesn't flinch from any of the gross biology, the casual homicides and "organic damage", the sex and nudity. It's some good old-fashioned porn and torture porn at times.

So first, the weird premise: Everyone has an alien-tech chip in their spine which backs up the brain, lets them transfer to another "sleeve" (body). I have problems with this: Alien tech shouldn't interact with Human biology, and how did they get interstellar travel in the very near future? The show doesn't do much to establish the year or future history, but best I can figure:

  • Now? Interstellar travel.
  • 2050? Find alien tech, get brain chips.
  • 2100: Protectorate vs Envoy war.
  • 2350: Present.

I don't remember how much was explained in the book, but it's way too fast up front and then nothing happens for 250 years.

There's too many physical hardware devices, when almost everything should be software projected on any flat surface or into your optic nerve.

The Methuselahs, rich assholes who can't die, don't really show off how debauched they are until a few eps in, but it's pretty tame compared to Caligula.

The Neo-Catholic and Muslim fruitloops who don't want to be resurrected never made any sense to me in the book, and of course they're committing demographic suicide, there shouldn't be any "believers" this long after the chip.

I don't like the goomba actor they "sleeved" Kovacs in, but Ortega, Elliott, Poe, and most of the others are fine. Kovacs' Hello Kitty backpack full of guns makes me laugh every scene. The fight scenes are great, very bloody and physical, up-close combat. The hotel fight was excellent, once the mooks realize the hotel's killing them.

Visuals are sometimes very derivative of Blade Runner, which wasn't at all the impression I got from the book. Later it gets more of its own look, more gutter SF. The trash areas look like Richard Stanley's Hardware, but not as dirty. The upper city has pneumatic tubes for cars like Futurama, and flying cars with manual controls which seems so implausible it may as well be a sleigh with flying reindeer.

But it's well-shot, the CG mixed into the world constantly as you'd expect from neural-interfaced brains.

Should be ★★★★★ because they made a show of guns, fucking, and brain-fucking for me, but the stupid timeline knocks it down to ★★★★☆

Nightmares of the Only Human

I just had this dream/nightmare, so now I'm telling you so you can be scared.

I was one of the only Humans ever abducted and brought to live in alien society, mostly in space stations. I was getting along as a PI/thug for hire since Humans are more casually violent than aliens, who are mostly small and peaceful. Their infosystems are ridiculously open and simple, so I can just code around anything. I suspect Humans had been loose in the Galaxy before this cycle of civilization, because they already had a suspicious fear of our kind.

Then I hear about a ship full of Humans coming, so I bribe/threaten the dockmaster into giving me the passenger manifest. It's Mark Zuckerberg and a shitload of Facebookers. A few seconds of thought reveal how this is gonna go: Facebook infestation, spreads system to system, within a Galactic cycle everyone would be their slaves.

I get ready to take my ship to the other side of the Galaxy, figuring 100,000 years time and light-years should keep me safe (even in my dreams, I don't believe in bullshit like FTL travel). The station panics, having never seen anything that scares a Human. I get out to the edge of the system, see their ship on my radar. Moral quandry: Should I kill them all, and prove how violent Humans are, or let these predatory literal motherfuckers loose on defenseless little alien critters?

I woke up. What I'm saying is, if you meet a Facebooker, kill them before they get out into the Galaxy.

Super-Science Fiction v2n4 (June 1958)

In which I read old SF mags with interesting covers and writers I recognize:

via Vintage Geek Culture

  • Cover, by Kelly Freas: No story is related to the redhead full of gears and circuits, which is a damn shame. ★★★★☆
  • Hostile Life Form, by Daniel L. Galouye (aka Daniel F. Galouye): Vicious native animals kill a colony, so why not adopt the cute animals that attack the hostile ones? Oh, because nothing's that easy. Saw the ending coming a mile away but it's a good one. ★★★★☆
  • Little America on the Moon, by Arthur J. Burks: Awful. Implausibly bad Lunar colony, tedious and sexist 1950s psychology, Manifest Destiny in space, avoid. ★☆☆☆☆
  • Slaves of the Tree, by Eric Rodman (aka Robert Silverberg): 1950s genetics aside (with a handwavy explanation), an excellent story until two train-wreck writing failures. The under-explained but creepy Terran "Colonial Force" and their Darwinian expansion plan is wonderful for backstory. I had a consistent explanation for the protagonist Rayner's behavior, but also suspected there was no way a story written in the 1950s would even hint at a gay man as a character. Well, spoiler time. First, mouseover for spoiler. So what were readers of the '50s supposed to think about him? Second, psychic forces, ugh. John Campbell was a lunatic and a troll. There's pheromonal or other mechanisms that could be used, not this nonsense word denoting nothing real. I'm so close to loving this story, but a sane editor needed to beat the stupid out of it. ★★★☆☆
  • Look to the Stars, by Scott Nevets: A space news article about a "Cat Eye" light amplifier for telescopes; I can't find anything useful about it. And a supposed catalyst for an endlessly-flying upper-atmosphere rocket; I find the chemistry dubious and it certainly didn't become a thing. But keep in mind Sputnik had only launched the year before this, so this was some cutting-edge speculation here. (nil)
  • Special Aptitude, by R. H. Hardwick: This is what passed for 1950s pornography. They were sad little critters without PornHub. ★☆☆☆☆
  • Science Shorts, by Edgar P. Straus: What seems to be the announcement of the Nançay radio-telescope (NRT), which took some years after this article to actually be productive. 3D TV announced! Yeah, the eternal bullshit product nobody wants. (nil)
  • Frontier Planet, by Calvin M. Knox (also aka Robert Silverberg): Killin' natives is so good, it makes you want to stay and do farm chores and then kill more of 'em. Garbage story, which is a shock from Silverberg. Was he drunk? Did he lose a bet? Did John Campbell hold a gun to his head like Heinlein's "Sixth Column"? Avoid. ★☆☆☆☆
  • No Planet is Safe, by Harlan Ellison: "Each trip got worse. It seemed Mother Nature hated Man, and had set each alien world as a trap for him. No matter how peaceful the worlds had seemed, they had each held many hidden dangers, into which the Earthmen had stumbled." I don't buy the ending, it's a shaggy planet story if there ever was one, but Harlan never fails to amuse. ★★★★☆
  • One to a Customer, by Theodore R. Cogswell: Terrible people making stupid choices. Sadly not at enough length to be worth it. ★★☆☆☆
  • The Spacistor: More quaint science news. A now-obsolete improvement to the first transistors, explained breathlessly. (nil)

Movie Policy

My movie policy is "with rare exceptions, don't watch adaptations or sequels".

Movie adaptations of books are mostly horrible. What I read a book for is complex new ideas, setting, plot, very slightly writing style and characterization. Those are almost impossible for movies to capture; they can have attractive sets, cinematography, and soundtrack, and adequate hitting-marks-and-saying-lines by the walking meatsticks we call "actors", but there simply isn't time for a complex plot or any exploration of an idea in a film, and few of them even try.

Competent SF/F/H adaptations are almost nonexistent:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
  • "It's a Good Life" (1961)
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  • Altered States (1980)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1981)
  • "Who Goes There?"/The Thing (1982)

These are not competent, despite what some fanlings will scream in all caps:

  • Solaris (1972) and Solaris (2002), both are slow, tedious, and almost unwatchable. Stanislaw Lem's hard to film, but these are terrible.
  • 2001 (1968) was a collaboration, but the book has an actual ending.
  • The Shining (1980) is beautifully-shot, perfectly-acted nonsense which loses everything interesting from King's book.
  • Every Philip K Dick adaptation. I didn't hate Screamers (1995) or Radio Free Albemuth (2010), but neither are great films.
  • Watchmen (2009) and Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) tried, and about half of each succeeds perfectly, wrecked by the other half being trash.
  • Pirates of the Carribean 2+, which had sometimes spectacularly good ideas and amazing visuals, wrecked by Disneyfication, incoherent plots, bit part actors who aren't competent for limelight, and Depp's Mick Jagger impersonation wearing thin fast.
  • Harry Potter. Films 1-5 are fun trash, then 6-8 are grim, dull, melodramatic trash. I quite like the books, even the grindingly slow later ones, but these aren't quality adaptations.

Competent genre adaptations (I don't read romance or no-genre "literature", so I can't comment on those), I can think of:

  • The Godfather (1972), and the movie is far better than the book.
  • The Wages of Fear/Sorcerer (1977) perhaps, but I haven't read the French novel, only seen the French movie; Sorcerer has deeper characters and literally explosive tension.
  • Lonesome Dove (1989)
  • "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption"/The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • American Psycho (2000) and The Rules of Attraction (2002), but the Less Than Zero (1987) "adaptation of a title" almost cancels out both positive adaptations.
  • Man on Fire (2004) is better than the book, dumping the trick ending of the book helped.
  • A History of Violence (2005)
  • Jesse Stone: Stone Cold (2005) and all the sequels have done justice to Robert B. Parker's novels, though Tom Selleck is about 30 years older than the Jesse Stone of the books.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), the Swedish films are pretty close to the books' brooding tone, technophilia, and fucked-up psychologies, and the actors are great for it. NEVER watch American remakes.

Competent sequels are just as rare. After quite a while thinking on it, I have:

  • Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955)
  • Sanjuro (1962)
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1967)
  • The Godfather: Part II (1974)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), also an adaptation, but the book is terrible.
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1982)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Day of the Dead (1985)
  • Aliens (1986), but only barely: It's written by a pack of syphilitic monkeys compared to Dan O'Bannon's perfect Alien, it's not even a horror movie, it's just another of James Cameron's trashy Vietnam-in-space flicks. Still, you take what you can get.
  • The Killer (1989), not technically a sequel to A Better Tommorrow (1986), but close enough.
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
  • New Dragon Inn (1992), I found the original 1967 film grim, dull, and unloveable despite great swordfights, the remake/sequel is fun while still menacing and having even better swordfights.
  • Léon: The Professional (1994), not technically a sequel to La Femme Nikita (1990), but close enough.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), considerably better than the first, and more like the comics.
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • While I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) as fun trash, it's not as good fun trash as the first.

I bring this up because of jwz's unhappy review of Blade Runner 2049. It's like they did everything I hate in films. And jwz likes Blade Runner, I barely tolerate it as moving wallpaper.

Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is vastly more interesting than the very pretty but vapid Blade Runner, and the new one is a sequel to an adaptation, so it's a hall of mirrors reflecting horrors. All the philosophy and setting of DADOES is thrown away for visual flair & a nice Vangelis album, which you can listen to without a movie talking over it.

Why in Blade Runner are there artificial animals & people? Why is the city so empty except for little gaggles of people? Why is empathy their test for humanity? None of this is even hinted at. So the movie is just a psychopath murdering and raping what appear to be human slaves who try to run or can't quite pass his test.

So they doubled down on pretty nonsense instead of background or plot, and introduced stupid new ideas. The only good thing Jared Leto has ever done was American Psycho, especially the Huey Lewis scene. Every use of him in any other film should just be a remake of that scene.

Science Fiction & Saturday Music

  • Humble Bundle Adventures in Science Fiction Books: Runs until Oct18, and everything in this that I've read (Anderson, Bear, Brunner, Ellison, Foster, Silverberg, Steele, Sterling, Swanwick) is excellent, and I'm enjoying Sergei Lukyanenko's1 The Genome enormously. They've picked what looks like an all-good-stuff collection.

Saturday Music is a little spacey.

  1. I adore the Night Watch books; but because of what they say, or because they're bound up in memories of rainy nights in Seattle reading at all-night cafés and public transit, very like the Moskva of the books? The first movie is great, but only about half the first book; the sequel movies are dire, some of the worst hatchet-jobs of adaptations I've ever seen. 

All Systems Red (Martha Wells)

Murderbot with no Asimov program just wants to watch TV, but is rudely interrupted by threats to its human clients and awkward social skills.

There's not a lot more to say about this novella, very fast and fun, rather Heinleinian. Murderbot is adorable, a cyborg made from clonemeat with autism-spectrum social problems. The mystery/puzzle of the plot is deducible from evidence given, though the political rules aren't, but they're just there to drive Murderbot's character study.

The science, where present, is inoffensive; some kind of expensive wormhole for FTL, otherwise plausible electronics, software, and cybernetics. Not much of the background is given, and I'd like more in this setting, perhaps a picaresque with a unit like Murderbot going star to star solving problems like the Incredible Hulk TV show.

"So, I’m awkward with actual humans. It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous."

—Martha Wells, "All Systems Red"


Alas Brian Aldiss

It is with sadness that we announce the death of Brian Wilson Aldiss O.B.E. author, artist and poet, at his home in Oxford in the early hours of Saturday 19th August 2017, aged 92.

Some of the most influential books on me were Brian Aldiss':

A common theme of much of his work is of adaptation, that life evolves and struggles even at the end of the Earth or civilization.

Dichronauts (Greg Egan)

Dichronauts is another of Greg Egan's "what if {MATH}" stories, like Schild's Ladder, Incandescance, and the Orthogonal trilogy. Often I describe him as the only Hard SF writer.

The world posited by having 2 space dimensions and 2 time-like leads to casual relativistic effects when you turn in a time-like direction, so it's sort of like Edwin Abbott's Flatland or AK Dewdney's Planiverse, in this case beings waddling on a mostly-east/west line, up/down being the other usable space direction, with symbiotes who can "see" sideways into the lightless cone north/south with sonar. So, uh, read Egan's paper explaining this and play with the simulation first.

While buildings are mentioned and the moving of one shown, I think not enough pages are given to the presumably vertical, thin architecture or how engineering or life would work.

Seth (Walker, wannabe hero) & Theo (his much smarter Sider symbiote) and others go off on a survey mission which finds some difficult terrain, a terrible cult-like town, and then a strange part of geography that could doom everyone.

The first two adventures are quite comprehensible (if you read the paper), and the physics don't interfere much with the story. Then the third goes into a different space/time region. And here he mostly loses me. The geography of the new region is hard to understand, and Theo doesn't spend the necessary "As you would know if you had paid attention, Seth" time to make it clear to me; I get the math on a flat plane but how it works in this region could use a diagram or two.

The drama in the first two parts of the survey would have made a better complete novella, I was engaged with the characters and cult plot. The last part winnows down the cast to one/two somewhat sad companions, and a communications barrier, which makes it even harder to care. The ending is abrupt and inconclusive. For a sequel, or just "done with this exercise, hit publish"?

"Do you really expect my counterfactual longings to be consistent with my merely hypothetical speculations?" —Theo


Apple's Large Project Around Autonomous Systems

"In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of
military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with
Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly
with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed.
The system goes online August 4th, [2017]. Human decisions are removed
from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It
becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic,
they try to pull the plug."

—Terminator 2: Judgement Day

And there's Wednesday Music, too: