What I'm Watching: Annihilation

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

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

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

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

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

Galaxy Magazine

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

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

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

RIP Gardner Dozois

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

Star Wars

  • Auralnauts Star Wars
  • Ep 1: Rewriting the Jedi as belligerent drunks looking for a party and disrupting chain restaurants makes far better sense than whatever late-stage-dementia Lucas was doing.
  • Ep 2-3: (Didn't watch, never saw the Lucas versions. Maybe I should?) Later: Have watched, was unbearably awful even in parody and short form, and 1.5x speed. I can't imagine how bad the original is.
  • Ep 3: Later: Even more awful for a while, then the music video, dance-fight, and end are pretty great.
  • Ep 4: LASER MOON. Creepio's psychosis and Leia's dating profile are to blame for everything.
  • Ep 5: The parade is adorable and the Bespin after-party is the bleak morning after we all deserve, but surprisingly this is the weakest ep.
  • Ep 6: The Last Laser Master is Star Wars on Ice plus Laser Floyd, and finally makes sense of muppet planet.

Fantastic. ★★★★★

What I'm Watching: End of Lost In Space

Spoiler Warning for S1E7-S1E10.








I should say something nice: I do like the Chariots. They're not as cool as the 1960s Snow-Cat-based Chariot, but they're solid vehicles for rough terrain, I'd like a little more interior space and visibility, but if I was a kid with this show on, I would 100% want a Chariot toy and action figures.

Sadly, this ends my nice things, mostly because the writers were knocked unconscious and were unable to finish writing these eps.

You've stuck your Chariot in a tarpit. Do you A) Pull out the seats or any other long surface and hop to safety, B) Use the weather balloon rig to fly to safety, or C) Go down with the ship, prepare for ultimate sacrifice (heavy dramatic music), then come up with a wacky plan involving crawling thru tubes? If you are a moron and a writer on this show (but I repeat myself), you choose C.

Judy's Hippocratic oath and these groundhogs' inability to put a patch on a fuel tanker dooms everyone. I don't think Judy could act differently, and the politician is useless, but I would expect spaceship engineer Don West to think first.

Dr Smith's jig is up. And then she has to take more direct action, which isn't really her forte. Her plan to use Maureen doesn't make a lot of sense, when Will's the only one who knew how to fix the Robot. But happy accidents solve every problem, and now there's two magic space drives.

Finding out where the drive comes from explains some of the first ep plot holes, but FTL is still magical bullshit, and otherwise unnecessary to this show's premise.

There's plot around the politician, and Penny whining, and none of it matters in the least. Waste of screen time.

The Pitch Black monster ripoff and cave full of fuel shit are nonsense: The planet has aquatic hydrocarbon-eaters like the eels, so it'd have a land version. The blind apex predators which are stated to eat everything don't notice stage-whispering and Scooby-Doo-sneaking right next to them.

Maureen's behavior is reckless, suicidal, and you'd call CPS immediately, she shouldn't be in charge of jack shit especially after exploding her husband and Don. She tells her brat "you are a good person", when Will murdered his pet. I know I'm a little monomaniacal on that, but that is a massive sign of psychopathy, little Michael Myers there should be in a padded cell, not polluting the gene pool of a new world. They'll have venture capitalists in a few generations.

"Don't you have any regrets?" "I don't believe in looking back, that's how you crash into things."
— there's still a few good one-liners.

Dr Smith throws away her helmet and makes herself vulnerable when she should know better, paranoia is her thing. Why is there artificial gravity now, did they run out of budget for wires or CGI? I can't be sure, because either they need to clean real lenses, or they CGI'd in a bunch of fake lens flares in every goddamned scene. Then there's a crappy CGI robot battle and a program suddenly thinks a boy who killed it is its friend. And where's the alien ship in all this? Maybe it's even more Canadian than I thought, and they're Mounties like Dudley Do-Right. One planetary infestation by Humans, one Mounty to clean it up.

The plot just drives all over at random, flailing around, and then plays happy music when the writers "and a miracle happened" their way out of any mess. Truly some of the worst plot I've ever seen. By this point, I actively loathe Maureen.

I really hope this doesn't get a second season, much as I like Judy and Dr Smith and even Don, and they managed to lose the Resolute as I hoped for last time; the rest of the Robinsons are still super annoying, and there's just no chemistry.
★★☆☆☆ for these eps.

What I'm Watching: Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams

An Amazon anthology series loosely based on PKD stories. As with all "Famous Name's Famous Title", the connection is tenuous at best.

Title sequence is appalling, like some direct-to-VHS shit Blue Moon would be ashamed to ship.

Many spoilers ahead for these terrible PKD adaptations, but also I would hope that you've read all of PKD's stories before seeing the terrible video adaptations. Many are free on iBooks or archive.org.

I want some good SF to watch again someday, is that too much to ask?

Real Life: If you're not sure if you're in real life or a dream, ask yourself if you actually know any of the facts of your life and job; you can't make up skills you don't know, for instance advanced math. The back-and-forth structure was annoying, and I thought both protagonists were vapid idiots. Also every technical phrase was gibberish. Avoid.
☆☆☆☆☆

Autofac: "After the war, the land was decimated.": Decimation means to execute every tenth person in a rebellious province. Annihilated, Demolished, Exterminated, these are appropriate words. Fucking morons.

I loved the old short story, unstoppable delivery trucks, all-consuming factories, a long campaign of sabotage against the dumb but evolving autofacs, and the futility of opposing evolution. The Galaxy illustrations are fantastic, too: Spare but technical and precise.

SIGH. So this show: Good crappy post-apocalypse Amazon drone-shipping look, but too much computer tech with shitty Matrix-looking scrolling text, blondes who think dreadlocks are OK, and then a shitload of exposition, AIs and a girl in a jumpsuit who says she's a robot, and a WIRED magazine CEO profile saves the world. Bears about 2% resemblance to the story.
★★☆☆☆

Human Is: Incoherent set of disconnected scenes. Space-Nazis on "Terra" (so you know it's the future—Dick often did that, tho) deciding to invade Poland^W Rexor IV with a single spaceship. Vera, Essie Davis, goes to a literally underground sex club with annoying jazz, spacing out at projection screens, and huffing drugs. Vera was a scientist in the story, but here she's some useless bureaucrat in a 1940s-German-inspired outfit. There's maybe the worst-shot combat scene I've ever seen.

Then asshole Space Nazi Silas turns nice, which clearly means he's not human anymore. The book's sappy romance and annoying child are here replaced with food and sex, which I shan't complain about. And then the worst court scene since Picard whined about Data's humanity. So trite and obvious it's like PKD madlibs. I hated this, but it's not so far from his stories as the other two.
★★☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Still Lost in Canada^W Space

Spoiler Warning for S1E5-S1E6









Apparently Mom thinks it's easier to fly a weather balloon to stratosphere than make a simple Galileo telescope. And then somehow she's able to naked-eye observe a close-orbiting black hole, which would be cooking the planet with X-rays already, and have weird time dilation effects; see Greg Egan's Incandescence for a more plausible story of being that close to a black hole.

Then the claim that the trees have one growth ring… when these are clearly old-growth, decades to centuries worth, with moss, thick undergrowth, and years-rotting fallen trees as one would expect of Canadian forests.

A yearly cleansing by stellar fire would leave a mostly-sterile desert with fast-growing weeds and voracious predation by estivating animals, like Death Valley blossoming in a yearly monsoon season, not cool evergreens (even aside from the utter stupidity of Earth-like plants on an alien planet).

I guess I should give them credit for one scene where grass is digitally recolored from green to purple. A small token nod to "not Canada".

Dr Smith is increasingly awesome and terrible. I assume she knows how to pass as a therapist from years of being in therapy, and a half measure of con games and grifting. The shit she does to program Angela as a weapon is amazing. Knockout performance.

Penny's teen romance with Vijay is awkward and they're both quite terrible actors, and there's Vogon-quality poetry. I would love these scenes to be much shorter, or for them both to be eaten by eels, on-screen and slowly.

Don West, Argentine soap opera actor Ignacio Serricchio, has improved greatly from his annoying first few eps, good comic timing and enough schemes of his own going on to be interesting, and he plays off well against heroic Judy. Single-camera editing only works if you're meticulous about sets and wardrobe, however, and the St Christopher medallion he took from Dr Smith keeps appearing and vanishing around his neck, and the time of day keeps changing even when it's overcast, throughout a few of his scenes, which suggests these were fix-it shots on another day. Maybe Señor Soap isn't great at reading lines without multi-camera and a teleprompter?

The asshole politician, the snooty Japanese scientists, and dozen generic extras are less present and interesting than the CGI fairy moth thing. Utter failure for an "ensemble" show, it would be better if all these extras and the supposed crew of the Resolute died and left the Robinsons isolated.

I grew up watching reruns (a decade too late for original run) of the original Lost in Space, which was about the triangle of Dr Smith, Will, and the Robot, and the rest barely even had names, and it worked because Billy Mumy had enough charm and wit even as a kid to stand up to Jonathan Harris and Bob May. He could read a line of naïve dialog and then show the gears turning as Will figured out what Smith was doing. Which is to say, everything this show's Will is not capable of.

This Will Robinson has graduated from emotionless sociopath to harming his pet. He's gonna be a serial killer.
Still ★★★☆☆