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This is Your Brain, This is Your Brain on 24

April 28, 2009

I know, I know. Expecting a season of 24 to make any kind of sense is like expecting Ozzy Ozbourne to give a lecture on theoretical physics.

“The terrorists have a bomb! They got it from the North Koreans! It’s all a plot by Serbs to assasinate the President! There’s a woman with poison hands! And a jet plane! And Jack’s brother is behind it all! And a conspiracy of white guys in suits who talk on cell phones and want to steal everyone’s oil! Also the Chinese!”

Maybe it’s because I rarely bothered sitting through an entire Season of 24. Still 24 is unique, if only because its writers and producers clearly don’t think past a single episode and write everything at night while overdosed on Ambien. “No I’m not guilty of running over 3 people with my Volvo, mutilating a kangaroo and writing an episode of 24… I was on Ambien.”

Still when your show makes much less sense than your average amateurishly produced web series, maybe it’s time to start thinking things through.

On this thrill a minute season of 24, Blackwater or Starkwood kidnaps a scientist to develop a CIP device that can destroy half of America’s infrastructure, and trades it to an African warlord for a WMD that can kill less than 1/10th that many people. But wait this makes even less! Since Starkwood wants to threaten to use the WMD in order to stop a Senate investigation of his company for unethical behavior.

Now that obviously makes a lot of sense. I mean when you’re waving around WMD’s, nobody’s gonna be investigating your ethics anymore. They’re going to be nuking you from orbit.

This entire plot made so little damn sense, that the writers had the President tell Jonas Hodges that he probablyhad a mental breakdown when he came up with this stupid plot. This is a great retcon for explaining that plot, and virtually every ridiculously overcomplicated plot on 24. But it doesn’t tell us that the writers only came up with the plot because they had a nervous breakdown.

Meanwhile Tony birdogs Jack for most of the season and helps him bring down Starkwood, but just to grab the WMD. This involves Tony pretending to be a triple agent, just to get something that the Evil Cabal of Corporations could have just gotten in five minutes by threatening Jonas’ family.

Yeah I know the entire Evil Cabal of Corporations all had nervous breakdowns too. And Tony.

Meanwhile they did it all to get their hands on what is probably the world’s worst WMD, which takes about 6 hours to make you sweat and have spasms. I think they could have gotten a better WMD by ordering for it in the back of a comic book, right next to the X-Ray glasses. But this is what happens when you get discount WMD’s from African warlords, who can’t defend their own country… but can take over the White House.

(I would ask when General Juma had time to get on a plane and come to America, but I’m guessing the answer is that Time and Space had nervous breakdowns too.)

All the while the Evil Cabal of Corporations is planning to use a Muslim terrorist to carry out an attack that will kill lots of people in D.C. At which point they will somehow take power, because that’s how the American system of government works! There’s a terrorist attack and when the President dies, the next in line of succession is a bunch of corporations.

Based on the ending of last night’s episode, they couldn’t actually find a Muslim terrorist that actually wants to kill Americans, so they’re going to force some random Pakistani guy to go do it by taking his brother hostage. Maybe it’s just me, but this Evil Cabal of Corporations doesn’t seem very competent.

Oh but I’m sure this will all be really exciting as Jack rushes to stop a terrorist, while fighting off a deadly no-cure biological weapon that can be stopped with the equivalent of insulin shots and whose worst symptoms are seizures and premature senility.

Luckily there’s an explanation for all this non-stop parade of retardness. It’s simple really. Brannon Braga of Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise now writes for the show. Also Manny Cotto’s brother. Any more questions? I didn’t think so.

Enjoy the rest of the season.

Who is Science Fiction’s Most Sexist Writer?

April 27, 2009

You know the cliches, SciFi is a boys game or a men’s club. It’s full of books that have bosomy babes heaving on the covers while being menaced by tentacled monsters. While the cliches aren’t all that true and women have made a lot of progress in SF, the question is still worth asking.

For the purpose of this exercise we’ll limit our focus to Science Fiction writers that people have actually heard of. This can safely rule out some random book written by Neil Promough in 1965 about Amazons from Mars taking over America while under the influence of mescaline. We’ll also rule out reverse sexism, or sexism by women against men, cause let’s face that would be a little too easy, Joanna Russ or Sherri S. Tepper, anyone?

Non-fiction essays and real life behavior don’t qualify, which leaves Harlan Ellison out. TV Scifi depictions don’t count either, which leaves Gene Roddenberry out, and the constant depictions of female crew members on the original Star Trek as unreliable, unstable and likely to waltz off with any superbeing, e.g. Khan or Apollo, whom they meet up with. We’ll also leave out fantasy, because between Gor and the amazing BDSM adventures of half the leading fantasy series, including the Wheel of Time series.

So who will it be? There’s Robert A. Heinlein. Sure he would throw in supposedly competent female characters, only to condescendingly dispose of them. Take a look at Methuselah’s Children. Mary, the character who kicks off the story, initially seems bold, reliable and competent… only to give in to her fear of aging and dying, and merges herself into an alien consciousness. The other major female character is a young woman who constantly whines about her child, and is repeatedly berated, rejected and threatened by Lazarus.

That sort of thing wasn’t unusual for Heinlein either. Friday marries her rapist and lives happily ever after. In Heinlein novels that was a common enough goal for women who got to be competent and professional enough to catch the leading man’s eye, before reverting to type. By the time Heinlein was in his New Age phase, women were around mainly as playthings, see Stranger in a Strange Land, there to give some witty banter, before stripping down and hanging around the premises.

But Heinlein is too obvious. So let’s try a less obvious writer, Philip K. Dick. Yes PKD isn’t the first and most logical name that springs to mind, but maybe it should be. Read enough Dick and you notice that his idea of women seemed to be a lot like Dave Sim’s. You can’t even begin to count the amount of abusive soul devouring women who show up in his novels, see Ubik. Sure Dick was probably channeling his many ex-wives.

And then there’s PKD’s prize gem, “The Pre-Persons” in which a loving father tries to protect his son from his ruthless devouring wife, in a society where trucks drive around looking for kids to kill, who can’t do quadratic equations, which happen to be the test of personhood. It’s a not very subtle commentary on abortion, but it’s also one of the ultimate depictions of the PK Dick woman, the ruthless monster who devours men’s souls. Or Dick’s anyway.

Still the prize may well go to C.J. Cherryh. Yes I know she’s a woman, which gives her the perfect cover. If the whole Cloud Riders series wasn’t bad enough, there’s Tripoint. Yes Tripoint.

Tripoint is a masterpiece of its sort. You could read the many reviews of it without actually learning what it’s about. It’s the story of Thomas, a boy being raised on a trading vessel by his mother Marie, whom he resents. And with good reason, since C.J Cherryh draws her as the most obnoxious character imaginable.

Marie is also a rape victim, having conceived Thomas after being raped by another ship’s crewmember. But don’t worry though, you’re not supposed to feel sympathy for Marie. You’re supposed to hate her. And C.J. Cherryh even finds a way to blame her for being raped. See Marie agreed to go off with that crewmember into a private space to lose her virginity. Then she changes her mind and protests and cries rape. After a stalemate, the crewmember, and Thomas’ father, decides since he’s being accused of rape, he might as well rape her for real. The narrative in Tripoint treats Marie as being at fault throughout the encounter and treats his behavior as mostly justified.

While Marie plots revenge against him, Thomas runs off and joins his father’s ship, and decides to leave his mother and be with the guy who raped her. Marie is left unable to do anything about it, despite having bankrupted her trading clan to get this far.

Happy ending right? If a man had written Tripoint, he’d have been lynched right next to James P. Hogan. Since C. J. Cherryh is a woman, she seems to get a pass for creating a novel in which the rape victim is the villain, in which her rape was justified and in which the child of the rape goes off to be with his rapist father because he can’t stand his mother.

And that’s why C.J. Cherryh wins the award. Congratulations. We’ll reconvene next year for Science Fiction’s Drunkest, Drunkenest? Writer.

When Roger Ebert Laid the Smack Down on Dead Poets Society

April 24, 2009

Reading one of Roger Ebert’s reviews today is a sad experience now that he’s become like a college educated version of Grandpa Simpson. But even long before that Ebert, like many modern reviewers, suffered from the whole Pauline Kael approach, the over personalized snarky reviews that really didn’t tell you much about what the movie did right or wrong, but told you a whole lot about the man or woman reviewing it.

That’s why I was surprised when I came across this Dead Poets Society review from Ebert. Surprised? Yes, because Ebert lays down the smack on Dead Poets Society in a limited amount of space while getting down to why that overpraised box of treacle is so full of fail.

Read

“Dead Poets Society” is a collection of pious platitudes masquerading as a courageous stand in favor of something: doing your own thing.

Peter Weir’s film makes much noise about poetry, and there are brief quotations from Tennyson, Herrick, Whitman and even Vachel Lindsay, as well as a brave excursion into prose that takes us as far as Thoreau’s Walden. None of these writers are studied, however, in a spirit that would lend respect to their language; they’re simply plundered for slogans to exort the students toward more personal freedom. At the end of a great teacher’s course in poetry, the students would love poetry; at the end of this teacher’s semester, all they really love is the teacher.

As a caveat Robin Williams’ character is trying to teach the students to love poetry. But nowhere do we see him teaching anything structural about poetry, but appreciation. And you don’t need a teacher for that. But that’s the whole theme of Dead Poets Society and just about every life affirming movie featuring stodgy administrators up against that bright and daring teacher.

No one goes to school to learn to enjoy life, take chances or carpe diem. You can do that on your own time, unless you’re hopelessly retarded, because a teacher isn’t your life coach. The great movie teachers all too often are nothing more than walking talking self-help books. And that’s not what learning is about.

Which fits well with how ignorant about actual learning the movie is. As 17 year olds in a top ranked prep school in 1959, and it’s impossible that they’re as ignorant as they act. A 17 year old prep school student in 1959 who had no idea where O Captain My Captain was from, is hard to believe. But that’s just the beginning.

The society’s meetings have been badly written and are dramatically shapeless, featuring a dance line to Lindsay’s “The Congo” and various attempts to impress girls with random lines of poetry. The movie is set in 1959, but none of these would-be bohemians have heard of Kerouac, Ginsberg or indeed of the beatnik movement.

Or of anything. In one of the endless musical montages, they break out by listening to white boy rock and roll and fencing outside. Yes, fencing.

Real life prep school students were more entitled than their peers. The movie version are oppressed and suppressed. Like every movie about the 1950’s, not made in the 1950’s, Dead Poets Society envisions life for the wealthy WASPs as a hard choice between being corporate drones or prefiguring the 60’s by doing your own thing. The ending panders to just that idea, we’re meant to assume that the students who got up will go on to drop out, drop acid, march for civil rights, and found their own tree farm, while the ones who keep on sitting will support the Vietnam War and vote for Nixon. It’s the kind of simple minded paradigm Hollywood keeps recycling mainly because Hollywood is in love with its own self-made image as daring and transgressive. And movies like Dead Poets Society, filled with phony sentimentality and self-indulgence, starring Robin Williams as another sensitive emotive man-child, and putting self-expression above everything else, reminds us just how hollow Hollywood really is.

Once Again Earth is on the Line! Why is Earth on the line again?

April 19, 2009

Finally a new Star Trek movie spot that manages to make it look like every other Star Trek movie ever made, barring Star Trek II, III, V or VI. Okay well all the TNG Star Trek movies ever made. Which is probably a good thing, since audiences want the same thing with some more attitude. And I’m guessing that despite of the hype, or maybe because of all the hype, that’s exactly what JJ Abrams is going to give them.

Villain check. Villain with some sort of overly complicated plot derived from his cousin in the James Bond universe, also check. . Some sort of explosion or countdown to be stopped before it’s too late, probably also check. Earth is on the line check.

But why is earth on the line? Star Trek used to be about getting the hell away from earth and exploring space. But all the TNG movies seem to get back to earth toot sweet. ST I began all this by sending V’ger to menace Earth. Wrath of Khan left earth alone, STIII The Search for Spock quickly took us to earth, but didn’t menace it. ST IV The Voyage Home, both took us back to earth and menaced it. ST V left Earth alone but destroyed our will to live. So did ST VI The Undiscovered Country.

But it was TNG that really went compulsively James Bond with villains who kept threatening Planet Earth, good old third boulder from the yellow sun. First time around Earth was only on the villain’s path of destruction. Second time around Earth was the target. Third time around Earth got a pass. Fourth time around they decided that the third time around failed because Earth was given a pass, so evil Picard clone in Nemesis went after Earth. Again.

And this time around… EARTH IS ON THE LINE.

Damn it Jim, I wish Earth would upgrade its defense systems already and stop being on the line, so we can go explore some of those strange new worlds and seek our new life and new civilizations, that Star Trek used to be about. From a tactical standpoint, the Enterprise is a long range Starship. Throwing it into home guard mode is stupid. You don’t need a Starship for that. You don’t need quarters for hundreds of people and a ship provisioned for a five year machine just to jaunt around the Sol system. You need something big, ugly, brutish and with a lot of firepower.

But who can argue with EARTH IS ON THE LINE?

Larry Niven’s Gil Hamilton and Long ARM of the Law is Here

April 13, 2009

A 64-year-old woman has reported to doctors at Geneva University Hospital the presence of a pale, milky-white and translucent third arm.

After examining the case, the woman’s neurologist, Asaid Khateb of the hospital’s experimental neurophysiology laboratory, called the rare phenomenon credible.

The arm appeared to the woman a few days after suffering a stroke, doctors said. But this case of what is known as a supernumerary phantom limb (SPL) is a genuine head-scratcher

The upshot is that the woman can use the apparitional extremity to relieve very real itches on the cheek. It cannot penetrate solid objects. She does not always perceive the arm but “retrieves” it when needed, doctors told the Swiss news agency.

It is nevertheless the first case known to doctors of a person being able to feel, see and deliberately move a limb that doesn’t exist. The findings are published in the Annals of Neurology.

Of course the third arm still can’t penetrate solid objects and the UN hasn’t taken over the government and isn’t sentencing tax cheats and jaywalkers to the organ banks.

Yet.

I actually have that cover which always makes me wince at just how low the standards for cover art were at Del Rey then. When your cover can be duplicated by a six year old with too much sugar, it’s time to rethink your cover art.

Dollhouse, Still Not Feeling It

April 12, 2009

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if FOX could air another good SciFi series with clever writing and some action. But Dollhouse, between you and me and anyone randomly browsing this blog, I’m just not feeling it.

Sure with Episode 6 the writing has jumped into gear and no longer plays like it was written by people who couldn’t get work on Knight Rider and that’s nice and all, but guess what it’s just not enough. I like good writing. I savor good writing. I take good writing out on long moonlight strolls by the bay where we sip our mocha lattes and discuss our future together. Then we name our kids. But as fun as all that is, I just need more. A lot more.

Like characters I give a damn about. Yeah that’s a minor issue but it’s actually way up there. That means people we care about fighting the good fight. Without that, why even bother? Which just about covers my response to Dollhouse post episode 6, why even bother?

Sure the writing is better, but what else is? We still get to sit around watching a bunch of meat puppets and the staff who oversee their ongoing rape and exploitation.

When Topher and Amelia get all wacky on the memory thwacking virus, was I really supposed to find their antics cute? I don’t think so. They’re both evil. Buffy Season 6 got by with the geeks mainly because they didn’t do anything genuinely evil until the end. But Andrew post-slashing never struck me as cute or entertaining. Repulsive, creepy and annoying would cover it. It’s why I never had any use for his Season 7 whining or his return in comic form in Season 8. No means no. And ugh means ugh.

Dollhouse doesn’t have characters, it has a bunch of Borg and the humans who control them. And considering how annoying Caroline was in her flashbacks and her Sea Kitten thing, I can’t even hope she gets rescued because I don’t care about her or any of the Dolls. Some of them are victims, but they’re not characters. On the flip side of that shiny gold coin, the humans at the Dollhouse are characters, but perpetrators. It’s like watching Hogan’s Heroes, a version where Colonel Klink and the Nazis keep winning and are the focus of every episode. And the GI’s just don’t matter.

So no I’m not feeling it. Joss Whedon got rich creating shows with strong characters who fight for things. Dollhouse is completely lacking in that. Unless there are major changes to the series, I don’t see that changing either.

Stargate Universe Decides to Rip Off Battlestar Galactica Instead

April 5, 2009

With the original Stargate TV series borrowing some obvious elements from TNG, like Worf, the spinoff was obviously going to be DS9, which is what Stargate Atlantis was, minus the high concept, and plus the evil aliens the cast has to fight. Naturally when we heard that Stargate Universe was going to be about a crew stuck on a starship traveling and lost in space, Voyager came to mind. But while the concept may be Voyager or B5’s Crusade, the execution of Stargate Universe seems to be aiming for a ripoff of Battlestar Galactica instead.

Take a look at that footage and tell me the great minds behind Stargate Universe haven’t spent a lot of time with their BSG DVD collection? Lots of darkness, similar color palette, lots of focus on human chaos and disorder about a large ship. Now if they just bring in shaky cam ship FX shots, the jig will be up.

Of course it’s not like the Stargate shows were original or wanted to be. They were basically action shows in a thin SciFi wrapping. Half the time the original Stargate was basically the A Team with outer space settings. Except unlike the original A Team, whose cast couldn’t stand women, it had a girl on board. And the people who needed their help were conveniently multiracial tribes of serenely happy people living on other planets, of the type Star Trek would somehow keep encountering. In Stargate’s defense, at least its premise provided a justification for that.

Stargate has had the same relationship to Science Fiction that Star Wars did. It borrowed some of the togs and wore them around the house, but it had no actual ideas, just design schemes. Stargate borrowed from Star Trek when it was the dominant paradigm for TV SciFi. With Star Trek gone, Battlestar Galactica was the next obvious target.

So enjoy Stargate Battlestar Universe. In its defense, when it’s canceled a few years from now, there is no way it will go out with a worse ending than BSG did. Think of it as a Do Over that’s more audience friendly.

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