Archive for January, 2012

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The Daily Shaft – The Adjusted Adjustment Bureau

When The Adjustment Bureau hit theatres last year, I decided against going out and seeing it. The reviews of this adapted Philip K. Dick story ranged from tepid to unkind. Saturday night it appeared on the Movie Network. Given everything that I had read, free as part of my monthly cable bill seemed the right price for this picture. One hour and forty minutes later, I wanted my hour and forty minutes back.

Now I could write a scathing review that explains everything that is wrong with this movie. But would it be anything other than an exercise in catharsis? Would I blaze any trails that other critics haven’t already trod upon? Probably not. Still, it goes against my nature to let a bad movie get away without some sort of reckoning. To that end, I decided to get a little creative.

Submitted for your approval is the script for my Sweded, and much more plausible version of The Adjustment Bureau, The Adjusted Adjustment Bureau.

NB: If you are having trouble seeing the viewer click here to download the PDF


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Television Review: First impressions of Spartacus Vengeance

Summary Judgement: Though absent two of its leading men, Spartacus’ return washes away the horrible taste that Gods of the Arena left in our mouth.

Starring: Liam McIntyre, Manu Bennett, Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, and Viva Bianca

Imagine if during the first season of Star Trek TNG the writers killed off Worf and Picard with plans to have Riker promoted to captain. Then just before the season finale airs Jonathan Frakes takes sick, quits the show, and dies a few months later. The network decrees that season two will go on with a little Dick York/Dick Sargent switch-up as the word of the day. As if the emotional trauma of losing a friend and colleague weren’t bad enough, the eighteen month layover from season one to season two saw some additional actor turnover among the secondary cast. Such is the situation confronted by Starz’s sleeper hit Spartacus: Vengeance. To the credit of the entire production, they’ve done a solid job holding everything together.

The story picks up three months after the events of Blood and Sand. Spartacus and Crixus’ uneasy alliance has led them to the temporary shelter of the sewers outside of Capua. From there they pillage the countryside for supplies and try to prevent the amalgam of escaped slaves from becoming a rabble. At the same time, a Capuan noble named Seppius has been dispatching mercenaries to hunt down the rouge slaves. Ineffective as they may be, his efforts have caught the attention of Rome. Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), the general who condemned Spartacus and his wife into slavery and was extorted into granting patronage to the House of Batiatus has been elected to the office of Praetor (Think a chief justice and joint chief all in position). His glory seems short lived as forces within the Senate have tasked him to deal with Spartacus’ uprising, citing the bonds of patronage between himself and Bataitus. This affront to his position sees he and his wife Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) return to Capua.

There’s an incomplete feeling to Spartacus sans the late Andy Whitfield and the still living John Hannah. If there was any way to augur Whitfeild’s death, I suspect that executive producers Steven S. DeKnight and Sam Raimi would have seen Quintus Bataitus survive Spartacus’ initial uprising. Ever cursing the gods and invoking Jupiter’s cock, Hannah’s portrayal of an ambitious gladiator school proprietor served to forward the show’s intrigue and offer much needed comic relief. I expect the triumvirate of Galber, Seppius and Ilithyia will fill the void therein. For his part, Liam McIntyre, Whitfield’s successor as the titular character, did an adept job in assuming the mantle left for him. He can chew up the scenery with the best of his colleagues and does bear some positive similarities to the late Whitfeild in his demeanor and the way he executes the character. Beyond saying it requires only a little suspension of disbelief to see him, not Whitfield, as Spartacus, I’m inclined to give McIntyre a few episodes to settle into the role before leveling any real criticism in his direction.

Similarly, the remainder of the regular cast have picked up their roles without dropping a beat. Manu Bennett as Crixus and Peter Mensah as Doctore/Oenomaus both ground the show in the familiar. The former is reveling in his new found freedom but driven to find his lost love Navea who was sold from the Bataitus estate in the previous season. Oenomaus has taken to walking Capua’s streets desperate to find some way to restore the honour he believes he lost in betraying Bataitus. Lucy Lawless returns to her role as Lucretia, emerging from the blood stained ruins of Bataitus Villa as an amnesiac shell of her former self. I give it three episodes before she remembers everything and brings on the rage. Please bring on the rage. There’s nothing better than Lucy Lawless when she is pissed off.

Then there’s the violence and sex, hallmarks of Spartacus. At the expense of a few external shots that were so heavily green screened it was almost pathetic, the fight choreography in season two’s premiere episode is top notch. Yes, the blood effects can be a bit goofy at times, but the sword play is genius. Perhaps seeing a man impaled through the back of the neck is gratuitous, but what isn’t in this show? The episode’s raid on a brothel manages to do the impossible and combine sex and violence into one giant orgy of indulgence. Without treading into specific details, I think un-tempered is the best adjective to describe this scene; the brutality of the violence matches the abject, unapologetic, and not exclusively hetero-normative hedonism – which for the record makes everything from last season look positively vanilla. Arguably such a display is over the top. However, I think it to be the right move on behalf of the writers and producers since there’s no better way to reinforce to the audience that despite the changes this is still the same Spartacus.

So long as Spartacus: Vengeance doesn’t make the mistake of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, that is getting into a pissing contest with itself to see just how far they can push the decadence from week to week, the season appears full of potential.


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Exclusive with J.M. Frey on Her New Novel, The Dark Side of the Glass

In a Page of Reviews exclusive, Canadian sci-fi author J.M. Frey took some time to talk to me about her upcoming novel The Dark Side of the Glass. Frey’s previous novel, Triptych, has gathered no end of critical acclaim as a poignant study of sociology and sexuality that simultaneously turns the “alien invasion” sub genre on its ear. Her latest entry, due to be released in June of this year from Double Dragon Publishing, offers a satirical but loving look at vampire-detective drama, fan culture, and the Toronto film industry at large.

I asked J.M. if there was anything particular to her experience as a member and scholar of fan communities that went into the production of this novel. Here’s what she had to say.

I wouldn’t have written the book at all had I not been a member of fan communities. This story comes from the deeply seated love that fans have for their chosen fandoms, and the way that love spills out as fancrafts – cosplay, art, games, fanfiction etc.  I share this love with them; I’ve been going to cons, participating in Cosplay masquerades, and writing fanfiction since I was a tween.

The story was originally written to accompany my Master’s Thesis, “Water Logged Mona Lisa: Who is Mary Sue and Why Do We Need Her?” on Mary Sues.

Click here for clarification on “Mary Sue”. J.M. is quoted in the  Criticism section of the entry.

In the thesis I discuss the importance of the much maligned Mary Sue character to the fanfiction community and how Mary Sues are an important element in the process of becoming a writer. I position Mary Sue as a fan’s first steps towards becoming a fancrafter – one always imagines oneself as participating in the world of the fandom which they admire. Taking tea with the Doctor, running around London on a case with Sherlock, stepping through the wormhole alongside McKay… these are the self-inclusive fantasies that fuel the creative drive of the fan. And that are, I posit, the first way in which people connect with their fandoms. “Oh, how I wish I could be there, going on that adventure with you!”

It’s a brilliant, magical impulse that is left over from childhood games of make believe. I love the “me too, oh, let me play too!” knee-jerk reaction that kids and fans and creative folk have. I love it even more when people succumb to the impulse and create and play with it.

And that is healthy. That is normal. That is, also, the impulse from which stem Mary Sues.

Now, Mary Sue has become a pejorative for any too-perfect character, and that was a hard stigma to shake in my thesis. I wanted to talk about Mary Sues as a positive step in the writing process, but there was so much negativity surrounding the term; it’s associated almost solely with poor writing and unrealistic characterization, of a new character who acts as the black hole of the story. I’ll admit that I’ve used it in its pejorative sense.

But I wanted to show how and why Mary Sues can and have made the fan community stronger and more self-aware, so I coined a new term for a sub-category of Mary Sues that, which being Mary Sues, are also good writing, intelligent discourse, and are self-aware creations by self-aware writers. I called these Meta Sues.

A Meta Sue is a Mary Sue character who knows that she’s a Mary Sue, and uses it to her advantage and/or a story/fanfiction in which the Mary Sue tropes are used by the writer as major plot point or a storytelling technique. I feel that Meta Sues are extremely useful in fancrafts. It allows the writers to address issues or problematics that the original media text can’t or doesn’t – for example, creating a homosexual Mary Sue in a media text with an otherwise solely heterosexual narrative forces room for the silenced voice of the queer fan.

When asked to provide an example of such a fanfiction for my thesis committee, I was at a loss to be able to do so. I was working within the realm of theory at that point and there were few Meta Sue stories that I could point to and say, “Yes, there’s one there.” I could find about four or five total. In a fit of creative problem-solving, I decided to write my own Meta Sue story, to see if what I was proposing could actually be done. In the end, along with a full MA Thesis, I ended up writing one original novel , a full multi-part epic fanfiction that I posted online and got quite a nice bit of feedback on, and this, “The Dark Side of the Glass”. The whole project, when I handed it in, was around 1500 pages in length.

Each story focussed on a different incarnation of Meta Sue. For this particular novella, I decided to delve into one of the most interesting aspects of fandom, to me – the love of the villain. I mean, who doesn’t love a great villain? Who doesn’t want to meet Loki, Moriarty, Seishirou or Sylar?  Who doesn’t praise their sexiness, insanity, charm, and appeal? Villains are favoured characters for a reason.

But would you ever, really, want to meet one?

Heck, no. They’d probably kill you on the spot for knowing too much about them.  Our greatest fantasies, as fans, are actually quite horrifying when you think about it – the PTSD, the abuse, the danger we would be exposing ourselves to is terrible. But, because it’s fantasy, we have fun with it. We indulge in it as fantasy, and that’s acceptable. It’s a little adventure for the Id.

So I ran with that idea – if a TV villain in real life would be horrific and terrifying, what about all the rest of the things that fans envision? Being in an epic magical battle, or being fed upon by a vampire, or suddenly having powers beyond the norm, or waking up on a spaceship in the middle of an epic battle; these things sound amazing, but when it actually, honestly happens, will it be amazing or would it drive you mad? Would it be an adventure or would your lack of actual experience and training get you killed?

At first the story was very dark. Mary, my main character, has terrible things happen to her when she becomes the girl-of-the-week, because that’s what happens to girls-of-the-week. There was no way, I realized, to give the story any sort of happy ending. And depressing stories are well… depressing. Nobody wants to read a story that is such a blatant exploration of a great fannish fantasy that ends badly for the hero, no matter how realistic it is.

I didn’t want a story whose moral was “Silly fans, you’re stupid and wrong for wanting this.” I wanted The Fan Triumphant. I wanted a fan who was rewarded for how much they cared about their fandom, for how much they invested, how much creativity they put into it.  I wanted a fan who was appreciated by the creators of the media text (or, in this case, the creations).

So, I had to start again and make the story humorous. I wanted readers to understand what it would mean to really be a Mary Sue, but also to enjoy a sexy, fun romp.

The one thing I am a bit wibbly about in the final version of the story is the villainizing of the creators of the faux show. I wasn’t keen on doing it, because I don’t like it when fans get self-important and shouty at creators. It takes a hell of a lot to get a show on the air, and it’s a lot of work to guide a show. I should know.

Frey’s recent work includes the upcoming web series LESlieVILLE, due to launch in March of 2012.

And as the creator of the show, the writers of the show, even if they make choices fans don’t agree with, or mistakes, they are still making a show, they are still being creative and creating, which is much more than other people who chose to deride, write hate-posts about, flame and rant are doing.

But, in the end, you gotta have a bad guy, and I need Mary to have the ability to triumph over someone. So, pastiche of money-grubbing producers it was.

(To be fair, I have good friends among the money-grubbing producer set. Good folks, all, who are just as keen to help a creation onto the screen as the writers and actors).

I wanted a story that got my theory across without being a manifesto or a screaming lecture.  It doesn’t go as far into the issues as I’d like, but it opens up the readers mind to it while entertaining them, and in the end, I think that’s the best I can do for my readers. I like to make them think and wonder, but without leading them to the answers and spoon-feeding them. I treat my readers as the intelligent, thoughtful people they are.

I chose to take a more satirical approach to the story because I didn’t want the readers to think that I was being too self-important with the subject matter. I had a great suggestion from a friend to make the world inside the faux TV show I created for the story be just as flat and shallow in ‘real life’. This was a great device, because it was meta and really funny. I had a great time coming up with ways to make the world function in ‘real life’ and still resemble what we see on TV.

Because the story was a Mary Sue/Meta Sue tale, I of course had to name her Mary. It’s my wink to the readers in the know. And it had to be about my favourite genre – vampire stories. From there the idea grew into a vampire-detective story, because I love those so much. My first fandom was Forever Knight. And because I was working in film at the time, I decided that my main character had to work in film. I mean, I couldn’t have a Mary Sue named Mary who wasn’t at least partially actually my own Mary Sue.

Having Mary work in film was also useful, because it gave me a lot of story-telling shortcuts. It explained why Mary would have such intimate knowledge of the production; otherwise I would have had to make her really obsessive and unpleasant, and I didn’t want to give my readers a stereotype of the worst of fandom. I wanted Mary to be someone who could be celebrated – at first, a little too into her fandom, but ultimately generous and big-hearted and creative; a woman who grows as she becomes more sure of her own agency and power, uses the voice she had been silencing, and works to make what she loves better.

So, to actually answer the question you asked… all of it. All of my years in fandom, all of my time at the cons, all of my own fannish fantasies and loves, all of the conversations I’ve ever had with fellow fans, all of the incredible fancrafters whose talent and ambition I’ve had the priviledge to know and watched blossom, it’s all in there.

My thanks to J.M. for such a wonderfully thorough and thoughtful answer. Head over to JMFrey.net to find out more about her books and upcoming appearances. You can also listen to episodes 9 and 16 of the PoR Podcast to hear JM and I talking about Doctor Who and all manner of other nerdy things.


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Retro Television Review: Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles

Summary Judgement: It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s certainly a diamond in the rough of late 90’s animation.

To say that Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is a controversial novel is a literary understatement. For every scholar/author/book critic who champions the work as a masterpiece of military science fiction, there is another waiting in the wings apt to dismiss the book as a plotless fascist screed. Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 big screen adaptation of Starship Troopers gave members of both groups an occasion to unify against what is largely recognized as a technically impressive, if wholly brainless, action movie. Yet two years later the visual aesthetic of Verhoeven’s, ahem, “masterpiece” yielded one of the more impressive animated series of the 1990s. I refer to Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles. Having recently discovered that the entirety of this series is now available to watch, legitimately, on youtube and crackle.com, I thought it fitting to say a few words about this often over looked bastard child of Robert Heinlein, Paul Verhoeven, and Richard Raynis.

The series follows the exploits of Alpha Team, a rifle squad within the Strategically Integrated Coalition of Nations’ (pronounced Sci-Con) mobile infantry. Note here that the morally dubious Terran Federation is a non-entity. Among the troops, Alpha Team is commonly known as Razak’s Roughnecks. The cast of characters share more in common with Verhoeven than Heinlein, but not necessarily to their detriment. Dizzy Flores remains a woman, though she is a little more level headed with her affections toward Johnny Rico than in the movie. Rico, despite a slight shade of brown in his complexion, is still very much Johnny and not Juan. Razak is an amalgam of the novel’s Mr. DuBois and the movie’s Lt. Rasczak. Oh and Xander Barcalow is in the series; he’s still a pompous swaggering subordinate-seducing asshat. On a positive note, none of the movie actors, save for a late entry from Clancy Brown as Sergeant Zim, reprise their roles in the animated series. Thus the characters all feel quite distinct from what Casper Van Dien and friends brought to the movie, especially Carl Jenkins – Sorry, NPH.

One of Verhoeven’s most infamous crimes against Heinlein’s novel was his treatment of the mobile infantry. The mad Dutchmen stripped the MI of their power armour, as well as their clothing from time to time, and turned them into an ill-trained rabble that only occasionally got the job done and even then only through brute force and superior numbers. Where Heinlein saw the MI and Fleet as precision instruments, Verhoeven turned them into a sledge hammer and collection of the worst Top Gun clichés, respectively. The mobile infantry of Raynis’ Roughnecks lean much closer to Heinlein than they do Verhoeven. Orbital insertions through drop pods are the word of the day. All troopers wear powered environmental suits with select members of each squad piloting “marauder” exo-suits. It’s not exactly shoulder mounted nuclear rockets, but it’s more than a few steps in the right direction.

So what about the bugs? Raynis actually kept Verhoeven’s bugs for the series. Call me a heretic, but I liked Verhoeven’s bugs. I could never get past the idea that space arachnids would develop firearms; there’s something too human-centric in that notion especially when a species is capable of evolving sub-species suited to individual tasks (warrior bugs vs worker bugs in the novel). Plasma bugs, tankers, and warriors, as seen in Verhoeven’s movie, feature prominently in Roughnecks first story arc. As the series moved on to new campaigns, so too came new bugs. To balance this Verhoeveian influence, Roughnecks’ brought the Skinnies, an alien race mentioned in the first chapter of the novel but ignored in the movie, into the galactic conflict. Just like in the book, the Skinnies began as allies of the bugs but gradually shifted their loyalties to SICON.

Partly because it was aimed at a young adult audience and partly because it’s hard to sell space facism on television, Roughnecks put politics in the back seat. It’s still there, but it’s much more subtle than Neil Patrick Harris decked out in his jack-booted future-Nazi regalia. One particular episode sees Lt. Razak fighting to stop SICON from giving Rico a lobotomy when he presents prolonged symptoms of post traumatic stress. Another episode sees Karl Jenkins breaking under the pressure that SICON is putting on him to militarize his psychic talents. The enduring theme is that the troopers on the ground know much more about war than the Sky Marshall and Generals. There’s even a bit of character death, as well. People don’t die with the frequency that they did in something like Exo-Squad, but there is an evident human cost to the bug war. Not bad for a YA audience.

Though the animation looks a bit stiff by contemporary standards, Roughnecks has aged fairly well as far as late 90s CGI productions go. It’s comparable to any late season episode of ReBoot, and leaps and bounds beyond Voltron: The Third Dimension.

While Roughnecks isn’t what I would call a “must watch” sort of series, it’s a certainly worthwhile throwback to the early days of computer generated animation. It’s more sophisticated than the movie that served as so much visual inspiration, but it’s still likely to make novel purists grind their teeth.

Overall score: +2, maybe even a +2.5

Would you like to know more? Here’s the first episode.


From Crackle: Freefall
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The Daily Shaft: Social Gaming, Light Marxism, and my Confusion

NB: This entire piece is predicated on my assumption that a fringe minority of social game players actually participate in micro-transactions. Only after completing it did I stop to think that I’m giving social gamers too much benefit of the doubt therein.

After discovering that the Google Plus game Pirates: Tides of Fortune shamelessly appropriated the logo of Sid Meier’s Pirates, I found my thoughts turning to social gaming in a general sense. Anybody who knows me knows that I think these games spawn from the devil’s own asshole, so I won’t retread that already well marked path. Instead I want to ask a question. What are these games doing with all the time that gets invested into them?

Without wanting to sound too much like a Marxist, it is my considered opinion that social games use time as their main commodity. Sure, they all have pay models in place where the gullible and hopelessly addicted can invest in speed farming their potatoes or hiring teamsters to build their municipal skating rink. But how do we account for the people who play these games without investing actual currency into the system? It seems to me that the only thing this subset of “gamers” are investing is their time. Perhaps a comparison is in order.

In days past a gaming studio would create a game with two general purposes in mind: to make money and to entertain the end-user. The relationship between consumer and producer therein was reciprocal; gamers paid for a product and in turn enjoyed a game. So long as the title performed as expected, everybody was happy. It’s also important to note that conventional games inevitably reach a point of diminishing returns. That is to say that they have a clear beginning and ending. Some games chart a non-linear course to that ending, occasionally allowing players to continue in perpetuity once the set pieces have been completed, that’s your Wing Commander: Privateer and Grand Theft Auto types. Excepting titles with Diablo-esque replay value or compelling multiplayer, life after the endgame takes the shape of collecting dust on a shelf or being sold off.

Social gaming, with its appearance of offering something for nothing, changes that dynamic. To start, it kills the reciprocity between producer and consumer. If money trading hands is not a precursor to playing the game, then there’s no obligation from the designer to be creative, innovative, or otherwise respectful of the audience. This is one of many reasons why Gameloft and Zynga dance so closely along the of plagiarism. If the target market isn’t invested in you, why should you invest in them?

More insidious is the fact that every social game, at least all of the ones that I have explored, seems perpetual. There’s no end-game. For want of external influences, these games could continue on forever as their players participate in the most tedious sorts of assembly line tasks that have dared to masquerade as game play. Again, I’m sounding like a Marxist, but it’s hard not to when a game’s sole purpose is to engage its players in a controlled economy at the expense of their time. So we return to the issue at hand, time. What are the architects of social gaming doing with all that time? Why do they want it so badly that they will create game environments that have people performing actions with such compulsion and repetition that they would manifest measurable symptoms in the DSM-4? How does time invested in Vegetable Pirate City – not an actual social game but I own the rights to the name and I will sell them to an interested party – translate into revenue?

I suppose it could be about wearing down the non-buyers. Hook them on the game and draw them in until their will to resist is crushed beneath the jackboots of increased carrot production; like a more mundane version of “The Game” that Riker brought back from Risa in that one episode of Star Trek TNG. Another option, though a stretch in my mind, is that prolonged exposure to a game could generate more banner ad clicks. But that seems unlikely as most of the games that I have seen are smart enough to avoid bloating their products with built-in third party advertising. Honestly, I’m at a loss on this one. Social games seem more intent than Skyrim at sucking up a user’s time. Whatever alchemy they use to turn that time into hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue is beyond me.

Oh and here’s a comparison pic between the logos that I mentioned at the top of the review.


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Movie Review: Archetype

Summary Judgement: Made on a shoestring budget, this short film edges us ever closer to a brilliant sci-fi renaissance.

Directed by: Aaron Sims

Starring: Robert Joy, Elle Newlands, and David Anders

Good sci-fi might be dead on television, or at least in a deep coma, but it abounds on the internet. Aaron Sims, whose special effects design company has worked on such movies as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 30 Days of Night, The Incredible Hulk, Sucker Punch and The Golden Compass, recently released his independently produced short film Archetype. Can we say, holy shit. Under normal circumstances I would blather on about subtexts and motifs before actually showing the movie. Not this time. Today I’m presenting the video without extensive preamble or summary; for that you can scroll down the page a bit farther.

During an interview with Film Sketcher, Sims answered two questions that always come to my mind when watching these proof of concept shorts: Is there more? How much did it cost? On point one, Sims confirmed that he is working on a feature length version of Archetype. Huzzah! As for the cost, with the help of his cast and crew, Sims reports that he made the movie for “almost no money”. It never ceases to amaze me when I see indie directors producing work of this quality without having to cow tow to the Hollywood production apparatus. And at the risk of sounding sentimental, I think that’s the real magic of movie making. Any trained chimp can turn nothing into something if you give said primate a few hundred million dollars. Telling a story that is fueled by the collective good will of a dedicated group of people, now that is something special.

On that note, let’s break down what we saw. On the surface, things seem pretty straight forward. A human consciousness with memories of having a wife and child wakes up inside a battle droid designated RL7STV. Mr. Jones attempts to troubleshoot the malfunctioning robot through a direct consciousness interface. That doesn’t go so well. Jones’ inquisitive lab technician all but confirms that these combat machines are in part organic, likely human brains put into machine bodies Robocop style. Fearing an outbreak of consciousness among his other robots, Jones orders memory wipes for the entire production line. Unfortunately his efforts are too little too late, and RL7 breaks out of his containment unit.

Some may say that anthropomorphized robots are a bit of a tired cliché. However, I can see two things in this movie that makes the archetype of Archetype a worthwhile gambit.

It’s the lab technician who dangles the first proverbial carrot. It’s easy to miss so I’ve blown up the frame here.  Dr. Patrick Stevens, who is likely the consciousness in RL7’s head, is or rather was an employee of Carter-Myung’s biomed division. Call me decadent for yawning at stories that see governments colonizing the bodies of their citizens, it happens too much in the news for it to impact me in fiction, but when corporations do it, such as Omni Consumer Products or the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, I pay attention. The other thing to note here is that Dr. Patrick Stevens was born in 2076 but began working for the company in 2073. I figure that’s either a typo or some really deep story telling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other issue at hand is implicit within the movie but made explicit in the credits. RL7 and his comrades are doing a sweep and destroy of a rebel encampment during the movie’s second scene. In what sort of nightmare world is this movie set where corporations fight rebels, a decidedly political association of people, using war machines that employ human minds as their organic operating systems? Also, what did Dr. Stevens do to end up fighting on the front lines of this particular battle?  In five short minutes Archetype builds a world that teems with intrigue.  Combine that with gorgeous visuals and solid acting and I am sold on this story.

Hopefully the wait won’t be too long before Mr. Sims is able to get his feature length version of Archetype off the ground. Visit Aaron Sims website for more details.


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Television Review: First Impressions of Assassidate

It seems like today is a big day for the siblings Hewlett.  David and Kate Hewlett, who played on-screen brother and sister Rodney McKay and Jeannie Miller in Stargate Atlantis, are pitching their co-created web series, Assassidate, to a third party. Hopefully everything goes well for them. Because after watching the first episode, I have to see what comes next.

David Hewlett plays Iain, a LARPing, MMORPGing, tech guru who inadvertently pushes his wife Pam into the arms of another man.  As if that weren’t humiliation enough, the very tool of Pam’s infidelity is Iain’s innovative dating web site, assassidate.com, which pairs people based on shared gaming habits. Now Iain stands to make a mint off his project only to potentially lose it all in an ugly divorce. Enter Kate Hewlett’s character Emily, the well adjusted and seemingly “normal” sister to Iain.  Emily’s solution to Iain’s conundrum is quite simple: forget about the fact that the duo’s childhood lemonade stand got Iain arrested for serving alcohol to minors and sign the company over to her control.

Though only three minutes long, this pilot episode abounds with potential for a winning series. The writing is sharp, timed to perfection, and absolutely charming to gamers and non-gamers alike. David Hewlett’s character is a vision of what happens when hard core nerds get older without necessarily growing up. Sufficed to say he’s a bit clueless while being intensely devoted to his passions. At the same time, there’s an almost innocence in his incredulity, perhaps because he’s wearing blue face paint and pulling it off, that Pam would use his website against him in a divorce. Kate Hewlett’s alter ego is framed as the consummate outsider to nerd culture. Yet her fast wit and easy snark suggests a person who at some point attempted to relate to her brother on his own plane, but inevitably became frustrated with the process. The result is a relationship that seems fully realized and rich with back story. As was the case on Stargate, the brilliant rapport between the two actors implies that on some level art is mirroring real life.

During various tweets, the Hewletts stated a goal of 20,000 views for today.  At the time of this post the count stood at 19,760. Why not invest three minutes of your life in comedy sans laugh track to put Assassidate over the top.


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The Saturday Shaft: Syndicate’s Theme Song Sounds A Little….

Yeah, I’m writing on the weekend. The fact that I’m not drenched in Zerg blood by this point on a Saturday afternoon should give you some indication of the very serious nature of today’s post. I mean, as posts go, they don’t get much more poignant than this one. So here it is.

Several months ago EA announced they were making a first person shooter remake of Bullfrog’s cyberpunk classic Syndicate. The gaming community responded with much snark and incredulity. Who wants a FPS remake of an isometric strategy game? Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. No, this post is on the Manhattan Project’s order of magnitude of importance.

EA’s new trailer for Syndicate features a theme song composed by Flux Pavilion. As video game music goes, it’s not a bad tune. The song works with the classic Syndicate riff, adding in a bit of a post-apocalyptic synth vibe. But then I noticed something else. Throughout the song, and especially at 2:30 in, it sounds a little similar to another song. I’m not suggesting that the two are carbon copies of each other. I’m asserting that the songs share some tonal qualities that will make me think about Fashion Television each time I hear the new Syndicate theme. Yeah, that’s right. I think bits of Syndicate sound like Animotion’s 1984 single Obsession. Here, have a listen.

Remember how I compared the importance of this post to the Manhattan Project? I might have over sold things a bit.

Still, am I crazy or is anybody else hearing a few common qualities between the two songs? Also, how weird is that Obsession music video?


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Short Story Review: The Hammer of God

Summary Judgement: In a story of less than five thousand words, Clarke balances the harder and softer elements of science fiction.

Story by: Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Original year of publication: 1992

The division between “hard” and “soft” science fiction is an interesting one. Most readers within the genre will agree that the terms work to describe the quality of the science proper within a given narrative. All too often, however, “hard” and “soft” act as polite euphemisms that create an artificial dividing line between “literary” and “mass market” science fiction. The unfortunate connotation therein is that the former is somehow more reputable than the latter. For various reasons that need not be detailed in this review, I disagree. In fact, I reject the very notion that the two are somehow mutually exclusive. Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s reputation as a master of “hard” sci-fi is well earned, but his short story The Hammer of God can be seen as a bridge between the two subsets of the genre.

Hammer is set within the same universe as Clarke’s 1962 masterpiece Rendezvous with Rama, though farther along in the timeline. Set in the early 23rd century, Hammer details a mission to deflect a planet-killing asteroid, aptly named Kali, from a collision with the Earth. The story is primarily told from the perspective of a SpaceForce captain named Robert Singh. Singh commands the orbital tug Goliath, and is charged with installing a rocket motor that, over the course of several months, will deflect Kali on to a safe trajectory. But that’s only half of the equation.

I imagine no shortage of modern editors would look at some of the details that Clarke offers and ask that most dreaded of questions, “How does this advance the plot?” It’s a fair question as there is so much text that builds depth without actually forwarding the narrative. Do readers really need to know about the breakdown and fusion of Christianity and Islam to grasp the severity of a “Chrislam” extremist’s attempts to sabotage Goliath’s mission? Probably not. When an extinction level event is imminent, showing without telling is perfectly valid. However, it is in those possibly extraneous words that Hammer starts to read like something that is comparable to Heinlein’s Friday.

The world nation that backs SpaceForce’s mission to map and patrol the solar system against rocks, comets and other space ephemera emerges out of a near-dystopia. Prior to the “Demilitarization of Earth”, Clarke crafts a world where private armies supplant gangs for control of Los Angeles’ streets. Prohibition in America leads to extensive trade wars. Bootleggers clash with Canadian “Medicops” in attempts to sneak Tobacco into the United States – a nation where “an estimated 20 million people died from ‘Smokey’”. Economic meltdowns see the “near simultaneous collapse of capitalism and communism.” Order is restored through the World Bank’s chaos mathematicians installing a state regulated economy that ends cyclical boom and bust globalization, thus averting a much feared final depression – a plot point which should resonate with every contemporary reader. From the ashes of this mess a single world nation stabilizes humanity in a way that is infinitely more accessible than visions of the future that are dependent on cornucopia technology or alien intervention. Even conventional ideas of marriage give way to the normalization of polyamorous relationships and accompanying birth control legislation. Granted, much of these social changes are the result of terrestrial technological innovations. Yet, much like warp drive, mass relays and stargates, the science is wholly tangential and not subject to deep scrutiny. How then do the two balance each other?

I mentioned earlier in this review that there’s no need to explain the society behind the Goliath’s mission. That point remains valid. What I strategically omitted is that if all these details were cut from what is ostensibly the main story, they would form a complete, but parallel, tale on their own. This tactic is simultaneously the defining characteristic and Achilles’ heel of this story. Hammer could work quite well as a strictly space based “hard” sci-fi story. Clarke’s decision to include the parallel narrative takes the abstract premise of the “Earth at stake”, and turns it into a tangible place within the reader’s mind. Of course, this decision assumes that the reader wants a heightened level of detail. If they don’t, the story turns into a bloated belly flop. Absent objections to extra depth, Hammer is a wonderful success for balancing the harder and softer elements of science fiction in under five thousand words.

The Hammer of God did in 1992 what many other contemporary sci-fi/spec-fic writers are doing now. It ignored the idea that the social sciences ought to be alienated from the physical sciences within genre literature. Some publishers and purists might insist that the engineering of Dyson Spheres can not or should not coexist on the same page with applied social Darwinism. Despite those sort of objections, Hammer’s take away message is clear: science and sociology are parallel forces within the human equation.

You can read The Hammer of God, for free, at Lightspeed Magazine.


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The Daily Shaft: Dear George Lucas, do shut up…

If somebody asked me what I think of George Lucas, I don’t know that I would be able to give them a short answer. I have to resist the temptation to dwell on the unholy nightmare that is the second Star Wars trilogy.  Looking at Lucas in a more general sense, he’s an art house director who made good as a commercial commodity.  For that I say good on you, George. Despite this success, I was thrilled to see a recent article on The Guardian announcing that Lucas is returning to his roots as an indie director.  What sort of bat-shit crazy thing on the order of THX-1138 could George come up with now as stinking rich elder statesman of cinema? But as quickly as I got my hopes up, George sent in a squad of Storm Troopers to cut them down to size. In announcing his retirement, George Lucas has turned into a troll.

It started with Lucas responding to a question about the now infamous edits to the original Star Wars trilogy. Rather than attempting a classy answer that would have justified why those changes needed to happen – I for one would love to know why Luke would see a young version of ghost Anakin at the end of Jedi and not the old man who he met on the Death Star – Lucas opted for snark. “On the internet, all those same guys that are complaining I made a change are completely changing the movie. I’m saying: ‘Fine. But my movie, with my name on it, that says I did it, needs to be the way I want it.’

Oh George. If your publicist told you that attacking the internet was a good idea, you need to fire him/her right the hell now. You think you’ve had a hard go of things? Keep biting the hands that fuel your commercial empire and you will see just how ugly things will get. Lucas’ diatribe continued with, “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”

Is anybody else hearing a petulant teenager sulking for more approbation and love from the rest of the kids in high school?

The conversation descended further into banality when Lucas defended the nuclear refrigerator scene from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Where Steven Spielberg had previously taken the flak for this eye-rolling bit of whimsy, Lucas now claims it was his idea.  Apparently Spielberg was attempting to protect Lucas’ reputation.  According to Lucas, “the odds of surviving that refrigerator – from a lot of scientists – are about 50-50.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullshit, George. I am officially throwing out the bullshit flag on this 50-50 blast shelter. Common sense dictates that this scene is a pile of crap. I’m okay with trans-dimensional aliens and even the giant bugs, but I draw the line at this.  For want of ready access to an engineer who could explain how a refrigerator would protect against the heat, shockwave, impact and radiation of being at ground zero of a nuclear blast, I turned to the highest power that I know, Mythbusters.

“Not a chance,” begins a Mythbusters article on the Discovery Channel’s website.

“”The lead would liquefy,” says Professor E.L. Mathie, a scientist who researches intermediate energy nuclear physics at the University of Regina.

Had Indy been further away, the force from the explosion would have had time to dissipate, and the fridge would have protected him from harmful gamma rays.

But at such close range, Professor Jones would definitely not have survived.

George, you need to stop and listen to Yoda for a moment. Once you start trolling people, forever will it dominate your destiny. Don’t destroy the good will that your audience has toward you with nonsense like this. A Jedi admits their mistakes, reflects on them, and grows from the experience. The best thing you can do right now is release your new movie, shut-up for a little while and then find a new publicist who can train you in the ways of humility before the public. Or else the conceptual genius that is George Lucas will be lost to arrogance and insecurity.