You Will Believe a Man Can be a Dying AT-AT

It’s probably too late to get tickets, but if there are any to be had, I highly recommend One-Man Star Wars at the SJ Rep. Playing this weekend only.

Of course, this requires heading down to the land of SJSU students with extremely poor taste in clothing. Downtown San Jose. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You must be cautious.

Posted in SF

Tars Tarkas Lives!

First, it’s interesting to compare Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios with Avatar. Both stories are about an alien Gaia ecosphere, and both are about Gaia violently rejecting human invaders. But here the similarity ends. Unlike Avatar, Bios cannot be characterized as, “What These People Need is a Honky“. No, in the world of Bios, insufficiently advanced honkies (and non-honkies) hemorrhage and dissolve into goo. Take that, imperialists!

Second, there’s no doubt that James Cameron’s amazing special effects technology is pretty amazingly amazing. I’m hoping it will be licensed soon. After all, if you want a movie with:

  • Fantastical terrain
  • Giant proud alien warriors
  • Nasty multi-limbed beasts
  • Nearly-naked space babes
  • Swashbuckling adventure
  • One brave honky saving the world

Then why the heck are we bothering with Avatar? Onward to John Carter of Mars!

Perhaps today IS a good day to talk about Star Trek!

Ok, enough waiting — if The Avocado thinks it’s time to jaw about Star Trek, by gum, it’s time.

  • Agreed with Timothy Burke, the movie was pretty goddamn excellent. Consistently exciting and usually very funny.
  • I was surprised and delighted that they left Old Spock alive at the end instead of killing him off. As Burke points out, having Old Spock in the universe creates all sorts of problems: he has foreknowledge of all kinds of threatening species and problems that the folks in the 23rd century didn’t know about, plus he’s a brilliant scientist from 130 years in the future. Frankly, I think these are excellent problems for a science fiction saga to have, and I only hope they don’t forget about these problems around the time movie #3 or #4 is ready to go.
  • Also, a big thank-you to the Star Trek scriptwriters for not destroying the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • The scene in the elevator between Spock and Uhura was excellent. I want to know more about Uhura, and why she would want to deal with the reality of dating Spock — as opposed to the abstract appeal of dating Spock that fandom has been chewing over for forty years.
  • Bad biology: The giant red worm/insect is awesome looking, but why is it red? And wouldn’t it freeze to death? And why go after Kirk, when it already has a substantial meal?
  • Bad engineering: What’s with the crazy system of pipes and water in the engineering room? Is this a shout-out to Galaxy Quest? “Why are there chompy-crushy things in here! There’s no reason we should have to run through chompy-crushy things! Who designed this? It makes no sense!”
  • Bad physics: I’m actually not too offended by the ridiculous black hole physics. Star Trek has consistently treated black holes as magical plot devices, so this is okay. (Though if the black hole was powerful enough to collapse a planet, why did they have to bother drilling to the core?)
  • Worse physics: A supernova that “threatened the galaxy?” Oo-kay. And did the supernova happen to Romulus’s star or a neighboring star? If the former, there would be no time to evacuate the planet. If the latter, you would have a few years to evacuate everybody. And what exactly a black hole would do to reverse / disperse a supernova?
  • Eye-gougingly bad physics: Look, transverse velocity exists, even when you are jumping from a magical flying dragon 23rd century shuttlecraft.
  • Loved the TOS sound effects.
  • It seems that modern SF franchises subscribe to the “the timeline wants to heal itself” philosophy of time travel. You can make massive changes — kill people, blow up Vulcan, even! — but incredibly unlikely events will conspire to land the entire TOS crew together anyway, in nearly the same state they were in the other timeline. See also the Terminator franchise, where you can’t kill John Connor’s mom because you’ll just end up spawning John Connor, and you can’t avert the apocalypse, you can only move it around in time.
  • Despite screaming “FIRE EVERYTHING!!!” with gusto, Nero was not, shall we say, the most interesting villain Star Trek has ever seen. I’m not sure we needed a great villain for a movie that’s basically about getting the band back together.
  • On the other hand: “Hi Christopher. I’m Nero.” Hehe!
  • If you can get Kirk and Spock on the Narada, why not transport a bunch of armed & armored Starfleet security guards as well? I’m pretty sure “Cupcake” and his buddies could have helped, at least. (In the Star Trek universe, if your enemy is able to transport soldiers over to your ship, you are usually in deep doo-doo.)
  • It’s interesting to compare the edited trailer dialogue to the lines in the full movie — usually the trailer’s dialogue wins. For example, Nero’s line in the trailer is, “James T. Kirk was a great man… but that was another life.” The full quote in the movie is wordier and not nearly as punchy.
  • Also, the trailers’ music is better than the movie’s music. Unfortunately, the trailer music is not for sale to the public at any price (I checked).
  • The final shot before opening credits (Nero’s ship crippled, a little trail of hopeful little shuttlecraft creeping away) is brilliant.
  • I want to know more about Future Iowa. What are those giant looming barely-visible buildings? What is that giant artificial gouge all about?

Why “Never Let Me Go” is Boring As Hell

Jen Pelland has read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and she is unimpressed:

I’ve made it to the halfway point, and I still have no idea why people are being raised as organ donors. Why? Because the book is both claustrophobic in its focus, and the POV character is disinterested in the world outside. The claustrophobia comes in the settings. Part 1 takes place entirely on the grounds of the boarding school, and Part 2 takes place (so far) strictly at the protagonist’s post-school home. We don’t get to see what’s happened to the rest of the world that’s made them so desperate for organs that they’ve turned people into cattle. And the POV character (and just about all the other students around her) are given opportunity after opportunity to ask questions, but they don’t. Worse, they then spend time privately mooning over why they didn’t think to ask that question that they really wanted to have answered. What do they do? They worry about grades, teachers, and sex.


This is supposed to be science fiction! You’re supposed to tell us all the cool stuff that’s happening in this crazy world you’ve invented!

I read Never Let Me Go a year back, and it bored me too — I barely finished it. That said, it seems unlikely that Ishiguro wrote Never Let Me Go specifically to piss off SF readers. The simpler explanation is: Ishiguro was trained to write in a genre that cares only about well-turned sentences and phrases, and doesn’t give a rip about plot or pacing. Therefore, the book is boring.

Also, keep in mind CLONING! and ORGAN HARVESTING!! are very very intrinsically exciting to someone who’s never bothered to read any of the thousands of SF stories that have already covered this ground. So it doesn’t occur to Ishiguro to go further — to him and his audience, these subjects are already very daring. We can deduct points for lack of curiosity and laziness, but I doubt we can chalk this up to malice.

Comparing Never Let Me Go to, say, The Road, the latter comes off far better. Like Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy hasn’t bothered to read any of the thousands of post-apocalyptic SF stories out there, and so he ends up writing a novel that doesn’t really tell an SF fan anything new about the apocalypse. But McCarthy at least has a plot — not a very fast-moving or complicated one, but at least there’s some there there. His characters actually do stuff. Even better, McCarthy does a fine job fleshing out his nasty post-apocalyptic world. We don’t find out how exactly the apocalypse happened, but we at least have a good sense of how this world works and how people try to live in it. So we at least get something readable, even if it makes us want to drop off a pile of books at McCarthy’s house with a note saying, “Please Read.”

Professional Norms in SF

In her post about the Helix racist email / copyright kerfuffle, Mur talks about professionalism:

I can’t see the executives of IBM or Coke sending out a racist email, or changing their websites to throw a third-grade insult (or, if they do, keeping their jobs afterward).

Which I guess answers the question of why there’s so much unprofessional action in this field even at the “pro” level: People don’t have to be professional. Readers seem to still be buying SF no matter how much asshattery some writers (and editors?) spew outside of their work.

I think Mur has her finger on it — it’s all about industry norms. In a corporate environment, the Helix editor’s behavior would be totally unacceptable. HR would get involved, he’d be put on a Performance Improvement Plan, etc. At any large corporation there will be people who think the way the Helix editor does, but they know better than to do what he did, spew their views in business correspondence.

Other industries have different norms. If you’re a union steamfitter, you might end up exchanging words with someone else on the job site, and on rare occasions, someone might get popped in the jaw. The foreman generally handles these incidents on a case-by-case basis. Contrast this with the corporate Fortune 500 environment: it’s actually pretty hard to fire an individual in most large companies, even if they’re really, really incompetent. But if you physically strike a coworker, you’ll be out of there that same day.

In the SF writing profession, the norms are different yet again. Unlike being a cubicle worker, unlike being a steamfitter, in SF it seems the penalty for being an unsocialized loon is pretty close to zero.

As for why readers buy SF from “asshat” writers and editors, that’s because industry norms flow from industry workers, not the industry’s customers. When Intel calls the steamfitters in to help build a fab, Intel couldn’t care less that Joe Smith got into a fight at the last site. It’s up to the foreman and the other steamfitters to get the job done, with or without Joe. Likewise, readers don’t care that some editor might be a jerk — they don’t even know who that editor is.

Unfortunately, SF editors and writers can’t enforce their norms the steamfitters’ way. But seems like a good start.

In the Grim Darkness of the Future, There is Only Really Insane Logistics

Sam: One of my favorites is that space marine battle barges are on the order of 10km long. However they are listed as only being able to transport 4 companies of marines, which is 400 guys and their gear.

Evan: that’s just sheer size for sheer size’s sake.

Sam: Well they do have some pretty big guns.
Sam: And fire 200ft long torpedoes
Sam: I mentioned it on the boards once that Aircraft carriers are around 900ft long and manage to hold 5000 people, 100 or so aircraft and everything needed to run all that for years at a time.

Evan: and what did the people on the boards say?

Sam: well, there were a few reasonable folks that basically said try not to overthink it and enjoy the fluff.
Sam: Then there was the much larger contingent that came up with all manner of justifications for that foolishness and saw nothing amiss.
Sam: This is why I think the designers of the 40k MMO are really getting in over their heads. Its a whole new world of crazy dealing with those guys.

Evan: well to be fair the marines are like EIGHT FEET TALL
Evan: and they consume more food
Evan: more energy
Evan: and of course they need EIGHT FOOT TALL CAMP FOLLOWERS

Sam: yea, and decked in power armor that makes even those giants look like pinheads

Evan: and said EIGHT FOOT TALL CAMP FOLLOWERS need makeup, prophylactics, …
Evan: all that really starts to add up.

Sam: still, you’d think 10km would do it.

Posted in SF

Cain’s World! Cain’s World! Party Time! Excellent!

Dave asks for a review of Battlestar Galactica: Razor and presto! We deliver the very next day. By this site’s standards, that’s practically blogging in real time.

But before I talk about the movie, it seems worth mentioning that I ended up going with the OpenSolaris T-shirt because it was a little thicker and warmer than the others. Also, worth noting is that we were first in line. When the group behind us got confused about The Menagerie vs. The Cage, who were the alpha geeks that set ’em straight? That’s right, us.

Oh yeah, the review. Two thumbs up! The feel-good movie of the winter!

Actually, this being a story about Pegasus, there honestly isn’t a whole lot of feel-good stuff (other than a couple of clever quips and a humorous scene with some old-style Cylons.) There’s a framing story set in the “present”, set when Lee Adama first takes over Pegasus, and a flashback story set ten months earlier, covering Admiral Cain and the first few weeks of Pegasus’s flight from the Scorpion shipyards.

The writers did a fine job balancing the frame story and the flashback story, and I think I can see why they structured it this way. If it had been a 100% Cain/Pegasus story, it just would have been a “oh, I guess it’s nice that they filled in some backstory” movie. Also, while I love Michelle Forbes and seeing her world, spending the full 1.5 hours there would have been a lot to take. Splitting the movie enabled them to tie it all back to the current story line, while still managing to pack in all of major historical high points (read: low points) that we already knew about Pegasus.

As a special bonus, we get to see how the Cylon hybridization project started. I had always wondered about how the Cylons went from pure “metallic” to their modern day state. Where did they get this biological material? I wonder if it was really gross? The answers are A) from captured humans of course, and B) yes, very.

Anyway, some fine acting all around, a couple of key additions to the mythos, and a well-structured story. Those of you in the VPX crowd should watch the movie carefully to see:

  • how Eick and Moore get us back up to speed on the Pegasus’s history (answer: very quickly)
  • how much time they spend on the “canonical” Pegasus history
  • how much additional backstory they generate in order to give the canonical events more punch

Oh, and if you were complaining about not enough pew-pew-pew-LAZER action in Season 3, rest assured you will not be disappointed by BSG: Razor. In short, this movie bodes well for Season 4.

Nerd Fashion Emergency

Tonight I’m off with my cousin to go see an advance screening of the Battlestar Galactica: Razor movie. This raises a serious dilemma… what to wear?

Sadly, I don’t own any actual BSG clothing, so it’s down to the OpenSolaris T-shirt or the Log4Perl T-shirt. The OpenSolaris T-shirt is a cool black number with a snippet of actual Solaris kernel code on the front. But the Log4Perl T-shirt is a limited edition given to me by the actual creator of Log4Perl, who sits several rows over from me. Come to think of it, I could also go with the extremely limited edition Viable Paradise X T-shirt, on the theory that this puts me very near the top of the Geek Hierarchy. But I’m guessing not too many folks will understand what “Viable Paradise” refers to. I mean these are grubby media SF fans, after all.

Man, where are the Queer Eye guys when you really need them?