Old Mars by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois Book Review

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Price: Several Slightly Less Mediocre Softcover Themed Anthologies

Number of Inner Light Ripoffs: 6

Number of Good Stories: 3

Number of Great Stories: 1

Number of Stories by Martin Pals: Too Many

Reason for Existence: George R.R. Martin Twinkie Fund

Themed anthologies are invariably bad. Asking readers to pay 30 bucks for a hardcover themed anthology is insane hubris even for George R. R. Martin who put out a hardcover collection consisting of things like his unpublished TV scripts. But here’s Old Mars anyway.

On paper, unpublished paper, Old Mars sounds like a good idea. A tribute to the Mars of John Carter that we lost when we saw the real Mars.

On actual paper, Old Mars is a miserable collection of bad writing from both good and bad writers. The worst offenders are Chris Roberson and Melinda Snodgrass with stories that are terrible and mediocre at the same time. But that’s also the overall tone of Old Mars.

Old Mars has more ripoffs of the Star Trek TNG episode The Inner Light than an entire fanzine. This collection is filled with humans encountering Martian artifacts and getting visions through them of the lost Mars that was.

Story after story of the same thing. And almost none of them are any good.

Aside from S.M Stirling and Mike Resnick turning in another overpulped homage, this isn’t John Carter’s Mars. It’s supposed to be Ray Bradbury’s Mars if Bradbury had been a hack who could barely spell his name. Countless stories of conflict between human settlers and Martian archeology. Countless stories of the one human who can magically detect the original Martians while no one else believes him.

That’s not even the weirdest part there. There are two, count em two, stories of 16th century British sailing ships traveling to Mars at the command of an English King. The second story was by Martin pal Daniel Abraham, but it’s still too much.

Some of the mess that is Old Mars can be put down to mediocre writers. Who picks out Melinda Snodgrass for a theme anthology? Or Chris Roberson, a guy whose story about pirates on Mars reads like something a six year old would come up with? But how do you explain Michael Moorcock’s pulpy entry which is bad enough to be pulp, well enough written to remind you that Moorcock can write, but still a bad story?

The closest to the advertised vision of Old Mars comes from S.M. Stirling’s Sword of Zar-Tu-Kan. But that’s just another story set in Stirling’s own Old Mars, an idea he had long before this anthology and extends from his novel, In the Courts of the Crimson Kings. Old Mars is just a paying market for an existing Stirling universe.

Phyllis Eisenstein’s The Sunstone is YAish, but is the best of the Inner Light reworkings because its Martians are understated tour guides keeping a hidden culture alive, instead of the ridiculous visions in other stories.

The Queen of Night’s Aria by Ian McDonald is the best and only genuinely great story of the lot. Martin and Dozois know it which is why they positioned last. And that means they also know the value of the rest of the lot. McDonald delivers a personal story of an eccentric Irish musician contrasted with a world in which War of the Worlds has been going on since the invasion, the British and the Ottoman Empire are trying to occupy Mars while dealing with a bewildering array of species and a ruthless Martian Queen plotting under the surface.

Queen does what the rest of the stories in Old Mars fumble to accomplish, casually tossing off locations, technologies and a war without infodumps and while keeping the focus on an eccentric character and his ambitions. It’s a masterful performance that only makes the rest of the volume seem that much worse.

The Dark Knight Returns’ Batman is Really Ra’s al Ghul

Nothing like Ra's al Ghul. At all

Nothing like Ra’s al Ghul. At all

Frank Miller’s Batman is bound to be an asshole. But what struck me when rereading The Dark Knight Returns is why he’s an asshole.

Batman may be dark and menacing, but he protects Gotham because he cares about the people. Miller’s Batman in Dark Knight Returns has nothing but contempt for the people of Gotham.

It’s a theme that develops subtly in the media coverage as the people turn one way and then another, the contemptible mayor who answers to the polls, the storekeeper itching to shoot the Mutant until Batman warns him off and finally the climax in which Batman allies with the former Mutants to fight… among other enemies… the people of Gotham.

It all climaxes in the showdown with Superman who let the people push him into being a weakling by comic book Reagan who is just another feeble minded projection of the petty people of Gotham and the United States.

The Batman of the Dark Knight Returns isn’t a hero because he cares about people, but because he follows some Randian imperative to be heroic. Eventually he leads an army of the ex-Mutants, the same guys who were murdering, raping and bombing Gotham, on a quest to build his own system. This Batman doesn’t fight for people. He fights because he’s a Nietzschean Superman. He’s just made to be superior.

And Superman is just a loser who takes orders from ordinary people. Like the people of Gotham and the media. He let them make him unheroic. That’s why Batman does so well against him. Superman doesn’t think he’s better than anyone. This version of Batman does.

Superman didn’t do his job of imposing the right system on humans. So he got stuck answering to Ronnie, a human leader. Batman is going to go down into the caves and emerge with some kind of new order to replace the pop psychology, push polls and political correctness.

It’s striking how different this Batman is from his usual self and from Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil. This is a Batman who belongs in Moore’s Watchmen more than he does in Gotham. He’s not just a fascist because he’s a crime-fighting vigilante. That’s a common comic critic mistake. He’s a fascist because he believes that society is corrupt and that he has the right to impose his own order on it.

The Dark Knight Returns gives us Batman as a Batman villain. This Batman has more in common with Ra’s al Ghul, right down to his own private army, a home in the caves and contempt for human society.

That contempt is what always separated Batman from Ra’s al Ghul. Batman knew that Gotham was corrupt, but he never completely gave up on it. Miller’s Batman has given up. He views Gotham with a cold eye. He treats its people with disdain. He thinks he’s better than them.

He knows what’s best for them. And he’ll punish them if they don’t obey. He is Ra’s al Ghul.

Saints Row 55: Technicolor Yawn Parody Out of Hell

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There’s more DLC coming. With angel wings. And Shakespeare. And hilariously wacky weapons.

Just be glad this one isn’t being released as Saints Row 5 like the last one was.

Saints Row 3 was amazing because it took a GTA clone and asked what would happen if GTA were actually fun and if it had a story that kicked it up to 11.

Saints Row 4 dropped the fun part and swapped out constant parodies for the story. You were constantly figuring out which powers to swap while trying to figure out what game was being parodied now.

Since then it’s been a stream of DLC that no one can keep track of.

Gat Out of Hell throws in a new city still in technicolor darkness and with more superpowers. Like flying. You could fly in SR4, but now you’ll have wings. Also lots of arch references. It’ll be the perfect Comedy Central videogame.

And that’s all Saints Row is now. It’s Family Guy. It’s a Comedy Central show. It’s a bunch of references to things you might have heard of stuck between minigames.

Saints Row 3 walked a line. It was ridiculously over the top, but it had its own story. It wasn’t just a bunch of loosely linked Family Guy parodies of other things. It took the characters seriously in its own twisted way. Its action scenes mattered because of that.

The new Saints Row model is to amp up the jokes, more costumes, more weapons, more minigames, less story and less gameplay fun. Don’t release new games. Just release more over the top DLCs for a game that already sold well and hope everyone keeps on being excited at the latest Awesome Show DLC. It’s like Serious Sam without being fun to play.

It’s back to the manure cannon but with a knowing wink and a topical reference to another game you might have played. You know, an actual game.

Is Mr. Mercedes Stephen King’s Worst Book?

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Mr. Mercedes doesn’t read like Stephen King. It doesn’t even read like Dean Koontz. It reads like Mediocre Thrillerwriter from the four books for a buck shelf.

It reads like a trunk novel from 1992 when the internet was new and scary and a rash of books and TV movies about evil little nerds plotting to kill people with super computer magic were everywhere.

And it wouldn’t surprise me if that was exactly where Mr. Mercedes is from.

The title and cover of Mr. Mercedes strain to convince you that it’s going to be another complicated ride filled with allusions building up to… forget about it.

There’s nothing supernatural here. There’s nothing any deeper than the movie of the week here.

Mr. Mercedes is the story of a battle of wits between your stock character, the retired cop still haunted by a case (divorced, alcoholic, thinking of suicide – all the cliche boxes are checked) and an updated Norman Bates who not only has a sick relationship with his mother, but also works on the Geek Squad at Best Buy and has an evil command center in his basement full of laptops with a countdown running.

And he voice controls them by saying “Chaos”.

Stephen King has written bad novels before, but never boring ones. This isn’t Christine. This isn’t The Under the Dome. It’s just bland.

The writing is bad. The characters are bland. The plot is predictable. I skipped 100 pages ahead and sure enough, the Best Buy Norman Bates had killed his mother. I skipped ahead another 100 pages and the plastic explosive mentioned early on had been used to blow up the cop’s new girlfriend.

And then I put down the book for good.

That was the first time I put down a Stephen King book without reading it through. But before King had always put in enough hooks, enough verbal special pleadings, to keep you going. Mr. Mercedes is the first time his talent completely abandoned him.

There’s nothing here worth reading.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe after 300 pages the whole thing turns into a hidden mystical battle between his shopping list and his ghostwriter.

But I’m betting it doesn’t.

If you programmed a computer to write a Stephen King novel, it might spit out something like Mr. Mercedes. It’s unimaginative. It’s so unimaginative that it doesn’t even inhabit the same space as imagination.

There are some of Stephen King’s tics here, but they come off badly. The Best Buy Bates talks like an elderly 60s racist. Really, what twenty something today says “Darkie”. There’s a young black character who keeps saying “Massa”.

It’s embarrassing to read. It must have been even more embarrassing to edit. Except that it obviously wasn’t edited.

King tried to learn something about the internet in the process of writing or rewriting this, but it just makes the basic errors and the context of it even dumber.

The cop and the Best Buy Bates spar through a supersecret connection that sounds like a housewife’s chat room from the 90s. There’s talk about vacuuming crumbs out of CPUs. The Best Buy Bates is an inventor and computer genius who never heard of a Roomba.

I don’t know why Mr. Mercedes exists.

It’s obvious that Stephen King has been having some writing problems. He put out two trunk novels recently and a few sequels. The quality has been weak, but Mr. Mercedes isn’t weak. It has no merits.

There’s no reason to read it.

Google Wasn’t Built for Users or Websites, it was Built for Advertisers

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Google decided to borrow Amazon’s whiny PR company to disgorge this nonsense.

It’s not the case that Google is “the gateway to the Internet” as the publishers suggest.

That’s not what you tell your stockholders. You are the gateway to the internet. And a really shitty gateway because you aren’t interested in content, just in selling ads and that means filling your search results with as much garbage as possible because you have no competition and you want to display as many pages as possible.

Nor is it true to say that we are promoting our own products at the expense of the competition. We show the results at the top that answer the user’s queries directly (after all we built Google for users, not websites)

No you built it for advertisers. If Google were built for users, it wouldn’t be a giant data mining and ad factory. And it would have relevant results.

Your top results are usually Wikipedia and a bunch of keyword mongering index sites that you keep promising to filter out but never do.

Ask for the weather and we give you the local weather right at the top. This means weather sites rank lower, and get less traffic. But because it’s good for users, we think that’s OK.

This is how you promote your product at the expense of the competition. Your example of how you don’t do it, is how you do it.

And your weather results are invariably inferior and out of date, but who cares.

 It’s the same if you want to buy something (whether it’s shoes or insurance). We try to show you different offers and websites where you can actually purchase stuff — not links to specialized search engines (which rank lower) where you have to repeat your query.

You show sponsored shopping results to make money and rip off users.

Five out of every six items that appeared in the sponsored items section were more expensive than those those hidden deeper in the results, according to the newspaper. And on average, the sponsored products were 34 percent higher.

Those are ads that are paid for. And the rest of the results are spam search engines half the time or Amazon or outdated eBay listings.

Don’t be evil? You’re evil and you’re a lousy engine.