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Monthly Archives: April 2008

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The Must Read SF Story of the Day – Robert Reed A Billion Eves

I’m not the greatest fan of the Hugos, but the Hugo Awards got it right in 07 giving Vernor Vinge the Best Novel Hugo for Rainbow’s End, one of the few genuinely important SF novels of the 21st century so far, and giving Robert Reed best Novella for A Billion Eves. While this year we can safely expect the 2008 Hugos to be a complete embarrassment with Michael Chabon, Scalzi (WTF?), Robert J. Sawyer and Charlie Stross up for best Novel and Nancy Kress, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Lucius Shepard up for Best Novella; it’s worth taking a look and a read back at A Billion Eves, especially in light of the FLDS mess now brewing, which is up on the Asimov’s site. Robert Reed’s evocation of Mormon patriarchal theocracy, seemingly gentle, and yet ultimately destructive, in a Science Fiction setting with multiple universes is the Must Read SF Story of the Day or Must Reread.

The Return of Margaret B. Jones

AKA Miss Seltzer. Looking at the former almost authoress, the well off suburban girl from a prosperous family going through her gangsta routine, the obvious question is why Margaret Seltzer went this route. With people like James Frey the answer is fairly obvious, ego and greed to be famous. With Margaret Seltzer you almost want to think that it was some sort of misguided idealism or blighted sense of self-worth. And in the end what Margaret Seltzer did as Margaret B. Jones is exactly what any number of rappers have done, to transform a conventional suburban life into an imaginary hard core criminal record. But Margaret Seltzer wasn’t trying to be the next Eminem, she was playing with biography and memoir, areas that have lost a lot of credibility but that still place some premium at least on elementary truth.

Can Microsoft Do Anything Right?

It doesn’t take a long look at Microsoft to realize that the former Beast from Redmond isn’t looking nearly as healthy anymore. With Bill Gates and Paul Allen departed, Steve Ballmer has inherited the big flagging empire and while it might have been Netscape which used the Captain’s Wheel, it’s Microsoft that could use the navigation because the company is drifting and slowly sinking with Ballmer at the helm. Ballmer’s lack of grounding in technology, not to mention his attitude, can’t help but be contributing to Microsoft’s problems. But right now it seems like no one at Microsoft can get anything right. Even the release of Windows XP SP3 turned out to be botched. This follows the botched release of Windows Vista SP1, which itself needed an update. Considering that all this attention centered around XP and Vista comes because of Vista’s dysfunctionality, Ballmer’s mixed messages about retaining XP and Dell’s downgrades, strongly suggest that Microsoft may need to compromise and preserve XP and then get in the game fast with Windows 7, before it’s all gone faster than you can say Atari.

Three Broken Merger Dreams

Outside the hothouse fictional gangster world of GTA IV, Take Two was in the middle of its own hostile takeover drama, not to be resolved with guns or bombs but with sales and a strong showing for GTA IV was its best bet. EA, the Mafia of game companies knew that GTA VI’s release was its deadline. If Take Two could stand off a hostile takeover until GTA IV’s release, it might survive. If Electronic Arts could snap up Take Two early, it could feed off the lush rich GTA IV profits and crush Take Two. Take Two’s board, despite its lack of credibility, managed to hold off EA long enough to make the release, employ poison measures and are now busy breaking sales records. Will that save Take Two from EA and turn the EA proposed takeover into the third broken merger dream, after Blockbuster’s failed merger with Circuit City and Microsoft’s increasingly failed takeover of Yahoo? In the short term GTA IV’s release has sent Take Two’s stock price all over the place, rising and now falling. But the game isn’t done yet.

Aleksey Vayner has a Blog

I must have been sleeping when Aleksey Vayner returned to the world with a blog. Normally when you’ve become best known for well… the sort of thing Aleksey Vayner became known for, namely being an insane fantasizer who coins entire phony biographies, a blog with your name on it would be the last thing to do. But Aleksey Vayner is indeed back and self-important as ever. Plenty of joke blogs have been created in Aleksey Vayner’s name, some of them pretty funny, but a Whois search via Dnsstuff would suggest that this is the actual Aleksey Vayner. The blog is about the sort of egotistical success oriented stuff you would expect. There’s even a link to Lifehacker. And of course tips on beating stronger tennis players, his Tibet related foundation for helping children supposedly approved by the Dalai Llama. In other words Aleksey Vayner really has not learned a single thing. Except of course to have a guy from India screen his comments.

If you would like to post a comment on a particular entry, great! The comments will not appear instantly however, so please be patient. When you enter a comment, your name, I.P. address, email and the comment will be automatically forwarded to a friendly representative somewhere in India; he will check it for objectivity, relevancy, and against profanity. Then he or she will either approve or delete the comment.

Outsourcing moderation of comments to India? Is this the future of blogging?

A Dishonest Defense of GTA IV

GTA IV is out, which of course means the cultural critics and ole Jack Thompson are out and about sniping away at the game and its culture of violence. Now obviously no video game can make someone steal a car or shoot anyone in real life. That’s common sense and it should be the main point of defense. And that should be it without trying to follow the lead of some Rockstar Games people by trying to whitewash the actual game content of GTA VI.

For example this Cnet article Critics slam ‘GTA IV’ without test drive rehashes an old defense of GTA3, the sandbox defense. Now anyone who’s actually played Grand Theft Auto knows the sandbox defense is a joke. Yes you can spend time in the game riding around in a taxi or just walking around. You could also spend it passed out on the ground. Neither of those are the object of the game.

Part of the problem, said Aaron Muszalski, a visual effects artist formerly with Industrial Light & Magic who teaches at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, is that critics of games like those in the GTA series pass judgment on a very small sample of the whole game.

“When it was reported that, in earlier GTA games, it was possible to have sex with prostitutes and then beat them to death,” Muszalski said, “people who lacked a grasp of ‘sandbox’ gameplay were likely to have interpreted that news to have meant that to ‘win’ at GTA, one had to perform such tasks, perhaps even that they were a recurring stage in the gameplay.

Now I’ll grant you that I don’t remember any GTA mission that requires you to have sex with prostitutes and beat them to death, it’s not only possible in the game but it’s rewarded. But let’s take the whole, “kill a hooker, get her money” thing off the table. To win at GTA you do have to beat people to death, kill a few women and at least transport hookers. There was at least once GTA Vice City mission that involved killing someone’s ex wife.

“Of course, such a perception is grossly flawed, as anyone who has actually played GTA…will quickly tell you,” Muszalski continued. “Many of the aspects of GTA that were most covered in the press were things that, in the actual course of gameplay, many people would never need nor choose to do.”

Let’s face it random violence was always part of GTA, not only because the game design made it possible, but because it actually made Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas into randomly violent places. And back to the beating hookers to death thing, killing a random NPC yields money. That’s the game design. That means the game comes with an incentive for killing NPC’s. GTA specifically doesn’t contain children because the game designers did not want players running around killings kids. That’s where they drew the line. They certainly knew and expected that players would beat and kill NPC’s, including the hookers to death, and created a reward mechanism for it.

Does this mean that GTA encourages players to go and kill real life hookers? No, it just means that we should be honest about the actual game content, because not every critic is as stupid as Jack Thompson.

The Return of The Reverend Wright

It’s safe to say that the one thing Obama did not want in the lead in to North Carolina was the return of Jeremiah Wright in a big way with a national bullhorn, but neither is Obama the innocent being tried on the charge of guilt by association that his defenders would like us to believe.

Obama’s rapid political climb from the Illinois State Senate to the United States Senate to a strong shot at the Presidency wasn’t fired purely by charisma, let alone some sort of record of accomplishment that doesn’t exist, but by favors, deals and political alliances and while most Senators have had enough time in national office to leave behind when they run for President, Obama has gone through the revolving door too fast to shed his Chicago dirty deals in time for his run on D.C. And that leaves Wright and Rezko and Ayers and many more dogging his heels.

The real problem for Obama isn’t Wright’s radicalism, it’s Obama’s inability to be a man and honestly face up to the problem, instead turning the whole thing into a teach in about race complete with half the American flags in the country standing behind him. Americans, black and white, aren’t interested in lectures about race from politicians, they want candidates who can tackle the big policy problems from the war to health care to the economy, and Obama is showing anything but grace under fire. If we can see Bill Clinton sweat, we can see Obama sweat too and it isn’t pretty.

War Inc, Anti-War Satire Ain’t Easy

With the release of War Inc, we’re given yet another reminder of why Stanley Kubrick was such a brilliant director. Not because Kubrick did War Inc, but because Strangelove actually worked. When you consider how many movies have tried to ape Strangelove and how many have tried to satirize the Cold War and the Military Industrial Complex and you can’t help but moan in agony.

War Inc is the latest terrible entry. It’s Syriana, if Syriana had tried to work in a plot about a pop star and gone for comedy instead of preachy lectures taken straight from Newsweek and New York Times articles. But War Inc’s worst crimes is that it was already made and that it failed. American Dreamz was written, directed and acted in by far more talented people than those involved in War Inc and it was a disaster and it featured much of the same plot, complete with a pop star playing a pop star and the intermingling of war and politics.

War Inc’s is an attempt to somehow paste 70’s storytelling onto 00’s current events in the clumsiest way possible and it demonstrates once again that anti-war satire isn’t easy, no matter how easy it might look to the average Hollywood player blogging on Huffington Post. There’s a long list of movies that have done anti-war satire badly, that alone should serve as a warning. War Inc didn’t have to be made and it didn’t have to be made so badly. American Dreamz existed as a living example of what to avoid, the uneasy over the top mixture of drama and comedy, the lack of direction and perspective and the self-indulgent premise that entertainment has taken over war, when in reality these days Hollywood and the military are so detached that they don’t even meet on odd sundays.

New Dark Knight Trailer is Here

See it while it’s up. This might be enough to take back the comic book movie hype for Batman from Iron Man. We see some complex themes emerging and the continuation of the rise of a superhero class, the better criminal represented by the Joker and the kind of man Bruce Wayne has to become to defeat him.

Battlestar Galactica 4×06 Escape Velocity episode review

Written by Buffy writer Jane Espenson and directed by Olmos himself, with Battlestar Galactica s4e06 Escape Velocity, Baltar makes him inevitable transition to Jesus, being martyred with a few blows from a guard’s rifle, after the President does her usual overreaction and bans assemblies, turning Baltar’s group into martyrs. Apollo manages to save Baltar a second time, earning him a spot right after Baltar on the list of people on Battlestar Galactica who should be shot if anyone on there had any common sense. But of course they don’t.

Meanwhile, true to BSG fashion, Chief deals with Callie’s death by going on a bender and staging a confrontation with Admiral Adama that gets him demoted. Tory teaches Baltar a creepy ideology about the perfection of man that doesn’t require any actual self-improvement. At this point she’s the only Cylon around who’s actually menacing anyone and she’s doing it in classic soap opera style. All the while Six delivers long speeches about her love for Baltar and smacks the good Cylon Colonel Tigh around before making out with him.

Once upon a time Battlestar Galactica used to involve the Cylons. Once upon a time they used to be menacing enemies. That was then. These days half the crew are Cylons and no one much cares and the actual Cylons are busy fighting among themselves. The show dedicates itself to the screwed up behavior of its crew, much of which is self-destructive. Unaccountably, despite all that Baltar has done, the Quorum, Apollo and all the gang are perfectly willing to let Baltar return to power and only the President seems to care. Admiral Adama, who we are reminded in this episode was willing to line Callie up against the wall and shoot her to force refueling, lets it all go.

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