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Monthly Archives: November 2010

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The Vampires Have Officially Won

My feelings on S.M. Stirling as a writer have always been mixed. There’s potential there, but he’s stuck in the same ghetto, writing the same Military SF plots in different settings. The Draka novels were interesting, until the last one. The Emberverse was mostly a waste, but still different. In the Court of the Crimson King was a bold and successful return to the spirit of the pulps. But you know what sells now? Stories about girls seduced by monsters. Twilight. And by all appearances, Stirling wrote his own Twilight novel.

It’s incredibly depressing to see all the supernatural detectives choking up the Science Fiction section. But this is actually worse. Because Stirling is capable of better. Instead he switches out vampires for werewolves and writes something like A Taint in the Blood to market to an older version of the Twilight crowd. Does the man actually need the money this badly. I know he’s done Terminator novels, and merchandising books are low, but this is worse. This is developing your own derivative merchandising book. In a market overcrowded with books like it. Or sorta like it.

From Publishers Weekly

Stirling (The Sword of the Lady) launches a new series with a messy and unappetizing mix of well-worn monster tropes and excessive sexual violence. The ancient, powerful, and sociopathic Shadowspawn have always lived among (and interbred with) humans. When Adrian Brézé, the one Shadowspawn capable of resisting his violent urges, discovers that his ex, Ellen, has been kidnapped by his evil twin sister, Adrienne, he begins a war against his own kind. Adrienne repeatedly rapes Ellen, who endures using psychological techniques she developed during childhood abuse, as she prepares her own political machinations. Stirling hits just about every cliché, from the grizzled vampire hunter and mentor to Adrienne’s pathologically devoted servants (who call themselves lucies and renfields). Stirling’s prose is competent, but there’s nothing new in his story, and few readers will have the stomach for the over-the-top sadism.

The cliche part is none too surprising. Or the rapes. Or that he’s managed to write another evil lesbian villain (is this one also blond?). Without reading this, I can guess that the Shadowspawn will be a dumbed down version of the Draka. A depressingly dumbed down version. Especially since this and Emberverse are his main focus now. Writers need to earn money. But doing something like this and dedicating it to…

To Jack Williamson, Fred Pohl, Sprague de Camp and other Golden Agers for inspiration; and Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen.

Come on.

That’s like writing ad copy for the back of a box of Frosted Flakes and dedicating it to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. What’s happening to Science Fiction? This is. It’s been swamped by everyone doing their own takes on Twilight and Jim Butcher. Frosted Flakes would taste better.

The Story of how Human Target was Killed

Boom! Bang!

That’s Human Target. Its premiere just posted the show’s lowest rating ever. And it was creatively garbage with an annoying new theme and an episode that jettisoned last season’s cliffhanger, added an annoying character and made no sense. FOX decided Human Target needed retooling and they brought in Matt Miller, a Chuck producer, to be its new showrunner.

But… but, Chuck is also terribly low rated. Also unlike Human Target, Chuck sucks. Well now Human Target sucks too. Anyone who read this interview with Matt Miller could see that one coming.

The ratings weren’t great, and now Fox has moved it to Fridays and brought in “Chuck” producer Matt Miller to be the showrunner. Miller’s job is to take the elements that were working and then make the show stronger overall creatively.

Doctor, this patient has a broken leg. You know what we need to do? Throw him in a dumpster out back and give him AIDS. That will fix whatever’s wrong with him. And make him stronger creatively.

I had not seen it, and received a call to watch the show. I watched and I thought it was incredible. I seriously could not believe the amount they were able to get on the screen on that show… It was a case of some wish-fulfillment. I got to watch a show, think, “Beautiful, but what would I do differently?” and was given the ball and the opportunity to try to make those changes myself.

I love the show, it’s incredible. So how do I go about completely ruining everything about it?

I think there were a couple of different areas we wanted to attack.

First Poland, then France.

The first was adding some female characters.

And also a wisecracking robot. Everyone loves a show with a wisecracking robot. And Chance will now be a single father running a modeling agency.

The second was the way the stories were being told. In season one, it was incredible action-adventure, page 1 to page 50 or whatever. This season, I think we want to still be an action-adventure show, but have it relate to character as much as possible. So every episode should land on and relate to and be impactful to one of our five leads.

In season one, the show was fun. In season two, every episode will be impactfulling on people. In season one, it was a blast that you actually wanted to watch. In season two, impacting will take place. You may not like our impactfulling, but wait till you see the life lessons that can be learned from a wisecracking robot running a modeling agency.

So whether it be Chance who’s emotionally at stake, or Winston, or Guerrero or Ames or Ilsa, we want to feel that the A-story relates to them personally in some way.

Like when Chance is hired to stop a chocolate factory from being robbed and we learn that he was once raped by chocolate.

So that’s the storytelling.

It’s not storytelling. It’s formulaic bullshit that’s supposed to hook viewers, but will do just the opposite.

Visually, you had a guy who was sort of in hiding last year. You couldn’t tell where the show took place. We want to know that the show takes place in San Francisco, wanted to see it out the window.

You could see it out the window last season. There was an entire episode that showed a chase scene through San Francisco. The Golden Gate bridge was shown over and over again last season.

We wanted to give the whole thing a visual facelift, give it a little more pop. So the office is going to be completely redone.

Before it was a warehouse with some edge. Now it looks like the lobby of some cheap hotel. Or the recycled Dollhouse set.

Musically, we’ve made some changes. We’re going to have Tim Jones, the composer from “Chuck,” coming on. We’re going to put needle drops (actual songs instead of score) in the show, just give it a little bit more pop.

Bye Bye Bear McCreary, we don’t need your crappy music anymore. We’ve got the guy from Chuck. You know the award winning music from Chuck. It’s got pop!

The idea has to be with the first episode back that it feels satisfying for people that watched last season and want that cliffhanger resolved in some way, but for a new audience who’s never seen the show before, they should be able to watch “Human Target” and not be confused for a second

And they did that by jettisoning the cliffhanger, staging a confusing bank scene that made no sense, and then having Chance quit, then have him come back 2 minutes later, and then run a mediocre version of a Knight Rider episode. Not the old Knight Rider, the new Knight Rider.

Hopefully we’re taking what happened last season, wrapping it up and then relaunching the Ilsa story in a way that feels completely entertaining and satisfying.

Like the way eating stale wonderbread with motor oil spread over it feels entertaining and satisfying, after you waited a whole year for a full course meal.

Basically, the idea is that we wanted to give the show a slightly different tone to it. Bear’s a very busy guy, he’s taken on another job, and I talked to Tim about it, and we felt there was some way to take the music from last year and just tweak it slightly. So it’s not going to be totally new score, or anything like that. It’s just going to be slightly revamped and remodeled. And also, the show last year was musically great, but it had no music in it. There were no needle drops. So we want to do that, add some songs to the show.

Now we have whiny background music and moody shots of the characters looking at things, and waiting for FOX to cancel the show, so they can move on with their lives. Just like Chuck! Except FOX isn’t desperate. So unlike NBC they will actually cancel it.

And viewers will look back on Season 1, before all the crap, before Poochie (of Itchy, Scratchy and Poochie fame) joined the cast, before Bear’s music got dumped and before the show turned into Knight Rider 2.

Want to see a Green Lantern movie from the 80’s?

They just made one. And it looks exactly like a movie from the 80’s. Even the bad special effects look hopelessly dated. From the opening scene in bed, I could just swear I’m seeing a crappy superhero movie from the 1980’s. There’s even a crashing jeep. And a guy with bad hair. And deeply serious voiceovers about destiny.

And it’s just bad. Ryan Reynolds might have made a great Flash, but he’s absolutely terrible here. It’s like watching a bad imitation of Tom Cruise done by someone who thinks Tom Cruise and Ben Affleck are the same person. Blake Lively is on for 2 seconds, but her delivery seems way off too. Then there’s the really silly CG suit. This makes Daredevil look like Dark Knight.

I don’t understand how a movie with a 150 million dollar budget looks so bad. The lantern world looks like a video game cut scene. The aliens look like Star Trek rejects. Or how anyone looked at the Green Lantern CG suit and didn’t immediately try to scrap it and reshoot with a physical costume. Bad acting. Bad CG. I don’t have much hope for the writing. We have a perfect storm of suck here.

Robert Zemeckis doing Live Action Oz Movie?

There are plenty of people grousing about Hollywood reboots over this, but the Garland Oz movie was a bastardization of Baum’s Oz books. If Zemeckis goes back to the source material, casts an actress who doesn’t look 40 and a lion who isn’t a guy in a dirty lion suit, then I’m all for it. I’m a fan of Robert Zemeckis’ original work. And I hate the CG express he’s gotten himself into with movies like Polar Express and Beowulf. And I still think he has what it takes to make a great Oz movie. The SyFy Channel’s Oz movie already cornered the market on updated adaptations. Hopefully Zemeckis doesn’t fall into that trap and instead goes back to the source material and makes a great fantasy movie for kids. The ingredients are there, most of them overlooked by the original movie musical. Put them together and it could be like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie, except good. (Burton’s Alice probably drew more from Oz than it did from Alice in Wonderland anyway.)

Recasting Superman

Casting superheroes is never easy. No one has been happy with any of the actors who played Batman, and Christian Bale is probably the worst of the bunch. But with Christopher Reeve, you had a Superman who actually looked and sounded like the Man of Steele. It didn’t even hurt that a lot of people had the wrong assumption that he was related to the original George Reeves. But Superman is not a subtle character. He’s easy enough to cast. He’s an all-American type who sometimes has to pretend to be a nerd. He’s noble and strong, without too much personality. Should be a cinch right? Except Bryan Singer cast Brandon Routh, who looked more like Superboy and played him more like Superboy. Viewers didn’t respond. So now the recasting is on. And if you look at the JMS reworking of Superman’s origin, we’ll be lucky not to end up with Superman in a hoodie. Routh is probably out, but the odds of anyone who actually looks and acts like Superman being cast is almost nil. And that shows how far it’s gone from the source material.

Another Brick in the Internet Wall

On the heels of the Orphan Works Act, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act is one of those creepy totalitarian laws that Hollywood and major corporations can write for themselves into law. It takes the first step to creating an American counterpart to China’s Internet firewall. But this isn’t about what we believe. It’s about major corporations and a few Hollywood unions being empowered to shut down any websites they don’t like, forcing US ISP’s to block any foreign websites that don’t comply with US laws and even have companies block their ads. It’s obvious why Hollywood wants this. Streaming video sites are competing a little too effectively with their outdated business model that depends on people arriving to sit in front of a television at a specific time to watch their shows. And Hulu is still too crippled to be an effective counterweight (just try watching current episodes of Stargate Universe on Hulu), but putting this kind of power into motion will go way beyond taking down a few pirates. It’s the first brick in the internet wall we’re building. The first bricks may be laid by corporations, but they won’t be the last.

Forget about civil liberties.

The Bush administration in 2008 threatened to veto the legislation that created the nation’s first copyright czar until similar, less expansive Justice Department powers were removed. At the time, the White House complained that directing the attorney general to sue copyright infringers “could result in Department of Justice prosecutors serving as pro bono lawyers for private copyright holders regardless of their resources. In effect, taxpayer-supported department lawyers would pursue lawsuits for copyright holders, with monetary recovery going to industry.”

Things may be different under President Barack Obama. The president has tapped five former Recording Industry Association of America lawyers to key Justice Department positions. And the government, under the code name Operation in Our Sites, has recently seized the domains of at least two first-run movie sites under a process similar to the one outlined in Monday’s proposed legislation.

Who knew that the Bush Administration was actually more resistant to corporate tyranny and movie industry lobbyists. Puts a whole other spin on that big Hollywood turnout for Obama.

Harrison Ford Stuck in his Scowly Phase

The Cowboys and Aliens trailer reminds me of two things. Harrison Ford would have been playing the lead in this only 10-15 years ago. And it’s not just that he got old. It’s that he got scowly. Remember Ford as Indiana Jones, the guy who actually had a sense of humor. Can you imagine Ford playing anyone that flexible now? Morning Glory is Ford in full on scowly mode. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a newscaster or a cowboy. It’s all the same thing. You get Ford in full on scowl. All the time.

Is There Anything to the Internet Beyond the Social?

There was a time when the internet was supposed this amazing world full of possibilities. Then it turned into one big shopping mall with eCommerce and the big possibility was that you could order custom cooked chicken over the internet and have it arrive tomorrow. Now we’ve moved beyond eCommerce to the internet as a social space. A place where everyone updates and likes things all the time. An internet that’s defined by the mobile, not the desktop, and which is a way of integrating the internet into your life. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also one note. The social is not all that interesting. It extends your life instead of enriching it. And for the business sector, the social is a way to better market to customers, track them and weasel into their lives. “You are now walking in Toronto, Canada. Would you like to hear more about Campbell’s recipes for great tasting soup that will keep you walking?”

Spartan Design Succeeds?

Fortune mag suggests one of the reasons that Facebook beat MySpace was a cleaner design. Google and Facebook both pushed clean spartan designs, heavy on the white, and low on the clutter. How much of an issue is that? It kicks in with ad click through rates. A cleaner interface makes ads easier to notice and stand out more. And Google and Facebook both dominate based on ad money. But if that’s the lesson, Google isn’t that great at learning it. YouTube looks almost exactly the way Google Video used to, crowded with garbage, promoted Bollywood movies, vlogs and kittens playing with yarn. Google Video had the MySpace thing going on. Now YouTube has the MySpace going on. But it’s also the only game in town.

After the Sunset by Stephen King book review

After the Sunset is an old man’s book filled with stories about medical problems and aging couples passively resenting each other as they grow old. It’s not just the subject matter either, After the Sunset’s stories lack vitality. Comparing the later stories, with an earlier King story about a cat from hell, reminds you that while King was never that good of a short story writer, he knew how to fire on all cylinders.

But After the Sunset is more set in the sunset years. Chock full of melancholy tales, regrets and worries. The horror comes less from scary things and more from angst and neurosis. There’s even a Lovecraftian tale focused on OCD. Then there’s two stories about the afterlife. One story about medical miracle cures (complete with magic black people). Several about physical ailments. Doctors show up here more than monsters do.

In his intro, King admits that he’s fallen out of the habit of writing short stories. But his cure of editing a literary fiction collection was the wrong approach. The first story, Willa, suffers most obviously from awkward literary stylizations. But many of the rest suffer from a shrinkage of the imagination. From too many bodily functions and doctor’s offices. Even his one “monsters from the beyond” story is retold as a doctor’s case file.

The only standout here is The Gingerbread Girl, but King was always good at novellas. With the Gingerbread Girl, King tosses away some of the bad habits he picked up from The Best American Short Stories 2007 and goes back to his roots. The prolonged action that almost takes place underwater, the slow ominous buildup and a character who is on the run all the time, is almost enough to redeem the entire collection. But not quite.

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