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Monthly Archives: February 2014

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Why Netflix is Beating Hulu

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Hulu debuted as a revolutionary plan to let people watch network programming online with the support of the networks. Since then it’s become a prisoner of its own technology and I’m not just talking about the 4 or 5 commercials every few minutes.

Hulu is burying the network programs because most networks also independently offer them. And in a war for content and selling premium memberships, Hulu decided that the way to go was to push “exclusive” British, Australian and Korean programming. There’s probably a place for those things, but it’s probably not at the top.

Click to Hulu expecting to find a network series that aired this week? Good luck. Instead Hulu will push “exclusive” (meaning that it has the US rights to) some Australian, British, Israeli, Korean, Indonesian, Martian series. In the movie section, Hulu will be pushing movie trailers that it probably gets paid to promote.

I’m not going to argue the virtues of some random British version of Sex in the City or Australian version of St. Elsewhere, but Hulu is acting like a low budget local channel in the 80s. It’s not beating Netflix at its own game because Netflix’s game isn’t passing off some British series it picked up on the cheap as premium programming.

Netflix is beating Hulu because its premium programming is real. Hulu could fight back with its own rich slate of network programs and extensive library of classic shows. Until recently, Hulu was offering all seasons of Star Trek TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise even for non-prime users. But few Hulu users would have even realized that because its scroll was pushing some random British shows.

Netflix has plenty of foreign shows, but it doesn’t try to make them into the centerpiece in a desperate effort to convince its users that it can compete with HBO. Hulu keeps shoving The Only Way is Essex to compete with House of Cards.

And that’s a joke that doesn’t even have to be made.

Hulu has gotten worse over the years, but now it’s become its own worst enemy.

The Following Season 2 is a Sloppy Mess

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The Following started out by swapping 24’s terrorists for serial killers. It borrowed 24’s always on the go and over the edge lead, some of its style and its messy plots. And like 24 it worked. Unlike 24, it worked because of the characters.

Season 2 of The Following is just a mess. Joe Carroll’s Arkansas retreat was a ridiculous plot. There was nothing in his character that suggested he was religiously prone. All those episodes were out of character.

But that’s nothing compared to Ryan Hardy who is determined to catch Caroll and a new cult of serial killers on his own with only the help of his annoying niece whom everyone knows is either a walking corpse or a hidden cultist.

24 always had Jack Bauer go rogue in every season on the flimsiest of premises. The premise here is really flimsy even if you believe Ryan’s claim that he wants to personally kill Joe Caroll. Even though the show puts him ahead of the FBI, and this is a fictional FBI that can call up cameras everywhere in seconds, Ryan isn’t just incompetent, he doesn’t have a purpose.

In Reflections, the last episode, he tails a member of the cult, and then instead of following her back to the mansion, he abducts her at gunpoint and tries to get her to talk. By the end of the episode, he breaks into a woman’s home and instead of identifying himself as a Federal agent, something he was until recently, he blindfolds her and acts like an escaped bank robber.

None of that makes much sense.

In only a few episodes, Ryan has interrogated two cult members at gunpoint and let them both escape. Neither of them led him anywhere. He stumbles from one encounter to the next more from luck than skill.

And the whole rogue thing never made any sense. Even if he wanted to kill Joe, he would have more luck getting close to him by using the FBI than by building a wall of clippings.

The Following Season 1 worked because it was a duel between two relentless and competent men taking place in a metafictional content with new surprises always popping up. The Following Season 2 looks fantastic for being shot in New York locations that it makes excellent use of, but has reduced Ryan and Joe to unstable clowns rambling through a slow moving plot at whose center are two obnoxious twin serial killers and not much else.

And Many Fucks Were Given…

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Perusing the responses to Bikinifail, one word keeps cropping up.

S.L. Huang (who? he has a novel coming out someday” has the following message. “Dear Mike Resnick, Barry Malzberg, and the SFWA for Giving You a Platform: Fuck You.”

Rachel Acks, of Shut Up and Write (she should take her own advice) has a creatively similar message. “Dear Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick: Fuck you. Signed, Rachael Acks.”

Mary Robinette Kowal, puppeteer and SF author (keep your day job), says “Dear Twelve Rabid Weasels of SFWA, please shut the fuck up.”

Nobody ever said aspiring censors were very good debaters. They can get all the way from, “How dare you say that” to “Fuck you for saying it” and “Fuck anyone who doesn’t support putting them in front of a firing squad for saying it” in 60 seconds or less.

But while the fucks are on the table, let’s pass some of them around for the Bikinifailers rageballing away because no one reads them and because real life isn’t anything like Evergreen College.

Fuck the millennial writers who spend all their time “building a brand” by blogging and when that doesn’t work, going on social justice crusades to knock off established writers instead of learning to actually write.

Fuck the privileged brats who don’t want to put in the years at the keyboard, and instead decided that the way to get ahead is to terrorize editors and better writers for the privilege of a diversity publishing slot and the next ten years on panels on “Minority Trans Women in Science Fiction” at Wiscon.

Fuck the circle jerk bloggers who have one book in the works and two hundred posts talking about how hard writing is to each other and every microaggression that won’t let them sit down and finish Space Goblins of the Magic Kingdom instead of a twenty page post on the time someone was mean to them in second grade.

Fuck the next useless waste of bandwidth who begins her post by whining about all the old people with their backward ways who dominate Science Fiction and how they haven’t gotten with it. Those old people can write, you can’t. If you could, you wouldn’t be bitching about them.

Fuck the pathetic post-preschoolers with their trigger warnings and their “How Dare You’s” for inflicting their need for a narrow system of rules on everyone else to make them feel like they’re back at Evergreen College.

Fuck the entitled people who walk out of a Steampunk convention into a field that has everyone from Fascists to Communists to Anarchists in it with no sense of its history or its camaraderie and begin making demands.

Fuck the LiveJournal trolls who aren’t in this for the stars or the magic, but thought that it was a natural transition from wearing goth makeup and hanging around Hot Topic and think that Joss Whedon is the greatest Science Fiction writer who ever lived.

Fuck the messed up people who live from outrage to outrage dumping their personal issues on everyone else and stirring up politically correct fights because therapy isn’t working and the medication is bringing them down.

And finally fuck the fact that we have to keep having this conversation because of a community of professional trolls who don’t grasp the fact that they are not entitled to control other people’s speech, their participation in Science Fiction, their appearance at conventions, their ability to publish books and exist on this planet.

That is all the fucks I will give.

Bikinifail: OMG Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg are Sexist You Guys

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I try to pay as little attention to the SFWA as possible on the theory that if I ignore it, it will go away. The same goes for the Nebulas, the Hugos, the backbiting pro blogs and the shrieking banshees of organized fandom who made something that used to be strange and wonderful into a humorless and joyless cancer that makes the pros look like amateurs and the amateurs sound like the Red Guard.

I have as much appetite for watching the Maoists and Randians fight it out over the SFWA Twitter feed as I do for moving to a real life version of Rapture, but every now and then enough of this crap shows up on my feed as the same blogs close ranks, declare an OUTRAGE in progress and links to each other’s denunciations of the Thoughtcrime establishing consensus and demanding an immediate penalty.

If they offenders try to defend themselves or excuse their offense, which consists entirely of offending some very entitled people who blog more than they write, that just compounds their sheer evil. And more essays will come by non-writing writers wondering whether the reason they can’t sell their books is because Science Fiction is Xist, X being the variable of the outrage.

After Racefail, the new outrage is Bikinifail.

The outrage du’jour is two writers, one born in 1939 and the other in 1942, who have also contributed more than their critics ever have or will to the field, using the SFWA newsletter to discuss past “Lady editors” and to remark how good looking they were.

Get back to me when any of the social justice crusaders have written anything half as good or as socially relevant as Mike Resnick’s For I Have Touched the Sky or Hothouse Flowers. For those just joining us after finishing a graduate thesis on Joss Whedon’s eleventh wave feminism, that was an award winning story about a girl who kills herself because her culture refuses to allow women to read.

For anyone joining us last week, Science Fiction used to be very hedonistic. A whole lot of people were sleeping with a whole lot of people around the time that Eisenhower was president. The old conventions came complete with public nudity. But today we have something much better. We have Bikinifail.

If you’re too delicate to handle some old guys talking about how hot some of the women they remember used to be, go do something else with your precious self-esteem. Resnick and Malzberg are tacky. Just as tacky as the bloggers going rageballs over this in between drooling over the male actors of Firefly… but that’s totally different because it’s them doing it.

The response is disproportionate to the offense. The only hostile environment is the one being created by the Bikinifailers.

What is Bikinifail really? It’s “OMG Science Fiction is such a hostile field because the pros I want to displace are saying things I don’t like.”

No? Yes. Here’s Jamie Wyman who has written nothing that anyone has ever heard of nailing herself to a cross shaped like a vagina.

“We still live in a world where women are treated as second-class citizens, where having a vagina makes a person somehow inferior.”

Jamie is confusing the difference between having a vagina and being a vagina. It’s like the difference between having a dick and being a dick.

“What it comes down to is this, Mr. Scalzi: I’m a writer. My stories have merit. I work hard at my craft. I love what I do. At no time does my gender have anything to do with the quality of my work.”

Has John Scalzi actually said that Jamie Wyman’s lame stories about dragons lack merit because of her gender? Have Mike Resnick or Barry Malzberg said any such thing? Who has nailed Jamie Wyman to a vagina cross (try to picture it, I dare you) except Jamie Wyman?

And Jamie Wyman has an answer. Just hire Jamie Wyman… because (according to her) she has a vagina.

“I need you to do better, Mr. Scalzi. When writing a story about women in the publishing industry, perhaps it should be told by other women.”

Like maybe Jamie Wyman. Kameron Hurley doesn’t stop with a vagina cross. Hurley, the author of a bunch of crap that I wouldn’t read on a drunken bet, adds racist and homophobic strawmen.

“So. I get it. The world used to agree with you. You used to be able to say things like, “I really like those lady writers in this industry, especially in swimsuits!” and your fellow writers, editors, agents, and other assorted colleagues would all wink and grin and agree with you, and Asimov would go around pinching women’s asses, and it was so cool! So cool that he could just sexually assault women all the time! You used to be able to say, “Black people are fine. As long as they are clean and don’t live in my neighborhood,” and your friends and colleagues would wink and grin and agree with you. You’d say, “Gay men are gay because they were abused, and all lesbians are really bisexual and just need the love of a good man,” and hey, it was Ok, because no one disagreed with you.”

Can Kameron Hurley quote where Mike Resnick or Barry Malzberg said racist or homophobic things? It’s not in her post which means she’s a libelous liar.

Give Kameron Hurley another month and she’ll accuse Resnick and Malzberg of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.

“I get it. You like to molest old women on transatlantic flights. You once set fire to two orphanages over the weekend. You want to revive Hitler’s corpse and make him rule over the world. But we don’t do that anymore. I used to be a privileged white middle class homophobic racist, then I realized that with my mediocre writing, talking shit about more talented writers is my form of privilege.”

Katherine Kerry comes closest to making a valid point when she says that, “When is good taste censorship?” Good taste is the reason I stopped reading the one and only Katherine Kerry book I ever bought after fifteen pages.

That and boredom.

Now Science Fiction does have a sexism problem. This is what it looks like. Or this…

“Marie Hawkins nurses a personal grudge against Austin Bowe, captain of the rival Corinthian, who beat and raped her 25 years ago. Obsessed and vengeful, Marie intends to destroy Austin by proving that his ship trades illegally with pirates and smugglers. When both ships dock at the Mariner space station, she pounces. Concerned for her welfare, her son, Tom–Austin’s boy- -interferes with Marie’s plans and for his pains is shanghaied and confined aboard Corinthian by his half-brother, Christian. While the desperate Marie persuades Sprite’s captain to pursue the Corinthian, and a ship full of genuine bad guys draws ever nearer, Tom adapts to his new life aboard his father’s vessel–a life that is neither as dangerous nor as unpleasant as Marie had led him to expect.

Kirkus Reviews, C. J. Cherryh, Tripoint

This isn’t it

“Consider: When all is said and done, we didn’t run the kind of diatribe that you hear from almost every top-selling rap star these days. We didn’t bring Henry Miller up to date. Or Rabelais. All we did was appear in a magazine with a warrior woman on the cover, and mention that a woman who edited a science fiction magazine 65 years ago was beautiful.”

I don’t like Resnick or Malzberg. The reminisces are typical of old pros babbling about how much more fun things were two hundred years ago. And worse, they’re probably right.

It’s not about the swimsuits, it’s a new cultural revolution every five minutes. Every petty offensive is magnified into a careerist assault on the evil “establishment” and “If you bring me on board, I’ll stop complaining.”

Honestly, I don’t care. Even though I just wrote a twenty page post on how much I don’t care. Science Fiction at the output and input level has become a wasteland dominated by exactly the sort of people trying to lynch Resnick and Malzberg while churning out crap ending in punk, goblins, dragons and vampires, novels about alternate worlds that look just like this one whose theme is recognizing your privilege and stuff that only sells because the writer has a popular blog.

Good Science Fiction has become impossible to come by. SF is being murdered and one day it will rise again when the industry as we know it dies the horrid death it deserves and the publishing companies stop shoving the same crap that no one is reading through the door and the readers get to decide for themselves what to read and then maybe we won’t have to hear about this crap anymore.

But that’s probably Science Fiction.

Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson book review

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Robert Charles Wilson is the only modern Science Fiction writer who has made alternative universes his theme and writes about them intelligently. (The less said about Turtledove, the better.)

Wilson’s alternate universes are surprisingly quiet and personal places made up out of small town, residential houses and personal struggles. History takes place around them like an ocean passing around a piling, but the worlds are rooted in the small town house with the lit window and the man or woman behind the glass staying up late at night and considering their choices.

It’s been that way ever since the eighties and while Wilson has taken a few false steps recently with the Spin series, an oversized and poorly told set of novels that is outside his normal range, despite the praise they received (these days if a novel wins a Hugo you know it’s probably terrible and unreadable), he returns to familiar territory with Burning Paradise.

Burning Paradise is less obviously an alternate universe novel than it is a pod people novel, but that’s common enough for Wilson. Less commonly, Burning Paradise reads so much like a teen novel that I have to wonder if it wasn’t intended to be one. But it’s still a return to familiar Wilson territory with an alternate universe, ambiguous moral choices and lonely small towns.

The pod people or the sims, fake human beings controlled by the alien entity of the Radiosphere, give Burning Paradise more of a feeling that it’s out of time. Most of Wilson’s novels feel like they’re throwbacks to what Science Fiction might have become without the New Wave and the radiosphere, a field of living particles around the planet that also acts as a hive mind, reproducing itself by taking over an intelligent species, feels like an idea from the 50s renewed with more modern concepts.

Burning Paradise contrasts the biologies of two species, the competitive hive minds of the radiosphere who control communications and infiltrate the planet to impose their Pax Radiosphera on a world at peace, and the four children of the Correspondence Society, the only group of humans that is aware of the radiosphere and trying to fight it, along with a scientist who has spent time researching the radiosphere and his estranged wife and their aunt.

The Correspondence Society lives in a world built on a lie fed by television programs, radio transmissions and phone calls manipulated by the radiosphere. Its members dodge inhuman killers who look like ordinary people. And both the radiosphere and the humans converge on a single destiny.

Burning Paradise isn’t perfect, but it is interesting and while the plot twists can be guessed ahead of time, Robert Charles Wilson avoids the neat ending that the novel seems to be working toward and instead ends on a more ambiguous and human note.

The Spin series may have moved Wilson into the front rank in sales, but it’s good to see that he’s still doing what he does best with novels like Burning Paradise.

Deus Ex Human Revolution game review

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It’s not Deus Ex Human Revolution’s fault that its another FPS with unlockables in which you stalk through office buildings and warehouses fighting minor varieties of the same enemies while picking up clues to the story from files and emails. From its beautiful art style to its attempts at letting you sneak around and take down enemies in different ways, it is making an effort.

It just isn’t groundbreaking.

Deus Ex Human Revolution owes more to the influences of the modern FPS/RPG, Half Life 2 Bioshock, than it does to the original game, but it isn’t breaking any new ground in gaming or its story about the dangers of enhancing human abilities with cybernetic technology.

Deus Ex Human Revolution doesn’t do subtle. It takes a clear position on every issue and its endings bully you into a single path making those three endings almost as interchangeable as Mass Effect 3’s duplicate endings. It tries to make conversations a factor, but they never matter.  Human Revolution gets by on conspiracy theories, looping broadcasts of an Alex Jones wannabe and playing with headline conspiracy theories about FEMA, Blackwater and the World Health Organization, but it’s the art design that is more effective than the story.

The graphics telling detainees to crouch at a FEMA detainee camp and the rows of padded velvet armchairs in the observation area of an operating theater where human subjects are experimented on are much more effective than the game’s own lectures. Making matters worse, Deus Ex Human Revolution’s cutscenes are even worse than its much maligned boss battles, which are mostly not that bad. Sneak through to an objective and a cutscene comes on where Adam Jensen strides boldly into a room and lets a bunch of gangsters or the CEO or a corrupt Chinese medical company sidle around him. And making worse matters, even worse, Adam Jensen, in the cutscenes, is an idiot who is slow to figure out the same things that the player already knows. And all these terrible cutscenes culminate in a final moral choice that makes no sense and in which the game’s only good ending is to blow up yourself and a station full of people so that humanity never learns the truth.

Human Revolution’s story of conspiracies holds together at least until in an idiotic plot twist, Hugh Darrow, the man behind enhancement technology sabotages the Illuminati’s plan to compensate for anger over his birth defect leaving his Global Warming station to be overrun by zombies.

That’s Deus Ex Human Revolution as a story, but what is it like as a game? The answer is generic.

The game does keep track of whether you kill people or knock them out, but only to attach a little lecture at the end. Going quietly has its advantages, but is rarely necessary. The enemies are repetitive and so are the levels, most of which take place in minor variations on modern office buildings or warehouses like every other FPS out there.

The exceptions are the large outdoor maps of a new Detroit and Hengsha in China. The engine shows its limitations in these places. Both cities are always dark and a riot in Detroit lacks rioters, but the effort briefly makes the game come alive, especially in the Hengsha sections where the streets are full of stores and people and oppressive security, where a whorehouse has damsels in distress and people from across the world sleep in pod capsules in a giant rundown hotel.

Unfortunately Hengsha is the exception not the rule and before long, you’re back sneaking around abandoned office buildings and fighting soldiers dressed in red so that they are easier to see.

Human Revolution is a decent enough example of what a modified FPS AAA sequel that isn’t in the military genre is like today, but it’s not especially groundbreaking or even worthwhile. Visually it’s stunning, but no other part of the game lives up to its art direction. The Missing Link DLC embedded in the director’s cut in which you expose an undersea lab where the Hyron experiments are taking place shows what the game might have. And what its sequel might still become.

Jack Vance’s Darsh and Frank Herbert’s Fremen

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Jack Vance wrote The Face, the fourth novel in the Demon Princes series after his friend Frank Herbert wrote Dune.

The Face has Jack Vance’s own take on the desert people who adapt to the environment, but Vance’s Darsh with their female mustaches, aggressive manners, overt thievery, inedible food and horrifying mating customs are so much more colorful and real than the Fremen.

Dune’s Fremen are there to be noble warriors. The desert has boiled them down into survival mechanisms with a hidden cause. The Demon Princes’ Darsh were made aggressive and obnoxious by the desert. They are intolerant of authority and can’t work together. Their macho attitude expresses itself as Plomash, they duel and conspire against each other, their marriages are based on mutual hatred and they dwell under giant metal umbrellas that rain water that make their homesteads more memorable than those of the Fremen.

Like the Fremen, the Darsh have something valuable that everyone wants and it’s tempting to see the Darsh as a more realistic take by Vance on his friend’s most famous creation.

When Vance wrote The Face in 1979, Herbert had turned Dune into a huge franchise. Children of Dune had become the first Science Fiction bestseller 1976 and its sequel was eagerly awaited. Dune had transcended its original characters and become a story of the environment. And The Face is also about the environment, but the environment doesn’t make its men and women noble, but ignoble.

The Darsh, a wacky mixture of Gypsies, Arabs, Eastern and Southern Europeans, feel much more real than the Fremen because of their glaring flaws and their zest for life. They may be horrible people, but like so many of Vance’s fictional characters and cultures, their horrible enthusiasms make them come alive.

Vance’s description of Darsh gastronomy alone brings more life to a culture than all of Dune does for the Fremen.

Their food is seasoned with vile condiments, so that they may better savor cool pure water; they drink offensive teas and beers if only to exemplify this typical perversity, which they value for its own sake.

The traveler must adjust himself to a Darsh meal as he might a natural catastrophe. It avails nothing to pretend relish; the Darsh themselves know that their food is repulsive, and apparently derive a perverse pride in their ability to consume it regularly.

 

World War Z – Max Brooks’ Boring Zombie Apocalypse

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If I had to choose between rereading World War Z and facing a zombie apocalypse, I would go with the zombie apocalypse.

World War Z by Max Brooks isn’t just a bad book. It’s an unreadable book. It’s like a zombie Tom Clancy without any understanding of plot or storytelling. Writing in conversational first person from multiple viewpoints would be a difficult enough trick for a professional writer. Max Brooks isn’t up to it and not just for all the obvious reasons.

Open a page, any page, here’s what you’re going to find.

Gagron rolls a cigarette, looks at the waitress

Then we brought down the T-Hawks in xa-320 time. Buenos Aires was spread open in front of us. The Dawbies (*Dawbies were the nickname given by Argentinian special forces to their purchased Russian A-260s) and Zebras were everywhere. I didn’t know what to do. We stood around for a bit. Then Zebra was on us. That’s where I got this scar.

Senor, I still have nightmares about it today.

World War Z would be defensible if it were an actual collection of stories about an actual war. But it’s a fictional collection of fake narratives about zombies that skips the zombie part more often than you would think for some kind of second rate war trauma narrative for a war that never happened.

Max Brooks spends too much of World War Z establishing global references for every country he hops to, but the actual zombie outbreak falls between the cracks except for an early scene in China and a battle in Yonkers. The references are supposed to lend authenticity to a story that just isn’t interesting because it’s buried in Wikipediaisms, in footnotes and factoids and footnotes in factoids.

World War Z might have made for a decent novel if it had tried to tell a third person story in real time. Instead its first person aftermath interviews are not only a pointless gimmick, like blood on the camera lens, to make a story seem authentic by adding a filter to it, but it bypasses most of the interesting parts of a zombie war.

That is what’s so strange about World War Z, from its fake classics book cover to its trauma case files it wants legitimacy that doesn’t belong to a zombie story. Like a movie about Lincoln killing vampires, a story about a zombie apocalypse is never going to be legit.

Max Brooks’ dubious accomplishment in World War Z is to make a zombie apocalypse seem boring by treating it like the aftermath of the Vietnam War, instead of a story about monsters that eat people.

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