Space Ramblings

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is Lazy and Shitty Pandering. That’s Why it’s a Success

Ready_Player_One_coverErnest Cline’s Ready Player One is a YA Novel for middle aged men about a horrible dystopian future in which cities are being nuked and everyone lives in a giant MMO run by Will Wheaton, Cory Doctorow and the ghost of a dead Steve Jobs knockoff while listening to songs from the 80s.

Cline, a “spoken-word artist”, is a professional geek. Like Will Wheaton and Cory Doctorow. That means he’s a medium talent hipster frantically pandering to other hipsters who work in advertising, but buy Star Wars toys that they play with while drinking craft beers.

Hipsters are earnestly cynical. That’s Ready Player One, a pile of shameless fan service that starts its pandering on page one and never stops.

Ernest Cline panders to pals who can help him promote his novel. Will Wheaton and Cory Doctorow run his future MMO where most of the book takes place. John Scalzi is listed as one of the greats of Science Fiction between Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance.

He’s equally shameless about pandering to his audience. Ready Player One is mostly set in a giant virtual reality holodeck that’s equal parts D&D, EVE and World of Warcraft. It’s named OASIS and in this future world, which is cyberpunk without the punk, everyone spends their time leveling up. Unless an evil corporation named IOI or OIO or something stupid like that gets its way and makes everyone pay a monthly fee to play the game.

Cline could have just left it at that, but then Ready Player One wouldn’t have been a hit. Pandering to teens who think that a WOW fee hike is the worst thing in the world doesn’t get you a Spielberg deal. So even though Ready Player One is a YA novel complete with a whiny teen protagonist who lives on his own, is unpopular at school and has a crush on a girl, Ernest Cline took aim at the manchild demographic by dumping in 80s nostalgia.

If you know anything about Ready Player One, you know it’s all about 80s nostalgia. Ernest Cline does the least bit of work on worldbuilding that he can get away with. (Everyone’s poor, except the rich, there’s climate change, also cities getting nuked, now let’s reference three 80s movies.)

The plot has the inventor of OASIS, a Steve Jobs knockoff whom Cline admits in the book is a Steve Jobs knockoff (you know you’re derivative when you not only copy a character, but your description all but admits he’s derivative) run a contest to let anyone who solves his puzzles inherit his company and all of OASIS.

Since Jobs 2.0, a guy named Halliday, is obsessed with the 80s, The puzzles require watching War Games, playing classic arcade games and recognizing 80s references.

Cline describes Halliday as autistic and into geeky things, but he’s much more into John Hughes movies and generic 80s pop culture. Probably because Cline is. So Halliday becomes an obsessive nerd who collects SF and fires employees who don’t recognize a cartoon, but is also into Duran Duran, John Hughes movies and Heathers. He even lectures the protagonist on spending less time on the internet and getting out more.

(It’s a YA novel, even if it’s targeted at middle aged men, so it has to end with the main character learning and growing.)

The plot is predictable. He panders ruthlessly at every opportunity and the worldbuilding is hardly there. Even when he reveals the identity of Aitch, the character’s best friend, she’s a black lesbian because Cline has to check as many fake social awareness boxes as he can in one character.

And Cline is bad at characters. He’s bad because he doesn’t even try. Everyone is one note. The villain, Nolan Sorrentino, a game designer working for the evil IOI or EIO or IOO, could have been drawn as a more compelling villain with a little subtlety. Instead he twirls his mustache and acts like the dumbest hammiest villain in a bad movie.

The evil corporation brought back slavery and controls so much of the country that it can kill anyone who gets in its way, but will honor the results of an internet contest.

It’s all like that. The teen heroes are aided by a Wozniak knockoff. The main character falls in love with Art3mis because she’s a girl. There’s zero subtlety or depth.

OASIS, the center of the book, is a ridiculous mashup of the internet and an MMO. GSS, the good corporation running it, makes users pay to travel beyond its portal. The heroes are fighting to protect a system where you have to pay to visit websites. People put on goggles and gloves to visit chat rooms. It’s all lazy, stupid and played out.

But while Cline may not get worldbuilding or any other aspect of writing, he does understand pandering, which is why Ready Player One is such a hit. It’s bad SF wrapped around a YA novel wrapped around a ton of 80s nostalgia making it the perfect BuzzFeed book.

Don’t think of Ready Player One as a novel. Think of it as fourth wall fanfic, a book about people mentioning the things you like. It’s unboxing the novel. It’s BuzzFeed lists with more of a plot. It’s that guy linking to people more popular than him in softcover.

It’s absolutely shameless. And that’s why it’s successful.

Did Lester Del Rey’s First Story in 1938 Predict Hiroshima?

“I, too, went out to war, driving a plane built for my people, over the cities of the Rising Star Empire. The tiny atomic bombs fell from my ship on houses, on farms”

The Faithful, 1938, Lester Del Rey

Astounding-Science-Fiction-38-04Lester Del Rey wrote his first story to win a bet with his girlfriend. She claimed he had no right to criticize writers as a fan since he couldn’t do what they did. He proved her wrong by selling a story to John Campbell’s Astounding.

The Faithful isn’t a very good story. It’s about genetically engineered dogs trying to work with genetically engineered apes to replace man in a world where humanity is extinct. The writing is worse than the idea.

But there, early in a 1938 story, is Hiroshima.

It’s obviously not WW2. There are genetically engineered dogs flying planes in the future. But Rising Star is an obvious substitute for Rising Sun. And atomic bombs dropped on Japan eventually lead to the extinction of mankind.

That a bored fan living in a tiny three dollar a day room, working research projects, wrote to prove a bet to his girlfriend.

In 1938.

Thanks for Bringing Back the X-Files So We Can Remember How Much We Hated It

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Heroes Reborn helped remind us how much we all hated Heroes. But that’s nothing compared to bringing back the X-Files so we can remember how much we all hated that.

Chris Carter talks like the X-Files was prematurely killed off by an unappreciative corporation.

Reality check. FOX did everything it could to keep its stinking carcass going short of running the X-Files logo for 43 minutes between commercial breaks.

The X-Files ran for nine horrible years. Its producers got to launch more failed spin-offs than Aaron Spelling.

The show was only canceled because the cast wanted out. Viewers wouldn’t watch their replacements. Like the Simpsons, the X-Files spent half the time making fun of itself. The first movie came out and reminded everyone of why they stopped watching the X-Files. The second movie came out and no one watched it.

So it must be time to bring back the X-Files, said no one.

Look at the shiny trailer. Scully has a cell phone. Mulder almost grew a beard. Drones. Terrorism. Other topical stuff from ten years ago.

Shadowy hallways. Half-baked conspiracies that never pay off. The last ten conspiracies were fake. This conspiracy about shadowy elites using alien technology to bring back the X-Files will pay off. Or your six hours back.

We’re closer than ever to the truth. Mysterious phone calls. Creepy music. Shadowy informants. Total horseshit.

Hey, X-Files was fun. Early on. Like Lost, it had a lot of atmosphere. You thought it might go somewhere. It never did. But at least Lost went away. It even gave a really stupid explanation of what was going on. The X-Files was all atmosphere and no payoff. Nothing made sense and nothing was stupid enough to make sense.

You know where we can go to get that feeling today? The YouTube channel of some guy who has been stalking Bigfoot in his backyard for two years while getting high. It’s like the X-Files, but real.

I know X-Files has a fandom, but it’s mostly the real life versions of the Lone Gunmen (and they smell much worse in real life) or 50 year old women who named their cats Mulder and write fanfic in which aliens make Mulder and Scully do it.

These are not the viewers you are looking for. These are not the viewers anyone is looking for.

The truth is out there. Mulder is an obnoxious asshole whom aliens have been screwing with because they think it’s funny. Scully has a martyr complex and has been empowering him. Their kid will be taken away by child services.

And then the X-Files IP will be rebooted with Benedict Cumberbatch as Mulder and Amy Poehler as Scully with a crossover with Heroes Unborn as part of the Complete Shite Cinematic Universe and the skies will weep blood and the aliens will come to take us to a better planet on which none of this ever happened.

Why Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Books are the Real “American Tolkien”

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Every generation a new American fantasy writer gets dubbed the “American Tolkien”. Few of them deserve it.

George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books are popular thanks to the terrible HBO series, but Martin is the least deserving of the title. Martin is a great short story writer, but a poor novelist and his world building is terrible.  Tolkien would have hated Game of Thrones and everything that followed.

Stephen R. Donaldson is the only writer who got called the American Tolkien and deserved the title. Not because Donaldson is a better writer than Martin. He’s much worse than Martin in almost every department except epics.

And that’s the one that counts. But there have been plenty of better epic fantasy novelists than Donaldson.

What makes Donaldson deserving of the title is that he didn’t just try to copy Tolkien. Copying Tolkien was a booming industry. Stephen R. Donaldson tried to comment on J.R.R. Tolkien’s ideas.

The Thomas Covenant books are not a series about fighting orcs. Neither is Lord of the Rings. They’re about the ethical impact of the decisions we make.

Donaldson is one of the very few writers who captured the environmental scope of Lord of the Rings. The forests and plains and mountains are characters in the Covenant books the way that they are in Lord of the Rings. Both series use the environment to give the books epic scope.

But Donaldson takes everything Tolkien did to an extreme. The Lord of the Rings books are not fond of industrialization. Donaldson creates an anti-industrial society where no one even chops wood or injures stone. Instead they’re so in harmony with nature that they figure out how everything fits together. It’s very seventies, but it’s developed so that it’s the magic system and the mythology of the books.

Tolkien’s characters are conflicted about power. They worry that using it might be more dangerous than not using it. Donaldson turns that up to the highest pitch by making his main character a man who is terrified of using power and certain that it will corrupt him. Thomas Covenant makes Frodo look like General Patton.

In Lord of the Rings, the right thing isn’t what succeeds, but what is morally right. Killing Gollum would have been the smart thing to do, but not doing is what saves the whole quest and Middle Earth. Covenant spends most of the books not killing his own Gollum no matter how much harm and suffering it brings.

Donaldson often shamelessly copies Tolkien, but sometimes he effectively condenses him. Covenant’s first dialogue with Saltheart Foamfollower about the ring works much better than the similar scene with Tom Bombadil. Not to mention that splitting up the Ents into Giants and Forrestals works a lot better. And Tolkien’s own initial ideas had focused on someone from our world traveling back in time to another age, but he could never make it work.

The Thomas Covenant books are wildly eccentric, but so is Lord of the Rings. There’s no comparison in terms of quality. Tolkien is far better. But Donaldson is probably the best at closely copying much of what he achieved. The Covenant books take the same material to extremes and Tolkien would probably not have liked the results, but he would have recognized them right down to the religious influences.

The Hugo Awards are Dead Because Fandom and Science Fiction are Dead

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For the last ten years, the Hugo Awards didn’t have much in common with what they used to be. They weren’t fan awards. They were the Nebula Awards with a different name.

So last night everyone made it official.

And by everyone, I mean the dwindling number of people who care. A lot of voters flooded into the Hugos to support political factions, not Science Fiction.

This isn’t passion over the field. It’s inside baseball and culture wars.

But what field is there to be passionate about? Is anyone supposed to seriously debate the merits of John Scalzi and Kevin J. Anderson?

This is a field whose dominant authors are writing upgraded fanfic. What is left of its fandom is a fossil of angry shriveled old women and doughy middle aged men who threw a tantrum last night. Tor defeated Sad Puppies. A bunch of aging hacks got cheered for defending their cozy clubhouse. And everyone lost.

Fantasy is doing well, but Science Fiction is mostly dead. The social justice warriors get some of the blame. But it’s not that simple. The genre just lost its energy. A lot of writers decided they had more room to play in fantasy.

No Award should have been the Hugo each year because there isn’t much worth reading in Science Fiction. You can blame that on the readers who screen out everything that someone who isn’t a thirty-something woman who would rather be reading urban fantasy might want to read. You can blame publishing houses who don’t employ anyone who gets Science Fiction. You can blame writers who find fantasy more profitable and more fun.

But the existence of steampunk as a thing says it all. Science Fiction isn’t dead, but it’s not far from it.

Fandom is a shrunken fossil whose only youthful energy comes from settling political scores. That says it all too.

How many millenials do you see at conventions when they aren’t there for the media stuff? What’s the average age of a hardcover SF purchaser? Softcover purchaser? Magazine subscriber?

Both sides of fandom will get their way. The Hugo Awards will be renamed after Octavia Butler and the rest will set up their own awards. Probably named after Heinlein. There will be an annual pissing contest with fewer attendees. No one will actually read or buy the books everyone is fighting about.

Ten years from now the Octavia Awards will be held in the back room of a Holiday Inn in between sets by a terrible cover band. The attendees will all be on scooters except for a few younger PhDs in social justice there to document the history of resistance against the patriarchy in Science Fiction.

The End

Roddenberry Sucked, But No One Else Made a Successful Star Trek Series

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William Shatner has found another way to extend his career with the Chaos on the Bridge documentary.

As everyone knows, TNG had a shaky start. As everyone also knows, everyone involved hated Gene Roddenberry.

Fine. Roddenberry was by many accounts an ass. By many accounts most of those taking shots at Roddenberry, including Shatner, were also asses who were difficult to work with.

We’ve had the myth that Roddenberry didn’t have much to do with the success of TOS. And of course he didn’t have much to do with the success of TNG.

So why is it that no one else has been able to make a successful Star Trek series?

All those amazing TNG veterans. The guys who really made it work flamed out with three spinoff shows, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise alienated fans, went into the ratings basement and have mostly been forgotten except by niche cults.

We’re still talking about TNG. Is anyone going to be doing a documentary about DS9’s first season or Voyager’s last season or what the hell happened on Enterprise? Maybe Tim Russ will get around to it.

Roddenberry wasn’t a good writer. But he was a good showrunner. Some of his ideas were stupid, but he could put together a Star Trek show that would talk to people and still be popular long after it went off the air.

Rick Berman, Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga couldn’t make a Star Trek series that would do what TOS and TNG did. Maybe one day someone else will, but right now the franchise’s TOS legacy is being milked by Abrams. And when that’s done, it’ll be back to square one with a franchise no one knows how to move forward.

But if Gene Roddenberry were here and younger, he would have.

Roddenberry had his faults, but he wouldn’t be sitting on his ass making documentaries about how everyone else sucks.

The Hegemony Villains in Looking Glass’ Terra Nova Game were Social Justice Warriors

terra_nova__strike_force_centauri__big_box_cover_by_rho_mu_31-d8pejqjGOG has put Terra Nova Strike Force Centauri back in circulation.

Terra Nova was a brilliant game hobbled by bad advertising and terrible FMV. It was one of the games that showed how amazing Looking Glass was.

There’s plenty of commentary on how ahead of its time its graphics and gameplay were, but it also had an amazing backstory that most people don’t remember because it was drowned by terrible FMV that had no relationship to it.

The clans of Alpha Centauri were Jupiter colonists who fled a solar system taken over by the Hegemony. The Hegemony was a nightmarish version of the UN, the USSR and the social justice warriors mashed together. After the Hegemony took over Jupiter by bombing a dome and killing 750,000 people, the Jupiter colonists escaped.

But the Hegemony followed them.

This abridged backstory from Terra Nova Strike Force Centauri’s library shows just how much effort went into developing the social system of the enemy empire in the game.

 

To understand the Hegemony, one must first understand the principles and aims of the Publican movement. The Publicans are the instigators and rulers of the Hegemony, and they have set all the policies of the Terran government since the early 22nd Century, when the United Nations was disbanded.

The Publicans themselves constitute a very special social class on Terra. As “guides” for humanity, they live somewhat outside of the restraints placed on human civilization. The special case of the Publicans is discussed later in the report after the rights, status and circumstances of all other Terrans are outlined.

Principles of Publicanism

1. Universal Equality, Selective Suffrage – the foundation of the Hegemony is equality of all citizens. Citizenship is a birthright of Terrans and can be lost only through antisocial behavior. Citizenship entails protection and equality under Hegemony law, but not the right to vote, that right is incumbent to a sub-class of citizens known as elders

An elder is a citizen who has served eight 4-year terms of public service. This service entitles the elder to vote on all matters of public policy not reserved to the Publican class. The political theory behind elder suffrage is that only a citizen who has devoted his life to public service has demonstrated the social commitment needed to vote in a responsible fashion.

2. Universal Public Service – Upon reaching the age of 18, all Terrans are tested for societal productivity and aptitude. The testing determines the socially useful skills of the candidate and the nature of their lifetime contribution to society. Once the citizen’s aptitudes have been tested, he/she is offered a 4-year position somewhere on Terra based on availability of work according to their aptitudes. If such a position is available, the candidate must accept it or suffer loss of citizenship.

Each citizen is permitted to decline a term of public service only once in their lifetime and must continue performing their current duty for two years at which point they must accept the next position offered to them.

Terms of public service may never be served in sequence in the same location. Terra’s entire population is constantly on the move, with individual families never residing in the same locale for more than four years at a time. Publican doctrine requires this as a means of ensuring equality and to prevent any from developing an attachment to the land that might lead to nationalistic sentiment.

All Terrans involved in Public Service are compensated equally, regardless of the service they perform. Administrators are paid exactly the same wage as street sweepers.

A citizen who has served two full-4-year terms is entitled to 10% higher compensation. Each subsequent two terms of service raises base compensation by an additional 10 percent.

Terrans serving in an enterprise of 20 or more individuals are subject to review by other members of their work force at any time during their period of service. Should 2/3rds of the work force disapprove, that individual is removed from the enterprise. Four such removals result in a loss of citizenship.

3. Universal Health Care, Shelter and Food – all Terrans, citizens or not, are entitled to free medical care, regardless of social position, depending on supply.

Housing – Within a single locale, all dwellings are the same in terms of construction, living space and fundamental equipment. Non-citizens, called deviants, are required to live in multi-family dwellings which it is a citizen’s right to live in a single family dwelling.

4. The Family – The institution of family, and children in particular, is at the heart of the Hegemony. Publicans see themselves as sacred keepers of the future, and nothing symbolizes the future of a society as much as their children. Much of the Hegemony’s legal system centers around isolation from family as punishment for anti-social behavior (see Deviants.)

All citizens are entitled to marry and conceive children. A family may consist of two adults and two children at any one time. Any excess children due to poor planning or multiple births are offered to childless couples or assumed into the Publican class.

All children between the ages of 6 and 18 must spend 4 months of every year in service to the state. Such service usually consists of providing child care, although light labor such as food distribution and social work projects may occasionally be required.

All children are educated in Publican schools in Literacy, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Data Navigation. The teaching of History or any schooling in cultural or ethnic heritage is considered child abuse and is punished as such.

Child abuse is one of the most serious crimes that can be committed under Hegemony rule. It is punishable by loss of citizenship or death. Inadvertent or unconscious child abuse will warn a parent or caregiver a warning and a required course of study.

5. Economics

The Hegemony operates under a limited market economy that has only a surface resemblance to what was once called Socialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Entire Hegemony is a Free Trade Zone. Profit is strictly regulated at 8%. No enterprise may earn more than 8% above investment on an annual basis. Any addition profit generated must be tithed to the Hegemony. All profit is equally divided among the workers of any enterprise.

There is no private ownership of land in the Hegemony. All land belongs to the state and is leased in tenancy to the people who live there. Citizens may own household goods, but no machinery of production may be pricately owned with the exception of hand tools.

All crafts are organized into guilds of varying sizes. The only individual revenue-generation activity permitted in the Hegemony is in the fields of art and entertainment. Profit is strictly regulated. Artists and entertainers must serve 4-year-terms subject to relocation at the Hegemony’s whim.

Banking and capitalism are all outlawed forms of economic endeavor, as is the selling of insurance. New enterprises are spawned as the need arises with funding from the Hegemony. Need is determined by availability of resources and services.

6. Deviants

Any Terran who is deprived of citizenship is classified as a deviant. Deviants are not permitted to dwell in Terran society, nor to have any contact with citizens. The deviants never call themselves that, instead prefering to call themselves, The Forsaken.

All deviants are required to live in special preserves with the largest of them being situated in Antarctica. Repeated attempts to break quarantine result in exile to Antarctica.

Deviant society is self-governing. All deviants are sterilized. There are rumors of children who seek refuge in deviant preserves.

7. The Publicans

Since 2104, the Publicans, an elite class of public servants created by the UN, have ruled Terra. The idea was that public administration has always tended to corruption because the administrators earned their positions as spoils of political victory.

The Publicans were to be career public servants with no ties to any political interest group or political franchise. That theory worked well until the Publicans became a political interest group on their own. By that time they controlled most of the media and virtually all channels of distribution of resources and the bureaucracies that implemented public policy.

When they determined that it was in the public interest for them to take over, they did. Thus was born the Hegemony.

Publicans still may not vote, but they do set the agenda. There is no true public referendum in the Hegemony, only the appearance of one. Citizens and elders may propose legislation, but if the Publicans oppose them, the matter will never come to a vote.

Publicans are entitled to greater shares of housing, food and consumer goods owing to their “exceptional contributions to the workings of the state.”

Mastoid implants are placed in all Publicans allowing them to covertly communicate among themselves.

Disputes between citizens and Publicans can only be judged by a Publican court. Citizens may not sit in judgement of Publicans on any matter.

While no citizen may bear arms, Publicans are permitted to carry weapons.

Publican children are educated in special schools that teach a broader curriculum including the humanities and social sciences.

Publicans at the highest level are permitted to remain in a single location for their entire lifetimes.

The Publicans brook no opposition nor sanction alternative approaches. Of great import to them is the firm belief that they constitute the only prop[er human authority in existence.

They believe that they are charged with the salvation of the human race.

They all eat the same foods, live in the same sorts of dwellings and individuality and uniqueness are anathema to the Publicans and thus outlawed in the Hegemony.

2046 Lunar Colonization

2074 Publican class established by UN

2104 Publicans take over, UN disbanded, Hegemony established

2110 First Public Education Campaign undertaken. Latin and Central America purged of independent nations.

2115 Second Public Education Campaign launched. Africa unified into a single entity

2117 Third and final Public Education campaign started. Earth becomes a single nation with common language and laws.

2122 Venus Wars begin. Hegemony landing attempts repelled by colonists.

2123 Hegemony establishes first beachhead on Venus while suffering heavy casualties. Venus Resistance shifts to war of attrition rather than defense

2124 Hegemony forces destroy the dome colony of Jerusalem resulting in the instant annihilation of some 750,000 people. Venus capitulates.

2130 Interstellar Agreement reached. The colonists of Jupiter agree to relocate to Centuari. The Hegemony assists the Jupiter colonists with preparation.

Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World: Time to Kill the Abrams Franchise Reboots

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J.J. Abrams wasn’t the first to do it, but there’s no doubt that his Star Trek reboot influenced the giant pile of crap that Terminator Genisys became.

The conventional reboot was bad enough. The J.J. Abrams flavor of reboot played at paying tribute to the original, throwing in fan service and original cast appearances, and then used some flavor of time travel to eliminate the original.

And the Abrams reboots are even worse because they pander to fans of the original before showing their dislike for it by trashing it. A vanilla reboot would be satisfied to just sex up and retell the story. An Abrams reboot has to show you that the original never happened and it’s the only game in town.

Terminator Genisys was running on the same sensibility. Take chunks of the original, freshen them up in a way that’s deliberately insulting while appealing to someone’s idea of what millennial audiences want to see, and then use the story to nuke the original premise.

Abrams got away with it. At least once. Genisys didn’t.

Jurassic World is smashing Genisys to pieces with a template for making a sequel that’s not a reboot and shows affection and respect for the original.

If Jurassic World was the Abrams Genisys kind of reboot, it would have time traveling raptors undo the original Jurassic Park. And then it would reveal that Hammond was a raptor in disguise.

Hollywood execs are taking the wrong lessons from the Terminator Genisys failure about franchises. Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t the problem here. The problem was a movie that tried to play to two audiences while alienating both.

Fans of the original movies were being teased with promises of a continuation and given a reboot instead that trashed the originals and everything that made them work. The Transformers audience was being promised robots smashing things only to get a workup of a bunch of movies they never saw or cared about.

Like casting a pale skinny Tumblr friendly Englishman as Khan in Abrams Trek II, there’s a huge disconnect between taking a bad actress from Game of Thrones and trying to use her petite self to replace Linda Hamilton while making her a ninja warrior.

Like all the Khan callbacks in Abrams Trek II, the echos infuriate fans and bore new audiences. No one is served.

If you’re going to reboot, then just reboot. Don’t give us an origin story with time travel that undoes the original. No one wants it or needs it. If you have to blow up Vulcan or turn John Connor into the enemy, that’s not storytelling, it’s spite.

And why reboot?

Jurassic World dropped the characters, kept the dinos and made huge money. J.J. Abrams could have made a movie in the Star Trek universe with new characters. It would probably have worked even better with a sequel because Abrams Trek II suffered from not having any of the goodwill of the classic characters coming together from the first.

Terminator Genisys didn’t need to obsess over Sarah and John Connor. Someone else can be the savior of humanity or at least fight time traveling killer robots. Emilia Clarke could have played some British girl who has to be taken out in the UK for Skynet to win.

The Abrams reboot is a dysfunctional relationship with an original franchise that the newbies hate, but can’t let go of. They do fan service that they hate and then alienate the fans and new audiences.

It’s stupid and maybe the success of Jurassic World and failure of Terminator Genisys will bring some changes.

Don’t make more Abrams Treks or Abrams Terminators. Make more Jurassic Worlds. Even Abrams is going that route with the Star Wars sequels.

It’s time to kill the reboot.

Why is Starfleet Filled With Humans?

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If the Federation has so many races, why is Starfleet filled with humans?

Let’s go back to what the Federation is. It’s not the United States in space. It’s the United Nations in space.

Starfleet is based out of San Francisco, the origin of the United Nations, and the Federation flag is the UN flag with a darker shade of blue and the stars instead of earth.

Like the UN, the Federation is not a government. It’s a forum. It has members not states. Its military force depends on contributions. When there’s a real shooting war that the UN gets into, the big muscle comes from the US. Humans are the Americans of the Federation. They’re mean enough to be dangerous, but not mean enough that other races are threatened by them. They’re altruistic enough to help out without losing their military edge. And they’re also curious enough to be explorers. And most of all, they’re willing to foot the bill to play explorer and soldier.

Starfleet is filled with humans because they’re the ones that spend the money, put up the manpower and take the risks.

Logically, an organization like Starfleet is going to appeal to races that colonize a lot of planets. A species that just has to defend its own home system is not going to need to do much exploration or need a wide defense net.

A species with three systems and no drive to settle new worlds is not going to put in the energy and lives to run something like Starfleet. Humans aren’t the only species to settle new worlds, but they’re the most aggressive settlers in the Federation. Having an organization like Starfleet to find new worlds and protect farflung colonies served their needs.

And once it got going, Starfleet was institutionally defined by humans. If you’re an aggressive species that isn’t interested in exploration, Starfleet isn’t going to be a great fit for you. See Worf. If you’re a peaceful race that values exploration but not conquest, it won’t be a good fit either. There are Vulcans in Starfleet, but they don’t like it.

Starfleet has a human balance of exploration, defense and diplomacy. Other species have to adapt to it.

The Federation Council theoretically sets the agenda, but Starfleet has its own institutional culture and its captains make snap decisions that change history.

Starfleet lets humans do some of the same things as the Klingons and the Romulans, but without the ugly side. The Federation gives humanity the blunt force and power of an empire without having to conquer other races. Instead members get rewards and access to an interstellar network. It appeals most to smaller and weaker races. Or races that don’t like fighting.

The Klingons would never fit well into the Federation. A large species that can match humans in aggressiveness and expansionism would make for a tug of war. But a species like that wouldn’t join.

A Federation composed of a lot of smaller and weaker races is never going to displace humans in Starfleet. And it would be difficult to displace humans without changing what Starfleet is. Non-humans can preside over the Federation Council, but to wield any force, they need Starfleet. And Starfleet keeps the Federation together. It’s a huge asset to a small world to be able to call on a force that can stand up to any fleet in the neighborhood.

And since humans want to run it anyway, everyone lets them. It’s either that or work out how dozens of smaller alien races can build a new institutional culture for Starfleet together. That might be more IDIC, but it would be chaos.

The Federation lets humans have an empire without the imperialism. On their own, humans could have learned to match the Klingons or the Romulans, but they would always be just another race. The Federation gave them a technological boost and a network of different worlds to join without conquering. And Starfleet links that technology to military applications that races like the Vulcans are uncomfortable with.

It’s an arrangement that works.

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How Robert Charles Wilson’s The Chronoliths Predicted ISIS

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Robert Charles Wilson’s The Chronoliths was a pre 9/11 novel. Its fractured world 1920247torn apart by the shadow of extremism and financial decline is extremely prescient.

In The Chronoliths, giant monuments appear in major cities across the world commemorating their conquest by a dictator named Kuin twenty years in the future. The monuments are indestructible but cause mass destruction and panic. The public is terrified waiting for the next one to show up every year, but some are attracted to Kuin.

Like the ISIS kids now, they wear Kuin clothes, join groups and run away from home to go on Haj and form brutal militias. Society is fractured between high level Adapt and Prosper collaborators who want to surrender to Kuin and a militarized government that pours money into trying to stop a seemingly invincible threat.

Kuin never puts out a political program. He might not even exist. But the teens who want to support him read their own programs into the chronoliths. It’s the idea of changing the world and creating stability that drives them.

Robert Charles Wilson writes about ordinary people caught in strange temporal events. He writes with the casual insight of memoir fiction about things like alternative universes and time travel that most science fiction writers don’t like to touch. And he makes the world of The Chronoliths seem amazingly relevant to ours.

Wilson not only nails the post-cyberpunk Amazon world in which the big data gig is predicting people’s behavior, but the fear and uncertainty of a declining America where the youngest generation is willing to turn to mass murder in a search for identity and meaning.

It’s a world with a wide generational gap, a dwindling middle class, the loss of privacy and security that faces a war against an unstoppable dictator from the future who conquers by terrorizing the past and builds shadow armies by tearing apart nations.

The Chronoliths vision of a divided America panicked by global terrorism, the end of privacy, financial collapse, teenage extremism and cities torn apart in ways that closely resemble 9/11 is amazingly prescient for a pre-9/11 novel.

It’s one of the very few Science Fiction novels to talk about where we actually are.

And its failure to win the Hugo for Best Novel over the fangirls and status seekers who gave it to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods foreshadowed the controversies that would turn the Hugo into a joke.

The Chronoliths isn’t Wilson’s best novel, but like Vinge’s End of the Rainbow, it’s one of the few that seems to capture where we’re headed. It’s hard to look at the beheadings, the teens running away from major cities to join militias and not think of the way that an uncertain future drives people to find certainty in brutality and terrorism.

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