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The Unincorporated Future by Danni Kolin and Eytan Kollin book review

The Unincorporated Future by Danni Kollin and Eytan Kollin is an unimaginative mashup of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars the unincorporated futureseries, Tron and bits and pieces of Metaplanetary. Reading through it and John Varley’s Slow Apocalypse was a reminder that a talented writer can make a story where not all that much happens readable and untalented writers can take a war spread across the solar system and the destruction of entire planets and make it every bit as exciting as watching paint dry.

There were a whole lot of Unincorporated volumes before The Unincorporated Future that I didn’t read, but going by what I did read, I haven’t missed a whole lot. The story is one of those incredible never-done-before tales about outer planet colonists fighting the tyranny of evil corporations on earth. The blurbs compare this to Heinlein, but The Unincorporated Future has as much in common with Heinlein as Kevin J. Anderson has in common with Isaac Asimov.

The outer colonists are religious, not in the sense that it’s really a part of their lives, but every now and then they mention Allah and there’s a Rabbi who wanders around but does nothing useful. This gives them moral superiority when destroying planets. Moral superiority that the evil earth corporations lack when they’re destroying planets.

The Unincorporated Future is one of those showdowns between different Space-Hitlers, both of whom kill billions of people, but some of whom we’re supposed to root for, because they occasionally feel bad about it. Not bad enough to stop doing it. But bad. There’s also a Tron element in it that feels more like World of Warcraft, but that’s so lame it’s not even worth mentioning.

Some of this could be forgivable if either or both of the Kollins could actually write. They can’t. The dialogue is terrible. The cliches are rancid. And they can make destroying a planet every bit as interesting as ordering lunch. Most of the action manages to happen off-screen, even though it’s the only thing keeping the narrative going.

The characters are so one-note that they might as well be made of cardboard and hopelessly undeveloped. The dead savior is named Justin Cord. No, seriously. J.C. The villain does everything but twirl his mustache and rape his way around the novel.

What is truly sad is that someone made the decision to publish four of these, even though they would have barely passed muster in the 80s. It’s a sign of how poor the Science Fiction part of the field has become that this didn’t get tossed out the door. And you can’t even blame the Kollins for that.

The state of Science Fiction is so poor that John Scalzi is considered a major writer even though the only thing he can write is scenery descriptions. Once he starts writing people, he’s operating at Kevin J. Anderson’s level. Cory Doctorow is now considered a writer, not a punchline. So why not the Kollins. They can’t write and they’re recycling things that were cliches 40 years ago. They’re not even hacks, because hacks can at least write.

Bring ’em on.

The Thin Line Between Critic and Fanboy

It’s reviews like Ginia Bellafante’s screed in the New York Times against Game of Thrones that remind you of just how small a gap there is now between the professional critic and the fanboy. Ginia Bellafante’s only underlying point is that she doesn’t like fantasy and science fiction. Instead of just letting someone else do the review, she dresses up that dislike in gender typing that sounds like it came from a Charlie Brown panel (science fiction and fantasy is for boys only) and social relevance (period dramas in the 1960’s can examine social structures, but not fantasy ones).

The tone is everything you expect from a fanboy screed, irrationally dismissive, even contemptuous and a poorly disguised argument for personal preference mocked up as a review. And it is billed as a review.

But even though it says review on top, Ginia Bellafante doesn’t even pretend to review it. It’s an Armond White review, with Ginia Bellafante citing all the things she likes better than it and using appeals to gender roles and social relevance to buttress her argument, which turns out to have nothing to do with Game of Thrones. The closest she comes to mentioning something specific about the show is its development of a language, but only to peg that as her closing put down.

The single worst moment in it all must be

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first.

And if Ginia Bellafante hasn’t met women who read fantasy novels, they must not exist… or they must not matter. Because she never met them.

Dragon Age 2 Evolution or Devolution

as a genre, if RPGs can’t evolve and can’t change — and I know people yell at me for daring to use the word “evolve” — but if they can’t change or experiment, then the genre itself is going to stagnate. Not only in terms of mechanics, like in rehashes and stuff, which I think we mostly manage to avoid, but the bigger problem is that if we don’t have RPGs that present a different type of experience, then we kind of encapsulate our potential audience to people who enjoy just that experience, and we drive others away.

In of itself, that runs the risk of genre death — it becomes too referential or too reliant on people understanding that STR means strength which feeds into accuracy which results in damage done, and so on. You end up in a case where, the genre eventually burns out, or falls flat, or becomes too risky to take any risks in development, and so on and so forth, and that’s not something I want to see happen.

More of the Same from Mike Laidlaw. Dragon Age did not evolve, it devolved. An evolved game has more to offer. A devolved game has less to offer.

dragon ageIt’s not evolution when your choices in the game don’t matter. It’s not evolution when you’re stuck in the same bunch of levels. It’s not evolution when you can do less.

A page back Laidlaw admits that he didn’t have the assets to design original levels, so that assets had to be reused over and over again. Why were those assets available for Dragon Age, which had more available gameplay and content, but not for Dragon Age 2? They weren’t available because the plan was to dumb down Dragon Age 2, make it for less and orient it at a wider audience. Dragon Age was the investment is establishing the franchise. Dragon Age 2 maximized the audience.

Laidlaw keeps talking about the concept of the narrative framing, something that’s only interesting to pretentious designers. The user experience of the gameworld was badly neglected except for combat mechanics. That’s a devolution.

More Dragon Age 2 Apologia from Marc Laidlaw – Part 2

More of the same.

dragon age

What we tend to do when looking at companions is we start with who would be interesting and, honestly, who would make sense.

And then they came up with the least interesting characters and stuck you with them, then out of desperation went fishing for characters from Origins and Awakening.

Certainly, the main character having a stronger personality, one where you are able to provide sarcasm, [instead of] having you be the straight man and relying on someone else chiming in for the laughs.

That means you get the chance to either say something stupid or sexually harass a party member.

On first blush, it’s easy to dismiss the new people as nowhere near as cool as the old people. But what I see with Dragon Age II is that the characters, perhaps, don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves as much simply because they don’t have to, because we have more time for them to evolve and grow.

Wishful thinking much? They do wear their hearts on their sleeves and there’s nothing there. They’re boring one note characters.

The story arc around Aveline–to use one of our best examples–is more involved than any character story arc we had in Origins.

Are you kidding me? Aveline trying and failing to hit on one of her officers is more involved than a Golem on the loose trying to figure out its moral code only to learn that it began as a female dwarf? And that was only an Origins DLC character.

when you read a line of Origins dialogue for comparison, you see everything you could potentially say. In your brain, you’ve done the totality of that conversation. Whereas looking and saying, “Oh, I know that’s going to be a smart-aleck line, but I don’t feel it’d be right to use it,” you’re left with that temptation or that urge to pick it because you can’t tell exactly what you’ll say.

So the point of the new conversation is to give you conversation options without letting you know what you’re going to say. Why not also give you weapons with unpredictable effects?

The key driver behind it was the idea of unique visuals, being able to have Isabela stay Isabela instead of generic rogue put into the same leather armor your character is wearing. It lets us create a visual space between Hawke and the companions. And it gives the companions their own personalities [in the form of] unique body models and animations that are tied to how they idle

So Laidlaw is saying that they couldn’t create unique characters without fixing their armor in place?

It’s something that resolves one of the parts I really disliked about Origins where I’d see people’s screenshots with their badass team and they would kind of all look the same. Near the end of the game, everyone had the same set of suits of armor. It was kind of like, “Man, that’s not Morrigan if she’s not in those robes.” We ended up in this space where we decided to go with that visual style, and I think it’s something we’ll continue to iterate on in the future.

So Bioware gets its control freak on again. Pathetic. Controlled conversations, controlled outfits and tightly controlled choices.

The perspective we had for the tactical camera in Origins, with its extreme pull-up, created a very different approach for the way we designed levels. What it really created was restrictions on the way we designed levels.

But that’s okay because in Dragon Age 2, it’s all the same four levels repeated over and over again.

we’re quite happy with what we’ve done with Dragon Age II, and this is establishing a solid foundation that keeps a lot, in fact almost everything I want to keep about Origins, but still has tons of room to grow and, frankly, a more viable future for the franchise.

It’s more viable as a dumbed down console game, yes. Which is the real tell.

It’s one that’s more sustainable because we brought the world to a place that’s inherently more interesting than “Yay, we beat the Blight. Good for us!”

So hanging around the same city where hardly anything changes with no ability to explore is more interesting than traveling around a region and making decisions that actually matter? How does that work again.

That was always really the goal–to bring a fantasy property to life from nothing and to create a world and a space that makes people intrigued and curious to see more. They’re hungry to find out what happens next.

Not anymore they’re not.

We wanted to make RPGs, especially fantasy RPGs, accessible, cool, and interesting to people who have been playing RPGs for the last seven years and not realizing that every time they ate food or went for a long run in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, they were essentially grinding constitution.

To me, that represents a huge audience that may have disregarded RPGs, especially fantasy, as being too hardcore or too confusing. And making certain changes to make the game palatable without ripping out the mechanics that make RPGs so fascinating to a stats guy or what have you. It keeps this genre evolving into something that’s fresh and not stagnating.

So dumbed down RPG’s aimed at the console audience. How many pages did it to get to that one moment of honesty? Way too many.

More Dragon Age 2 Apologia from Marc Laidlaw

Make of it what you will.

What Dragon Age II does, or what I perceive it as doing, is take a lot of those gameplay elements–working together as a team, functioning as a combat unit, having a story that unfolds with choices (all of those core things that I see as principal to both Baldur’s Gate and, more importantly, to Dragon Age)–and tries to bring some newer ideas to the table (elements of responsiveness, elements of interactivity in the way those fights are coordinated) into what I think is a more modern setting and expectation.

If you understand what that means you get a prize. Dragon Age II really doesn’t have choices since its choices all lead to the same basic outcome. Fights are less less tactical than before. And more modern setting? A modern setting with dwarves, elves and magic?

We certainly knew there would be some friction between what Origins players have come to expect and what Dragon Age II delivers. But I don’t see the two in opposition to each other. I’ve talked to Origins players who said, “As soon as I moved it to hard, I totally see where Origins is again.”

Does moving it to Hard create a better story, better characters or a better world? Cause if it doesn’t, it’s not Origins. Dragon Age 2 isn’t New Vegas where another difficulty level changes the way you play the game.

First, we did want to focus in on a more personal experience–the experience of one person and not the avatar of an organization. To be quite frank, that’s a story we told before, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, we really wanted to challenge ourselves to not have you end up in the Jedi Order or a Child of Baal, what have you.

Instead you end up as the Champion of Kirkwall. So huh. The city is your organization.

But really, what I want to see Dragon Age II set up is a world that’s evolving over time just in the same way that Ferelden, as the Blight advanced, evolved through space.

And Dragon Age II failed to set that up. Kirkwall doesn’t evolve. All that happens is your home base is in a different location with more goodies and the Qunari quarter is blocked off.

So, in that respect, I think the narrow focus of Dragon Age II really does what we originally hoped to do, which is to say, “This is an event. We want to change the world.” As our lead writer said, we want to kick over the sand castle we just built to change something and to show that this is a dynamic space.

Why am I picturing Charlie Sheen reading those lines? Maybe it’s because it sounds like his brand of ‘dynamic space’ gibberish.

In the same way that Loghain is a comprehensible villain, such as it is, we wanted to make sure that we were telling the story of a descent into madness in a lot of ways. It’s driven by miscommunication, suspicion–human motivations rather than some sort of overarching evil.

Actually it’s driven by a nutter with a magical Lyrium idol. And another nutter possessed by a spirit from the Fade. Did Laidlaw even read his own game’s script?

The Horse of Undeclared War has Left the Barn

No he actually said that. The Horse of Undeclared War has Left the Barn. He said it with a straight face, like he had no idea that he was delivering one of the worst visual metaphors even by cable news standards. If he had only said it with a straight face, then we might think that he was in on the joke. “I know I’m saying wacky stuff, but I’m being like Stephen Colbert. This is just a persona. It’s not me.”

But somehow, somehow he thinks this is a brilliant line. And that the 5 second rule is a meaningful intro to a speech about executive powers. He’s not wrong, most of his points are okay, but what kills it is the stiffness, the self-conscious air of self-importance and his entire dead on parody of an anchorman with no sense of humor.

Why is Bill Hader still on Saturday Night Live?

One facial expression. Stiff. Check.

One voice. Sarcastic douchebag. Check.

Ability to imitate anyone. Non-existent. Assigned to parts that call on him to do just that. Also check.

Look at the Saturday Night Live Charlie Sheen cold open. A no brainer imitation that Hader can’t even come close to doing. Instead he does the same “You can tell I’m sarcastically imitating you because my voice is going up and down” monotone that he does every time.

Compare that to Jimmy Fallon.

Fallon isn’t all that spectacular, but he’s in the same galaxy. Hader isn’t even trying. There’s no reason for him to. He can’t get fired because Saturday Night Live can’t replace him with anyone better. Dragging back Tina Fey and Darrell Hammond during the election was an admission of how little talent SNL has now. For Obama there’s Fred Armisen’s embarrassing blackface routine, which is almost as bad as Hader’s anything.

Instead of constantly dumping its female players, time to dump most of the men. Especially Hader who has learned how to do nothing in all these years except sit there and smirk his way through another routine.

How Nokia and Bud Lite Showed Up on Star Trek

Wondering why James T. Kirk ordered Bud Lites in a bar or listened to the Beastie Boys on his Nokia car thingie? Looks like you can thank Roberto Orci for that (Along with blowing up Vulcan) and his commitment to shoving brands into a movie. Once upon a time the thought of having Spock smoking a spacecigar because a sponsor wanted him to was out of bounds. Now bring on the spacecigars.

Mr. Yospe was not a screenwriter, not a producer, not even a studio executive. No, Mr. Yospe was a lawyer with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. He was meeting with the writer-producer Roberto Orci, who co-wrote “Transformers” and “Star Trek,” to talk about how to include brands in “The 28th Amendment.”

The 28th Amendment, brought to you by Gordon Earplugs and Orion blindfolds. For when you’re stuck in a bad movie.

Deals like that mean lower-budget movies like “Up in the Air” can be made. They also mean movie viewers are increasingly paying to see more elaborately constructed advertising.

That is one reason that screenwriters’ groups like the Writers Guild of America-West have objected to the practice, and some writers are worried about further product placement.

“I think it’s lazy writing,” said Mary Gallagher, a screenwriter and instructor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

It’s not writing at all. It’s more advertising. Moviegoers see ads before a movie and during a movie. When it’s in a realistic context, that’s one thing. Kirk drinking a branded beer in the 20th century in Star Trek IV is one thing. Doing it in the 23rd is distracting and wrecks the movie’s reality.

While Mr. Yospe often writes dialogue, in the meeting with Mr. Orci, he was suggesting types of advertisers to include. (Mr. Orci’s father, Roberto Orci, who is president of the advertising agency Acento, and his staff joined the meeting to discuss how brands might help market the movie.)

Orci is really enthusiastic about this. So any movie he’s associated with is going to be covered in this crap. Unfortunately he’s producing the next Star Trek reboot which means crap advertising galore. In some better alternate universe, Orci joined his father in advertising. In this worse universe, he was responsible for a merchandising movie cashing in on Star Trek.

“You’ve written Gray has a Dodge Ram,” Mr. Yospe began, discussing a character. “Does it have to be a Dodge?’

“What’s wrong with Dodge? What have you got against Dodge?” said Mr. Orci, a soft-spoken 36-year-old.

The group began debating. In the script, Gray is described as “soldier-fit” but with “psychic damage.” Could someone like that drive, say, a Lincoln Navigator?

Can Kirk drive a Land Rover while ordering a Bud Lite? Can he use a Windows 7 phone? Can Microsoft pay for a logo on a shuttlecraft? Which brands will make into AbramsTrek2011? Stay tuned to find out!

David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman As Bad As Expected

Bleeding Cool has a limited script review. Very limited. And yes it’s Ally McBeal with superpowers Between the ice cream sleepovers and the pining for Steve Rogers and Beyonce flavored action scenes, this will set back Wonder Woman to the 50’s.

Remember the girl power scene in the awful reboot of Bionic Woman. This sounds every bit as awkward. There’s even a “You go girl” mixed in there. It’s less about superheroes, more like another excuse for David E. Kelley to create a hideously dysfunctional female character who’s going to spend a lot of time being uncomfortable.

I don’t see a law firm or any obvious issue exploration, but I’m confident it’s there. It can’t not be, in a David E. Kelley project. If he can’t have people screaming at each over a current issue, then what would he write about. Do monkeys have souls? Is it ethical to buy products made by underpaid workers? Can an invisible plane be used to violate civil rights. All this and more.

CW Invests in Totally Original Pilots

Every CW Show Ever

It’s that time of the year again. When snow falls from the sky, squirrels go hungry and the CW orders pilots that make even hungry squirrels cry.

Heavenly, penned by Richard Hatem (Supernatural), that has a supernatural spin to it. Here’s the logline: “A dedicated young female attorney and a former angel, Dashiel Coffee, only recently turned human, tackle cases at her legal aid clinic — she saves clients’ butts while he saves their souls. As an angel, Dash never experienced feelings or emotions, and his ‘awakening’ is a big part of the series.”

Whoever is responsible for this needs to have their soul saved. Because this is actually the worst thing anyone has ever come up with that doesn’t star Snookie. Wait, this needs to star Snookie as the attorney. Then the gates of hell would actually open up and swallow Los Angeles. Or probably Vancouver.

But wait there’s more

Cooper and Stone, from CBS Studios, focuses on two smart, young female detectives on Chicago’s North Side, equally adept at discussing fashion, music, pop culture as they are solving homicides

Yes, but do they eat ice cream after they solve a case? And how is David E. Kelley not involved? Will there be a montage of Cooper and Stone trying out clothes while someone is being murdered. Also will the soundtrack be available for sale. How else will anyone be able to hear the same payola songs that play during the fashion/murder montage.

The network has ordered the pair’s Hart of Dixie, about a New York City doctor who inherits a medical practice in a small Southern town inhabited by an eclectic and eccentric group of characters.

I can’t wait to learn more about this strikingly original concept. Will there be a scene where a farmer tries to pay the New York City doctor with a pig? Because that scene has never been done before and it urgently needs to be shown on national television. Will there also be a girl dating a redneck jock whom the doctor falls for? Because that too has never been done before and urgently needs to be done again.

The CW. Where television goes to die. It’s a new slogan, try it out.

But somehow no one will film CrocCop. That’s an outrage.

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