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Tag Archives: Science Fiction

The Cheesy Action Movie Makes a TV Comeback

Cinemax has a new business strategy. Forget the porn and bring on TV series remakes of action movies. Like The Transporter.

The Transporter movies are played out so an Atlantic TV series makes sense. The Transporter lacks Jason Statham’s maniacal robotic streak, but between this and Strike Back it’s nice to see the cheesy action movie making a comeback. If bringing the cheesy action movie back as a cable series works out for Cinemax, maybe somebody will try to make a SciFi Channel that plays Science Fiction.

Who knows. It might happen.

Supercrap! = SyFy + M. Night Shyamalan + Marti Noxon Ruin the Universe

This is so horrible that it’s almost wonderful. It’s like Michael Bay hiring Damon Lindelof to make a movie about robot monkeys who fight crime or Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman teaming up to make Aquaman.

M. Night Shyamalan is a formerly talented director turned deluded hack. Marti Noxon ruined Buffy. The SyFy Channel has dumped Science Fiction and is just doing stuff about ghosts. And they’re all teaming up!

The cable network has given a put-pilot commitment to a project from Shyamalan and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Marti Noxon titled Proof. Proof centers on the son of a billionaire tech genius who, following an accident that claims his parents’ lives, offers a large reward for anyone who can find proof of life after death.

This is great and by great, I mean it’s a tremendous pile of crap. This is like hell being other people and this project is exactly where they all deserve to end up.

M. Night Shyamalan ruined his career. Marti Noxon ruined Buffy. The SyFy Channel ruined itself. M. Night Shyamalan is horrible and thinks he’s a genius. Marti Noxon is horrible and thinks she isn’t. Both of them think they marry style and content when they don’t have either one. And the SyFy Channel thinks it appeals to sophisticated viewers when it actually appeals to housewives addicted to Oxycontin. So this is brilliant.

Google Marti Noxon and the first Google Instant suggestion is “Marti Noxon Ruined Buffy” followed by “Marti Noxon Ruined Everything“. That last one is probably unfair since after Buffy, Marti Noxon worked on crap like Private Practice and Glee, and it’s not actually possible to ruin those things. You can truthfully accuse Marti Noxon of ruining Buffy, but not of ruining Private Practice because Marti Noxon did ruin Buffy. But you can’t accuse her of ruining the entire universe. Not just yet. The first search brings you to feminist blogs claiming that Marti Noxon is being accused of ruining Buffy because she’s a woman, not because she wrote its worst episodes and oversaw its worst season. Only because of her chromosomes. But if this was sexism, then why isn’t Jane Espenson being hated on?

Marti Noxon is horrible and while she doesn’t get all the credit for ruining Buffy, she gets a lot of it. Maybe most of it. Not to mention that Marti Noxon is a middle aged woman who desperately tries to talk like a teenager. When you interview her, you’re supposed to mention how young she looks and sounds. Actual viewers hate what she does, hipster outlets like Boing Boing and I09 love her. But they’re going to have to learn to love Proof, which will be hilarious.

Separately the SyFy Channel, Shyamalan and Marti Noxon are completely terrible batches of crap. Together they’re where they belong.  Writing and directing crap about ghosts on the crap ghost channel. They’re not just crap anymore. They’re supercrap.

SyFy, Shymalan and Marti Noxon are talent black holes. They ruin everything they touch. Anything good that falls into them vanishes into another dimension. Together they might just destroy each other.

Also robot monkeys who fight crime please.

Library Porn vs Library Books

It’s a story as old as time. Library has patrons browsing porn on library computers. Other patrons complain about the porn. Library solves problem by installing some kind of privacy hoods on computers that will make porn users feel like Darth Vader and frighten off any complaining patrons.

library porn

the old Times Square… now at your Library

In all the tireless debate over whether people have the right to look at porn in a library or not, no one asks whether libraries should really be spending money on porn terminals during hard times. And forget the porn thing.

When I walk into a library, it’s mostly people checking Facebook and playing Farmville or some other Zynga clickety click crap.

Last month I asked whether the transformation of the New York Public Library from book depot to teen hangout with Farmville stations really served its core mission?

I refused to support NYPL’s latest begging letter campaign because I see it eliminating book departments like crazy while buying laptops to loan out so people can play Farmville and watch porn. That’s not what a library is. Science Fiction sections have been eliminated or moved as far as possible in many libraries. And books are a library’s core mission.

the modern library

One guy watching porn, one guy playing a Zynga game. One guy watching FOX News. Who needs books anyway?

I’m sorry if some people don’t have a computer at home that they can use to play Farmville or watch porn. Maybe they can make their own Kickstarter. But if a library is going to have computers, they should be research terminals.

There’s no reason why funds should be diverted from books to subsidizing Farmville\Porn habits. And putting it special terminals for porn watching turns a library into the old Times Square. What’s next bringing in strippers to the reserved books section?

Moments like this are a wake up call for library and city officials who have to decide whether they want libraries to be places to find books or not.

Recalling Total Recall Recalled

What if Total Recall got remade without all the Mars stuff, but more like Minority Report? If that’s something you wanted, here you go.

Yesterday I reviewed the reissue of Philip K. Dick’s novel In Milton Lumky Territory and noted how it was only around because of the fixation on Dick that literary Science Fiction has. But Hollywood has an even bigger fixation on Philip K. Dick and the remake of Total Recall proves it.

Most Science Fiction writers have trouble getting bestselling novels adapted. Clarke is the only one of the genre’s grandmasters who ever saw a legitimate version of his book go to film. Asimov had the name of his most famous gestating adaption ripped off for a Will Smith shitfest and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers got a big budget adaptation attacking him. (Then he got Spider Robinson doing the same thing to him in his reworking of a Heinlein trunk novel.)

But PK Dick, the Dude of Science Fiction writers, now has two movies based on a short short story that he once did. Total Recall 2 is obviously more based on Spielberg’s Minority Report movie. Between Blade Runner and Minority Report, movies based on Dick’s work have created the “look” of the future in movies.

Dick would have found it absurdly amusing that his throwaway stories created an entire cinematictotal recall boom. Total Recall based on “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” couldn’t possibly adapt the original story in which a man goes looking for programmed fantasy only for the programmers to discover that the fantasies are true. Total Recall can’t actually end with the discovery that Doug saved the world from an alien invasion through his goodness. So it ends with the classic, “Shoot her, no shoot him” scenario that’s been sent up so many times it should be in orbit.

About the only thing that Hollywood took from Philip K. Dick was his paranoia. Not his sense of humor. Total Recall’s sense of humor was crude. Total Recall 2 looks humorless. Like Minority Report, it’s polished chrome paranoia, massive urban dystopias, flying cars, government surveillance, and nothing more.

Dick’s stories worked because they reached beyond the obvious structures. The police state, the machines and the spaceships, to get at something deeper and human. Blade Runner took a shot at doing that, but none of the other adaptations have. If the original Total Recall at least had a sense of the ridiculous, the new one is a sterile corporate product, as totalitarian as its landscape, as empty as the exercise of the action movie can be.

Philip K. Dick sought the spiritual in Science Fiction, but Hollywood gave his adaptations a success that depended on taking out the spiritual and leaving only the materialism of the action movie.

In Milton Lumky Territory by Philip K Dick book review

The existence of In Milton Lumky Territory, in its slim trim top shelf cover and packaging is a testament to the ongoing obsession with Philip K. Dick. Even Science Fiction grandmasters don’t get this kind of treatment, having obscure non-genre books hauled out and presented all over again.

There’s a reason why Philip K. Dick didn’t make it writing straight fiction. In Milton Lumky Territory reminds you why. in milton lumky territory by philip k dickPhilip K. Dick wasn’t a good writer. He was an interesting writer. Good writers can tell a good story. Interesting writers can make a bad story interesting.

When Philip K. Dick was working with a pallette of robots, space travel, time travel, police states and altered reality, he could make a bad story interesting. In Milton Lumky Territory doesn’t have those things. Instead it has Bruce Stevens, a somewhat immature but ambitious buyer for a discount house, who is mechanical and unimaginative, we have Susan, a classic Dick female character, hysterical, needy and predatory, whom he falls in love with before realizing she was his fifth grade teacher, and Milton Lumky, a depressed sick paper salesman, who is also the closest thing to the book’s Dickian character.

And that’s about it. Susan drags Bruce into a personal and business relationship and then wrecks it and in a creative act of imagination, apparently his first such act, he envisions what things might have been like if their life together had worked out.

There’s not much more than this, but that’s not unusual for Dick’s non-genre fiction, which usually end in practical failure, but some form of spiritual renewal. The blurb calls In Milton Lumky Territory, Dick’s best non-genre work. It’s not. Not even close. Philip K. Dick calls it his favorite book. That part is probably true and you can even see why, but there’s nothing worth the read.

Dick wasn’t a good enough stylist or capable of creating enduring characters that would have made his career as a mainstream writer a success. He was good enough to tell a story, but not good enough to take it to the next level. And there is no next level in In Milton Lumky Territory because there’s no imagination. The very thing that Bruce Stevens achieves in the end is absent from the book.

Philip K. Dick could bring theology and philosophy to science fiction, but he had trouble bringing it to the everyday life where literary fiction wanted it. In Milton Lumky Territory reminds us that it’s just as well that Dick wrote Science Fiction and not literary fiction.

Is Scientology Done?

Katie Holmes divorcing Tom Cruise has to be the happiest news for newspapers around the world since Michael Jackson was juggling babies. It will give them months of content to work with in the doldrums of the summer season. Every aspect of the divorce proceedings means more headlines.

Scientology is the elephant in the room. It’s a huge target for the media and for internet activism. But Scientology doesn’t really matter. It hasn’t mattered in a while.

Sure Scientology is pretty awful if you’re a member or if a family member is a member. But there really aren’t all that many of them, especially outside California. Their numbers are declining and their senior people keep defecting. The latest defectors include L. Ron Hubbard’s granddaughter and the father of their current leader.

Of L. Ron Hubbard’s seven children, only one, Diana, 59, the first of his children by his third wife, Mary Sue, is still a loyal member of the church.

This isn’t what a successful movement looks like.

Scientology probably peaked in the 70’s. It kept going through the self-help and corporate training seminars of the 80’s, but it was already fading. It just took a while for those on the inside and outside to realize it. Movements change with the times, but how do you do that when you’re a cult that reprocesses the ideas of a failed Science Fiction writer born in 1911?

Scientology is a therapy guru cult from the 50’s whose two biggest draws, Tom Cruise and John Travolta, are also on the wrong side of 50. It probably stopped expanding a while back and just exists to give some of its leaders a good life and a full time job. Its secretiveness and terror tactics made it a natural foe for internet activists. But if Scientology is such a powerful network, why wasn’t it able to protect Travolta from his massage meltdown going public or keep Cruise’s child bride on the reservation? If you can’t intimidate a few masseuses and the star of Dawson’s Creek (fun fact, James Van Der Beek is also in a cult) then you must be losing your touch.

Scientology won’t go away this decade but by the end of it they’ll be older and more shrunken than ever. They stopped mattering a while back. Kicking them around is easy, but no matter what they’re on the way out.

 

The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – Book Review

Greg Egan is one of the best Science Fiction writers of his generation and the Clockwork Rocket, part of the Orthogonal series, the clockwork rocket greg eganreminds you just how amazing he is. Mixing philosophy, mortality, historical fiction, feminism the physics of an alternate universe, while set in a version of Renaissance Italy populated by aliens whose female sex has to die to reproduce the species on a world threatened by the fragments traveling at it from the past across the universe with the only answer being a generation ship that will dramatically upgrade science over a thousand years that will pass in four years from a civilization that is only capable of launching a clockwork rocket. The Clockwork Rocket is Science Fiction as a fireworks display of ideas.  It is Science Fiction at its best.

40 years ago, Asimov wrote an uncharacteristically bad novel, The Gods Themselves. The novel won a Hugo because it was about the environment and all that kind of important stuff, but it was a disaster because Asimov, in trying to write a novel set in an alien universe with aliens with three genders and little recognizably human about them, was operating completely outside his zone.

Greg Egan’s The Clockwork Rocket takes on an alien universe with alien characters and makes it work beautifully. It works most beautifully at its beginning, as Egan slowly draws out Yalda’s biology with a fairy tale beginning that slowly drops new shocking revelations while still grounding the character and the world in a few familiar reference points. This mix of the old and the new, the familiar and the strange, works, transforming the life on Yalda’s world into a mysterious but horrifyingly familiar coming of age story.

The Clockwork Rocket slows down once Yalda is at the university and takes on a bit of the grad student in the 40’s air, but it remains fascinating and speeds up again as Yalda’s theories revolutionize her society and predict an end that she has to avert in generation ship built inside a mountain and launched by primitive explosives. It’s clever and compelling. None of the individual parts are all that new, but Greg Egan takes things that did not work all that well individually and turns them into something amazing together.

This is a story of science and discovery, but it’s also a story of mortality. Every effort that Yalda makes to live life on her own terms, in a species where giving birth to children means death and women have to take birth control pills to survive, the efforts that she then makes to save her species, don’t save her from her own mortality.

The Clockwork Rocket is a book about light. It begins with the death of Yalda’s grandfather as he dies going to light in a tremendous explosion. It is bisected by the Hurtlers, light streaking across the sky and warning of the danger to the world, and it ends with Yalda giving in and taking in the light to die and give birth.

Should Science Fiction Writers Blog?

Science Fiction writers ( along with all writers and anyone doing anything creative that he needs to market) are told to blog (and get on Twitter) to promote themselves. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a writer’s blog that made me more likely to buy his stuff. Mostly it makes me less likely to buy it.

library books

At its most harmless the Science Fiction writer’s blog is just self-promotion, like George R.R. Martin’s Livejournal where he blogs about football and Game of Thrones merchandise and his latest appearances. If you really want to know where to buy a replica of Ice or where George R.R. Martin will be tomorrow, that’s the place to go.

The promotional power of that is limited by its blandness. No one is going to become more interested in Martin or his books by reading his LiveJournal blog and no one but the most die-hard fans are likely to keep coming back.

But bland self-promotion is preferable to the political rants that fill most Science Fiction writers blogs. Whether it’s Jerry Pournelle or Fred Pohl, John C. Wright or David Brin, visiting their blogs means wading into left-wing and right-wing talking points. And even a good writer turns into a bad writer when talking about politics and starts sounding like your Uncle Steve after a few drinks.

Everything is simplistic. The country is being ruined by the other side. If we just went with their straight-line approach, the country would be a wonderful place to live in no time at all. How intelligent people can seriously think that we would have space stations and 200 year lifespans if we just had a one party state baffles me. But most people think that way in a partisan period.

Even when I agree with them, I lose respect for them. What they contribute is rarely worthwhile or thought out. They rant and in a field where you are at least supposed to give the impression that you think about things, instead of just going with your prejudices and comparing anyone you disagree with to Hitler, they don’t leave you with a favorable impression of the cranium and character of the writer.

Some Science Fiction writers are insecure about the internet. They think that they need to compete with Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. But those are bloggers are bad writers. And you have to pick one or the other. You can either be an InternetAngryPerson who tries to wittily rant about things or you can be a writer. Being both is a difficult trick.

A good book doesn’t always promote itself, but it promotes itself better than a bad blog.

John Barnes Reviews His Own Book

The humility certainly doesn’t hurt.

john barnes

And John Barnes even gave his own book a one star review.

I always thought that Barnes was always underrated myself, but his books are hit and miss. The meme series was disturbing, but at times felt dark and senseless. Kaleidoscope Century may be the bleakest Science Fiction novel ever written and it seems to ring more true today than it did back then. A lot of his time travel/dimension shifting stuff seemed interesting in concept, but not as much in execution. I haven’t gotten to the Daybreak novels, they seemed a little too much like thrillers, though I hear there may be a meme element, and only read through one of the Thousand Culture books and it was forgettable.

One day Barnes may write the big novel that has a huge impact on the field. Maybe he already has and I just never read it.

Random footnote. Seeing Amazon reviews from 1998 just feels weird. 1998 already feels too long ago. As if the internet shouldn’t have existed back then. I grew up with the internet being a new thing and seeing 1998 on there is a reminder that we’ve been living with it, not just WELL or BBS’s, but the full-on ecommerce shiny websites version for a while already.

Viewpoints Critical by L. E. Modesitt book review

Reading an L. E. Modesitt story is like sitting down on a bus next to another passenger who suddenly begins talking to you. At first it seems like he might have some interesting ideas, but then you realize he’s actually the most boring person in the world.

There are good writers and there are bad writers. Then there are mediocre writers. L. E. Modesitt is a mediocre writer. He doesn’t L. E. Modesitt viewpoints criticallack for ideas. There are plenty of ideas in Viewpoints Critical, some that are even intriguing. He’s even good enough as a world builder. He can put one word after another and even introduce the occasional stylish flourish into the mix. But his characters are cliches and his plots are dead on their feet.

Reading an author’s short stories can give you some insights into his writing. Viewpoints Critical, a collection of L. E. Modesitt’s short stories does that. And the insight is that L. E. Modesitt is a hopelessly mediocre writer. Some of his early Science Fiction stories have promise. They even read like watered down Heinlein. But that’s all that L. E. Modesitt ‘s writing ever has. Promise. Potential. And then nothing.

L. E. Modesitt is not a storyteller. There are writers who are and are deficient in everything else, but they can tell a story. L. E. Modesitt  approaches a story the way that a carpenter approaches a building project. He sets it up and builds it and it’s functional, it holds things up, but it’s also soulless, bland and boring. Give L. E. Modesitt a fantasy setting and within a 100 pages it becomes a task list with the protagonist working his way up through barrel-making (I wish I was joking) or being a police officer. Occasionally he’ll kill a bunch of people and resolve a political problem that way. Then he’ll go back to what he was doing before.

The stories in Viewpoints Critical are not that bad, but they share the same symptoms of mediocrity. Forced to set a story in the present day, strips away L. E. Modesitt ‘s worldbuilding skills and leaves him with the bland characters and the checklist. L. E. Modesitt ‘s default mode is didactic. Even when the stories don’t directly preach at you, they’re a task list of another kind. There’s no sense of wonder or surprise. Just the dull knowledge that the author has set out to do something and by the time he’s finished, it’s done.

Not all of the Viewpoints Critical stories are this bad. Some of the earlier stories have that sense of potential, but it’s very brief. L. E. Modesitt is comfortable with the didactic. Everything from the politics to the magic to the tools works in a very limited way and the story consists of him telling you how they work at great length.

There’s something to be said for that, but mostly it’s like sitting on a bus while the passenger next to you tells you in great detail what it’s like to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Every book and story that L. E. Modesitt writes seems to be another excursion to the Fantasy or Science Fiction version of the DMV.

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