CategoryCulture

Sports Night, Season 3

Well, nah, but this does give me a pleasing frisson down the spine. For those of us who are not obsessive fans of Sorkin’s early (or even his later) work, Josh Charles played Dan Rydell on Sports Night as inspired by Keith Olbermann. Thus, putting them together on Olbermann’s current show is funny. Or it was funny before I explained it. Maybe I should have skipped that bit.

“You think?”

Jimmy Fallon Has The Best Job Ever

Not that I’m saying Billy Joel is one of the best artists of all time, but he’s a guy who can write songs and sing them and he cares about his work. Also important: Jimmy Fallon is completely sincere about the things he loves, which turns out to be what I wanted out of late night talk shows on the rare occasion that I watch them.

Streaming Media Alert

Many of us 80s children have fond memories of the first two Savage Steve Holland opuses, Better Off Dead… and One Crazy Summer. John Cusack’s amiable everyman teen demeanor was the perfect foil for Holland’s insane vision. His third movie, How I Got Into College had no John Cusack and generated few fond memories.

But it’s on HBO Go until May 1st. Corey Parker, Lara Flynn Boyle, and a pretty crappy script. Savage Steve didn’t write this one. Philip Baker Hall in a bit part? Nora Dunn and Phil Hartman cameo?

It does explain why Savage Steve Holland never directed another movie. (It’s OK, he has a career in kid’s television.) This is the real, actual, projected onto movie screens trailer that ran in cinema palaces across the nation back in 1989.

When I said “alert,” I meant “warning.”

Anais Mitchell: Hadestown

Yo, Unknown USA people! Were you aware of Anais Mitchell’s folk opera, Hadestown? It’s just a folk opera retelling of the Orpheus myth set in a post-apocalyptic version of the Great Depression, no big deal. Justin Vernon and Ani DiFranco are part of the cast.

I may be the last person to know about this.

Novels You Should Have Read Since Chicon 7

Quick notes from the 1 PM Novels You Should Have Read Since Chicon 7 panel. Any errors are wholly mine. Panelists: Elizabeth Bear (moderator), Willie Siros, and Jess Nevins.

  • Any really outstanding books?
    • Siros: Sea Change, S. M. Wheeler
      • fairy tale fable, internal logic, compared to The Last Unicorn
    • Nevins: Brian Catling's The Vorrh
      • fantasy that avoids the usual fantasy tropes
    • Bear: Cassandra Rose Clark, The Mad Scientist's Daughter
      • SF, robot civil rights, riff on “Bicentennial Man”
      • issues of climate change, peak oil, global cultural change as background elements
  • Siros: Iain Banks, The Hydrogen Sonata
  • Nevins: Selvedin Avdic, Seven Terrors
    • Horror, post-war Bosnia
  • Bear: Toh EnJoe, The Self-Reference Engine
    • picaresque novel – vignettes revealing greater story
  • Siros: Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson
    • In dealer's room – Larry Smith
  • Bear: The Drowning Girl
    • last year, but still good
  • Nevins: Nick Harkaway, Angelmaker
  • Siros: Peter Hamilton, The Great North Road
    • Tighter than other recent Hamilton
  • Bear: new Tales of the Beanworld hardcover, Larry Marder
    • makes a good entry point into the series
  • Nevins: Anna Tambour's Crandolin
    • medieval cookbook novel?
  • Bear: Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series
    • Good Man Friday
    • historical detective novels
  • Siros: Karen Joy Fowler: We Were Completely Beside Ourselves
    • mainstream/slipstream
  • Bear: American Elsewhere, Robert Jackson Bennett
    • weird small town with small things going on that add up to something bigger
    • Austin writer, writes books that are hard to summarize
  • Nevins: Lauren Beukes, Shining Girls
    • time travel, serial killer
  • Bear: Ian Tregillis has finished his Milkweed trilogy
    • Bitter Seeds, Coldest War, Necessary Evil
    • alternate WW2, Nazis create super soldiers and UK turns to necromancy
  • Siros: Neal Gaiman, Ocean At The End Of The Lane
  • Bear: Karen Lord, Best Of All Possible Worlds
    • planetary romance, not plot-driven, reminds Bear of Bradbury
    • “a very relaxing book”
  • Nevins: Koji Suzuki's Edge
    • quantum horror about California falling into the sea, Greg Egan-esque
  • Bear:
    • Seanan McGuire's cryptid books
      • lighthearted fun
    • Jim C. Hines Libriomancer and Codex Born
      • magicians who can pull things out of books they're written in
      • some books are locked off… the One Ring
  • Nevins: The Last Policeman, Ben Winters
    • policeman doing his job in a small town before the meteor hits
  • Nevins: Deb Taber, Necessary Ill
  • Siros: Devon Monk, Cold Steel and sequels
    • steampunk Wild West, brothers who are lycanthropes
  • Bear: Merrie Haskell's Handbook for Dragon Slayers, middle school
    • to write a handbook for dragon slayers, one must slay a dragon…
  • Bear: Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson
    • far future post-apocalyptic YA, set in Brazil
  • Siros: Brandon Sanderson, Rithmatist
    • math based magic, YA
  • Bear last thoughts:
    • Wesley Chu, The Lives of Tao
    • Ramez Naan, Nexus and Crux
    • The Incrementalists, Skyler White and Steven Brust
      • coming in September
    • Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead
      • epic fantasy constructed like an urban fantasy which is a courtroom drama
  • Siros last thoughts:
    • Steven Gould, Impulse
      • next in Jumper series
    • The Thousand Names, Django Wexler
      • historical fantasy/alternate world
    • Evening's Empire, Paul McAuley
  • Nevins last thoughts:
    • Hannu Rajaniemi, The Fractal Prince
  • Audience
    • Mira Grant, Blackout (Newsflesh trilogy)
    • Lois McMaster Bujold, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
    • David Levithan, Every Day, YA
    • Daryl Gregory, Raising Stony Mayhall, YA zombie POV
    • James S. A. Corey, Abaddon's Gate, third in the Expanse series
    • Allen Steele, Apollo's Outcast, compared to Heinlein's juveniles
    • Anthology: Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination, John Joseph Adams edited
    • Paul Cornell's London Falling, London urban fantasy verging on horror
    • Year Zero, Rob Reed, humor
    • The Golem And The Jinni, Helene Wecker, literary fiction set in 1899 NYC
    • The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, sequel to The Long Earth

Forbidden Planet Field Report

The last time I spent extended time in London, lo 10 years or more ago, I brought back the Malazan Empire books. Possibly thanks to Jess Nevins, I can’t recall. It was certainly a worthwhile haul in any case. This time I fine-tuned the process; Susan and I hit Forbidden Planet in the company of Catie and Ted, and we picked up a few first novels in various series which are not so readily available in the United States. We also controlled the urge to pick up some books you can easily get over here but which have much better cover treatments in Great Britain.

The ScarI mean, really. And there are corresponding designs for every Miéville book. Or how about the lovely minimalist Gollancz 50th collection? Fortunately we retained some modicum of willpower, if only to justify our later extravagance.

Which is to say: after reading the aforementioned first novels we decided which ones we really liked and would have trouble finding in the States, and went back later in the week and splurged. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series would easily have made the cut, but they’re readily available here. (Important note: Midnight Riot is the first book in the series, originally titled Rivers of London in the UK.) Paul Cornell’s London Falling is awesome but there is no more to buy at present.

There is no shortage of British novels about ordinary people falling into a fantasy world just beneath the skin of the London we know and love, huh? I’m surprised Cubicle 7 hasn’t done an RPG along those lines. Perhaps The Laundry counts.

Empire in Black and GoldAnywise, the exciting find was Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series. There are eight of these in print in the UK; I now have seven. Only five of them are available in the US. I am a bit concerned about that since the fifth one came out in the US over a year ago; sales may not have been good enough to justify more. This would be a shame! On the other hand, the series will end at 10 books, all of which have been turned in, so even if I have to go to Chapters or Amazon UK it’ll work out for me.

The setup is a fantasy world in the very early stages of an Industrial Revolution. There’s a barbaric empire roaring down from the north with an eye towards conquering the Lowlands. The Lowlands, of course, are unconvinced of the real danger. There are spymasters and assassins and artificers and lots of politics — it’s a very city-oriented series, which I like. I’m two and a half books in and I don’t think anything significant has taken place outside a city except one big battle.

Said Industrial Revolution and the concomitant fading of magic are the engines of change in the setting. The clever setting postulate is that humanity is divided into kinder, each with a special connection to some kind of insect: Beetle-kinder, Moth-kinder, Wasp-kinder, Spider-kinder, and so on. Some kinder are Apt, and can understand and use machinery. Some kinder are Inapt, and can’t even comprehend how a lock works, but can do magic. In parallel, each kinder has some abilities drawn from their insect connection, which are explicitly not magic. I suppose you could assume they were psychic if you felt like deconstructing it, but Tchaikovsky doesn’t feel any need to explain it.

Slight detour: if the Inapt were noble savages this would irk me. They aren’t. Spider-kinder are Inapt, for example, but they rule an advanced group of cities and have no objections to technology even if they can’t use it themselves. Moth-kinder live in isolated cities and are a shadow of what they once were, but that’s because they were once the fairly tyrannical rulers of the Apt. The Wasp Empire is an Apt empire that’s essentially still barbaric. There’s also no shortage of exceptions to the kinder stereotypes.

I get a bit of a K. J. Parker vibe from the books in that they’re examinations of change in a fantasy setting. The world’s going to be an awfully different place by the time these are done, and it’s not just that a Dark Lord will be overthrown. I don’t think I even have any certainty that the Wasp Empire is going to be defeated. On the other hand, they’re not as grim as a typical Parker book. Competence is a primary virtue, as it is in Parker’s work, but good is also pretty important and is even often rewarded.

They’re pretty sprawling books. Well, 10 in the series, that’s fairly obvious. The initial book is about Stenwold Maker, professor and spymaster, and his four proteges. It spreads out rather quickly after that, however. For reference points, I’d say there are fewer viewpoint characters than you have in Game of Thrones, and the books are closer related to one another than the Malazan Empire books.

The existence of the Inapt means that there’s plenty of justification for epic swordplay even while artificers are inventing dangerous new weaponry. I like books with larger-than-life swordplay, and the Mantis-kinder provide plenty of that. Secretive sect which specializes in combat with members who can take down groups of ten men? Check.

Finally, there are ornithopters and repeating crossbows.

Laying Plans

Susan and I will be hitting LoneStarCon 3, aka Worldcon 2013. It’s in San Antonio, so we can take the whole week and spend a few days in Austin first. Mmm, barbecue. Mmm, breakfast tacos. Mmm.

I have now poked my nose back into Worldcon site selection politics and am delighted to note that it’s still Worldcon site selection politics. By which I mean I’m relieved that I moved to California just when I would have gotten sucked into convention organizing in Boston. I dunno, Orlando looks good to me for 2015.

I am of course voting for that L. Ron Hubbard biopic in all Hugo categories.

Cerebus Digital

The first two issues of High Society showed up on Comixology this week. The first one was free, so I bought it. It’s really gorgeous: high-def, quality scans for the most part. There are one or two pages where the white on black text fills in a bit much, but given the unfortunate house fire which destroyed a bunch of the negatives recently, I am not unhappy about that.

It’s gorgeous and funny and an amazing achievement and this is even before Gerhard came on board. Plus there are 30 or so pages of notebooks and historical stuff at the end. Issue two is only 99 cents, which is a bargain — at the rate of a couple of issues a week, I would have no financial qualms about buying all the Cerebus this way.

Then I happened to read this stuff about his current negotiations with Fantagraphics. So. Plus the misogyny.

Like any number of others, I will spend some vague amount of time wrestling with the problem of great art created by someone not so great, with very not great messages embedded therein.

First of the Last

After a really jam-packed first episode of Last Resort, I wound up with a multitude of questions filed into two slots.

First: is the plot in any way believable? You have to buy into the captain of a nuclear sub refusing orders, plus he’s gotta have enough charisma to make his crew more or less stick with him. Also there’s a huge conspiracy in the background. Said conspiracy does some pretty outrageous things even if the Reagan quote at the beginning is taken as good foreign policy. What I’m saying here is that I’m not entirely certain that we’re watching actual humans making sane decisions.

Second, though: is the situation as presented at all stable? And the trick here is that I don’t think it is, but I also don’t think Shawn Ryan necessarily thinks it is. If I’m looking for a showrunner who’s willing to mess with the status quo in a big bad way on his shows, I’m looking for Jeff Pinkner and J. H. Wyman of Fringe. But Shawn Ryan is my number two choice; The Shield went all in on actions with consequences, and Terriers had no qualms about major alterations to the show’s world.

That’s the hook for me. If Last Resort digs into the consequences of all the messed up things that happened in the first episode, it’s gonna be awesome and I will forgive the implausibilities. We’ll see.

Prometheus Theory

I’m too sad to review Prometheus. I will say that it’s absolutely gorgeous and I am glad I saw it on a quality screen. Ridley Scott’s eye for composition and spectacle is still remarkable. There’s nothing wrong with the directing, the acting is mostly very good, and conceptually the movie worked. The script sucked, though. Kept trying to reach big emotional beats, but none of them had proper setup, and without setup there is no payoff.

I do have a theory, though, which is full of spoilers.
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