Category Archives: Science Fiction & Fantasy

A few random thoughts on rewatching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

We’re rewatching the series. Partway through the second season now. Random observations:

  • Jenny Callendar’s declaration that she’s a “cyberpagan” just does not age well. Was it as silly then as it is today?

  • I love the episode where Ethan returns and Giles is forced to confront his past as the Ripper. The final scene with Giles and Jenny Callendar is heartbreaking. Here is a man who has isolated himself from other people and is torturing himself for the sins of his adolescence. He had one chance at making romantic connection, it’s blown, and it’s own fault.

  • I’ve gotten to know a few more English people since the show first aired. Are there REALLY people like Giles in the UK, who walk around wearing tweed all the time and drinking tea from china cups?

  • And speaking of which: Tweed all the time? In Southern California? It gets HOT here.

  • For the first two seasons at least, Angel is kind of dull. Angelus hasn’t returned yet but we did get a hint of him when Angel was PRETENDING to be Angelus to trick Spike. And that was excellent.

  • Spike was terrific as I remember him. A blogger at Tor.com compared Spike’s first couple of episodes to a kind of reverse-innocence. Spike was still pure evil then and he was fantastic.

  • If you’re a middle-aged man and you mention being a fan of “Buffy” — and “Veronica Mars” — women in their 20s will think you are creepy.

Link

Netflix’s Lost in Space remake casts Deadwood’s Molly Parker as Maureen Robinson – Nathalie Caron, Blastr

I loved the series when I was a kid, and the occasional YouTube clip of the show can always make me smile. I liked the 1998 movie fine — it was charming. I’m not enthusiastic about a remake but I guess I’ll give it a try.

As an adult, I found the premise unbelievable — that NASA would send a single family into space, on what would probably be a one-way mission. You can’t start a colony with that small of a gene pool. Now I’m thinking, who could get away with something like that? Well, a crazy billionaire, that’s who. So imagine you’ve got an engineer-billionaire who’s nuts for space and builds a spaceship for herself and bullies her family into coming with her. That could work.

Cory Doctorow on why science fiction is crap at predicting the future

Predicting the future isn’t what science fiction is for, says Cory. Science fiction reflects the aspirations and anxieties that people have about technology at the moment it was written.

It’s not just technology. It’s also politics and social change. And it applies to fantasy. H.P. Lovecraft in real life was a full-throated bigot who feared invading hordes of filthy mongrel immigrants; he turned that into some of the most powerful horror and fantasy written (enjoyed by legions, including the descendants of those same filthy mongrel immigrants). Star Trek has always been a reflection of whatever was going on in the news at the time the shows and movies aired.

Cory covers a lot of ground in this lively interview with Utah Public Radio’s Access Utah:

In a recent column, Doctorow says that “all the data collected in giant databases today will breach someday, and when it does, it will ruin peoples’ lives. They will have their houses stolen from under them by identity thieves who forge their deeds (this is already happening); they will end up with criminal records because identity thieves will use their personal information to commit crimes (this is already happening); … they will have their devices compromised using passwords and personal data that leaked from old accounts, and the hackers will spy on them through their baby monitors, cars, set-top boxes, and medical implants (this is already hap­pening)…” We’ll talk with Cory Doctorow about technology, privacy, and intellectual property.

Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of popular weblog Boing Boing and a contributor to The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. Doctorow is also an award-winning author of numerous novels, including “Little Brother,” “Homeland,” and “In Real Life.”

“Her”

her-joaquin-phoenix-41

I’m a science fiction fan and I’m interested in AI. People who know these things about me were surprised that I hadn’t seen “Her,” a 2013 movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence who lives in his phone.

I finally did see “Her” recently. The reason I didn’t see it before, and did see it then, actually relates to the theme of the movie.

“Her” is not really a movie about AI. Like most AI movies, it’s really about humanity — what makes us human.

What makes us human, according to “Her,” is physical reality — having bodies that exist together at the same time and place and talk to each other, even if we’re not even touching. There is very little human-to-human contact in “Her,” and very little touching, and what touching there is — between Phoenix’s character Theodore and a blind date played by Olivia Wilde — is bizarre and unsatisfying and sad.

People in the world of “Her” are dehumanized in ways that are recognizable extrapolations of today. Before we meet the AI that Theodore falls in love with, we see Theodore at his job. He works alone, dictating to a computer. He’s a futuristic Cyrano, ghost-writing personal letters on behalf of clients to families and friends — love letters, thank-you letters from a grandmother to her grandchild. The letters are incredibly personal, authentic sounding, and fake. You wonder if the recipient knows the letters are ghost-written, and if they do know it, whether it bothers them.

Later, Theodore, still alone, goes home and gets into some phone sex with a stranger, which starts well, but quickly turns hilarious, unsatisfying, and weird.

Theodore already does most of his interactions intermediated by machines, which is something we’re already seeing today, in the real world, so it makes sense that he falls in love with Samantha, a consciousness that exists in the machine.

Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, makes a point several times that the difference between herself and a human person is that she, Samantha, doesn’t have a body. And that’s a big deal, leading to an ending that’s ambiguous and bittersweet.

Despite Samantha’s bodiless condition, it’s possible that she is more human than the human characters of “Her.” Just a thought.

There are all sorts of other things going on with “Her” that will probably pop into my head from time to time. What’s the significance of the relationship between Theodore’s co-worker and his lawyer girlfriend? What does the movie mean when Theodore says, several times, that he and his ex-wife grew up together? The scene with the sex surrogate is priceless.

And now I’ll tell you why I didn’t see “Her” until now: Julie didn’t want to see it. Movies and TV are something I almost exclusively watch with Julie, which means I almost always only see the movies and TV we both want to see. If I’m going to do something alone I’d rather it be something other than watching a TV show or movie.

I do watch TV and movies alone when Julie is out of town and I’m home alone. That’s rare: usually I’m the one who travels. But it happened recently. We went to visit Julie’s family in Columbus, and I returned home two days before Julie. Alone in the house, I watched “Her,” and talked with Julie over Apple Messages, and talked with my friends and family on the Internet, experiencing nearly two days of nothing but relationships mediated by machines.

Link

Jess Hendel praises grrl power on Game of Thrones for Bustle:

Most obviously, almost of the rulers are now women (or are poised to be women in future seasons). Outside of Jon Snow, it’s hard to even imagine a male ruler in the GoT universe anymore—or at least one who doesn’t totally make a mess of his reign. Daenerys decisively quelled the Masters’ rebellion in Mereen and is headed across the Narrow Sea to conquer Westeros. Yara Greyjoy sails out with her, aiming to capture the throne of the Iron Islands and reclaim their sovereignty. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes rule over Dorne, conspiring with Oleanna Tyrell — the Queen of Thorns — now the sole proprietor of her house. I even got a morbid sense of pleasure (actually, “morbid sense of pleasure” could describe most GoT viewing experiences) at watching Cersei literally annihilate an oppressive religion in one fell swoop and be subsequently crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

Not to mention the ferocious Lady Mormont (can you imagine how hard it would be to babysit that kid?), and the queenly aspirations Sansa is no doubt mulling over in that shared look with Littlefinger during the “King of the North” scene in the finale. Overall, the Women of Westeros (book club name, anyone?) have maneuvered, manipulated, and all-out fought their way into the throne room — and already seem better equipped to handle the burdens of ruling than their weak, sociopathic, or blatantly incompetent male predecessors.” …

One of my favorite peripheral jokes of this season was Tormund Giantsbane’s blatant crush on Brienne. It would appear to be an empty gag, were it not for the fact that Brienne also seems to be the only woman besides Cersei who is capable of [piquing] Jamie Lannister’s interest. And why shouldn’t a male character desire Brienne? She can have typically “masculine” qualities and still be desirable as a woman.

There’s no mystery to Cersei’s appeal. She’s the Hannibal Lector of GoT — the villain you cheer for.

Link

Not as good as the original, but “charming.”

I’m failing to understand the controversy behind this movie. The original was very entertaining. It’s still just as entertaining even if the new one stinks.

Link

“Nice family, right? Don’t get attached. I’m just sayin’.”

Link

British law forbids the monarch from sitting on a foreign throne. 

I really, really want to hate the Queen, but she keeps doing classy stuff like this.

Also: She worked as a mechanic in World War II. And it wasn’t just for show. By all accounts, she was good at it.

And the time she personally drive a Saudi royal around one of her estates, and scared the piss out of him, because women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. I picture her afterwards, alone in the royal apartments with her Corgis, remembering the Saudi prince’s face and laughing her ass off.

 

Link

Takei of course is the actor who originated the role of Sulu on Star Trek, and came out as gay many years later. Now, in the upcoming Trek movie, Sulu will be gay too.

Surprisingly, Takei opposes the change, saying it twists Gene Roddenberry’s original vision, and they should have created a new character who’s gay.

But Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the movie and who worked on the script, says that would have been tokenism. By making a major character gay, it’s shown as being just part of his identity, whereas a new character would have primarily been identified as “the gay guy.”

Based on articles, I don’t get a sense Sulu’s sexuality is going to be significant to the story.

Maybe Sulu was always gay, even in the original series and the movies, and it just never came up.

As for twisting the original vision: Too much reverence for the original and its creators is a handicap for sequels and adaptations, and that’s a particular problem on Trek. Star Trek often takes itself too damn seriously. The show should be serious about its stories, but not about itself.

“Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young”

Rodger Wilton Young [Wikipedia]

In the Robert A. Heinlein novel “Starship Troopers” and the movie loosely based on the book, the starship that carries hero Juan Rico’s Mobile Infantry platoon is called the “Rodger Young.” In the epilogue to the novel, we learn a little about Young.

Young was a real person; Wikipedia has more:

Rodger Wilton Young (April 28, 1918 – July 31, 1943) was a United States Army soldier during World War II. An infantryman, he was killed on the island of New Georgia while helping his platoon withdraw under enemy fire. For his actions, he posthumously received the United States’ highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.

Young is remembered in a song, “The Ballad of Rodger Young” by Frank Loesser, most famously recorded by Burl Ives, which extolled his courage and willingness to die to protect his comrades in arms.

Born in Tiffin, Ohio, in 1918, Young was “a small-statured boy” but a “keen athlete.” Knocked unconscious during a high school basketball game,  the injury led to significant hearing loss and damage to his eyesight. He dropped out of school when he could no longer hear lessons and see the blackboard.

Still just 5’2″, Young joined the Ohio National Guard in 1940 for extra income, and because he believed his medical problems would disqualify him for the Army. His unit was activated during World War II. Young was a sergeant, and feared that his disabilities might make him a less effective combat commander. He asked to be reduced in rank to private, which request was granted, though Young’s commanding officer initially suspected Young of trying to get out of battle.

A week later, with Young’s patrol under fire by a Japanese ambush, their lieutenant ordered withdrawal. Young, wounded, ignored the order and advanced on the Japanese position, lobbing hand grenades at the enemy machine gun. Young was killed, but his actions allowed his platoon to withdraw without further casualties.

In the novel, the captain of the Rodger Young plays “The Ballad of Rodger Young” as Rico’s platoon goes into battle. Here it is, performed by the West Point Cadet Glee Club.