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September 13th, 2017

Glory Season - David Brin

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wanderer
I put off reading this one for a long time because of the premise - it's a sci-fi world ~~~ruled by women!~~~ I was afraid that it was going to be a poorly disguised feminist diatribe - or worse, anti-feminist diatribe. Instead, it was almost entirely about sailing and Adventure on the High Seas. Good old David Brin.

David Brin is a writer not without flaws, by any means, but he consistently writes exactly the sort of stuff I am interested in reading. One thing I particularly like about him (other than the fact that he's a giant dork who throws in indecipherable Gilbert & Sullivan references just for the heck of it) is that a lot of his work is genuinely speculative, and not thesis-driven. He's not making a point - he's just asking What if X? How would that work? How would the resulting world be? In the Practice Effect it's "what if the second law of thermodynamics worked backwards???" In Kiln People (which is excellent, by the way), it's "what if GOLEMS and divided consciousness?" And he always has a real story overlaying that: Rescue the Princess and Murder Mystery respectively. He's not writing Utopias or Dystopias - he's writing stories, first and foremost.

In Glory Season the What-If is: "What if humans worked like aphids, having the option of both sexual and asexual reproduction? And the story is Adventure on the High Seas. It's great. And then it devolved into exploring ancient ruins and deciphering puzzle doors and - yes? So very much yes. Not since "the Martian" have I had such a sense of a work being specifically tailored to appeal to my interests. Gah, I loved this book so much. It was a romp start to finish. And it's so nice to have a female lead in a story that is in no way about being female. It is significantly about the fact that she's a var - a non-clonal child - but she's still a Character first, and that's extremely refreshing. Brin writes in the afterword that if we accept without that female writers can adequately or even expertly portray the internal workings of male characters, it should in principle be possible for male writers to do the same with female characters. And, for all that there's the stereotype that adult men should never try to write from the perspective of a teenage girl, honestly he nails it. To use the stereotypical example, in the entire 300+ page book he mentions her boobs exactly once. And the context is "I was moving cargo off the ship with my shirt off (because it was a hot and sweaty job) and some men leered at my boobs and it was Weird." Oh yes, and in a book wherein Sex and Reproduction is absolutely central to the setting, there's...no sex. Like there's one attempted sex scene, in which the girls climb up to a window to spy on a mating ritual which entirely fails to include any actual mating (to everyone's disappointment), and one scene wherein our Hero observes that there is Sex Happening in Another Room and it's Weird (because it's out of season). I almost didn't proceed to Part II because I was afraid that, with the introduction of a male character, there was going to now be A Sex, but then there wasn't and it was fantastic. I can't express how much I appreciate the almost total lack of sex in this book entirely about sex. It's like Brin was like: well, what if instead of writing a sex scene involving a 15 year old, I instead saved room for even more pirates. A+ life choices, man. There was one bit where I was like "is this a sexual awakening happening?" but it turned out it was dissociation and, bizarrely, a mathematical awakening. At sea. With pirates. I frickin love David Brin and his obsession with sailing.

So, Maia is in some ways your typical YA heroine in that she is Not Like Other Girls. But that's because Other Girls are literally clones, and Maia isn't. Except for her with her identical twin sister Leie, whom Maia is also Not Like. The world of Stratos is a planned society governed by athenogenic reproduction, which is seasonally determined. Children conceived in the summer (when men are in heat) are a genetic blend of both their parents, whereas children conceived in the winter (when women are in heat) are clones of the mother. The idea is to capture the long-term stability offered by asexual reproduction without sacrificing the adaptability provided by sexual reproduction. Social prestige and power is associated with large clonal clans. Men are therefore rare and considered almost a different species, and by many a necessary evil (and by a few an unnecessary evil to be done away with entirely if at all possible. Vars like Maia are better off than men in some ways, in that they are women and therefore "people," and worse off in others, in that, unlike men who have a vital function to perform, their only societal function (as far as the clans are concerned) is as potential threats to the status quo. There's this really neat sense of deep time vs ephemerality. The unit of individuality is the Clan, the clones themselves being like cells within a larger organism. There's a lot of talk about vars not being able to plan ahead, because they're limited to a single lifetime, unless they win a social niche and are permitted to start clans of their own. Which - what a cool idea, this built-in notion of what the market, as it were, will bear. And men are incomprehensible because they are fundamentally ephemeral, with no hope of the kind of longevity that a clonal clan enjoys, so they have to find their self-actualization elsewhere. Which is to say, board games. (Oh yeah, this book features a board game (sort of) which almost never happens and I love it). The society is so differently and thoroughly set up that it avoids the trap of simply being "reverse sexism" - although Brin can't resist a couple of pointedly familiar moments: "what would there even be to talk about with a man?" or Maia assuming that an unknown interlocutor is female because that's just the default. There's also a huge social stigma against men fighting, which comes into play with the regulations controlling quasi-legal piracy - both of which are super duper interesting.

But quite apart from any of that, the story was the sort of rolicking adventure that I just really enjoy. Board games, secret codes, wilderness survival, ancient ruins, and the ocean. Often at the same time. There's a long captivity sequence which is excellently done, and which involves plenty of ingenuity, macgyvering, astronomy, and passing secret coded messages back and forth with a fellow (but entirely unknown) prisoner. It reminded me of Captain Grey which I read as a child and loved for precisely that kind of thing. There's an awful lot of mucking about with boats. Opening puzzle doors by understanding the people who made them in the first place becomes a major plot point about 2/3 of the way through. There's some significant marooning. The storytelling is just so bright and colorful and...fun. That's the main thing. The book was thoughtful but more than that it was fun. There's some meditations on time depth and the nature of individuality and societal cyclicity, but there's also a lot of rapelling down cliffs and underwater knife fights and getting angry at trashy novels. It was just such a wholly enjoyable read (and wholly unspoilt by sex scenes or self-congratulatory politics!)

I found the ending somewhat abrupt - which is a common problem with David Brin - and I don't think I ever really understood what was going on with the Ice Ships and the Human Phylum (the rest of the universe that Stratos seceded from thousands of years ago). I liked how well he sold the idea of Stratoin society being pretty self-correcting, although, being used to stories about dramatic upheaval, the ultimate conclusion that nothing really changes (despite the heroism displayed) was a little ...not frustrating per se but...sombering? It skirted a sense of futility, but that was sort of part of the point. Because Maia changed and grew, and that's not nothing. But the ultimate conclusion was very small and personal, and not the triumphant fanfare that you typically expect with this sort of story. The story is a snapshot of one moment that is slightly different (and therefore interesting) in an otherwise unchanging expanse of history.

But yeah, I liked it an awful lot. Good times all around.

September 11th, 2016

Captain Pike

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Brave Horatio
I had opportunity recently to rewatch "the Cage," and, being much more familiar with the original run of Star Trek than I was the last time I watched it, there was a lot of speculation on the similarities and differences between Pike and Kirk and how the latter might have reacted in the same situation.

First off, right from the beginning Pike is kind of a dope. I know the point is to have his character move from one of ambivalence on the whole Star Trek idea to one of enthusiasm therefore, in the hopes to draw the audience along with it, but he really just kind of comes off as whiny and pathetic. Now, a big part of that is being very broken up about the loss of some of his crew, which is definitely something he and Kirk share, but I feel like Kirk has a better emotional range that might have made him look more burdened and less mopey. I very much appreciate that his CMO is also a drunk, which is something that all three Enterprise CMOs in that first season have had in common.

Pike and Kirk both kept horses. That's such a weirdly specific detail that I wonder if the "Kirk and his horses" bit in Generations is a direct callback to this pilot, which also featured an illusory paradise drawn from memory featuring horses. Also, it should be illegal to watch 60s television in HD. The horses looked frickin animated and like a bad special effect, despite them being incontrovertably actual real horses. I don't like HD anyway, but on things like this it shows the seams too much. Same reason I prefer certain eras of Doctor Who in black & white.

Is Veena's name a reference to the Time Machine? Also, you know - they're referenced in all kinds of things, but these aliens look frickin cool, and I don't care who knows I think so.

Kirk would not have punched the glass. That's the difference that I am the most sure of. When Pike winds up and the aliens are like "and now he's gonna punch the glass" - Pike follows through and punches the glass. Kirk, hearing the expectation, would have stopped himself. He's got some of the Prisoner's Defiance-For-Its-Own-Sake ethos. It might have taken a colossal effort to halt forward momentum, but Kirk would have made sure to stop himself, just to prove to himself that he could - and to prove to them that he's nobody's puppet.

The Orion Slave Girl scene is...disturbing. Deeply disturbing actually. And...I think it's supposed to be. Also disturbing is the fact that this is the only illusion that really tempts him. The temptation, the fantasy, is Evil itself. There's a darkness in Pike below his civilized exterior, and it's ultimately as upsetting to him as it is to us. I...genuinely do not know how that would have played out with Kirk. My feeling is that those are not Kirk's demons - but we do have that very early episode where he splits into Good!Kirk and Evil!Kirk, and there's an important thing going on that his own darkness is a necessary part of him being an effective leader. That's not the impression from this scene with Pike. Perhaps Kirk's temptation in defiance of the Rules would be the freedom to Love. It's a running theme of the first season at least that that is not a freedom he currently enjoys. Can you imagine Veena coming out with Rand's basket hair? The Beloved, no longer off limits. I dunno.

So, Pike is willing to submit and stay behind to save his crewmates, specifically "the Women." I think it's really interesting that it's Number One who raises the stakes by setting her phaser to overload. She's the one who takes the strong moral stand, and Pike (and Yeoman Sex-Drive) follow her lead. It's definitely in character for Kirk to sacrifice himself for his crew, but again, he's got that defiant streak. My thought is that he would have gone straight for the ultimatum. I mean, if it were Kirk, Spock would have been the first officer standing next to him, and Spock would not have gone for that solution - certainly not early-season Spock. But it's a very Kirk solution. But would he have tried to compromise to get the other two out of there? ...actually, since the plot is Breeding Pair, it wouldn't have been Spock, would it? I mean, it would have been Yeoman Rand on the one hand, and on the other we've got the choice between Uhura and Chapel. (Hah- if it were Chapel it would still be Majel Barrett.) Would either of them have straight for the suicide ultimatum? I feel like the fact that Chapel is medical would mean that that wouldn't be her first thought. Uhura maybe... But again, it's a very Kirk move. Also...since the goal is to create a viable colony, isn't the best solution to keep all three of the women? You guys haven't thought this through - this is probably why you're going extinct.

Speaking of Number One, I can't imagine Kirk making that "I just can't get used to having a woman on the bridge" crack. Kirk is the first to defend the inclusion of female crew. Kirk has a woman on the bridge, and not one who can be easily dismissed as "one of the guys." Kirk is not actually sexist, despite the reputation he has acquired. Pike, it seems, is. I hope Number One went and got her own command the way Riker entirely failed to. She deserves better.

The other thing is, I can't imagine Kirk leaving Veena behind on the planet without a fight. For one thing, if it were Kirk, he'd have Bones in pretty close proximity, and Bones wouldn't stand for it. Bones would be like "one: there's nothing wrong with you, certainly nothing worth going into voluntary exile forever over. two: I am a brilliant surgeon. If I can turn Kirk into a Romulan, I can definitely put your shoulders back where they go, if that's what you really want." Bones is a perfect gentleman. And Kirk is also a perfect gentleman most of the time - and believes strongly that an unpleasant reality is always preferable to a pleasant fantasy. Either, he would have brought her with, OR he would have tried to convince her to come with, but respected her decision if she rebuffed him strongly enough, and then gotten yelled at by Bones over it. He would not have said "and I understand her reasons" with a disgusted look on his face. Come on, Pike! Are you really so shallow that you're like "yeah, she's waaaaaay too ugly for this starship, she was definitely right about that. She can just have sex with my hologram. It's fine." WTF Pike. WTF. If she'd stayed, Kirk would at least have had the decency to be sad about it. But then, Kirk is sad about women a lot. Pike is just mopey and disgruntled.

...so yeah, I think I really dislike Captain Pike.

Oh, and Kirk would have totally kicked the Rigellian with his beautiful beautiful legs. Pike's fight scene wasn't that bad, but it suffered greatly for not including William Shatner's gorgeous legs.

August 18th, 2016

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wanderer
I seem to be writing more Due South fic...

April 12th, 2016

Thoughts on Daredevil

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wanderer
Season 2 was really really bad.

A show about a blind catholic attorney, written by people who know nothing about blindness, catholicism, or the lawCollapse )

Anyway, Matt's an idiot. And this season was a mess. And between the Hand and the Foot New York is gonna end up with enough ninjas to build Kraang a new body.

April 10th, 2016

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wanderer
April showers bring snow plowers.

Come on, Ohio. I thought we were cool. Don't do this to me.

April 7th, 2016

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klaus
Darths and Droids just made a joke in RotJ which relies on TFA.

This makes me unutterably happy for some reason.

March 23rd, 2016

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schwarzschild
I spent today singing space songs to children and pontificating about Mars and it was AWESOME. Really and truly awesome. And then I showed them videos of astronauts dropping things, and we talked about space disasters, and I got to pretend to be a robot while they gave me programming instructions, and one little girl kept bringing me plants to botanize and I love my job.

These kids are so lucky though. I am extremely jealous. It turns out the wheels on Curiosity are wearing out earlier than anticipated, and NASA is crowd-sourcing the solution. So they spent all afternoon working on wheel designs for the Mars rover and tomorrow they're going to telecoference with a guy from NASA at the Glenn Center in Cleveland. asdkfjglasjdflkajg.

So, if you need me, I'll be here being really emotional about things in space.

March 21st, 2016

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wanderer
The Seder went well - another twelve people, which is seriously stretching our hosting abilities to their limits. And it cleaned up pretty quickly too. Dishwashers are the BEST. But there were adorable children and it was just really great. A success. And the Other One made his very first cheese cake.

It looks like it's only going to be the three of us (with my Aunt) for Easter, so that should be a lot easier - although we're still going to cook a million things because it's a Feast Day so we're going to definitely Feast. It would be heretical not to, you know? But I can't do my traditional lasagna this year because she can't do gluten, so we're going to have to figure out something else. I'm still doing Pizza Rustica of course (you have to) but I'll make a side one with no wheat berries...and probably no crust.

I am excited about this season of Daredevil. We're only two episodes in, but it looks like the main adversary is the Punisher - and he's played by the guy who was Shane on Walking Dead, so that should be good. Now I've never been terribly into the Punisher, but I will always remember that episode of the Tick with the obvious Punisher expy. At the end, the Tick was just like "Guns and Super Heroes don't mix." And my stepbrother always said that that put very clearly why the Punisher had never really worked for him - because guns and superheroes don't mix. Having the option of just shooting people doesn't work very well with the superhero narrative. But that's almost precisely why I think it will work well here - they're already raising the question of what makes one kind of vigilanteism okay and a different kind not okay. Having the Punisher as a foil for Daredevil is going to be a really cool way to start to examine the rules of being a superhero and the logic and reasoning behind those rules, and I'm looking forward to it.

I also very much appreciated the absolute horror of Matt starting to lose his hearing as well as his sight, and how those scenes have been handled thus far. The sound design in this show has always been very good. Matt, honey, don't try to fight crime while you're severely concussed. This will not end well for you. You got a warning shot in the head. Take the hint already!

...having the Irish gang eating corned beef and cabbage was perhaps just a little too on the nose though. It was just silly.

March 20th, 2016

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moose
Okay, yes, that was the Hamish Macbeth finale. Good. It...was very final.

Oh British shows. Three seasons, total of 20 episodes. The last of which was actually a two parter so... 19 episodes. If I understand correctly, it was filmed all in one go too.

I wonder if anyone has written Due South crossover fic. I mean...why would they have?

Still, the pub argument about existentialism remains one of the best scenes in all of television. And St. Patrick's Day always puts in mind of the wonderful "Out, Snakes!" exchange. ...gosh, I think I might have a real thing for legitimate and accurate theological debates played as comedy. I've already talked about how much I love the four religious leaders fighting about the Trinity in Hail Caesar! And L. Sprague de Camp has violent barroom debates about the various early christian heresies in Lest Darkness Fall that are just delightful. "I'm a Congregationalist - that's the closest thing we have to an Arian/Nestorian/Monophysite/ etc. where I come from."

Barfights about early christian heresies are just inherently funny though. I have nothing to apologize for.

...why is this a genre???

March 19th, 2016

Hamish Macbeth

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wanderer
So I think we may have finished Hamish Macbeth last night. It's a little hard to tell - the disc said Season 3, disc 2 (which means there should be one more) but it felt very Grand Finale-ish: epic quest, resolution of romantic and sexual tension, MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH... if this wasn't the finale perhaps it should have been? I am a little confused.

Anyway, this show is lovely. Also, Due South and Hamish Macbeth should be friends. Think about it:
- Dog Cop
- sex in a snow cave
- low-key magical realism
- comparatively unlikeable main character but goofy and delightful supporting cast
- the joke is SCOTLAND instead of CANADA and the fish are firmly in the water, but it's otherwise the same basic joke
- HORRIBLE GHOST DAD! HE DIED AND BECAME A HORRIBLE GHOST DAD. HIS OWN HORRIBLE GHOST DAD TURNED UP AND WAS LIKE "OH YEAH, HE'S GONNA BE YOUR HORRIBLE GHOST DAD NOW, JUST AS SOON AS HE FIGURES OUT TO DO THAT." I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY ACTUALLY FOR REAL KILLED HIM BUT NOW HE'S GONNA BE A HORRIBLE GHOST DAD AND I JUST CAN'T...

I'm...okay, I'm really upset about the MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH (I can't believe they for real killed him! This is another reason why this needs to be the finale because I can't imagine the show going on without him...) but they did it really well and now he's going to be a horrible ghost dad and aaglkdgjaslgkjasdkjsgklajglksajdg

Anyway. Hamish Macbeth is (was) a good show, unlike Due South which is delightful but not a good show. I do want Diefenbaker and Wee Jock to be friends. And if they did a crossover, TV John would definitely be able to see Bob but would probably be too polite to say anything about it. DID I MENTION THIS EPISODE FEATURED THE GHOSTS OF PAST SCOTTISH KINGS???

See, this show looks like it's just going to be a quirky small town cop show, and then they do insane episodes like this one. And this is definitely not even the first major character death in the show. It lures you in with this false sense of security. And the scene where they're debating existentialism in the pub remains one of the greatest scenes of any show ever. Would recommend.
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