Monday, May 21, 2018

I Watch Movies: Despicable Me 3

Gru, former villain, is fired from the anti villain league after an 80s themed villain tries to steal the world’s largest diamond and escapes (and Gru ends up swinging through the centre of the city dressed only in bubble gum). Most of his minions quit. At his lowest he is contacted by his previously unknown brother Dru. Together they pull off a heist, but then things go wrong...

This was amusing in a sweet way. The villain was very deeply into his own nonsense, enough so that I could accept the super-80s thing he had going on. The film has two dance fights which is very good. More dance fights please.

Watch This: For an all ages comedy adventure.
Don’t Watch This: If you want the Minions sub-plot to be well integrated with the rest of the film.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Liner Notes 6

Some notes on my space opera serial instalment Space Stories/Tall Tales and on the pendant short piece Wavefront Spirituality.

Liner Notes 6

Reading this now and comparing it to my unused ideas list, I’m surprised at the stories I rejected or missed. No plasma pistol shootouts. No wedding. No riddle world. No crazy feast! Still, I really like the idea of the fungus sector. Going to planet after planet, hoping for first contact, puzzles, abandoned technology, something, anything and it’s always fungus.

The current sector they’re in is probably going to be nicknamed the weird dream sector, just so you know.

Jack is the narrator here, bringing to an end the cycle through the crew. They have perhaps the most distinctive voice, and the weirdest mind. I’ve tried to reflect that in the way I wrote.

I didn’t intend to go there with the having sex, and didn’t intend to make the gender thing quite so in your face. But this is Jack, who is kind of an arsehole about things, so what else could I do?

So what stories do we have? Well, there’s the return of Rocket Interceptor and the even-more-dickish-than-Gunn Lord Richards. He’s Zapp Brannigan to Gunn’s Kirk, I guess is what I’m saying. But don’t worry, he and his crew will be back.

We get an outtake from the end of the first story, Partial City Diplomacy, explaining exactly how and why Ella joined the Patrol. Probably unnecessary, but it fills in some gaps.

And of course some old tales of Tommy Gunn. First the adventure of the Dimensional Gate (aka the Hellportal). Then an explanation for how he is only a lieutenant commander despite his immense seniority.

It’s all wrapped up in a science fictional concern which is, what is the nature of the Deep Patrol; how human is it? And then gets a bit meta with stories as the solution! Sorry about that.

Liner Notes 6a

Of course people are going to worship the Unknown Powers. That’s what people do when something big, inexplicable and dangerous comes from out of nowhere.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I Read Books: The Hinge Factor

The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History by Erik Durschmied

Durschmied, a war correspondent, examines a variety of historical events, mostly battles, and looks for the incidents that could have swung them the other way. Probably the most interesting ones are those that he personally reported on; the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf in 1991. Otherwise he competently dramatises and cleverly analyses the kind of events that military history buffs are interested in.

Read This: For some entertaining and slightly skewed looks at historical incidents
Don’t Read This: If you don’t want to know about random nonsense having big consequences.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I Watch TV: SEAL Team

SEAL Team! Recently the closer an action show gets to reality the more I find myself questioning the ethical framework. Not so much of the characters, but of the way the situations they’re in are set up. The choices the show makes before the characters get to make theirs.

David Boreanaz is Senior Command Master Chief* Jason Hayes, as good a SEAL as has ever SEALed. In the pilot they’re sent out to capture a terrorist mastermind in Liberia; they rescue a hostage but the terrorist is killed by the rookie. In the second episode they’re sent out to Syria to investigate a chemical weapons leak; they have to bend the rules to get the exposed people to safety and treatment. Then there’s the pirates and they take a couple of chances to rescue the hostages. You get the idea.

In each case they’re at the end of a long chain of unquestioned decisions; to send American special forces soldiers all over the world to fight bad guys doing bad things. That’s okay. I don’t expect deep discussions of geopolitical policy from our heroes. And it’s gritty and hard and people die and things are difficult back home which is certainly a step up from making everything shiny and happy.

They’ve spent enough money to get good helicopters and parachute and boat shots, even if a lot of it is people in rooms talking or dressed in a thousand pounds of gear moving silently through narrow corridors. And there's a dog. SEAL dog. They should probably make the dog the star. Even if he has the name (sigh) Cerberus.

I’m going to keep watching. I’m probably going to keep having the big old why questions.

Watch This: For some quality action TV
Don’t Watch This: For quality action TV that engages with its own premise.

* He’s actually Master Chief, this is a joke.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I Read Stories: The Soft Truth

The Soft Truth by Leigh Alexander

This is a story about viral videos, and gelatin spheres, and doppelgangers, and saying the wrong thing on social media. It is delirious and confusing in much the same way that the real world is confusing, but maybe more so. I do not think I can describe it any more clearly.

Read This:
For a weird look at the world
Don’t Read This: For something straightforward and obvious

Monday, May 14, 2018

I Watch Films: Life (2017)

Life is a sci-fi horror film* in which astronauts on the International space station discover living cells in a Mars return sample; obviously it gets loose and bad things happen. Alien meets Gravity is a good if unfair three word synopsis.

Anyway, a good if not exactly rigorous set of space operations**, lots of micro gravity that works very naturally. It’s quite muted in colour and tone. I enjoyed it, as it was suitably tense, but I don’t think it has a great deal to say.

The song that comes on over the credits is a good joke though.

Watch This: For competent space horror
Don’t Watch This: If gruesome death and injury and inevitable creeping doom aren’t your thing.

* Sadly not a big screen version of the cop show of the same name with zen-obsessed Damien Lewis and recovering addict Sarah Shahi, which I found the funniest program on TV when it was on. Precisely because it wasn’t a comedy the sparse jokes sparkled more brightly.

** Overriding a Soyuz capsule to send it into deep space won’t work because it can’t reach escape velocity, so unless he is able to burn and circularise the orbit at apoapsis (a dubious assumption at that point in the film) it’s going to be an elliptical orbit whose lowest point is approximately at the original orbit, but never mind that.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Wavefront Spirituality

I'm writing a science fiction serial and in addition to the actual stories I'm posting occasional bits of background. In this case it's how people within the Deep Patrol setting respond to being in a universe designed for maximum space opera, specifically by asking - is there a supernatural explanation for all this?

Wavefront Spirituality

Supernatural explanations for the Event and the Wavefront remain popular. Indeed they are inevitable. More than half of humanity scattered amongst the stars, previously empty space suddenly filled with strangeness and wonder, dimensional gateways, faster than light travel, strong AI. All this was one minute fiction, the next reality.

That they were changes implied an intentionality, though whether one with anything so comprehensible as to be a motive is another matter entirely. As such the placeholder term Unknown Powers to describe whatever is behind the Wavefront has become popular.

Cults and heresies rose and flourished on Earth, and to a lesser extent on Minerva (Earth’s twin had already incorporated a number of unexplained changes to their state of existence into its belief systems). Most flared and died within a few years; a handful were suppressed when they turned violent such as the notorious sinking of New York at the hands of the Transformed Church of the Remnant.

Formally describing the Unknown Powers as supernatural is not a bar to joining the Deep Patrol, nor to being commissioned as an officer. Most Patrol members are open to the idea, being agnostic on the topic. Exploring space in the wake of the Wavefront and understanding its effects are commandments of some sects, making them fertile recruiting grounds. In practice, membership of one of the Churches of the Unknown Powers is a bar to the highest ranks and positions, such as Carrier command or research division lead. There is a fear, perhaps justified, that followers might too eagerly seek out and unsceptically accept claims by aliens or AIs to be the Unknown Powers.

Worse still, what if the Unknown Powers made themselves known? There would be no resisting them, even if the full extent of their abilities is a random scattering of peoples and machines across thousands of light years. In that case simple worship and obedience could be the only rational choice.

Meanwhile those who are regular worshippers amongst the Patrol, both churches of the Unknown Powers and older ones, show a small but significant decrease in the rate of damaging psychological instabilities.