Three Sci-Fi Novels...Two Good...One, Not So Much...

Maybe I’m just a classic Sci-Fi fan and am officially an “old”….

But then again…I’ll take the fact that I greatly enjoyed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and could not stand Consider Phelbas as a sign that I’m not quite ready for “retirement” yet.

17215.jpg

Philip K. Dick’s seminal “DADOES” is of course the basis for the movie Bladerunner and one of if not the most well known of his works. Having read other novels by Dick I was not prepared for such a straightforward read. Less psychedelic than something such as Lies, Inc. or retro as The Man in the High Castle DADOES is more of a futuristic Raymond Chandler work than anything else with the beaten down gumshoe, perpetrators in hiding and femme fatale all included. Its a bit hard to read without picturing Harrison Ford as the protagonist and Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty given how closely the movie hewed to the book but seeing the film first and then reading the novel does not ruin the experience and each stands on its own as a masterpiece of its format. Ridley Scott’s film ends up being far more cyberpunk in nature and while still a core of any sci-fi curriculum, DADOES resembles The Man in the High Castle than it does something like Neuromancer or Snow Crash. Regardless, you will still be stunned by how prescient it is and how many underlying themes of AI, the nature of consciousness, role of media, etc. that are present here look out from their post some 50 years ago at today’s world. Putting this up there with 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 is completely appropriate.

Consider Phelbas on the other hand is an overly long, meandering, mess of a “space opera”. I began reading it as, well, Elon Musk kept naming his drone ships used to recover SpaceX rockets out in the ocean after ships present in these novels and I kept hearing about how these series of books by Iain Banks were so great and such a wonderful representation of AI, that I had to read them. I could not have been more disappointed. Outrageously long (seriously, do some authors get paid by the word?), silly in its action, disjointed, muddled, without purpose and seemingly just a series of ridiculous mishaps befalling the main character over and over. Throw in moronic depictions of “aliens” all over the place and you have a cajun soup of spacefaring tropes….I’ll pass regardless of who may think the book is worth it. Musk likely enjoyed it during an acid trip or two where everything seems “cool” without real analysis…

Lastly and unmentioned till now is Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers which is barely a sci-fi novel to begin with and unlike DADOES, its film version is NOTHING like the novel and in fact rather than honoring the novel, the film seeks to repudiate and make fun of the novel (connecting the Starship Troopers film to DADOES, Paul Verhoven the Starship Troopers director also filmed Total Recall, a film version of We’ll Remember it for You Wholesale another Phillip K. Dick short story). The written work contains nothing of the “action” one would expect. Outside of a short battle scene at the very beginning of the novel and a somewhat longer one that concludes the work the vast majority of the book is alternatively a description of training and integration into the Mobile Infantry as well as what are long, descriptive viewpoints given by various authority figures under which the protagonist receives his tutelage. Many a critic has taken issue with this, seeing it as merely being a mouthpiece for the author to express his views on the military, evils of communism, and growing softness of the West in general. Others have taken it further and put the work under scrutiny for racism, misongynism, and all sorts of other perceived evil “isms”. Critics, like Verhoven the direct of the film “version” miss much of the underlying themes or care not to find value in them. Heinlein was a well known Libertarian…not a facist, not a racist (hell, the main character here is of Philippine lineage). Heinlein was also vehemently anti-communist—thus the communistic nature of the “bugs” that are fought here. Value is placed in sacrifice of self for the benefit of society and I can hardly think of a more “leftist” viewpoint…but that is ignored by critics because of the positive light the military is given. Here the military is the savior of society…not just a somewhat necessary evil that many liberal school indoctrinated critics and “artists” see it as. Pairing this work with Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a phenomenal start for anyone interested in looking at the world through eyes which do not distinguish between race, religion, or any other characteristic other than what an individual brings of value to their fellow humans. Great works both.

True Detective Season 3 Review

true-detective-season-3-stephen-dorff-mahershala-ali.jpg

I had hopes coming into this season…not high hopes….just hopes.

After the disaster that was Season 2 that contained some of the worst dialogue and writing this side of a B-movie the producers tried to revert to the form of Season 1 which was some of the most intense drama ever created for the small screen.

In some respects Season 3 staring the now multiple Oscar winning Mahershala Ali succeeds and in others it falls far short. The acting is solid all around with exactly zero over the top, out of place performances like Season 2 was filled with from Vince Vaughn in particular. Ali and his cop partner played by a surprisingly effective Stephen Dorff are compelling characters each with their own vulnerabilities and both worth investing in. Carmen Ejojo, Ali’s wife in the series is less engrossing and is actually a turn off for the series with her portrayal of an independent, driven wife often distracting and not really pertinent to the core issues. Time and again we return to her as a token lead female for the sake of doing so but without real purpose.

I suppose the writers intended for her to be Ali’s anchor…the rock on which he would break…but in fact that role is already filled by Dorff who by the end clearly realizes that the most valuable person in his live has been his male partner…someone he can’t live without.

But I digress…the real issue here is the lack of real drama. Brooding music and a crazy Indian who blows up his house aside, I came away surprisingly bored. Skewer Season 2 all you want….and its a disaster…but I never found myself falling asleep during it. Here? We end up with a decidedly non-interesting finale in which everything turns out pretty much OK and we find out that the reason for all the not-really-that-horrible things we’ve witnessed was a sad daughter who wanted a surrogate child to take care of and then had a mental breakdown…not exactly the Satanic cults, human sacrifice, and frightening atmosphere of Season 1 nor the political and business infighting and violence found in Season 2.

Was Season 3 “bad”? No, not really. Was it a step up from Season 2 and redeem the series for the possible development of Season 4? Yes. Are critics climbing over themselves to declare it the best of the three seasons? Absolutely…and for various reasons including their own agendas. Don’t feel you’ve missed anything if you haven’t seen it. You haven’t and its not driving the common discourse the way Season 1 did week after week. As the police might say “Move along, move along…nothing to see here…”

Black Mirror Bandersnatch

Black Mirror as a series is one of my favorite items on all of TV. I was an early adopter on this and it rarely lets me down. Seminal episodes like “San Junipero” and others are simply the best of what has been produced on all visual media in the past 20 years.

black-mirror-bandersnatch-netflix-thumb-700xauto-205745.jpg

The most recent episode if you can call it that is a one off “movie” of sorts released just a few days ago and if are here, I’m betting you’ve heard of it given its hype. The series pushes the envelope a bit with this one and it doesn’t completely succeed. The whole “audience chooses the outcome” movie/TV thing has been done in the past and this is probably the best effort in this direction to date but the whole format, while interesting for artists, always leaves the audience experience lacking.

The acting and story are great and hop on the retro-cool of the 1980’s thing that is popular at the moment and carry it off well. Throw in the geek-chic dialogue and mentions of Commodore computers, early stage video game industry, new wave music drops and it all seems like a home run.

The conceit here is that as you progress through the movie, you, the audience get to chime in with what you want the main character’s decisions to be. What you choose through a click of your remote determines various outcomes in the film—Will the character listen to this music or that music? Will he accept the job or not? Will he punch his dad or run out of the room and so on…

In the end there are really about (I say about because there are numerous rabbit holes you can go down and lots of easter eggs to be found) five endings to get to and I got to all five making different decisions and being looped back to redo decisions when my original ones end the film quickly. In all my experience lasted close to an hour and a half and much of it was enjoyable…but I couldn’t help feeling like there was only one true ending that the directer really wanted and every time I made a decision that branched off from that ending, it would loop me back eventually. Great…I get to see what the director thinks of my decisions but I don't get a complete narratively cohesive work. Watching a film and seeing that the story can have multiple endings takes away from the emotional impact of all of them…Its like watching the Godfather and being told—Well, Don Corleone only has to die if you choose for him to die…great…that totally ruins the weight of the work.

I applaud Netflix for attempting this and Black Mirror was certainly the right vehicle for the effort. While supremely interesting and among the best things on TV, this singular episode is both a success and a failure at the same time….much like its audience driven methodology.

Oh and in case you were wondering…”Bandersnatch” Its a silly word for an imaginary creature coming from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, the companion piece to “Alice in Wonderland” and specifically the “Jabberwocky” poem contained within it…

Too Old for Bad Books

So this is where I’ve gotten to be in life…

No longer am I willing to continue slogging through books in order to get to the end and claim that I’ve finished it, no matter how revered the book is or what status it may imbue upon me to be able to legitimately claim to have read it. Life is too short.

Up first on my “discontinue” list? Two revered books from completely different genres.

Initially I thought “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was going to be an interesting reflection and wise observation on the protagonist’s life intertwined with the focus and simple mechanics that make a motorcycle run. In reality it immediately devolves into the author’s cult like psychobabble that appeals only to those hippies who have dropped acid too many times to know the difference between good and bad material. The fact that this book has been purchased so many times only means there are a lot of brain dead people out there…Not worth my or your time…

I did get several hundred pages into the book because Pirsig weaves a thread into the work covering the protagonist’s (really Pirsig himself) travels with his son cross country on, yes, a motorcycle. This real world story is far more interesting than the metaphysical babble (author was a philosophy and journalism major and went to Zen conferences and studied “Eastern Thought”…) the author tries to impart as advice on his audience. The father-son interplay is far more interesting…but not enough to keep one reading

Second on my list? Another beloved work but here from the SciFi genre. As a youth there were always peer geeks who slavishly spoke about how great and how funny “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was. Maybe if I was an 11 year old boy I would have been able to finish this but certainly not now. Its not that I’m humorless, I find many things to be funny. It’s not that I don’t enjoy different strains of humor—Monty Python to Beavis and Butthead I find humor in. And geeky? Well I’ll have you know I think I still have some D20s rolling around my house somewhere. This work is just “silly”…and not in a good way. It is so nonsensical as to dull the wit. Words are fabricated, tangents are taken, non-sequiturs used…all to little effect. Adams (author) does not bring me in to care about Arthur Dent or Ford Prefect (the two main characters) and they remain cardboard cutouts of zero consequence in the first 100 pages where I left it off to be moronic and useless and sold on Amazon for 25 cents.

So there is my philosophy for the day…life is too short...there is too much rare good out there to spend time wasting with the popular bad…