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DOLLHOUSE: “Epitaph Two: Return” — thoughts and reactions (and SPOILERS)

January 30, 2010 3 comments

Reposting this from my comments on the ExIsle BBS (beware: full SPOILERS for Dollhouse: “Epitaph Two: Return”:

This worked pretty well, though I was hoping for more exposition on how the “Epitaph One” flashback/forwards fit together.  I guess we’ll never know.

I was surprised that it started with a recap of E1. Since that episode never aired on US TV, I was expecting that Whedon would structure the story in a way that would reintroduce the E1 characters and milieu for new viewers while still working as a continuation for those who’d seen E1 — the same thing he did in Serenity, making it work as a standalone and a continuation. Maybe he just didn’t have time, since there was so much to pack in. Or maybe he figured that since so few people were watching the show anyway, he might as well just gear this finale toward the DVD audience.

Luckily, the ending surprised me too. After Paul died, I was assuming that the grieving Echo would go up above and let herself be wiped by the pulse in order to free herself from the grief. Then when I learned Topher’s gizmo was a suicide bomb, essentially, I figured Echo would be the one to set it off. Instead, they surprised me by giving Echo a happy ending. She’s still superpowered, and she gets a reward, a reunion with the man she loves. And for once, a romantic couple in a Whedon show are guaranteed not to be separated by the death of one of them; indeed, the death of one of them is what truly brought them together for the first time. It’s a poetic and touching departure from the cliched Whedon pattern of relationships.

And there’s a nice irony that after fighting so hard to get out of the Dollhouse, Echo ends up freeing everyone else but returning contendedly to her own familiar sleeping pod. What was a prison for her, Anthony, and Priya has now become their haven.

And Adelle similarly finds herself at home in a kinder, nobler embodiment of her old role. She’s always seen herself as the “shepherd” taking care of her flock of Actives, and she was finally able to fulfill that role without a trace of hypocrisy. I’d call that a happy ending.

The saddest part was Topher’s fate. I wish it hadn’t ended that way. I know there’s a certain standard dramatic logic that people responsible for horrible things have to pay for them with their lives, but it felt more like suicide as a way out, and I’ve never cared for that notion. Plus Topher deserved better. I think he both redeemed himself and paid his penance without having to die too. And just imagine how much good a reformed, wiser Topher’s genius could’ve done in rebuilding the world.

But at least Topher got a nice little moment at the end. Seeing that wall of photos, that little moment of surprise, pleasure, and appreciation. I guess there are worse notes to go out on.

My main regret is that Amy Acker couldn’t appear. I would’ve liked to know what happened to Whiskey. Okay, granted, it kinda looked like she died in E1, but the writers suggested on the commentary that maybe the gas was nonlethal and that Whiskey “cleaned up” the place every time this happened and then waited for the next group to find it. But maybe that’s not the case, and maybe Whiskey did die.

I do find it rather too convenient that all it takes is a single bomb to undo everything that’s happened (except all the dying and stuff). I mean, restoring everyone’s erased memories is a hell of a deus ex machina and maybe a bit too much of a happy ending, and the technical questions involved are complex. If the memories were as completely erased as was claimed, then it shouldn’t have done any good restoring them.

Fortunately, I’ve believed all along that memory couldn’t be truly erased from a brain, that it was a physical thing that would leave a permanent impression no matter how you repressed it. I’ve never bought the cyberpunk conceit of the brain as a hard drive. And heck, even a hard drive isn’t truly wiped clean when you delete a program; the memory is usually largely recoverable unless you go to considerable lengths to eradicate it. So even within the cyberpunk conceit, the idea that the original memories are still there somewhere is one I don’t have trouble buying.

I do have trouble buying that a wave sent out from an LA skyscraper could reach all the way around the world. I’d prefer to believe that it only covered a fair portion of the southwest US and northwest Mexico, and that enclave would’ve allowed enough of a recovery of civilization that more of Topher’s devices could be built (hopefully with survivable triggering mechanisms) to clean up the rest of the world.

It occurs to me to wonder — did Topher’s gadget really end this for good? It’s one thing to restore people’s original memories, but will it prevent them from being wiped or overwritten again? I guess there is the device Alpha invented to shield against wipes (mentioned in “Epitaph One” as well as here); I’m wondering if that’s based on Echo/Caroline’s spinal-fluid immunity in some way. So maybe this isn’t a permanent magic fix; rather, these two technologies in concert can defend against the continuing threat of remote or mass wipes. It’s not so much that nobody will have to worry about this tech ever again; it’s more like the wipes are akin to a disease and there are now ways to both cure and immunize people. So the threat isn’t completely eradicated but can be protected against and mostly nullified, enough that civilization can function again.

On the other hand, the band that Tony/Victor was travelling with seemed to think that Topher’s cure would end their ability to upload knowledge at will, so maybe it was itself an “immunization” against further neural alterations.

———–

All along, this show has been about grey areas and moral ambiguities. It’s fitting that at the end, it doesn’t merely demonize the technology but demonstrates that it can be used for good, to preserve life and promote love. This has never been a show about technology being evil. It’s been a show about technology being at the mercy of the intentions and agendas of humans, many of which are evil and self-serving, but some of which are better than that.

So the show doesn’t end with the chair being smashed or the Dollhouse being blown up. What was an instrument of oppression has become an instrument of salvation; what was a prison has become a haven. It’s all about the intentions of the users. And this was a show about people who started out as users and used, but who changed each other and grew into something better than that. (Even Alpha became better, somehow.) So at the end, with the Dollhouse and its technology in the hands of these better people, it becomes an instrument for good and is no longer something to be feared.

It’s an interesting contrast to how Angel ended. That show’s final season was about the heroes taking over the evil organization, trying to change it from within into a force for good, but ending up being compromised by it and having to go out in a Pyrrhic burst of defiance to save their souls. This is much more optimistic. There’s no entrenched force of evil, just neutral technology and multifaceted human agendas. So the same things that doom us can also save us if they come into the hands of the right people — even people who started out ethically compromised or amoral but who learned to stand up for what’s right through hard experience. In a way, this cast’s journey was the opposite of the Angel cast’s journey — they started out as morally tarnished cogs in a malevolent machine and transcended that to become genuine heroes.

Maybe that’s why I’m so okay with the series ending. Sure, I regret that we won’t get to see the holes filled in, and I regret that we won’t see this cast working together and playing these roles anymore, but I’m satisfied with the series we got. I feel it’s effective as a complete story, beginning, middle, and end. And maybe that’s partly because the ending was so positive, at least by Whedon standards.

Although I suspect the reason he gave us such a happy ending (mostly) was that he knew he had no intentions of returning to this series. If he’d thought there was any chance of continuing to work with these characters, I’m sure he would’ve left more room to continue tormenting them.

———–

Here’s a thought that’s been bouncing around in my head: who was really the ultimate hero of “Epitaph Two?” It wasn’t really Echo. She led the raid to rescue Topher, but beyond that, she kind of gave way to the rest of the ensemble. It was Topher who saved the world, and it’s Adelle who will lead the recovery. Echo’s journey ended more quietly; her climax wasn’t that of someone who saved the world, but that of someone who endured much suffering but finally found a measure of peace. She may well be a force to be reckoned with in the years ahead, once it’s safe for her to go out again, but within the narrative of this particular story, she wasn’t all that crucial. It’s the culmination of a pattern I’ve recognized all along — that even though this show was created as a star vehicle for Dushku, it turned out to be much more of an ensemble piece, and Dushku was admirably willing to step back and let the ensemble carry the story.

But I don’t really see it as a flaw that the nominal hero doesn’t accomplish much in the climax. Because the arc of this season has not been about Echo doing it alone. It’s been about Echo leading by example, inspiring those around her to become better than they were and discover their potential for heroism. Echo’s victory is that she catalyzed the creation of the team that did save the world. The fact that she could step back and let them handle it is the embodiment of her achievement — and that’s a nice parallel for how Dushku herself was willing to step back in favor of the strong ensemble around her.

The Scale of the Universe

January 28, 2010 4 comments

Thanks to Thierry for pointing out this neat site to me:

http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/525347

It’s a very clever Flash animation comparing the sizes of everything from the quantum foam to the entire universe.  It gives a nice sense of perspective.  Cool music, too.

Categories: Science Tags:

Autographed books ON sale

January 28, 2010 4 comments

Note: Prices have been changed again.  See new post.

The response to my book sale has been underwhelming (though I’m very grateful for what response I’ve gotten so far — you know who you are), and I really, really need to make some money, so I’m cutting prices on my books.

You can buy them from me through PayPal (via the “Send Money” tag with payments to clbennett@fuse.net, or simply use the PayPal button on my homepage) for the prices listed below.  Please use the PayPal “instructions to merchant” option (or e-mail me) to let me know which book(s) you’re ordering, provide your shipping address, and let me know if you want the book(s) inscribed to anyone in particular (or not autographed at all, as the case may be).

Here are the books I have available, their quantities, and the sale price per copy, which is 25% off the cover price (in US dollars) except where otherwise noted:

Mass-market paperback novels

  • Star Trek: Ex Machina (15 13 copies): $5.25
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: Greater Than the Sum (13 copies): $6
  • Star Trek Titan: Over a Torrent Sea (13 copies): $6
  • Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder (20 18 copies): $5.25 Over 1/3 off!

Trade paperback collections

  • Star Trek  Deep Space Nine: Prophecy and Change (5 copies): $10.50
  • Star Trek Voyager: Distant Shores (8 7 copies): $10.50
  • Star Trek: Constellations (6 copies): $11.25
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: The Sky’s the Limit (8 7 copies): $12
  • Star Trek Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism (4 3 copies): $12
  • Star Trek Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows (7 copies): $12
  • Star Trek: Mere Anarchy (6 5 copies): $12

I’ll try to keep this list updated with regard to availability, but if you have doubts, query first. For buyers in the US, postage is $2 if you buy only one mass-market paperback, free for trade paperbacks or larger orders.  For buyers outside the US, pay the book price and I’ll bill you for postage separately once I determine the amount.  I’m dropping the extra credit-card fee for PayPal payments, but I’d still appreciate it if you could pay through your own PayPal account, if applicable.

Thoughts on CSI: “A Space Oddity”

January 27, 2010 2 comments

I just caught a rerun of CSI‘s delightful Star Trek homage episode “A Space Oddity,” and I wanted to comment about an aspect of it that I think some people misunderstand.  I’ve seen comments complaining that the episode is just another case of SF fans being stereotyped as dysfunctional geeks and fanatics.  And I don’t think that’s fair at all.

First of all, the story was written by CSI‘s current showrunner Naren Shankar, who was previously a producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the teleplay was by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson, who were staff writers on the last two seasons of ST: Deep Space Nine.  Clearly the people who created the episode understand SFTV and its fandom.

Second, while it’s true that the episode portrays a few fans as fanatical losers detached from reality, it makes it clear that they’re just one part of the spectrum of fandom.   The various characters relate to the ST counterpart Astro Quest in various ways.  Hodges and Wendy are both devoted fans, but while Hodges is close to the dysfunctional nerd stereotype himself, Wendy is a much more “normal” person.  Then we have Laurence Fishburne’s character Ray, who represents the kind of fan who doesn’t dress up and go to conventions but just plain knows and likes the show.  My favorite is the convention bartender who reveals he’s a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan.  He’s a fan of the show and chooses to dress up as one of its aliens because he admires its vision of a future where humanity has learned to live together.  Overall, Astro Quest fandom is portrayed as a valid and valuable thing.  The few mom’s-basement fanatics are the minority.  The producer who rejects the value of the original show’s optimism in favor of a dark, Galactica-style reboot is a smarmy womanizer and plagiarist.   And the character who says that the fans treat the show as a religion is a pretentious media scholar whose opinions are highly suspect.  It’s not a cult, it’s just an eclectic selection of people who enjoy or love the show for their own reasons.  And they end up convincing others of the value of their fandom.  At the end of the episode, two of the characters who were initially outside the fandom have been won over, going off with Ray to an Astro Quest viewing party.  And ultimately it’s Hodges’ intimate knowledge of the show that provides the crucial clue to solving the mystery.

Plus, of course, the episode is so loving in its own Trek fandom that it amazes me that anyone could interpret it as hostile to fandom.  Hodges’ fantasy sequences are marvelous, faithful homages to scenes from “The Gamesters of Triskelion,”  “The Cage,” and “The Naked Time” (Kirk’s “a beach to walk on” speech).  And the end of the teaser is hilarious, with Hodges opening his cell phone like a communicator, calling Detective Brass, and saying “He’s dead, Jim!”  Both times I’ve seen that, it’s broken me up for a good minute.

There’s also the neat metatextual joke that both the biggest fans among the CSI crew, Hodges and Wendy, are played by actors who’ve been in Star Trek.  Wallace Langham was Flotter in Voyager‘s “Once Upon a Time” and Liz Vassey was crewwoman Kristin in TNG’s “Conundrum.”  (Ohh, Liz Vassey.  I love watching her.  She miraculously manages to be both Amazonian and cute at the same time.  And ohh, those eyes…)

Of course there are some nice Galactica Easter eggs too, with Kate Vernon playing the media critic, Rekha Sharma and Grace Park appearing as fans in the convention audience, and Ron Moore himself rising into frame to tell the character (loosely) based on himself, “You suck!”  But ultimately, it’s all about Star Trek.  And it’s about fandom in all its forms.  And it’s a loving tribute to both.

Categories: Reviews, Star Trek Tags: , ,

Murphy’s Law of glassware

January 26, 2010 3 comments

It seems there’s some kind of cosmic law that when you get a set of drinking glasses, they will systematically break until you have only one left, which will last forever.  This was particularly the case with a set of four tumblers I bought just over a year ago.  They were really nice tumblers, tall and sturdy with thick glass and solid construction, or so it seemed.

A few months ago, I had all four of these big, heavy glasses in the bottom tier of my fold-up wooden draining rack (which looks like this), and I made the mistake of emptying the top tier first.  That left a lot of weight to one side of the center of mass, so the whole rack tilted and dumped the glasses into the sink.  Two of the four broke.  Just like that, I’d lost half the set.

This morning, I was doing the dishes I’d forgotten to do last night.  At this point, I have five remaining tumblers of this size, two from the new set and three orphans left over from three other, older sets.  Naturally, it was while I was washing the inside of one of the two new ones that the soapy, wet glass popped out of my hands and shattered on the kitchenette floor.  I was wearing socks, no shoes, so I was trapped by the sink, with broken glass between me and the exit.  So I kept my feet firmly planted while I retrieved the cloth and finished the dishes.  Then I gingerly repositioned my feet so I could reach the towel drawer, and I got a towel to brush clear a path in the floor so I could get out, put on my shoes, then go to the closet and get a whisk and dustpan.

So now all my tumblers of this size are orphans — four of them from four different sets.   Of the four I bought just over a year ago, three are now broken.  And yet the oldest tumbler in my set, a black-tinted, narrow-based one that’s slightly smaller than the others, has endured seemingly forever.  It’s like the Rio Grande on Deep Space Nine — the one runabout that perpetually survives while all the other keep crashing and blowing up.

Man, I wish I could afford to move to a place with a dishwasher.  At this point, I can’t even afford new tumblers.

Categories: Uncategorized

Thoughts on Quinn Martin’s THE INVADERS

January 23, 2010 6 comments

On Monday, Syfy ran a marathon of the first eleven episodes of Quinn Martin’s 1967 television series The Invaders.  This is a series that I’ve read about, but by bad luck I’ve never actually managed to see it before.  And since it was a holiday, I ended up watching nearly the whole marathon (aside from one episode that looked so silly I decided to skip most of it).

The Invaders was an interesting show, but it had problems.  The premise was that “architect David Vincent” (that’s how the narrator introduces him for some reason, “Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent”) happened to see a UFO landing and couldn’t get the authorities to believe him.  Investigating further, he discovers suspicious-acting people with little fingers that won’t bend, and when he confronts them, one of them fights him until suddenly the guy seizes up and starts glowing red (a nice effect apparently achieved by the actor hiding a bright red light in his hands, pointed at his face).  From that point on, Vincent is convinced there are aliens infiltrating Earth, and they make more than one attempt to kill him.  The rest of the series is basically Vincent trying to track down and defeat alien plots across the country and futilely attempting to prove their existence to the authorities.

The show had some creepy charm and decent production values.  In one sense, it had an unusually serialized quality for a ’60s show, in that Vincent progressively learned more and more about the aliens, their nature, and their gadgets over the course of the show (although one episode, “Vikor,” is evidently aired out of sequence, because it shows him witnessing for the first time how the aliens regenerate their human disguises, but in the previously aired episode he already knew about it).  But aside from that, it had a lack of continuity typical of the more episodic shows of the day.  In the pilot, toward the end of the episode, he became convinced that the aliens wouldn’t try to kill him again since he’d raised too much publicity with his accusations and it would look suspicious.  Presumably that was to justify why he was able to go on functioning on a continuing basis.  But in subsequent episodes, the aliens routinely tried to kill him, even to the extent of devising elaborate plots to get at him.  Not to mention that episode 2 features a scientist who’s been even more vocal about the alien plot than Vincent, and yet the aliens blow up a whole plane to try to silence him and then succeed in staging a fatal car accident.  Why would they be so blatant in targeting that guy if they were trying to avoid drawing suspicion to themselves?

And really, it’s hard to believe that nobody but Vincent is catching on to this.  The aliens have devices that fake heart attacks and cerebral hemorrhages to make their murders look accidental, but there are so many of those murders that you’d think somebody in authority would recognize a pattern.  There was an episode in which a military officer (Dabney Coleman) witnessed an alien himself and tried to convene a Congressional hearing with Vincent as a witness, but the alien Magnus (Michael Rennie) blackmailed Vincent (by threatening innocents) into discrediting himself and scuttling the hearings.  But it’s hard to believe Coleman’s character would’ve fallen for that or given up so easily.  (And by the way, Dabney Coleman looked surprisingly square-jawed and heroic in 1967, a far cry from the smarmy and/or villainous characters he later became known for.)

Apparently, he’s somehow able to continue his normal life, since people know how to contact him with alien sightings, plus he apparently manages to continue earning enough of a living to feed and clothe himself.  So why don’t the aliens get to him at his home?  It’s a paradox that isn’t adequately explained in the half-season I’ve seen.  Also, in most episodes, he gains additional witnesses to the reality of the aliens’ presence, but they never seem to come back and help him out with convincing the authorities; he remains perpetually a man alone.  I gather this changed later on in the series as he finally gained a recurring ally, but it took long enough.  (There’s never any physical proof of the aliens, since they burn up and vaporize when they die, and usually take their equipment with them.)

And if Vincent’s so hell-bent on finding proof, why does he never bring a camera with him when he infiltrates alien nests?  Plus The Invaders suffers from the same problem as the later paranoia-driven series Nowhere Man — namely that the protagonist’s paranoia always fails him at just the wrong moment and he trusts people he should know better than to trust.   For Earth’s sole champion against invasion, David Vincent is really a pretty incompetent guy, except when it comes to fighting his way out of deathtraps.  In fact, bellicosity and stubbornness seem to be his only real strengths as a hero.  In the pilot, he had no really solid reason for being convinced he’d seen a UFO rather than dreaming it, or for  suspecting the “campers” just because they didn’t corroborate his story and had stiff pinkies.  He ended up attacking them with very little provocation, and it was just luck that he ended up finding out the guy he attacked had anything to hide.

But like I said, the show’s production values weren’t bad.  The opening and closing narration is by Bill Woodson, who was a major and prolific TV announcer for decades and had a good rich voice.  He’s perhaps most famous for Superfriends, but of course he used a much more serious, sedate delivery here, and it works very well.  The music is mostly by Dominic Frontiere of The Outer Limits, and in fact the pilot features a lot of stock music from that show.  Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to write a lot of music for the show, and the same limited number of cues seem to get used over and over.  Plus the main 3-note motif for the show is exactly the same as part of the Mission: Impossible theme, which is distracting.

The visual effects are by Darryl Anderson of the Howard Anderson Company, one of the main FX houses that was doing Star Trek at the same time this series was on.  So The Invaders no doubt benefitted from the experience Anderson gained doing a production like ST, which for ’60s television was unprecedented in its FX demands.  One thing Anderson did particularly well here was the effect of the aliens glowing red and disappearing when they die.  The glow often begins while the aliens are still falling, and the rotoscope work — the handmade animation of the red glow fitting the contours of moving bodies — was superbly done.  I would’ve expected they’d require stationary bodies like in the ST transporter effect, but they didn’t.

So The Invaders is a decent show, but not one of the greats.  Hopefully I’ll catch the rest of it someday, but my curiosity is more idle than passionate.

Autographed books for sale

Note: Prices have been changed.  See new post.

I have a significant number of leftover copies of many of my books taking up space in my closet, and I also have an urgent need for funds, so I’m offering autographed copies for sale.  You can buy them from me through PayPal (via the “Send Money” tag with payments to clbennett@fuse.net, or simply use the PayPal button on my homepage) for the prices listed below.  Please use the PayPal “instructions to merchant” option (or e-mail me) to let me know which book(s) you’re ordering, provide your shipping address, and let me know if you want the book(s) inscribed to anyone in particular (or not autographed at all, as the case may be).

Here are the books I have available, their quantities, and the price per copy (in US dollars):

Mass-market paperback novels

  • Star Trek: Ex Machina (15 14 copies): $7
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: Greater Than the Sum (13 copies): $8
  • Star Trek Titan: Over a Torrent Sea (13 copies): $8
  • Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder (20 19 copies): $8

Trade paperback collections

  • Star Trek  Deep Space Nine: Prophecy and Change (5 copies): $14
  • Star Trek Voyager: Distant Shores (8 7 copies): $14
  • Star Trek: Constellations (6 copies): $15
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: The Sky’s the Limit (8 7 copies): $16
  • Star Trek Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism (4 copies): $16
  • Star Trek Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows (7 copies): $16
  • Star Trek: Mere Anarchy (6 copies): $16

I’ll try to keep this list updated with regard to availability, but if you have doubts, query first.For buyers in the US, postage is $2 if you buy only one mass-market paperback, free for trade paperbacks or larger orders.  For buyers outside the US, pay the book price and I’ll bill you for postage separately once I determine the amount.

Oh, and if you have a PayPal account of your own, please pay through that instead of a credit card.  PayPal charges a fee for credit card use, so if you do use a credit card, I have to ask for an additional $0.25 per mass-market paperback or an additional $0.40 per trade paperback.  (That’s about half the fee, so we’d be splitting it.)

As far as shipping goes, be patient; I’m new at this, and it may take me a bit of time to get things up and running.

SEEK A NEWER WORLD has been shelved

January 14, 2010 13 comments

This is out of the blue… this morning I was notified by my editor at Pocket Books that the decision has been made not to publish the four Star Trek novels set in the new movie continuity that were slated for summer 2010.  The only explanation is this brief statement:

With last summer’s blockbuster STAR TREK movie, JJ Abrams created a new vibrant, layered version of the Star Trek universe. After careful consideration, we decided to hold off on telling new stories while JJ and his team continue to develop his vision.

My only guess for why this was done is that it was felt best to avoid publishing stories that might conflict with the next movie in the series.  Hopefully that means these books could still see the light of day in a couple of years.

For now, though, Seek a Newer World is on indefinite hold, along with the other three books in the set: Refugees by Alan Dean Foster, More Beautiful Than Death by David Mack, and The Hazard of Concealing by Greg Cox.  The shelving of Refugees is particularly disappointing, because that would’ve been Alan Dean Foster’s first fully original Trek novel, something that would’ve been really cool to see.  (Although his last several Star Trek Log volumes adapting the animated series were more original than adapted material, particularly Log Ten, in which the adapted episode made up only 3 of the book’s 16 chapters.)

What my friend and colleague Dave Mack said on his own blog about this development is worth repeating, since it goes for me too:

Before anyone writes to me looking for more information, I’ll just tell you that I don’t have any. And, although the book was written and had been copy edited, I cannot and will not share it online or via e-mail. The nature of work-for-hire is that while I am entitled to compensation and credit for my labors, the final product is not my property. In other words, even though I wrote the book, it is not mine to share, sell, or give away, so please don’t ask.

Again, though, hopefully this is just a postponement, though there’s no telling for how long.

Oy, what a week.

Assorted bits

January 14, 2010 2 comments

I had a job interview Tuesday.  It was for an institution I really want to work at, and I really need to be employed as soon as possible.  However, I don’t feel I aced the interview.  I don’t really have a lot of experience at conventional job-hunting.  Most of my past employment has either been in college, where it was fairly easy to get a student job, or as a writer, where you rarely have to sell yourself face-to-face.  So I’m not the most adept job-interviewee out there.  I just have to hope they saw something in me beyond that awkwardness.  Failing that, I’ve applied for various other openings at the same institution; hopefully I’ll get other interviews and manage to do a better job.

And it probably didn’t help that I came down with a cold the day before, though the symptoms didn’t really start to kick in until after the interview.  The night before the interview, I strove for relaxation and confidence and somehow managed to find a mental place that let me achieve more serenity and peace of mind than I’ve felt in quite a while.  So that probably helped me do better in the interview than I might have, but I just hope it was good enough.  And since then, I’ve just been feeling icky and sniffly and lethargic.

Not that it’s kept me from getting some work done.  I’ve managed to get another article-writing gig this past week.  It’s my first interview-based writing assignment.  Which means I’ve gotten to be on both ends of that process this week, since I was just interviewed myself for someone else’s article.  More info on both of these when the time is right.

Categories: My Nonfiction Tags:

Dolphins are people too!

January 10, 2010 2 comments

From PhysOrg.com:

Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons

Scientists studying dolphin behavior have suggested they could be the most intelligent creatures on Earth after humans, saying the size of their brains in relation to body size is larger than that of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, and their behaviors suggest complex intelligence. One scientist said they should therefore be treated as “non-human persons” and granted rights as individuals.

The behavioral studies showed dolphins (especially the bottlenose) have distinct personalities and self-awareness, and they can think about the future. The research also confirmed dolphins have complex social structures, with individuals co-operating to solve difficult problems or to round up shoals of fish to eat, and with new behaviors being passed from one dolphin to another.

Basically, the article says that by every neurological and behavioral standard of intelligence we know, dolphins rate nearly equal to humans.  Indeed, the article leaves out some things, like the fact that they can understand spoken English, the fact that they give themselves names, and the fact that in some cognitive areas, their brains seem to be even more developed than ours.  According to the paper A Comparison of Primate and Dolphin Intelligence as a Metaphor for the Validity of Comparative Studies of Intelligence, “In certain areas of the brain concerned with ’emotional control, objectivity, reality orientation, humor, logically consistent abstract thought and higher creativity’ dolphins have [a] higher ratio of neural density” than humans.  So even if dolphins aren’t quite as smart as we are (and that’s far from certain), they’re probably a lot saner.

The researchers are going to present their findings at a conference next month and try to launch a debate on whether dolphin rights should be protected.  Personally, I’ve been in favor of that for a long time.   The evidence is overwhelming that humans are not the only sentient, self-aware beings — the only people — on this planet.   Science fiction has gotten us used to the idea of coexisting with alien species from other worlds, respecting their personhood and their rights, but it’s time we got used to the idea that we don’t have to travel to other stars to find alien intelligences.  To me, as an SF fan and writer, it’s an exciting prospect.

Of course, recognizing the personhood of dolphins — and in particular, recognizing their right not to be killed — would require us to change the way we interact with the world’s oceans.  But then, that’s something we need to do anyway, for our own safety as well as that of the rest of the biosphere.  Maybe this would be a push in the right direction.

It will naturally take a long time, probably a generation or more, to bring society and lawmakers around on this issue.  But that’s all the more reason to get started now.

Categories: Science Tags: , , ,

“The Hub of the Matter” is out! (UPDATED)

I’ve just belatedly discovered that the March issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact containing my novelette “The Hub of the Matter” is up on the Analog site and apparently reached subscribers last month.  Hopefully that means it’s on newsstands now, though you may have to call around to find a store that carries it.

And look!

Analog Science Fiction and Fact March 2010

I got my name on the cover of Analog! That’s a first!  Wow.

Additionally, as this is my third appearance in the magazine, I’m the subject of this month’s Biolog column, which was distilled from an interview Rick Lovett conducted with me back in August.

Sometime soon I’ll post some discussion of this story on my main site’s Original Fiction page.  I don’t have it ready yet because I hadn’t expected it to be out so soon.   Besides, I want to give all you folks a chance to go out and buy the magazine!  (Please.  Print SF magazines are an endangered species, so please consider buying this, not just to support me but to support science fiction in general.)

UPDATE: I’ve now posted background discussion on my Original Fiction page.  I’ll probably post spoiler notes eventually, and I’m open to reader questions here on the blog.

Tentative cover to STAR TREK: SEEK A NEWER WORLD

Simon & Schuster’s advance solicitation catalog for summer 2010 is out, and it contains preliminary covers and blurbs for the four Star Trek novels set in the new movie’s continuity, including my own Seek a Newer World.  The catalog’s technically meant for book vendors only, not for public distribution, since its contents are often very tentative.  But it always gets out on the Internet anyway.

I’m not going to bother posting the catalog’s blurb, which is far from accurate and far from the final version of the blurb.  But here’s the low-res black-and-white rendering of the preliminary cover art:

Seek a Newer World solicitation cover

Not bad, and it’s along the lines I expected — using photos of the movie cast and ship to make the connection to the movie clear.  It’s a fairly generic image, but that’s understandable.  This early in the game, the most important thing to sell is the fact that this is a new series tied into the movie, as distinct from the other books in the traditional (“Prime”) Trek continuity.

Besides, generic or not, it works.  I like how it almost comes off as a shot of Kirk and Spock on the bridge, even though it’s clearly put together from different images.  And the image has more relevance to the story inside than you might expect.  The choice of characters is fitting, since the tale focuses heavily on Kirk, Spock, and their developing relationship in the wake of the film.  And the bridge setting on the cover dovetails nicely into the opening scene of the novel.  Indeed, this image could almost represent a particular moment in that scene, if they were “standing” on the other side of the bridge.  Moreover, I think there are reasons why a focus on the bridge — and command chair — of the Enterprise is symbolically relevant to the novel.

More on all four covers and the catalogue can be found here:

http://www.trekbbs.com/showthread.php?t=111934

And of course the book is available for preorder at Amazon.com and elsewhere.

Speaking of lunch…

January 4, 2010 1 comment

As I said in my last post, my father and I ate out during our shopping trip today.  We went to Steak ‘n Shake, which I haven’t been to in a while (and which strictly speaking should be spelled Steak ‘n’ Shake, since two letters are elided from “and”), and it turned out they had some new menu items, namely “steak franks.”  Now, I like to eat healthy and I don’t often have red meat, plus I’ve kind of lost my taste for hamburger.  (There have been times when I’ve gotten nostalgic and decided to try a burger for old times’ sake, and it just hasn’t been as good as I thought it would be.)  But I still like the occasional hot dog.  Usually I have turkey franks, but failing that I’d rather have beef franks than pork.

The thing is, in the past there’s been an odd dearth of restaurants or fast food places that served hot dogs.  I’ve often wondered why it was that hamburgers were so ubiquitous but hot dogs were virtually impossible to find outside the corner street vendor, unless they were covered in chili and cheese at a place like Skyline or Gold Star Chili.  (The “cheese Coney,” a hot dog smothered in Greek-style or “Cincinnati” chili, onions, and shredded cheese, is a recipe for which Cincinnati is famous.  It’s a variant of the “Coney Island,” which is what Midwesterners call the chili dog for some reason.  Wikipedia says the hot dog was invented in Coney Island, New York, but that doesn’t explain why we use the term only for chili dogs.   Until I looked it up just now, I always thought it was an exclusive Cincinnati usage and was named for a now-defunct local amusement park called Old Coney Island.)

But lately that seems to be changing.  In the past six months I’ve been to two restaurants that served hot dogs.  One is a place called Five Guys that’s apparently famous for doing just basic, conventional hamburgers and fries but doing them very well.  Like I said, I’m strictly a veggie-burger guy these days, but they also have hot dogs, and once I saw that there actually was a restaurant where one could get a non-chili-related hot dog, I decided to sample the novelty.  It was an okay hot dog, but oddly it was served split in half on a bun that was also split in half, basically presented more like a sandwich than a conventional hot dog.  Which made it a hell of a mess, since I had relish and onions on it and they were free to fall out the sides.  It also came with an insane amount of fries, apparently a trademark of the place.  It was an interesting experiment, but not something I’d want to try more than once in a blue moon.

And now there’s Steak ‘n Shake with its steak franks, available with various toppings, from basic ketchup & mustard to chil and cheese  to guacamole.  I went with the one that seemed healthiest, the “Chicago-Style” one, which is topped with mustard, relish, pickle slices, tomato slices, and something called “sport peppers,” which are apparently a pickled variant of tabasco peppers, popular in Chicago cuisine.  (But there were just two pickled peppers, not a peck.)  I figured all those veggies would help balance out the meat and french fries.  Anyway, this was also served split down the middle.  It was theoretically on a standard, intact hot-dog bun, but the bun was so stuffed that it was split more than halfway through when I got it and came completely apart within one bite.  It took me a while to figure out a way to hold the thing, and I was tempted to use a knife and fork.  Still, it was pretty good.  If I’m ever in Chicago, I’ll have to keep an eye out for the hot dogs.  (Although the relish was a particularly garish and artificial-looking shade of green, not very appetizing to look at.)

So now I no longer have to wonder why non-chili restaurants never serve hot dogs, because it seems they’re starting to.  Instead I’m left with the mystery of why they split them down the middle.  I guess maybe they want to differentiate themselves from the street vendors?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Why do we still call them just “phones?”

I went out on a shopping/lunch expedition with my father today, and in the course of the journey, I got to use several functions of my new cell phone:

  1. Speed dial, to call my father easily from the car (while it was parked, don’t worry).
  2. Calculator, to compute miles per gallon when I filled the tank (again, don’t worry, since the Mythbusters showed us that cell phones pose no danger at gas stations).  My mileage has actually improved a bit, perhaps because of more driving on freeways and such.
  3. GPS mapping, when we got lost.  This one didn’t actually help, because it didn’t adequately distinguish between intersections and bridges crossing roads.  The good ol’ map book in the car was more helpful.  There’s a way to enter a destination and get directions, but I think they charge extra for that.
  4. Tip calculator, at lunch.  This was purely to show off my new toy; hopefully I won’t make a habit of relying on technology to do something I can do myself.

And with all that, at the end of the day I still had two bars left (out of three) on the charge display.  I guess that’s fairly good.

These multimedia devices we carry in our pockets have so many functions these days that it seems silly to keep calling them “phones.”  They’re really pocket computers.  The British term is better.  They call them “mobiles.”  Originally short for “mobile phone,” of course, but it nicely adapts to the mobile multimedia computing and telecommunication devices they’ve become.

In my original fiction (things I’ve written but not yet sold), I’ve taken to calling them “selfones,” i.e. “cell phone” merged with “self.”  My thinking was that the devices would increasingly become our primary interfaces with the world, eventually absorbing the role of identification device, credit card, every interaction we had with any other piece of technology, so that they’d kind of become an extension of the self.  But lately I’m rethinking that, since cellular phones have become so ubiquitous that we tend to call them just “phones” rather than “cell phones.”  So my prediction of “cell phone” being elided to “selfone” doesn’t really seem that likely now.  Maybe I should go with “mobile” instead.

As my father pointed out, though, they still don’t make the bed.

Doctor Who: The End of Time and the end of Tennant

Reposting my thoughts on the finale of David Tennant’s and Russell T. Davies’ tenure on Doctor Who, originally posted on the ExIsle BBS (SPOILERS AHEAD):

Part 1:

Um. Well. If RTD wanted to convince us to be grateful that his tenure on the show is ending, he’s succeeded. Because this has just confirmed what “The Waters of Mars” suggested: that he’s totally gone off the rails. This had some good character moments — the Doctor and the Master, the Doctor and Wilfrid — but for the most part it’s just a total mess.

The Ood: Hurry, Doctor! You must race in your time machine to try to stop something that happened thousands of years ago before it’s too late, because it’s happening right now!

Then we get a cult that’s resurrecting the Master, and Lucy’s totally shocked and horrified, except oh wait, it turns out she has her own countercult that’s been arranging counterplans, and boom!

Which turns the Master into… into the thing that made me say “What the hell?!” to the TV. A jabbering cannibal who turns into a walking x-ray and jumps like the Hulk?? Huh? How is that the Master? The Master is a suave, brilliant, ruthless manipulator. He conquers and destroys with his wits and technology, the dark reflection of the Doctor. This… man-eating electric Skeletor flea-man was just the worst idea in the history of the modern show, and yes, I’m talking about the same show that gave us the Absorbaloff and cute walking fat. It was stupid-looking, it was random and gratuitous, and it was a discredit to the character.

And what’s with all the heavy-handed Obama references? Why drag reality into something that’s always been so blissfully unconnected to it? Especially with such a simplistic bit of wish fulfillment as “one speech by the President will solve all the world’s economic problems.” That’s a shallow and inappropriate representation of a man who’s always stressed that only a great deal of hard work and cooperation will bring us out of the current crisis. And given how cavalierly RTD had a previous president of the US assassinated by the Master a couple of seasons ago, I’d just as soon he avoided dealing with the real POTUS. (Not to mention the questions raised about the chronology of events, since that fictional president would’ve had to be elected in 2008, given that the modern show’s “present day” has always been a year ahead of airing. Was Obama his running mate in this reality?) Also, though RTD seemed to intend it as a tribute to Obama judging from his interview comments, juxtaposing the Obama references to scenes of a powerful middle-aged black man with his own book about the future (Naismith) doing something that was probably evil seemed more like a veiled dig. So if he did mean it positively, it backfired. (Okay, Naismith turned out to mean well, more or less, but he didn’t convey that impression overall.)

Oh, and an invisible Claire Bloom turning up to tell Wilfrid that he’s at the center of coincidence because he keeps running into the Doctor? Didn’t we already go through this with Donna last season? Couldn’t it be that Wilf just keeps running into him because Donna was destined to?

And… turning everyone on Earth into the Master? What a silly plot. And like just about everything else about RTD’s Master, it’s out of character. Sure, he’s a pathological narcissist, but he wants to rule over others, to have people he can dominate and feel superior to. The one thing he could absolutely never sanction is a world full of his equals. A planet full of Masters wouldn’t be applauding each other and giving each other the thumbs-up; they’d be fighting for dominance and killing each other off within moments. (Not to mention, if it’s a genetic change, why do they all have their hair dyed the same as him?)

As for the final revelation, the return of the Time Lords, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’d be good to have the Time Lords back in the Whoniverse. And it would definitely make the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era a fresh start, free from the defining baggage of the RTD era’s Doctor. But is that a good thing, to push such a huge reset button and pretty much reduce all the character’s angst and guilt over the past five years to a misunderstanding? Isn’t that a little too easy? Although we’ll have to see how it plays out next week, I guess.

All in all, a real disappointment. Though I guess in a way I’m glad that “The Waters of Mars” had already lowered my expectations.

Part 2:

Well, this was much better than Part 1. Less of the Master’s stupid skull-face and jumping around and eating people, no gratuitous and insultingly oversimplistic attempts to be topical by namedropping President Obama, and a lot more drama and emotion and poignancy and high stakes. Getting to see the Time Lords again — and learning why the Doctor destroyed them as well as the Daleks — was a great payoff to RTD’s five years. And I’m glad they didn’t hit the reset button; the Time Lords are still gone from the universe, and the Doctor still has to live with the knowledge of that and his part in it.

The Doctor’s interactions with the Master were terrific. The Master was so much better handled here than in Part 1, with more emphasis on his friend/enemy relationship with the Doctor. I loved the climax, the Master echoing the Doctor’s “Get out of the way.” Essentially, they spared each other. True, the Master was mainly motivated by revenge against the Time Lord President, but he could’ve let the Doctor get caught in the crossfire. Instead, he said “Get out of the way.” And that was a wonderful moment.

Overall, the use of the gun as a plot device was excellent. The Doctor’s adamant refusal to wield a gun under any circumstances, even to save Earth from the Master — and then as soon as he learns the Time Lords are coming back, he grabs it without hesitation. Which tells us in a very dramatic way just how high the stakes are. That’s really good writing.

And I love the climax. I love it that the Doctor survived saving the universe… but then gave his life to save one ordinary man. His friend. That’s terrific stuff. I’m reminded of what the io9 columnist said in rating the past regenerations, that her (?) favorite was “The Caves of Androzani,” largely because the stakes for the Doctor were so personal, more about saving a friend than saving the universe.

I did find it odd that the Doctor had so much time to wrap up loose ends before regenerating. But then I remembered — in “Planet of the Spiders,” the Third Doctor “died” from the same cause, radiation overdose, and he was lost in the time vortex for some time before the TARDIS found its way back to UNIT HQ. So I guess it’s consistent, aside from his insta-healing from his wounds happening at the start of the process. And I guess RTD had to say all his goodbyes as well, give closure to all his characters. I wish there’d been more of Sarah Jane, though. And I find it hard to believe Luke, the smartest human on Earth, would be so careless crossing the street.

The episode did have its flaws. For one thing, I still don’t buy that all those Masters would be willing to take orders from anyone, even another Master. But the main fault was how Donna’s returning memory was handled. If the Doctor had put this “defense mechanism” in her head to keep her from burning to death, why was he so adamant that she couldn’t be reminded even a little bit ever? The “defense mechanism” is a retcon and a copout.

It puzzled me that the Doctor addressed the Time Lord President as “Rassilon.” Rassilon was the founder of Time Lord society, and he died ages ago. Maybe this guy’s just named after him. Although the Time Lords resurrected the Master to fight in the Time War; maybe they resurrected Rassilon to lead them. And then he went totally bugnuts.

And I guessed that Claire Bloom, the woman in Wilf’s visions, would turn out to be one of the two abstaining Time Ladies with their faces covered. But we never got to find out who she was beyond that. But I have a suspicion or two. The moment when she showed her face to the Doctor was accompanied by the music cue that’s always been jokingly referred to as “Flavia’s Theme,” described by RTD as Chancellor Flavia (from one or two of the original series’ later Gallifrey episodes) singing out from the time vortex. So maybe that was Flavia? My other suspicion is that maybe it was the Doctor’s mother. Then again, it could’ve been Romana. Maybe it’s for the best that we get to keep speculating and form our own opinions.

One thing that struck me was just how insular this story was for something so epic. All the Time Lord stuff was so static, taking place with the Time Lords either sitting around a table and talking or just standing there in white light and talking to the Doctor and the Master. It would’ve been nice to have it be more expansive, or at least to have the Time Lords move around the room somewhat. Basically they just stood there so they’d remain conveniently clustered targets for the Master’s climactic attack. Which is contrived and made the preceding scenes too rigid and motionless.

So… the regeneration. I’m not keen on it happening when the Doctor’s alone. Maybe if he’d had someone with him at the critical moment, he would’ve been more at peace with it. I’m not sure I like him going out on such a regretful note. I’m not sure it’s right that this Doctor ended up so lonely at the end of his tenure despite the fact that he was more overtly and expressively loved by more people than any previous Doctor. But then, maybe that’s why he was so reluctant to end this incarnation. Still, he should’ve had someone with him. At the very least, so the new Doctor would have someone to play off of rather than talking to himself.

Having the regeneration trash the whole console room and send the TARDIS into a tailspin is a bit hard to justify; it’s never done that before. Naturally it’s being done to set up the changes in the TARDIS in the new season, the reworking of both the interior sets and the police-box exterior prop. But the show has never previously needed an excuse for a change in the TARDIS’s appearance, and this particular excuse is rather inexplicable.

As for the Eleventh Doctor, it’s too early to judge him, but he seems okay so far. Although I’m a bit uneasy with what I saw in the preview clip that’s been released.  SPOILERS:

He seems much more physically combative than past Doctors — punching a guy out, attempting to bludgeon a Dalek, even firing a gun. I’m not comfortable with that. Also, it seems they’re making “Geronimo!” his catchphrase, and I don’t particularly care for that, either the specific phrase or the notion that each Doctor needs his own distinctive catchphrase. I just thought of “Fantastic” and “Allons-y” as individual quirks of the past two Doctors, but now it seems they’re consciously trying to give Eleven a catchphrase from the word go, and that feels contrived.

Pity he’s still not ginger, though. Maybe next time.

_______

So… what am I hoping to see from Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who?

  • More travels in space and time, fewer stories on present-day Earth.
  • Fewer massive alien invasions of present-day Earth.
  • No more newscaster montages.
  • A bit less melodrama. I approve of the deeper character writing of RTD’s series, but it doesn’t have to be so over-the-top.
  • More vintage aliens, especially Ice Warriors.
  • More new menaces worth bringing back on a recurring basis without being goofy. No more Slitheen, please, please.
  • More old-series companions, especially Zoe, Jo, or Benton.
  • Maybe a larger entourage of companions, so we can have developing character arcs without needing to hang around present-day London all the time.
  • More companions who aren’t from present-day Earth.
  • A “Four Doctors” special with McGann, Eccleston, and Tennant joining Smith.
  • Fewer characters named Smith and/or Jones. Sarah Jane being the exception.
  • Season finales that don’t involve destroying the universe.
Categories: Reviews Tags: ,
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