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Journal: Terminator 3

Journal by lucasw

Not the movie the previews portrayed (the one I wanted to see)

(spoilers)

The most interesting thing here was the thematic contrast with Terminator 2. T2 had the T-800 acquiring human abilities, and nuclear war being averted- it's the triumph of free will. T3 is all about destiny, the learned behaviour and memories of the earlier terminator has been erased, the war is inevitable, John Connor will fight, lead, and win. The moment where Arnold's terminator overcomes his reprogramming is not so much because of his self-awareness and ability to choose, but because if he was to kill Connor then Connor's destiny would be unfulfilled.

A field of skulls, dozens of terminators walking and firing, desperate humans rallying in front of a battered flag, and plenty of nukes- this is what we've been waiting for right? No, that's just a few minutes of exposition at the beginning, T3 is just another mano-a-mano fight and chase sequence through the present day. The first two movies spent more time in the future than this one.

But I enjoyed T3, though my expectations were extremely low given the loss of James Cameron and Linda Hamilton- I like the new John Connor though. T3 is far from the near perfection of T2, but doesn't destroy the franchise either. It didn't do spectacularly domestically, but I'm guessing the worldwide gross will make a fourth film pretty likely- and given the ending here there's no way around exploiting the post-apocalyptic setting fully.

The Terminatrix was pretty cool, though she seemed much more evil than the previous male terminators, being more brutal and showing more emotion. Which makes her a less effective killing machine given all the times she could have blown away the protagonists in the movie but instead choses to do her killing in a more sportly and creative way.

She had a few flaws though-

Her female seductive side was used for all of 2 seconds on the cop, and for no good reason other than to make it slightly more easy to take his gun and dispense with him.

-Her underlying form is murky and therefore uncompelling. I didn't really know what she was supposed to be until I watched the special features that explain she is a more advanced metal exo-skeleton with liquid metal reservoirs that make up her skin. She has multiple different weapons built-in, but there is no real defining feature other than a female form.

I'm sure there was an explanation in the second film, but I thought the issue with time travel was that only things surrounded by living tissue can do it, but the T1000 and TX have no living tissue- more advanced time travel techniques perhaps?

-Her ability to control objects that are not digitally controllable in real life was dumb. Controlling the tracked terminators late in the film made sense, but to remote control a regular car you'd have to install a bunch of servos and a wireless receiver to work the gas and steering wheel etc.

She doesn't use this very effectively either, the cars move just about the same as if they had independent drivers. It would be cool to show them moving very precisely in formation initially, and perhaps when the TX is injured or otherwise distracted the remote operated vehicles would crash or lose most of that precision.

The crane chase sequence was okay, far short of the Matrix Reloaded chase, and kind of claustrophobic (why no helicopter shots, or anything else to give more context to the chase?), and a little murky initially because they had to recolor the film to make it look like early morning. The cgi TX falling off the crane and then somehow sliding to grab on the rear looked horrible.

There wasn't any music then either- where's the signature Terminator music, or anything at all? Music is good because it gives important clues as to what's happening and its relation to coming events- is this the climax of the chase, is it winding down, is the danger to the protagonists heightened here now or is it just a minor setback?

The biggest problem I have with the movie is the disinterest of the authorities in this chase and subsequent destruction. A great moment in the first film was the police station shoot-out, but here we just get a cemetary scene that comes off like a low-key version of the fight with police at the Cyberdyne facility in T2. No helicopters or occupied police cars show up to the crane chase or elsewhere- you'd think that the LA police would have created a special counter-terminator unit after their prior experiences. The only significant interaction with authorities is just a throwaway gag with the psychiatrist from the first two movies.

I'm hard-pressed to figure out where the $170 million went, but I'm guessing the director was not experienced or prepared enough to actually maximize the value seen on film, and wasted a great deal of money. In the director's commentary Mostow speaks a great deal about how much effort and time went into what looks like an ordinary scene, but when you watch the movie it's obvious a lot more could have been done on stages or off location with a few establishing shots left to the 2nd unit (the Beverly Hills scene, for instance).

(major spoilers)

The second to final encounter between Arnold and the TX was pretty good, I'm a sucker for people getting pounded through walls and porcelain- there's no greater impression of strength and weight created than by smashing something solid and familiar like a toilet.

I was expecting more at the bunker, I thought the movie wasn't over yet but here the two terminators are already dead.

The ending was great. The movie was such that every major plot point was pretty obvious about two minutes (if not more) before the actors realize it, like the weapons in the casket, Connor being dead in the future, and the bomb shelter not housing Skynet. Where was the "We'll Meet Again" song that ended that Kubrick movie where everything gets nuked? If the movie hadn't ended like this the series would have failed to evolve, the situation would be like the end of T2 where maybe or maybe not more assassins will be sent from the future.

The worst thing about the ending is this feeling of really wanting to see what happens next (since that was what I was expecting from the movie anyway), that this was just half a movie but the other half is up in the air (unlike the reassuring ending of Matrix Reloaded where the conclusion had a preview and release date).

Movies

Journal: Hulk

Journal by lucasw

An interesting and watchable failure.

I gave this a rent a week ago and plowed through the special features.
I recall watching the box-office for this movie when it came out (yes I'm one of those people)- it has to be some kind of record for largest first-to-second weekend drop in revenue. Most movie drop about 50% every following weekend, 40% if they've got good buzz, 60% if they're crap or have heavy competition- Hulk is very exceptional here.

The special features of these movies are interesting because all the interviews were finished before anyone had seen the film or any feedback received- so the production people talk about certain scenes which they put tremendous effort into, but then you watch the movie and those scenes are unimpressive and nobody thinks twice about them.

For me, that scene in Matrix Reloaded was the burly brawl, and here in Hulk the dog fight.

Going off these two examples, these scenes seem to rely heavily computer generated imagery. So I think it follows that there is a tremendous time and money sink potential for a heavily cgi scene, where the advantage of cgi tweakability is also a liability because there is no end to how much retouching can be done- it's not just retouching, the entire scene can be changed around. And studios don't know how to budget well for that yet, where a practical effects sequence has known ins and outs and limitations and those can be planned for easily.

The Hulk dog fight was lackluster for a lot of reasons:
-Here we have a supersized person fighting supersized dogs, so the size difference is canceled out. The only contextual information we get about their increased size comes when they get near the car, but most of the scene takes place in a forest, where there isn't much reference.

-The dogs look silly. There isn't much of an explanation for them either, it doesn't make much sense in the movie- but Ang Lee and the rest had this incredible vision for a dog fight and here it in all its forgettable glory.

Compared to the final fight at the end of the movie, the dog fight was pretty good. The fight at the end is just so lackluster- here's some desolate scenery at night. No, we're not going to go all out and destroy a city block, just destroy uninhabited and dull mountainy area. And the exchange between Nolte and the Bruce Banner character was pretty good, but the excitement generated there dissipates as fast as the characters transform into their super powered versions.

The one time he does get into a crowded city and gets ready to do some real damage, the love interest appears and short-circuits the situation.

I probably don't need to comment on the jumping- but even having accepted this high-jumping invincible-for-all-purposes Hulk, why doesn't he leave more of an impression in the ground after landing and jumping of again? I'm thinking shattered rocks and large impressions and airborne debris, but the Hulk touches down light as a feather.

The continual reminders of the fact we're watching comic book movie are annoying, but some of those transitions are neat and almost seamless.

At the same time, the filmmakers seem to be trying hard to make the characters fully-developed and avoid too much that would be over-the-top or obvious. I liked the blonde villain most of all (walking up to the enfoamed Hulk with a huge syringe was probably the best scene in the movie)- it seemed like his cheap asshole rivalry worked a lot better than the father-son thing. He reminded of a character another movie, some kind of comedy (an Adam Sandler film?), where some blonde asshole is walking around in a neck-brace and bruised all over.

Books

Journal: Red Dust by Paul J. Mcauley

Journal by lucasw

Set upon a Mars colonized and dominated by the Chinese, where the uploaded status quo have deemed a centuries long terraforming project contrary to their objectives and are letting the deserts reclaim the planet.

Not as idea-dense as I'd like, or as engaging as some of his recent stories, but decent.

Very Campbellian hero's journey type story.

Superhuman fight scenes are interesting, characters are altered by nanotech and move superfast, but there are still limits.

User Journal

Journal: From the Earth to the Moon & Heroes in Space

Journal by lucasw

From the Earth to the Moon was an HBO dramatization of various events surrounding the Apollo program, and has quite high production values and lots of good and familiar actors. Heroes in Space is a book about the whole of the space race until the Challenger accident (when it was published, and despite its cheesy title and style appropriate for younger readers.

FtEttM was produced by Tom Hanks, who appears before every couple of episodes to say something that always ends with the phrase "from the Earth to the Moon", and before that there's a nice opening sequence that has burned into my brain the fragment of JFK's famous address in which alternate pronunciations of 'decade' are showcased (something about going to the Moon in there as well).

The most amusing episode has the Kids in the Hall and Talk Radio star Dave Foley as Al Bean goofing off and falling down on the Apollo 12 mission.

The episode about Apollo 13, rather than duplicate the film's territory, focuses on fictional reporters covering the story. This use of fictional characters is annoying however closely they may be modeled on real people, and is the largest flaw in the series. To a lesser extent, there's also mixing of real footage and voice recordings in with the reenactments, but fortunately not enough to generate significant inconsistencies: it would be bad to have one actor portraying a certain astronaut in one episode while showing the actual person in another, for instance.

The dramatizations of the Moon walks are pretty well done- it seems a lot less dusty than in the real footage. It's a lot harder to falsify the behaviour of grains of material in reduced gravity than hopping astronauts.

The Heroes in Space book is pretty good, though has more than a few innaccuracies that previous library patrons have kindly pointed out in the margins ("Apollo 11 was launched in July, not January. Idiot!'). The worst error is a chapter entitled 'The $500,000 Handshake', which in the first paragraph say the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975 cost $500,000,000.

That aside, the book focuses on the astronauts (as the title suggests), even pointing out their heartrates and various points in some missions, but ignores their lives prior to entry into their U.S. or Soviet space programs, and summarizes their lives afterwards in a sentence or two.

The balance between coverage of the U.S. and Soviets is pretty good given the limited information available from the Soviet side. Speculation is kept to a minimum (I was perusing the very lurid 'Red Star in Orbit' and scanned several paragraphs where the author describes the recovery of the fatal Soyuz 11 mission is wrapped in multiple 'perhaps' and 'maybes'), except for the final paragraph, written during the investigation in the Challenger accident where the future of the U.S. program was in doubt, the author wonders if Russia will launch manned Moon and Mars missions before the century is out and far bypass NASA's efforts. Secrecy offers very fertile ground for fantasy.

Oddly enough, that final portion resonates with the present, where only nations capable of launching and returning people from orbit is Russia and China.

I await the 100th of the flight at Kittyhawk with mixed feelings. Important figures from NASA and individual critics have all been calling for a reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to a manned presence in space, and most of all a 'vision'. The most opportune time for revealing that vision would be on December 17.

What administration could have scraped together in the last couple of weeks:

A few pages taken from the Space Exploration Act, and equally unfunded. It'll make for a good sound bite and never happen.

It'll be funded, but the already huge deficits will have more budget-minded presidents and congresses cutting it and along with every other excess.

It'll be funded and actually be pulled off, and be a spectacular achievement. The '00s or '10s will be largely considered a shrill and pointless decade marked by civil unrest, economic turmoil, and increasingly destructive and unresolvable conflict overseas, but at least we won't be hardpressed to find something redeeming amid it all.

 

User Journal

Journal: Wrecking the cars

Journal by lucasw

A ways back someone told me their theory that the first few days of rain or snow has everyone driving like crap until they get accustomed.

Last weekend I saw about three separate accidents on a 100 mile stretch of highway (I-90 going west). I didn't actually witness the last two as they happened, but the first was about about three hundred feet ahead of me, someone abruptly veering left and off the road into the brush, finally flipping over after hitting a mound of earth. I think I was already slowing down and pulling over before it came to a stop. At first I was running, but stopped up a little short to reassess- is the thing going to explode? Is there someone horribly injured inside and unable to get out (and what am I supposed to do then)? What's the best way to get over that large bush to the driver's side door?

After a moment a young woman crawls out, cell phone in hand. A couple of trucks stopped (my passenger waved them down), but the authorities were already on the way. I had just bought a digital camera a couple of days before so I took a few pictures of the wreck- 0 1 2 3 4. The distance the car went before stopping was impressive, as was the trail left by the car through the brush- though my pictures don't show that too well.

So after filling out the statement forms the police give you in such situations we're on the road again, and of course a few miles up there are some guys about halfway in between the westbound and eastbound lanes, hood unhinged. Further on some old camper had partially disintegrated (we couldn't figure it out either), the rear upper corner having flown off and leaving glass and bits of wood and probably some odd items that were just lying in the back.

It wasn't particularly wet or icy, but after seeing all that I thought I'd just drive a little slower and not change lanes too often...

Television

Journal: Elegant Universe 2

Journal by lucasw

Couple highlights from the first one and 1/2 episodes (too tired to stay up later...):

Newton's face on a painting turning red in embarassment.

Greene's comment to the effect of 'How much stronger are these three forces than gravity? Billions and billions of times stronger...'. I haven't seen Carl Sagan's Cosmos, but have heard numerous references to the billions and billions line (refering to the number or stars or something). This link says that he never said that line at all, it was in a parody.

User Journal

Journal: After Tet by Ronald H. Spector

Journal by lucasw

I usually don't go out of my way to read books on the Vietnam War, but if there's one that looks interesting at something like a Friends of the Library sale or a dollar or less I'll probably pick it up. From then on, if a book sits on the shelf near eye level long enough, chances are I'll read it.

There's nothing spectacular about After Tet, hundreds or thousands of books have covered similar territory. Probably every so often information is declassified in the U.S. or someone in Vietnam writes their memoirs and they are translated, and this merits a new work that cites these new sources.

After Tet focuses on the year 1968, which saw record numbers of combat losses despite the advent of peace talks and other indications that the war might be gearing down. (Deaths in Vietnam aside, MLK and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated in that year, and then there was all the riots and widespread civil unrest. The commander of Apollo 8, the mission that carried the first astronauts around the moon, received a telegram saying "You saved 1968." soon after returning to Earth. But that's not in this book)

Each chapter focuses on different aspects of the war and overlaps with the others chronologically, but some continuity is preserved over the whole of the book. I really enjoyed the way popular truisms about the war were identified and explored and sometimes debunked but other times simply clarified. For example, from the onset, all sort of U.S. generals and planners would speek of how Vietnam is a 'different kind of war', and then proceeded to do very little to follow up on those statements and with specific policies or programs. This is very interesting, because the most superficial overview of this history says about the same thing and implies that it was a hard-learned lesson: 'if only they had realized that, things would come have come out differently' etc. But they did know, and it didn't matter in the end. Maybe it's the difference between a organization knowing a thing, and that organization merely possessing members (even those in charge) that know that thing.

Some of the text gets a muddled with too many numbers and facts. With a high density of 20,000 this, 4.2% that, such-and-such a company, platoon, or battalion and I can't really follow the thrust of the story or argument anymore, and tune out a little. Fortunately this doesn't happen too often. I like footnotes and end notes and other indications that the author actually worked a little to tell a true story, but there's a line that shouldn't be crossed.

The objectiveness of the author is appealling, as there is no second-guessing that claims that if military tactic x or pacification program y would have had more widespread use, the war would have been 'won' in a timely fashion. Better to say that while better results could have been achieved in some political or military theatre, just presenting all the other additional problems that would remain is enough to show how impossible the situation was.

Next in the queue for Vietnam literature is the David Halberstams's classic "The Best and the Brightest", but before then I've got some lighter weight science fiction and space exploration history (note the Apollo reference above) to read through.

User Journal

Journal: Singularity Sky by Charles Stross

Journal by lucasw

Charlie Stross is another author I discovered by reading a Year's Best Science Fiction collection from a few years back (I should just subscribe to Asimov's or Interzone instead of waiting a year between editions...). There were two excellent stories, A Colder War with its a Lovecraftian alternate history, and another (Antibodies) about minor gods arising from AI and attempting to prevent gods from coming into existence in parallel universes.

Check out Free Speculative Fiction Online for some of his short stories. Some of them are really good, and many others pretty weak.

Considering the strength of the best of his short stories, Singularity Sky is underwhelming. Also, I didn't care much for the tagline 'In the future, information wants to be free'.

The plot concerns the collision between two alien cultures a few centuries after a technological singularity in the 22nd century- typically this is the point where immortality, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology all arrive and wreck havoc on the scarcity based economic systems and everything else. Stross throws in some time travel to complicate the traditional singularity.

There's a lot of interesting material in the book, but most of the characters and the major groups (U.N., New Republic, and Festival) weren't that compelling. Burya and his comrades were more interesting, and fortunately occupy a sizable portion of the book.

(spoilers)

The time travel - casual discussion of closed timelike paths and the prohibitions issued by the Eschaton are very interesting. The flight of the New Republic fleet would have been more cool if there were more explanation- a good analogy at least to show how traveling far into the future and whipping back allows an eventual arrival at a certain point slightly in the past. There was a lot else that seemed arbitrary and underdeveloped.

The Eschaton on the other hand has a lack of information about it's origin and purpose that generates a lot of mystery, and perhaps this is hinting at further novels that will expand upon what little is here.

The picture that emerged for the origin of galactic culture was that the Eschaton seeded the galaxy in a time-reversed light cone using Earth as the starting point- ergo the nearby New Republic having only a few centuries history, and the Festival from far off many thousands of years.

Sci-Fi

Journal: The Stone Canal by Ken Macleod

Journal by lucasw

If I had bothered to look up the facts I would have realized The Cassini Division was the third book in a series and some of my comments about concepts only being sketchily explained were unfounded.

The Stone Canal is the second book in the series, which by random luck of the library reserve system I'm reading in reverse order.

I liked The Stone Canal significantly more than The Cassini Division. The Jon Wilde and Dave Reid characters and their relationship were much more interesting than Ellen May Ngwethu.

The flashback parallel story line was also interesting, starting in England in the mid-seventies and then converging on the main plotline hundreds of years in the future (or tens of thousands in real space...). The British political references were a little overbearing, especially since I lack familiarity with even the more popular parties there.

(spoilers)

Dave Reids speech to the liberated workers had the interesting concept of harnessing the singularity as fire was harnessed- and there's the plotline that runs through all of the books is that of the singularity going pretty poorly the first time off. Superintelligent life not necessarily being super-wise, and going insane or repeatedly lashing out irrationally against conventional humanity is a good sf-generator idea. The fact that it's all the scientists, technicians, geeks, etc. that make up the minds to go post-human and ending up the way they do is a refreshing change from other more unambigously positive depictions in other books and stories.

----------

'The Human Front' is a short story by Ken Macleod I recently got around to reading in last years 'The Years Best Science Fiction'. It seems a little like the Charlie Stross Cold War Cthulhu story initially, except with the U.S. and allies fighting with the help of Roswell-type aliens and Marxist insurgents making a stand not only for their ideology but for all of humanity- but that's only the superficial picture. The alternate history is compelling enough even without the alien intereference. Things turn stranger, but less sinister, with the protagonists internment on an not-quite-alien world, and an meager explanation for the constant war and suffering finally offered up.

Movies

Journal: Bumbershoot 2003 1 Reel Film Festival

Journal by lucasw

Last year I saw a lot more of the short films at Bumbershoot, and probably enjoyed them a lot more. This time around I've become much more familiar with local music and had a lot of music to see. I did see a couple on one day and then most of the 'Best of' shorts.

Ideally, a couple of the films should be so incredible I'd want to go out an try to make something a tenth as good, or simply be filled with awe and want to tell the world how funny, moving, or whatever the film was.

David Russo's Populi did that for me last year. It's like nothing I'd ever seen, and the powerful music (I think it was Mars from The Planets symphony). For part of it, each frame is a picture or a large rock being rolled around a city. Even though the rock is in a different position for each roll, apparently they repainted a picture on it that matches up very well with the previous frames. It's hard to describe, but just looks insane on the big screen. After doing some research, I found it can be seen silently on a screen at the Seahawks stadium, as it was originally commissioned by the city of Seattle.

This year, he did something called "Pan With Us", which used similar animation techniques, but seemed shorter and less ambitious. It was by far the best thing I saw at the festival, regardless.

The Strange Condition of Professor DeGroot was funny and entertaining (and later disturbing), with some interesting and visually appealling and overused focus effects.

The Erlking was another animation, made with sand other sources say. Pretty good.

Some computer generated animation about aliens being threatened by technological superior spaceship had some interesting visuals, but there were very static. The aliens looked like they were designed to be easy to animate- cartoony features and a floating tailing instead of legs.

Another was a pseudo-documentary about a package delivery guy on a motorized scooter.

Most of these were decent, but so lackluster no one would bother watching if they weren't a captive audience in a theater. Even when something is funny, people laugh not because it's really funny but out of relief they aren't seeing another film about sex-slaves from Thailand or war refugees somewhere else or similar.

Sci-Fi

Journal: Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

Journal by lucasw

In the The Years Best Science Fiction 17, there was a story by Alastair Reynolds called Galactic North. Up until that point I had read short stories and no matter how good they were, I never really bothered to follow up and see if the novels from same author were equally readable. After Galactic North, I picked up Revelation Space as soon as I could find it (annoying delays between releases in the UK and US slowing that process down...), and Chasm City soon after.

What's interesting is that the major events of all three of the novels (as well as the upcoming Absolution Gap) barely occupy a couple paragraphs of Galactic North, and pale in significance to the greenfly plague... A few character appear in or are mentioned both in Gal North and Redemption Ark (the conjoiner Rementoire and space pirate Run Seven, respectively).

Redemption Ark is inferior slightly to Chasm City in a few respects, but the treatment of technology and ideas, as well as the space battles, make it highly worthwhile.

I liked the fued between Skade and Clavain, but Antoinette Bax didn't seem that engaging. It's difficult to make anyone a villain, the villains typically have loftier longer term objectives, while the protagonists sometimes sacrifice their people and resources selfishly for others they are personally attached to.

The message Reynolds is trying to make is that at some point every moral choice comes as a conflict between the needs of the present/individual and the future/community- and the closest thing to evil arises from mindless submission to either extreme.

The events pick up a few decades after Chasm City and Revelation Space (which had little overlap, but are tied together here), and hundreds of years after most of the Clavain stories. Mostly it takes place in the Yellowstone system, the Delta Pavonis systems, and the interstellar space lying between. I enjoy tremendously the style of pacing that accounts for relativistic travel- plot lines are intermingled as if they were simultaneous, but really are set up in a way so that the conclusion is synchronised, and the prior events were years or decades apart upon until one set of characters get on an interstellar ship and join the other set.

(spoilers)

One minor disappointment- I would have like to hear about the hell-weapon assault on the Inhibitor device: There's just a throwaway line about the weapons, for all their planet-busting ferocity, having had no effect at all.

The horrors of state-four vacuum are overstated. There are a few other instance like this where Reynolds explains to the reader how horrible something is, and then actually describes it, but the two don't quite match up. I'm reminded of Lovecraft's style, where much of each story is the narrator or characters talking about how (conveniently) undescribable and mind destroying some elder god is, but the payoff where we read a first hand account is something of a let-down. For this vacuum state business, we get someone's life being erased with only others in nearby remembering their existence, and it happens twice almost exactly the same way. There's also reference to whole species being retroactively destroyed, and perhaps are remembered by aliens in neighboring regions of space.

I would have found it more convincing if the state-four vacuum had different effects each time, rather than just the life/species destroying properties. We get one description, and then another on Skade's ship that's exactly the same- couldn't there be something more disturbing (but perhaps similar) caused by alterations to the past? Why does the alteration always involve the death of the experimenters at some point earlier in the past, why not have them having made previous choices differently that don't bring them into contact with the experiment (however more mundane that is, shouldn't it be equally likely?).

I'm not quite sure on the chronology of Rementoire- after he's shot in the assault that kills Run Seven, he later ends up in the mother nest and with Skade etc. and the event of Ark proceed?

Movies

Journal: Star Trek: Nemesis

Journal by lucasw

(spoilers)

There first two thirds of the movie aren't that interesting. The whole movie seems to be incomplete, and pointless. There's a failure to embed itself much at into the TNG context.

From the previews, I believed the Data like robot was Lor (?) from the series. I'm guessing he died at some point, but a mention of his existence (and fate) would have been appropriate.

Where did this Remus planet and the Remans come from? Where they mentioned in episodes, or made up for the movie? I may look it up later, but as I was watching the movie, I was wondering how I could have heard so much about the Romulans and never of their counterparts.

The early scenes with the wedding are annoying, as are any exchange on the Enterprise where the two characters try to say something clever- or an order is given and the other responds 'Yes sir' and grins in a way that suggests they are practically reading minds. Yes, they have all been serving with each other for ever and know each other's mannerisms and have all sorts of inside jokes- it's painfully obvious.

The washed out color regrading on the first planet landed on is very un-Treklike. It's obvious that now this effect has established itself, it will be frequently overused in the same way morphing was or fancy fonts (in the completely different venue of desktop publishing) were when they were novel. Eventually, most films will opt for a more subtle approach (or already are). It's possible the more obvious color grading comes from a luminance mapping approach, rather than remapping all possible r,g,b or luminance, chrominance, etc. combinations.

The end ship battle seemed clunky initially. I would have edited it down to make the initial exchanges happen much more quickly, so it would not appear the Enterprise was surviving much longer than it should be.

(major spoiler)
The Enterprise colliding with the other ship was the moneyshot, and my favorite part of the film. Even if the rest of the movie is throwaway, this sequence is worth it. It's interesting how a relatively lower-budget Trek film does something so visually novel like this, while the Star Wars prequels suffer from a tremendous poverty of imagination.

To critisize Star Wars further, the prequels only offering is to have more, rather than something different that enormously prohibitive or impossible with earlier technology. More lightsabers, spaceships, explosions, and so on, but nothing really new or exciting as far as I'm concerned. More is better, but it shouldn't be all there is.

There's a certain correspondence to other Trek movies - the Enterprise crashing into the ground, and some sort of weapon ripping a hole through the main part of the ship in another. The attention to detail, and the amount of debris on screen is what impresses me most.

We still get plenty of lame explosions that simply engulf the ship in question. There's nothing more boring than an anonymous explosion that relates no information about about the source of the explosion. Better to have the ship get whole sections torn off, leak gas and chunks of debris and crew into space, spin slowly out of control, and die a tortured death than to be erased cleanly and instantaneously.

The slugfest between the ships was impressive, and the gruesome end of the main villain. The fight between Riker and the Reman guy wasn't that engaging.

I was thinking the last scene would be something with all the crew tastefully naked (from a distance, blurred out, or Austin Powers like) on whatever planet they were originally heading towards celebrating the wedding, but thankfully the filmmakers thought better of that.

Books

Journal: Dune: House Corrino by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Journal by lucasw

Review of previous book in series: House Harkonnnen. This is the final book in the first Dune prequel trilogy. There's another trilogy about the Butlerian Jihad still in progress.

Occasionally stirring, frequently cartoonish and not completely integrated with Frank Herbert's books. The main reason to take this series more seriously than fan-fiction would be the semi-apocryphal recovered notes at the authors' disposal. If those notes were to be published it would be interesting to see how much content originated from the late Frank Herbert- but it's likely that they will have to milk as much out of the franchise as possible before that happens.

The climax seems much too climactic given that Dune makes no reference too them- I would have made it more subtle. A huge disaster for the entire Imperium is narrowly averted, but prophesies never warned of it beforehand nor do histories examine it closely after.

The sandworms are said to literally consume spice. My recollection of the lifecycle depicted in the original novels is weak, but this strikes a false note- I thought the worms produced the spice, as waste, and ate small creatures (microbes even) living in the sand similar to whales in oceans.

Later, Tleilaxu eyes are said to be metallic- this one also seems false: the Tleilaxu are profieient at genetic manipulation, not mechanical work.

One scene was unintentionally funny, and involved the annoying superpowers of the Bene Gesserit: Barely two paragraphs after attesting to Bene Gesserit sexual prowess, there is an unrelated mention of a special knot being tied "that no one but a Bene Gesserit could release without a knife." Perhaps the Boy Scouts were rolled into the Bene Gesserit organization in its early stages, and through centuries of censorship and manipulation their legendary knot capabilities were completely eradicated from public knowledge?

(spoiler)
A Tleilaxi researcher finds a women whose biology serves his evil research, but then has difficulty find more like her. Why not clone her?
(/spoiler)

Books

Journal: The Cassini Division by Ken Macleod

Journal by lucasw

I launched into The Cassini Division, never having read the author before (except perhaps from short stories in The Year's Best Science Fiction), and read it through in about three days. I'd heard just enough good things- it's modern space opera with the hard-sf edge, and right on the cover is a blurb from Vernor Vinge.

There's a lot of concepts thrown around without the deeper explanation another author might go for (and the book is also relatively short), mainly dealing with post-humans and singularity. Nanotech I accept as a given, though obviously a newcomer is going to encounter a lot of strange stuff- but that's what sf is all about.

(semi-spoilers)

One interesting concept in the books is that the post-humans aren't very enlightened, just very smart and frequently insane or inimical to lesser intelligences- and therefore pose a danger everyone else. One of Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix stories dealt with humans modded for high iq but without fail all going crazy. The virus onslaught that keeps inhabitants of the solar system from using electrical computers has echoes in Chasm City (though there, all nanotech is affected), and the human assimilation stuff is similar to A Fire Upon The Deep. And of course the human visual meme-virus: Snow Crash.

It's not that it's all derivative material (though some of it is)- Macleod approaches it in a unique and exciting way.

I didn't find the 'True Knowledge' info-dump convincing. Maybe a longer novel could have had more compelling material in the story that would support the explanation later on, but it didn't work here. Monolithic belief systems don't really cut it anyhow, perhaps it could be said that everyone interprets the True Knowledge differently, sometimes radically so.

I think my main impression is that as good as the book is, it's not as satisfying as it could be.

The post-capitalist obscenities were amusing ('shop-off' and references to deviant acts of employer-employee role-playing...).

I've got some of Macleod's earlier novels on hold at the library- I'll probably burn through most of his stuff over the next few weeks. I've got a habit of rapidly exhausting an author's work, but not remembering to pick up new books as I've already moved on to someone else.

Science

Journal: The Demon Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark

Journal by lucasw

Contact aside, The Demon Haunted World is probably the best Carl Sagan book I've yet read. Of course, I've only read Contact. And something from way back called The Dragon of Eden.

At first, the focus on alien abduction and related phenomena was annoying- stuff for crazies and children. But the more Sagan delves, in, the more fascinating it becomes for all the connections he draws to the equivalent of alien abductions from other eras or belief systems.

There's a disturbing discussion of succubi/incubi where a the results of an investigation of a series of incidents at a church (several hundred years ago) is related: The demon who came during the night to violate numerous nuns was also particularly devious in that it chose to disguise itself as the head priest.

The bottom line explanation for pretty much everything inexplicable? People see, hear, and experience all kinds of wierd stuff that never really happened. Memories corrupt easily. Coincidences are over-emphasized, and so on.

President Ronald Reagan, who spent World War II in Hollywood, vividly described his own role in liberating Nazi concentration camp victims. Living in the film world, he apparently confuse a movie he had seen with a reality he had not. On many occasions in his Presidential campaings, Mr. Reagan told an epic story of World War II courage and scrifice, an inspiration for all of us. Only it never happened; it was the plot of the movie A Wing and a Prayer.

(page 314)

Science Fiction

Some interesting science fiction plot generators are thrown out (though probably used many times since alien-abduction type aliens have been well covered in popular media). Sagan asks, what kind of proof would it take for the abduction and related stories to actually be convincing? What kind of proof would we have acquired by now if any of the stories were true? As already established, the impassioned belief of any number of people is not sufficient for the first (and wouldn't make for a very interesting story).

Non-technological Science

The book does not bog itself down with the one set of human deficiencies for too long- there's a particulary interesting passage on the science of primitive cultures. Here, Sagan goes to lengths to show that for practical matters humans have been capable of gleaning truth about the world for a very long time, if only recently methods and technologies were around to vastly accelerate the process.

The !Kung San people from Africa and their almost superhuman tracking capabilities are described: one could recognize another from the same village by their footprints in the sand. If a society places a high value on a certain capability for a very long time, it's members start to become extremely proficient if by nothing else than trial-and-error and of course the passage of all successful techniques to their off-spring.

Witchcraft & The Inquisition

There's a lot of treatment of the Inquisition, and it seems like a fascinating piece of history to read further up on. It seems like an enormous oversight on my part to not know more about it...

The extraorinarily poor methods of that made up the inquisitorial justice system are examined closely, and connections to McCarthy/HCUA hearings pointed out (as they were implicity in 'The Crucible', written during the same era). The exact same damned-if-do-damned-if-you-don't illogic prevails in both places, though it should be noted that by the 1950's grisly repeated torture was not an approved method of interrogation.

Probably if I had stayed in the 'advance' track in high-school I would have been introduced to some of this by now and not think it interesting, as the public school systems has a way of pretty much anything it touches boring and mundane...

Physician: One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well. -- Ambrose Bierce

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