Dec 312015
  December 31, 2015

So, I just wrote an obnoxiously long FB post, in response to someone who supports the Pups. And as it occurs to me she might not want to answer, and it was obnoxiously long, I figured I’d post it here. And yes, it is on a topic I cover in greater depth in Welcome to the Doomsphere: Sad Puppies, Hugos, and Politics. The topic at this point was, according to the other person in the discussion, that Brad was a nice, reasonable guy when it started, and he only went off the rails later when he got a lot of flak. But that at first, he was trying to do a good thing. I disagreed:

I don’t feel much sympathy for Brad–he picked a fight. I agree he changed over time. He ended up with that stuff about SJWs taking him away to gulags in the night, which was a far flight from where he started. But you speak as if he started nicely, and that anger changed him. He picked a fight in his very first post (before he’d gotten any grief). He was not just talking about getting good stories awards. He started–very first post–attacking those he didn’t like.

A good place to look is Ken Burnside’s long post Hugo essay over on Mad Genius Club, because he is a Pup to the hilt (Pup nominee for related work), supporting a ton of things I don’t. But he points out that everything was doomed to trouble and fights from moment one, by Brad, that half of that very first Puppy post was about stories, and half was “Let’s turn this into a culture-war front.” Brad picked a fight where there wasn’t one, and then got upset that the fight he started was a fight. He started Sad Puppies 3 with an insult and a statement that it was as important to hurt others as get the stories he liked nominated (which was also Larry’s line–his was to “explode the heads of the literati”). Brad didn’t start with an innocent post, he start, knowingly as he later admitted, a fight.

It was also in that very first post that he started with his “affirmative action” line. He said later, in a defense against the Sad Puppies just being a bunch of people complaining that their favorites didn’t win (which is true of pretty much everyone) that the affirmative action bit is the heart of the Pups. And here is the point every Pup has to answer: That’s the heart, to stop people getting nominated just due to who they are, due to their gender and race. And the question is: which people? I went back, for 8 years prior to the 2 main Pup years; in that time 87 people have been nominated for a literary Hugo (some mutliple times–Resnick does well). 87 people. Of those, only 7 are not White.

So first, us SJWs are terrible at affirmative action only getting 7 in. Wow, those are terrible numbers. Now this whole race thing was brought up by Brad and the Puppies (I had no idea the racial makeup before–even though as an SJW, I was responsible for it somehow).

So, Brad looked at 7, mostly Asian people in a group of 87, and came to the conclusion that those 7 just didn’t belong and could only have gotten there by affirmative action. There is no way that Brad, or the Pups, can come out of that looking good. Either he is mindboggling stupid (perhaps he heard someone on the Internet who said they vote by race and he was so very dim that he took that to mean something), or he’s a special type of unpleasantly stupid, or he’s coniving. There is no, “Gosh, he’s a good guy” option with that. 7 of 87.

And that’s the thing, if you are going to defend the Pups, you have to find some way around that 7 of 87 issue. (And no, he didn’t mean it isn’t a way around because he repeated that he did mean it, and was backed up by many Pups. And no, he didn’t intend to discriminate against other races isn’t a way around either–because he did discriminate.) So, if you are saying the Pups are really OK, and that Brad was nice before the kickback begun, there has to be an out for that 7 of 87, and I sure can’t see one.

The gender side of things doesn’t help either (the numbers are way off there as well), but looking at the 7 or 87–that must be too many for the Pups to be other than the bad guys is all this–will do nicely. Before this, race never came up in my look at the Hugos. Nor did it for most people I know. But Brad and the Pups are obsessed with it somehow keeping them down. So, how do you defend the 7 of 87? Without a defense of that, there is no defense of the Pups.

Dec 262015
  December 26, 2015

This has been a year of subpar to horrible things. Not in any enormous, epic, or catastrophic way, but in a more sleazy and pathetic sense. My thoughts are mainly on art, but it’s seeped into other things here and there. Our politics has been embarrassing. Watch one Republican debate and you want to hide away your citizenship. Of course Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, has not been displaying the best of humankind either. Poland and Hungry are making it clear that they can trump our slimiest worldview. Yes, that was a pun. Then there is our cultural reaction to Syrian refuges; it’s been immoral and wretched. The cowardice on display, there, and across the nation in so many ways, has been top notch. But I mean to talk about art.

Literature is harder to judge. There’s so much and a real understanding of what this year has brought won’t be available for decades. But in my little corner of the world, there’s been the Puppies, who not only wrote and promoted some dreadful stories, but then fought to reward them, grinding up the SF literary world for the year. It’s been a lowly place to be.

My area is film, and film has been sad. There has not been a single great film this year—not one I’ve seen anyway, and I’ve seen a good many. Maybe one hidden away, far from science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but I’m not holding my breath. No great advancements. No breathtaking ideas. Nothing deep and meaningful.

What about fun? How about fun films? Even those have been shadows of their former selves. After years of anticipation we got the new Star Wars picture, and it was…OK. Basically a remake, with all the same beats we’ve seen before. It wasn’t horrible, but it was far from great. And Marvel slipped as well. Ant-Man and The Avengers 2 were both fine, but will not be remembered, and worse, they displayed the cracks in the MCU and those are only going to grow. Cinema this year has been all emptiness. Artistically vacant via corporate mega-blockbuster-construction. You could wipe out the year in film and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

Television? It too has been a wasteland. But OK, television has usually been a wasteland. But it is certainly back in wasteland form. A good example for me has been Doctor Who. For a few years, it was kinda brilliant. Emotional. Fun. Meaningful now and again. But Not this year. And not last year. It’s been pretty sludgy.  Sure, it’s had a few moments, but none that couldn’t be lost without concern.

And then there was tonight. And tonight messed everything up.

You see, all that garbage, and all that mediocrity—it’s been my friend. TV not worth turning on? Great. Movies easy to forget? Excellent. The Puppies? People don’t get that about me and the Sad/Rabid Puppies. I love those guy. They’ve been marvelous. They mutilated the little corner of an art form I value, and I can’t thank them enough.

As for politics and human nature, I’ve seen so much that’s abhorrent and it’s been a real dream for me. All those things, not worth seeing. All those things, better not seen.

And I’ve appreciated that.

Because Eugie can’t see them. She’s missing them all. I’ve watched the movies, the TV shows, heard new music, and known how Eugie would have reacted. How she’d have rolled her eyes at Death Star 3. How she’d have shook her head at the great fight to hold up buildings and said we should stay home and skip Bond. How she’d have turned away from the new Doctor and checked Facebook, which is only Facebook, so not a big deal. How she’d have tossed the crap Puppy books across the room. How she’d have said those stories, those movies, and the world, needs an editor, and she’d have been right.

I’ve gotten by seeing things I knew she wouldn’t have liked, would have been happier not to see. The garbage in art, in politics, in the souls of men, has been a gift to me.

And then someone had to do something right.

I watched the Christmas ep of Doctor Who tonight. And it was funny. And it was clever. And it was well paced. And it was meaningful. And it was fun. And I knew she’d have loved it. She’s have giggled and nodded. She’d have commented on how they understood happily ever after.

And it is terrible. I hate it. I hate that finally there is something that she would unequivocally loved, and she will never have the chance. She would have smiled, which is the point to their being good things in the universe, and now she will never smile which makes it pointless. It makes me curse that the world didn’t burn, that it insists on still turning.

The meaning of the show works so well when you are living the happily ever after. Not so afterwards. When she was dying, that would have been the time. It would have reverberated then. Not, I suppose, that we needed it. She shone so brightly then. We both understood how the universe works. But still, it would have been nice.

Now, that meaning is past tense. Goodness is pain. I have faith that mediocrity will take hold quite quickly, and walk arm in arm with stupidity and ugliness. I look forward to it, and I’m sure if I were to look even now I’d find it. But it will take some time till I can do that. The wounds never heal, but they usually are not ripped wider. So I await equilibrium, and the return of the intellectual, artistic, and spiritual penumbra. I don’t think I’ll have to wait long. That’s not good for most of you, but it is for me. Good has always been subjective anway.

Dec 232015
  December 23, 2015

Following up on my 7 worst post, it’s time for the best 8 SF films of 2015. And again, I’m doing less than 10 because the year isn’t quite over yet. I’ll fill in those last 2 slots if anything deserving pops up. Here’s the best 2015 had to offer, starting with:

 

#8 Terminator Genisys

In the future, just after John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to save his mother, Doctor Who infectsfuture humanity with Skynet. Reese appears in a past that has changed from the first two Terminator movies. Sarah Connor has a protector Terminator and is already a kick-ass fighter. They have to take out a few cyborgs and stop the creation of skynet.

That this showed up on my Top list for the year does not say good things about the SF films of 2015. Well, it was better than the previous Terminator film. If you were of the opinion they should have stopped after two, this movie isn’t going to change that. Emilia Clarke is a fine replacement as Sarah Connor, though Jai Courtney fails as the rebooted Kyle Reese. Things blow up, terminators get crushed and I didn’t care. It’s fun in a way that Terminator 4 was not, but also forgettable. I enjoyed it while watching, but can’t think of any reason to see it again.

 

#7 Jurassic World

They’ve rebuilt Jurassic Park and to keep attendance high, they’ve genetically designed a super dinosaur. A generically evil military guy is drooling over the raptors as a new weapon, because, wow, is he stupid. Some kids get lost, the big dino escapes, the nasty corporate lady must become good, and Chris Pratt, the raptor whisperer, saves a few folks.

My list continues with another film that wasn’t all that great. Jurassic World is stupid on an epic scale. Not a single decision made by a character makes sense. Everyone is an idiot. Luckily the film isn’t based on sense. In a movie like Ex Machina, that needs to be smart, being stupid, which it is, is fatal. For Jurassic World, it weakens the film, but it still gets by as dino porn. It has big monsters and they eat people. Then people run around, and then there’s some more people-eating. As a reboot/retread, I’ve seen worse.

 

#6 Mad Max: Fury Road

Furiosa leads an escape of the sex-slaves of an insane warlord in an apocalyptic, sandy future. Her escape is simply a very long car chase one way, and then back again. End of film. Oh, and there’s a guy named Max there for no reason.

I enjoyed the vehicular combat in The Road Warrior and Thunderdome, so I was going to enjoy this. I didn’t really need those chases extended till they became the entire movie. There is no plot here. None. There’s some dialog, but Max is not a big talker. Fury Road functions purely on punk outfits, people acting insane, and quick moving cars. The world is nonsensical (how is the water hoarded, and is that really a good way to distribute it?), so best to enjoy it for the look and leave your brain off. Tom Hardy does nothing with Max, but Charlize Theron is excellent, as is usually the case with her.

 

#5 Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Luke Skywalker finds a droid with an important message inside. After a slaughter that upsets him, he boards the Millennium Falcon with a team that includes a rogue, an elderly mentor, and a Wookie. Luke gains insight from a small, wise creature and begins his journey to become a Jedi Knight. They are hunted by a masked, evil Sith Lord with a strange personal connection to the team and a fascist army of stormtroopers. Somehow, they must destroy the Death Star before it blows up the planets of the Republic.

Now, change “Luke” to “Rey,” change the masculine pronouns to feminine, and rename the Death Star.

Star Wars 7 is a construction more than a film, made up of pieces from the other six films (mainly the original three). It’s all homage and repeats. It’s well done, though lacking in WOW moments. The actors do better than under Lucas’s care, and so do the characters. It supplies exactly what the audience asked for. I don’t believe art involves supplying just what an audience asks for. That’s the job of hucksters and conmen. This is the finest movie you are likely to see that demonstrates the emptiness of the blockbuster business. It’s fun, hollow, corporate fun. It would have never created a legend, but it can live off of one.

 

#4 Ant-Man

Super scientist and ex-Ant-Man, Hank Pym, recruits cat burglar Scott Lang to become the new Ant-Man in order to stop yet another scientist/industrialist from selling shrinking tech to terrorists. And Hank’s daughter, Hope van Dyne, she…she…um…well, she’s there too.

The action is a lot of fun, and they manage to make shrinking and ant-friendship into powers you can take seriously. The same can’t be said for everyone’s plans. Pym’s initial trick to pick up Lang is just silly. The evil guy’s plot to sell shrinking suits (instead of the really useful shrinking gun) to terrorists is stupid, but the ringer is the ridiculous and completely unnecessary plan by our heroes. Pym could have driven by and tossed a shrink bomb out of his car window—done. Stupid plans are part of the MCU, but this film dwells on them. In other films, the eye-rolling plans are hidden with action or by our hero not knowing what’s going on, but Ant-Man is all about the plan.

Then there is the whole problem with The Wasp. If you don’t think you can sell a female-led superhero film, then don’t make it so obvious this should have been one.

(Full review)

 

#3 The Martian

Assumed dead, an astronaut is left behind on Mars when his crewmates make an emergency launch. He attempts to survive as NASA works on a way to rescue him.

As this is a slow, survival film that could be about a guy on a lost island, it should be dull. Why isn’t it? Sharp dialog. Multifaceted Characters. Real emotion, The Martian is way better than it has any right to be. In a year of films where I just didn’t care, I cared. Story-wise, it isn’t much. But then it is never about story, but how you tell it. They told it well.

 

#2 Avengers: Age of Ultron

Tony Stark’s need to find a way to defend the Earth leads to the creation of Ultron, an artificial intelligence more attuned to destroying the planet. The entire Avengers team, along with a few newcomers and SHIELD agents are needed to stop this threat.

Joss Whedon works his ensemble magic again, crafting an extravaganza that’s really a character piece. Each line counts and each character has his moment.

Sure, this second Avengers outing doesn’t rival the first, but then that’s a high bar. The action is a bit much (quite a bit—I’d have exchanged fifteen minutes of crowd saving and building breaking for a couple more group discussions) and a few of the characters are slipping into their clichés (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, I’m looking at you). No problem. There’s lots of heart, lots of wit, and fabulous new characters to take up the slack. Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are exactly what the franchise needed, and I’d be content with an entirely new Avengers team as long as several of these new characters are a part of it.

 

#1 Nothing

Even grading on a curve, nothing this year deserves to be called “The Best.” My top film of the year is 3rd on my ratings of the twelve MCU movies. My 4th is 12th on that same MCU list. My 5th ranks 4th among Star Wars films, and 7th in terms of the most interesting of that series.  All of the films on my best list are part of a series except The Martian, and none of them are the top of their series. That’s pathetic. Only The Martian isn’t at least slightly embarrassing. There’s been rough years before, but I can’t think of any significantly below this one. Perhaps what is worse than the failures is the lack of imagination. Sequel after sequel and nothing new or fresh or interesting in even one of them. What wasn’t just more of the same due to being part of a series was more of the same due to copying what had been done in unrelated films. Movies below my top 10, like Vice, Infini, and Pixels (those last two on my worst list) are part of that second group. Gee, I wonder if the filmmakers of Vice, a film about a luxury resort where you can play out your fantasies with robots until a robot becomes self-motivated, ever saw Westworld? At least Jupiter Ascending failed relatively on its own—though it did fail. Ex Machina wasn’t part of a series and didn’t steal directly from another film, which sadly is a big deal this year. Too bad it went over well-tread AI tropes, and functioned by having incredibly stupid characters doing incredibly stupid things (key cards? No weapons? Girls being so mysterious?). Not a good year. So, unless I uncover some hidden SF gem, this year goes without a #1.

Dec 222015
  December 22, 2015

It’s that time of year again to choose the best, and the worst of the year. I’m starting with the worst. Why 7? Because the year isn’t over yet, and there are a few films I haven’t seen yet (though I doubt The Hunger Games 4 will make either my top or bottom list if the past episodes are anything to go by). I’m using “science fiction” in a very broad sense. If the film pretends to be SF, it is. I’d planned to make a “genre” list as I have in the past, but there’s a good number of fantasy films I haven’t seen yet, and the ones I have didn’t make either my top or bottom list. Fantasy is very middle of the road this year. So, counting down the worst of the worst, starting with #7:

 

#7 Self/less

A stereotypically nasty businessman is given a chance to extend his life by transferring his consciousness to a lab grown body. When he discovers the body wasn’t grown, but has a past which includes a wife and child, he becomes guilty, and the secret company decides he needs to die.

This action film, that could have been rewritten without the science fiction elements, plays like a first draft spec script. Guns get fired. Cars crash. It’s not horrible. It is simply completely forgettable. Nothing about this film will be remembered in a year. It isn’t worth the effort to avoid. Ben Kingsley, who’s demonstrated he’ll be in anything if paid is again there for the paycheck, while Ryan Reynalds demonstrates, again, that he ought to be good in genre films, but somehow isn’t.

 

 #6 Tomorrowland

A teen genius, a robot girl, and a cynical ex-inventor travel to a parallel universe to save ours.

A corporate created kids’ film that should have been a family film, Tomorrowland has some interesting ideas but they were wasted. The main character is irrelevant. The movie could have been about the robot and older man, but then it should have been rewritten before even getting to that point. This is a movie that needed magic and adventure and it came up empty. Miscasting of Clooney didn’t help matters.

 

 #5 Jupiter Ascending

A maid learns she’s the genetic duplicate of the dead matriarch of a powerful galactic family (sure…) that owns the Earth. Their wealth is build on harvesting humans for a youth tonic and every member has a scheme for using the maid. But she has a protector in the form of a wingless, man-wolf, soldier, hoverboard pro (OK…). Do man-wolfs usually have wings? Seems so.

How far the The Wachowskis have fallen: Channing Tatum in wolf ears on a hover board; Mila Kunis spending two hours playing damsel in distress and being more worried about her outfit than the fate of the world; Eddit Redmayne overacting such that any proper society would repossess his Academy Award. Don’t worry about the story; they didn’t. It’s very pretty. The pretty doesn’t make up for the poor acting, nonsensical plot, or annoying characters, but its enough to put it a few notches away from worst of the year.

 

 #4 Infini

A rescue team teleports to a deep space outpost to stop a deadly cargo aimed at Earth and to rescue the lone survivor. They just have to avoid dying from the cold and from whatever pathogen drove the last rescue team insane.

Remember Event Horizon? Remember how it was pretty good, but copied too much from Alien? If not, watch Event Horizon. Or better, watch Alien. Infini is what you get if you set out to make a copy of a copy, and run out of script and money halfway through. It looks good, and the acting is passable, but all we end up with is crazy people who like to talk and walk down mysterious corridors. It had potential, and I still had hope—though fading hope—an hour in, and then they just give up. Suspense, mystery, and action fades away, replaced by crazy people chatting. I doubt if you could save this, but cutting twenty minutes would be a step in the right direction.

 

 #3 Insurgent

In an post-apocalyptic dystopian city, citizens are split into five rigid sects. A divergent girl (doesn’t fit into a single group) and her combat-trainer boyfriend are on the run after the first film. The evil, nasty, bad, naughty smart people want to capture her for a secret weapon.

Insurgent, the sequel to the cliché-ridden, anti-intellectual, but well-structured young adult film, Divergent, drops the “well-structured” part, and gives us dreams and tantrums. Lots of dreams. If you like your films filled with events that turn out neither to be real nor matter, this is the film for you. There’s ten minutes of story, pointless grousing, and dreams. If you’ve seen the first film, and want to see the upcoming third one, have someone spend a few minutes explaining the very little you need to know from this one. Then go watch something else.

 

#2 Fantastic Four

A soft spoken young genius with no charisma is brought onto a dimension jumping project. He, Doctor Doom, his abused buddy, and the son of the project leader experiment with…  Wait. Isn’t Sue Storm one of the fantastic four? But she isn’t part of the 4 that try out the experiment? Huh. OK. So, the experiment goes wrong and gives them super powers, which they don’t do much with.

On the bright side, the pre-release word on this film was so bad that I was not disappointed. It’s as bad as you’ve heard, but no worse. The characters have no chemistry, no interesting dialog, and I wouldn’t have cared if that experiment had killed them all. The superhero part of the film doesn’t start for an hour and doesn’t go anywhere. And to strip away an possible enjoyment, the movie is tinted an ugly green.  The best thing I can say about this film is that the actors would be good…in something else.

 

#1 Pixels

Aliens attack using weapons that look and act like old arcade games. Adam Sandler, playing the same guy he always does, must save the day with his old time video game skills, because that isn’t stupid in any way.

Could a good movie have made from this premise? No, but a better one. If they’d let the not-very-funny moments come from the weak story, it could have been watchable. Instead it’s filled with horrible jokes that could have been extracted from ten other Adam Sandler films. Sandler spits out his low level quips, and they are never funny and usually unpleasant. When Kevin James is the sophisticated one in your film, you’re in trouble. Peter Dinklage deserves better, although you’d never know from his performance.

 

Dec 182015
  December 18, 2015

Hey, remember that whole Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies/Hugo thing? Well, I wrote a book about. Why? Because a battle about books needs a book. Blogs are fine. Everyone likes blogs. But a blog isn’t a book. And since all the real writers were writing their short stories and novels, I stepped in.

So, Puppies, Hugos, and doom–lots of doom.