Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

From the problems I wouldn't mind having department tries to inspire our pity with an article about fantasy and scifi authors whose fans are bothering them for their next book.

Umm, yeah guys, let me get out the world's smallest violin. But, honestly, forget about those of us who haven't even be able to sell our first book; maybe you'd all like to trade places with all those talented authors whose first books didn't sell well enough for their publisher to pick up their second.

I mean, congratulations to all of you successful authors out there. But why don't you take a moment to be thankful for your good fortune instead of bitching about it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dollhouse at #1 on iTunes!

As I suspected, Dollhouse's lower-than-expected ratings did not represent the whole picture of the show's popularity and profitability. Dollhouse has now crept to #1 in iTunes sales.

There are different possible explanations for this. One is the Whedonite masses rushing to rescue their messiah. But that doesn't really make much sense; why not just watch the show on TV in the first place?

The explanation that makes sense to me is that Whedon appeals to a kind of audience that TV networks haven't figured into their equations yet: people that are tech-savvy enough to watch a show on their own time rather than whenever the network decides to schedule it. Especially if they schedule it on Friday night, when people have better things to be doing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Coraline: really good, really scary.

Update below

I've been dying to take Jeff to see Coraline, but I was a bit worried he'd have bad dreams. Now that we've seen it, I'm worried I might.

Visually it's stunning. I saw it in 3D and was worried it'd be gimmicky. But we're well past the old scary-hand-sticking out the screen phase. The animation is every bit as good as Wall-E, maybe better.

The only thing I worry about is that the movie might be too scary for its intended audience. Like Murasaki's Spirited Away, Gaiman's original story plucks at some really primal childhood fears: abandonment, betrayal, dark passages and of course getting eaten by really nasty monsters. And the Other Mother is easily the scariest monster anyone's come up with in the last few decades.

The one thing that keeps the movie from being too scary for any young child is the plucky courage of the heroine. When Coraline cranks up her mouth and puts down one eyebrow you believe she is a match for The Beldame. Still, if you know any children that are faint of heart you might want to view it on your own first. Unless you're faint of heart yourself.

As I feared, Jeff had trouble getting to sleep. If his grandma hadn't happened to be in town & sleeping in his room he probably would have had to sleep with us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

TSCC & DH ratings really accurate?

Crap. Just after I enjoyed a download of a great new TV show and the next issue of another one, I read all these articles about how they're probably going to get canceled anyway 'cause the ratings suck.

I am not an expert on these sort of things, but I can't help but wonder if these numbers are really accurate. Like a lot of people I know, I downloaded the shows - legally, I might add. I paid two bucks each for them on Amazon.

So, okay, I guess a lot of people also get the show illegally on BitTorrent, and that doesn't do Fox any good. But shouldn't the cost-benefit evaluation of a show reflect people like me who don't have cable but buy the shows the day or the weekend after? This would seem especially to be the case with a Friday-night show; it's not like Everybody Loves the King of How I Met Your Mother or whatever where people with nothing better to do on a Tuesday night veg with a microwave dinner in front of the tube.

Mostly I'm just saying this because I don't want the only two TV shows I watch canceled. But I think it's a valid point, too. Sooner or later the old methods of evaluating the success of a TV show is going to have to change.

Dollhouse & Sarah Connor: the human soul on tv

The theme of Fox's new Friday night scifi is the nature of what it means to be a human being. The principle it's based on is the ancient concept of dualism -- one I consider false but defensible.

Echo's personality has been surgically removed so she can have new ones implanted. This is meant to be a showcase for Eliza Dushku's talent, which it isn't quite yet, though she's a satisfactory actress. This is partly because the 'blank slate' of Echo is still too mich of a cypher. Moreso it's because she was given physical crutches to show the character she plays, in the form of glasses &an inhaler.

Cromartie, of course, started out without a personality, unless you count being a soulless killing machine. Now he's developing one, into which Agent Ellison is attempting, perhaps without hope, to imbue some sort of morality, or as he called it the "First Ten" directives. In both shows the body is the vehicle for th 'I'. Echo's body is used to deal with the conflicts of an ensemble of characters, while Chromatie and Cameron's chassis are simply platforms for the chip that contains whatever a Terminator has in place of a soul.

It's hard for us to see it any other way. Early references to mind/body dualism was recently found in Mesopotamia dating from 1000 BC or so, but doubtless it's a lot older than that. This is in spite of the fact that a mind without its body has never been observed, while a brain-bearing body without a mind can live, but not to any particular effect.

Those of you paying attention have noticed that I've lazily been making no distinction between concepts like 'mind,' 'soul,' 'personality' and the universal human concept of the 'I'. That's not because I am not sure those can be as easily separated as most people think, though I'm pretty sure they can't, like the different words blindfolded men use to describe an elephant. More important is that television lacks any method to distinguish how a person acts from who he or she is, and few enough even to distinguish that from how he or she looks. When Echo comes out of the 'treatment' chair and we need a key that she's still the hostage negotiator, the first thing she says is "where are my glasses?" Meanwhile, Chromartie's body could have been reconstructed into anything (why don't they make Terminators look like innocent little kids, helpless old ladies or poodles?) But of course it was given the same stolen B-movie actor's face that belongs to the real-life TV actor Garret Dillahunt. This is partially because there's no reason to replace an actor who's a pretty good killer robot, but more importantly because we wouldn't recognize him otherwise as Chromartie.

Though none of these themes are new to sci-fi, the popularity of these shows will give us qa hint whether the future of the genre will be, as I suspect, a deeper exploration into the interior questions of the nature of the 'I.' A confluence of new understandings of the nature of the brain, continued advances in AI tech an increasing awareness of the limits of of where we can explore physically (Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids) is going to increase our interest in where we can go in the human head.

Hopefully we will not be so enthralled as Topher Brink, played by Fran Kranz, the real show-stealer of the first episode. Brink is the joyfully amoral super-geek, so enthralled by what his tech can do he's pulled completely beyond any sense of right &wrong. It was people like him, I'm sure, who created the hydrogen bomb. Dollhouse confronts us with the thought of what such a person might make of the potentially deadliest weapom of all: the human mind.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

One step ahead of Cory?!?

Cory Doctorow has had a Twitter identity for some time, but there was no picture or any tweets.

Recently, however, CD has begun emitting a typically prolific flood of posts, accompanied by a new pic (and all well worth reading, I should add). I swear the guy lives like 5 seconds for every 1 the rest of us experience.

The quantity is no surprise to anyone who's ever met Cory. But what's freaking me out is the possibility, however small, that _I was doing something on the 'Net before CD was._

I must be missing something here. Probably he had some other Twitter ID I didn't know about before this one.

Still, freaky.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009


I just saw 'Inkheart' with Jeff & decided to post on it, since it's so rare I see something new (it was released yesterday). (Mild spoiler alerts follow, but nothing you wouldn't get out of seeing the previews.)

The premise of the movie is essentially the same as the far stupider looking 'Bedtime Storeies' starring Adam Sandler. Mo (Brendan Fraser) reads books and brings characters to life in them. And for every character he brings out, he sends one from this world into the book.

But the theme is fed to us in a far more sophisticated way, opening with a series of events that are as mysterious to us as they are to Mo's daughter, Resa (Eliza Benett). Mo's powers are already well known to him, and his use of them has broken his family; reuniting it is the main arc of the movie. Fraser is his usual self, doing about as much as the role needs. He's sort of a bulldozer of an actor who just charges through his role until it's finished. A bit like Harrison Ford minus the hint of irony.

What makes the movie is the play on the idea of how an author interacts with his or her work, and how the work interacts with the world. Fenoglio, the author, can't get over his fascination with seeing his own characters brought to life, even when they're about to kill him. My favorite lines:

Mo (speaking to Dustfingers, a character summoned from the Inkheart book): "You selfish, cowardly man!"
Dustfingers (pointing to Fenoglio): "Blame him, he wrote me that way!"

I don't know if this is a movie for everyone. But if you love to read fantastic novels (especially if you write them), it's highly recommended.

Note to parents only: It was almost too scary for Jeff in a few places (he's 6), but he never asked me to cover his eyes. I would rate it on the same scariness level as 'The Princess Bride,' if that helps.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fictional blogs?

I've been thinking about why I update the blog so little, and I think I've figured it out.

There are only a few things blogs have tended to be good at. One is the 'my cat puked on the bed' sort of blog, which some people use to keep those around them up to date with their lives. But Facebook & Twitter are proving better at that kind of thing with their forced brevity.

The other thing a blog is good at is giving new facts & original opinions on very recent events, like this morning's news or last night's baseball game or Dexter episode.

But to do this well you need to be a serious & up-to-date wonk on some very specific topic, and ready to post at a moment's notice. Otherwise you are not likely to have anything very original to say.

I'm probably not going to give up my blog. I expect to watch 'Dollhouse' & 'Sarah Connor' when they start, & the Friday night timeslot gives me the perfect opportunity to write about them.

What I am more interested in, though, is doing a new kind of blog that is, if probably not completely original, something I've never seen: the blog as fiction.

Let me first make it clear what I don't intend to do: I am not going to break down a whole novel into little-bitty parts & post one a day. Nor would it be a bunch of separate short-shorts with completed story arcs.

Instead it would be a blog written as a blog by a fictional character about fictional events. It would be posted the day it was written, with only a brief edit if at all. Whatever went up would stay up, so my ongoing storyline would be restricted by what I'd done. There wouldn't be an outline, just a planned arc in my head. Posts would be 250-750 words, and interesting enough to read on their own but also part of a larger story.

It would be a bit like some of the twitter-fiction I've seen, but with a bit more room to develop a story line.

It would be a bit like a TV show but maybe even more like a narrative comic strip like Doonesbury. Not literally (xkcd has that market sewn up) but in the sense of a developing storyline.

Open to suggestions if anyone has ideas, or knows of someone else who's doing this.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

House Arrest

We returned to NYC only to become imprisoned in our own house when the deadbolt broke. We had to call the cops & were up 'til 3am. Now I have to spend all day fixing my door.

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