Derik Badman's Journal

Content Tagged "Sci-Fi/Fantasy"

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2020-01-11 09:04

Still working my way through The Witcher season 1, 6 episodes in now. I'm noticing more and more how the show writers are altering the original story plots. Some of the changes are clearly to allow for the overlapping of timelines (so they don't have to wait until season 2 to show Ciri as anything but a little girl) and to fill in backstory (most of the Yennifer content so far). Other changes seem to be more about ramping up drama. And some, I'm not totally clear on their purpose or what they add to anything in comparison to the originals. The characters like to talk about destiny a lot, which is overdone, it almost makes the case for the opposite. If someone keeps urging you onto follow your destiny and do this and that, then it feels less like destiny and more like manipulation and choices. One of the major points in the early stories, when Geralt first meets Ciri as a child is that he isn't looking for her and, as I recall, doesn't even know who she is when he first meets her.

They also seem to be adding some kind of religious aspect to the Nilfgaardians, which I don't at all recall from the stories. I feel like that tempers the work some. Instead of just an invading nation of people, they are... religious fanatics or something? That seems more conventionally fantasy than just having all the war and death and chaos caused by an invading, expansionist kingdom.

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2020-01-09 08:16

Still enjoying the Witcher the way they are manipulating some of the timelines and plot threads of the stories allows for a wonderful mix of surprise at new scenes and new uses of characters but also delighted seeing familiar scenes played out on the screen.

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2020-01-07 08:32

We watched 2 episodes of His Darkest Materials on HBO last night. I've never read the books (I associated them, perhaps unfairly, with Harry Potter, which I have also avoided), so it is all new to me. I'm enjoying it so far, though it is not... amazing. The protagonist, Lyra, is engaging and the actor is doing good work. Ruth Wilson is awesome as a character who so far I do not have a handle on, but is clearly struggling internally with something (it's to Wilson's skill I think how much this is evident in her expressions and actions without her having to explicitly say anything). The effects of the characters' daemons (some kind of animal representation of one's soul?) is well done too and looks pretty seamless.

Where the show falls down a bit is the context of the fantasy world. At one point Lyra opens the door of her new keeper's (Ruth Wilson's Mrs. Coulter) private office and sees her monkey daemon in there. Lyra looks shocked and afraid, though it is not clear why. She turns and Coulter turns around the corner down a long hallway. It is only in their following conversation that we learn the daemons are not supposed to be that far away from the person. By not explaining that world context to us sooner, the show completely deflates any feeling we have about Lyra's shock when she opens that door. We have no explanation for why she is shocked, and by the time we do the effect is gone.

It's almost like the showrunners wanted to avoid doing any info dumps (though they do put in a few lines of text right at the beginning to spell out some very basics), but then failed to naturally work the context in at the right time. Two episodes in and I'm still unclear about what the "Magisterium" actually is (I think a theocratic government), or who exactly the Gyptians are (I think a Romani stand-in). Also, in that regards, a plot thread involving the Gyptians searching for some lost children is oddly used, as it gets a decent amount of screentime, but we never really get much sense of any of the characters. There's a mom who does clichéd dramatic grieving mom things. There's a brother who... wants to help, but is told he's too young. There is a gruff guy who is somehow in charge. It's telling I remember none of their names. Maybe their plot line is not an ongoing part of the story, but it feels like its more important by dint of screentime than it does by the depth of attention given to the characters involved.

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2020-01-06 11:43

Through episode 3 of The Witcher and I keep being impressed with it. The writers are doing a so far excellent job in adapting and modifying the original source material into something that tracks Geralt, Yennifer, and Ciri simultanously, but also cleverly mixes the timelines and what stories they are showing to resonate with each other.

It's getting compared with Game of Thrones a lot, but so far I think The Witcher is much more of a fantasy show, and a much more interesting show. GoT was so much about tons of characters being moved along by a slowly (so slowly) moving plot. It took forever to learn about the different characters and the world and it was much more about political maneuvering than a fantasy world. The Witcher on the other hand, by focusing on a few main characters let's one learn about them faster. It also is already much more fantastical in nature, which is likely, a reason it won't ever be as popular as GoT.

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2020-01-05 13:19

Started on The Witcher series on Netflix. Two episodes in, I quite like it, and am impressed with how they are handling the adaptation. They are showing multiple timelines simultaneous, which is pretty interesting. I've heard that viewers have complained about being confused by that, though the first episode offered some dialogue for those paying attention to clue us in that Geralt's and Ciri's plots were happening at different times.

They are also adding elements to the story, in particular, episode 2 starts giving us backstory on Yennifer as a girl. That's not in the books, though I know some of it is mentioned, and the show is using it to work in various character, location, and setting introductions, in an effective way.

The fight scenes are well done so far. In episode 1 there is a brutal fight between Geralt and some thugs. It is violent and there are cut off limbs and the like but it all happens really fast (as it would in a fight) without the camera lingering on the blood or the mutilations. It makes the action brutal but doesn't make it seem glorified.

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2020-01-01 15:42

Work up at 3am this morning feeling shitty, and it has not totally abated as the day has gone on. Hopefully not an omen of the new year. Going to go drink gin and watch... probably more of The Expanse, as I've been working my way through the new 4th season. It's really good so far. It's a show that I kind of forget about, and am not too excited about a new season until I actually start watching it. They really manage to keep the plot interesting and to work with a surprising number of new and old characters. Often the disparate storylines feel completely separate until something late in the season pulls it all together.

I did read the first book the series is based on and was completely underwhelmed. A case where the adaptation is much better than the original.

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2019-12-12 17:11

I finished up the fourth volume of Kentaro Miura's Berserk deluxe edition this morning. I don't think I've written anything about this manga before. I read a bunch of volumes last year when there was a really cheap sale on the ebook version, and then these deluxe editions started coming out so I never finished the series in the electonic version. These are nice black hardcovers, slightly larger then normal, collecting three of the regular volumes.

Berserk is dark fantasy of a very manga sort. It is not really interested in world building, throughout the volumes I've read I never had any sense of geography or society. There is a lot of generic pseudo-medieval backgrounds, but one never gets a sense of anything specific beyond the few characters that are required. There are undifferentiated kingdoms at war, and various leaders how mostly all seem awful, and generic peasants in the background.

It's also very human centric for fantasy. There's one elf, who is more like a fairy, and there are demons, crazy, weird, awful, creepy demons that seem to grow in variety as the story continues.

There's really no epic quest (to the point I've read), rather, like many manga, it has a lot of focus (at least in the early parts) on characters and their "be the best at a thing" (fighting) and their "dreams". But unlike a general "fight to the top" storyline this one is filled with creepiness and horror and a sense that the dreams of the different characters are in direct conflict.

The first section of the manga, also like many manga, is a little different, generic, kind of confusing. But then it jumps back in time (narratively, the characters don't time travel), and the story really picks up. At the point I've read the story hasn't returned to that first point in time. I kind of wonder if it ever does, or if that first section is written off as a kind of trial run, first draft. One thing I've learned in reading manga, is often the first volume and the second volume are dramatically different in one way or another as the creators and editors seemingly react to serialization and make changes to the concept. It can make it hard to make any judgemenets based on one volume (great for sales I guess), as I've read a few manga where the first volume was lackluster but I ended up really enjoying the rest of the series. Berserk is one of those cases.

One thing that bothers me about the manga is it's occasionally leering gaze. This volume of the deluxe edition, for instance, has a creepy scene where the decrepid king (who the protagonists are currently working for) basically molests his daughter (she's an older teen I guess). It's awful and the king is not drawn with any sympathy for his actions, yet, the daughter is also drawn in such a way that she is sexualized and perhaps shown a little too much from the view of the king, in a way that is uncomfortable on a meta level.

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2019-12-11 22:02

Read Ursula Le Guin's The Beginning Place over the past couple days. It's a fantasy novel that starts in real life and follows two lonely characters who somehow walk into a fantasy world. A lot of fantasy like this works on two level, the literal, a fantasy world and an adventure story, and the metaphorical, a story about growing up or friendship or power. In this one makes the metaphorical story, two lonely characters finding each other, the foregound, and fails at the literal level. The fantasy world and the sort of quest that they undertake feels almost completely unnecessary, under developed, and underexplained, which is odd as normally Le Guin is really good at the world building and tying that into a broader theme. The interactions the two protagonists have with the people in the fantasy world, and the sort of quest they go on, all seem to be hinting at something else going on, some deeper mystery, perhaps even some kind of manipulation of the protagonists by the towns people who send them on the quest, yet none of it every plays out. Nothing is revealed about the world or what is going on. The characters leave it. End of story. For me, this was just a pleasant but unsatisfying novel. I don't need narratives to answer all my questions, but I also want to feel like major elements of the narrative are serving a purpose.

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2019-11-30 10:08

Just watched What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a documentary from this year the head writer of the show made about it. One cool part of it was a series of scenes where a bunch of the writers (including Ronald Moore from BSG) got together and broke a story for a hypothetical season 8, 20 years later. It would have been even more interesting if we heard a little more of the back and forth between them, as it was edited down heavily to their final decisions. For fans of the show, it's a good look a bit behind the scenes and also about how the show was a lot ahead of its times in respect to the medium. A lot of the Amazon reviews of it are all "why did they inject politics into this" which really annoys me. I don't see how anyone watching any Star Trek but particular DS9 can miss a lot of the overt liberal politics. DS9 especially is strong on nationalism (or the planetary form of that), isolationism, and equality, all still pretty relevant (and one reason the show has still held up so well).

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2019-11-29 09:51

After almost 4 months of watching during lunch or while making dinner, I finished up my latest rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Still really enjoyed it, even when I knew all the major (and many minor) plot threads. It does get a little rushed in the final part of the last season as they try to resolve all the larger plot elements and provide various characters with some kind of final narrative resolution. At lot of the small B and C lines get jettisoned from the episodes, and some of the major results feel anticlimactic. In particular the resolution of the Captain Sisko and the Bajoran Prophets and Pah-Wraiths storyline feels like a long slow burn with an abrupt and sort of stupid ending. After spending all this time building to some kind of Pah-Wraith return and great evil, they are defeated by one guy pushing another guy and a book into a fire pit. It's like the writers ran out of time to make the climax match all that came before it, so they just made it all happen as quickly and simply as possible.

I also feel like the religious themes of the show felt rather one-sided. The Bajoran "Prophets" are from the beginning viewed as just some weird kind of alien by the non-Bajorans. They somehow exist out of time and live in a wormhole. Sisko over time basically shifts to the religious view of them. All the other non-Bajoran characters just... seem to stop caring, but act as if the aliens are still somehow magic. It feels like no one is ever just "well if they exist out of time then the fact that make prophecies is perfectly logically and maybe we should pay attention to what they communicate". There's not anyone who takes a nice middle way approach to the issue.

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2019-11-11 08:41

Finished up Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Will and Temper yesterday afternoon (spend a long time reading in the afternoon, since I finished my video game). It's a gothic fantasy that draws from Picture of Dorian Gray in a way that I'm sure I did not totally pick up on since it's been decades since I read Wilde's book. The obvious things like "Dorina Gray" and a prominent portrait (though not of her) and aspects of long life, but I don't remember the Wilde well enough to pick up on anything more. I enjoyed the novel as a fun read, finished it in probably 3 sittings, but it felt like it ended as a different book than it started as. A very slow build-up of romance and a bit of mystery ended up as a sudden climax of action and violence. It was a rather jarring change in the mood. I see there is a second book that is... not a sequel, but... I guess just a book in the same setting, that has gotten better reviews. I'll see if the library has it.

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2019-11-05 08:20

The new collection of John Crowley stories And Go Like This arrived yesterday from Small Beer Press. I stumbled upon its existence a few months ago when looking up some other book they published. At the time it was a pre-order, so I kind of forget it would be coming out in the beginning of November. I jumped into the first story last night, one I had already read in an issue of Conjunctions many years ago. Very excited to read the rest (all or at least most of which I've not read before). I remember first finding Crowley's Little, Big on the shelves of the public library I worked in high school. A fantasy paperback, but for some reason one of those shelved with the regular fiction rather than the much less organized sci-fi/fantasy books. I no longer remember what attracted me to it, but I ended up reading it and loving it. And then reading more of his novels, and then waiting endlessly for the various sequels to Aegypt (now called The Solitudes since the four book tetralogy now has the former name). I've read the whole series through only once I think, but the earlier books I've read multiple times, and there are still scenes from them stuck in my head, like parts of a film, which doesn't happen with a ton of books I read.

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2019-11-03 07:46

Finished up The Sacred Era by Yoshio Aramaki last night, another one of my library books from earlier in the week. It started out well enough, a sci-fi setting that was at least partially dystopic, with some kind of religion having started a new era on Earth. Technology was clearly not too advanced (there's a train and a later spaceships, but not a lot of tech evident early on). There was a young naive character, passing an exam to be in the "sacred service" (basically some kind of sort of religion/science work), and trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing. But the longer the book went on the more it devolved into this dreamlike Surrealistic fugue about repetition or rebirth or something. The plot sort of dropped away, and the protagonist was pretty much completely passive, just going along without making decisions or taking any actions or really having much in the way of thoughts. In the end I was just bored and confused about the point of the whole thing.

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2019-10-30 08:10

Picked up two books at the library and ended up reading one of them through last night. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a sci-fi novella (~100 pages) that I read about somewhere. The sample on Amazon seemed interesting, and our local library had a copy. It was enjoyable enough, a story of a telepath that works with the idea of a prison of the mind. The writing was often too long, such that I think it could have worked just fine as a short story. The beginning was interesting, then the not-so shocking reveal, then a middle section that sketched in a larger world and situation, and then the ending kind of abandoned that situation for another not-so shocking reveal. In the end, the story was more of a romance than the political/adventure story it is wrapped in.

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2019-10-25 08:04

I reread the first volume of Akira over the past week or so. For some reason it got stuck in my head to read it again, so I picked up a copy of the first volume. Long ago I had all the old Epic color issues. I discovered that series when it was still coming out regularly, but only shortly before it started appearing increasingly less frequent. I'm not sure what was going on behind the scenes, but sometimes it was like half a year before the next issue would appear. At some point a number of years back I sold the whole set on ebay for a chunk of money.

There is a certain allure to these sci-fi action manga, and I'm sure some of it is an element of nostalgia for me. At the time it felt so different than everything else (back then, manga was still pretty new to the American comics scene), but now it feels a little empty. Otomo's (and his assistants one assumes) art is dynamic and detailed but the story is primarily (in the first volume at least) a bunch of extended action scenes. Almost all the characters are rather one dimensional and there is a total of one female character who appears in more than one scene (and she mostly remains opaque as far as who she is or what she is up to). I can't help but compare it to Shirow's Appleseed another sci-fi manga I first read about the same time and find it lacking in comparison. The latter is a very similar genre (near future sci-fi action), but is a lot more character driven, though, again, I only read the first volume of Akira so maybe it changes as it goes on, I only remember the broader outlines of the story. But I'm not convinced I'll keep rereading. If I want to reread manga I've certainly got a number of other options laying around already (like Lone Wolf & Cub).

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2019-10-22 08:18

We started watching the HBO miniseries Years and Years last night, which is by Russel T. Davies who did the Doctor Who reboot. The show is a near future family drama, that feels very... of the moment. There are refugees/asylum seekers in camps and firey right wing politicians and tech that is just the other side of contemporary. Like the novel I read last month Infinite Detail it's at times a little too realistic feeling. In it, Trump, in his last days of office (later followed by Pence as President) drops a nuclear missile on a contested man-made Chinese island. The one we just watched had a bank collapsing with people losing their savings and desperately mobbed around banks trying to do something about it. It's enjoyable to watch but also, so far, rather a downbeat type of enjoyment.

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2019-10-07 07:50

Up early again, though thankfully not as early as last week. Yesterday, after getting to a boss (well two bosses at once) in Code Vein that I didn't easily beat, I decided to watch a movie, and, as it was still early in the afternoon, picked Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Been wanting to watch it for awhile, but it's over 2.5 hours long, so I needed a good long block of time where I wasn't going to be distracted (cause I knew it was going to be slow).

At the start the movie's filmed in black and white toned in a sepia color, it's like the whole world is trapped is amber. Whatever method Tarkovsky used to film, it really brings out all the textures of everything. The walls in the protagonist's home are rough and dirty and probably plaster and you can see all of that in the film. The french doors to his bedroom look like they are hundreds of years old encrusted with time. The floor in the bar he goes to is stained and you can see all the lines of the wood. It's really amazing and looks really different to me than almost anything else I've watched.

The movie is slow: lots of long takes, few cuts, slow camera movement (a number of very slow forward tracking shots), dead time before and after characters enter/leave a shot. That slowness is aided a lot by the beauty of the compositions. You can look at the frame for awhile even if nothing is moving in it. Almost everything in the setting is old or decayed or rundown. It's almost post-apocalyptic in the human elements, but on the other hand there is a lot of lush greenery in different scenes.

Based on a science fiction novel, one of the Criterion extras taught me that in the process of adapting and making the movie, Tarkovsky moved away from the book in many ways. This is one of those quiet science fiction movies that doesn't have spaceships or aliens or time travel, but it does have... something. The three protagonists go into this place called "The Zone" where something happened and all the people left and the government walled it off. Inside The Zone is "The Room" which supposedly will give you whatever is your deepest desire.

There is no explanation for these elements, and one can almost watch the movie and believe that it is all a story made-up by the protagonist "Stalker". It's that kind of narrative. But the way it's filmed and the way the actors/characters react to everything, even though for almost all the film you see no indication of anything weird or unusual, somehow you believe that "The Zone" is weird and dangerous. I was almost expecting some kind of 2001 psychadelic thing at the end, but Tarkovsky is a lot more restrained than that and nothing really weird happens at all. The protagonists don't enter The Room. They return home.

And then right at the very end, there is this scene of Stalker's daughter sitting at a table silently. After a while you looks at a glass on the table and... the glass shudders a bit then slowly slides across the table. Then she looks at another glass and slowly it slides across the table and falls off it. End of movie. I'm not totally sure what to make of that ending, other than as a way to refute the idea that all the weirdness was just in the three protagonists heads as they were in The Zone. You can't read the daughter's telekinetic skills as the result of anyone else's imagination or fear. It just happens.

At times I did start getting a little tired of the movie, mostly in some of the scenes with the characters talking. Though on a second viewing I might better be able to relate their conversations to the rest of the filmic content. But something would always happen to draw me back in.

One really stunning (and I'm sure famous) scene, happens early on. There is a really long tracking shot in the sepia tone as the characters ride a rail car into The Zone. The foreground movies between their three faces in closeup with out of focus background moving by in the background. It lasts a long time and then there is a cut and the film is in color, a green landscape of trees and sky. It's a shocking change (up to that point I just assumed the whole film would be sepia), and also creates this wonderful sense of The Zone as other, as more vibrant and special then the rest of the world.

Geoff Dyer wrote a whole book about Stalker which I am now very tempted to read.

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2019-09-16 08:03

Started Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Short Sun over the weekend in a nice collected book club edition I found online. This one, contrary to Long Sun, is definitely a sequel to its predecessor. The narrator was a minor character in Long Sun (and narratively, the author of the in world book that is The Book of the Long Sun) and there are numerous other characters and references to characters and events from the previous series. My understanding is that this one then ties back around somehow to New Sun, and I'm quite curious to see how that happens. So far, this one, also starts off with a man going off on a voyage, with much less preamble to the voyage. It's also written as a partially retrospective autobiographical text by the protagonists. He is both writing about his past, which is so far the greater part of the narration, but also referencing his present (as yet mostly obscure) situation. That he is also referencing events from Long Sun or the time of that narration and events in between that series and the start of this one, provides quite the conflagration of timelines. This is definitely not a book where one should start reading Wolfe's work.

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2019-09-08 21:26

Also just finished Tim Maughan's Infinite Detail which I quite enjoyed, though the central apocalyptic event, a virus that hits the infrastructure of the internet so hard that basically the whole internet is destroyed, is a little too real for comfort. It feels like the kind of thing where security probably isn't ever as good as it should be, and yes, if communications broke down, what, in this global economy, would people actually be able to live on. What can actually be manufactured without parts from all over the place? The novel doesn't actually delve too deeply into that, leaving that rather as a hole in the center of the plot that is alluded to and occasionally made evident by the "After" chapters. In a way it was a little scary reading this book, not in a horror novel way but in a "this feels too close to reality" way. It was a pretty quick read, and throughout, for me, maintained that cyberpunk genre feel, at least, unexpectedly, the ending was not a totally downbeat.

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2019-09-06 07:55

I also took another break from James Tiptree Jr to start something new. A few books showed up for me at the library (I also overestimate how long interlibrary loan takes and end up ordering a few books and having them all show up at once), so I started Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan. So far it reads like a 80's cyberpunk novel by Gibson or Sterling, using the same futuristic time period, but, being written recently, more up-to-date/realistic with its tech and political thematics. Part futurism, part thriller, part commentary, part... mystery I guess, it's written in alternating chapters of "Before" and "After" some as yet unclear event. I'm about 80 pages in already (text is a bit large on the page) and really enjoying it.

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2019-09-05 08:11

I gave up on A Stranger in Olondria after about 50 pages. The writing is just too much, too descriptive for me, and that, the narrator's impressions of everything, seems very much the point of the novel (the plot is so far quite light). I wanted to like it, but it's either just not for me, or it's the wrong time for me to be reading it. On the other hand I finished another 2 James Tiptree Jr. stories from the collection I am reading. I'm still enjoying them, but the longer one felt like it had a lot of setup that didn't pay out in the end. There was all this political and personal strife going on with the crew of this longterm space voyage, with a lot of really interesting setup and concepts, but then the primary climax about this weird alien creature felt like it had very little connection to all that set-up, unless that maybe that was the whole point. That all the human cruft that concerned the characters, in the end, was pointless in the face of something... not human. Hmm, I actually like that, maybe that was the point.

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2019-08-22 08:11

Still plowing through The Book of the Long Sun, into the 3rd volume now. Still have no idea how it connects to the New Sun books. Still lots of skipping ahead in time and then slowly filling in what happened. I think it mainly works in the context of this book because of how Silk the protagonist has spent a large portion of the narrative injured in different ways and occasionally unconscious. The gaps in the narrative time help mirror the gaps in his consciousness and also the overwhelming events happening to him.

Each of the volumes has been starting with a list of characters, and reading it in volume 4 I noticed how much the descriptions give away elements of the plot that haven't been revealed in the book. Not only does it list characters that haven't shown up in the narrative yet, but also a few major character reveals that I don't believe were at all clear up to that point. For instance there are a couple reveals about character parentage that seen very important to the plot that get spoiled. I don't quite get the impetus of such a thing and why Wolfe would do that.

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2019-08-16 08:19

Walked down to the theater last night to see the "director's cut" of Blade Runner. So many people showed up that by the time I got into the largest of their rooms I had to sit in the second row, which is not my normal preferred viewing spot. I haven't seen the movie in a few years, and I really enjoyed it for the most part. The cinematography and set design/effects are amazing. The active exteriors and the moody interiors all with a certain type of lighting that I don't have the words to describe. The film noir vibe of a lot of the characters and fashions (as well as the deep shadows and harsh lighting in tight interiors) really appeals to me. I also noticed a lot of places where really bright light blows out the film.

The movie early on states it is November 2019, which provides that level of amusement you get from any science fiction of the past that dared give specific dates. We have about two months left to catch up with flying cars, outer space colonies, and replicants. On the other hand, Deckard has to use a video pay phone in a bar in one scene and doesn't appear to even have a radio to call for back-up.

The main part of the movie that I always feel is overdone is the confrontation at the end between Deckard and Roy. What is previously mostly a movie about atmosphere and ideas becomes an extended fight/thriller sequence that doesn't do much to enhance my thoughts or feelings about any of the movie's themes. It feels like a bone to some kind of action genre tropes and probably Hollywood.

I was conscious this time of watching for the "Deckard is a replicant too" theory, and in the end it does seem inconclusive but quite plausible. I guess I'll have to watch the 2049 sequel at some point now, even though I haven't heard great things about it. Makes me want to look up some other cyberpunk style movies.

After the movie I finished up the first half of The Book of the Long Sun where it again takes some surprising turns to move the plot along and expand the conception of the background world. On the whole so far it feels a lot more cohesive and linear than New Sun, less a picaresque, more epic narrative. As a protagonist, Silk's forward progress is more clearly divined than Severian's, who spends a lot of time going from place to place without much of a clear endpoint (I think it's not until the fourth book that he actually gets some clarity on that).

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2019-08-12 08:09

I started back into The Book of the Long Sun, after taking a short break when I finished book 1. I was going to give it longer to breath and read something else (like some more Tiptree stories), but I just kept thinking about it. The first book ends with a few important revelations, that start the process, continuing in book 2, of expanding the world, both as a setting and for the protagonist. Through the first book, Silk, an augur, talks and thinks about the gods, and it being a science fiction novel (and knowing how New Sun went), I knew there was going to be some technical explanation for them at some point. The end of book 1 and then an early chapter in book 2 start that process, and seem to confirm my suspicious earlier that they gods are some kind of AIs (in sans-serif font that looks too much like multiple guys named Al).

The plot also seems to be moving to get Silk out of the neighborhood that is his home and the primary setting of book 1, which is a common trope in fantasy literature, going out into the world on an journey/adventure. I'm curious to see if Wolfe is leading to some kind of outward expanding journey or if the focus will stay rooted in the original setting.

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2019-08-06 12:50

Moving pretty quickly through the first volume of The Book of the Long Sun. Really enjoying it, and also surprised at how, in comparison with The Book of the New Sun there has been very little plot as of yet. New Sun is almost picaresque in the way Severian ends up wandering all over the place, while in Long Sun so far Silk, the focalizer, barely goes anywhere. Curious to see if that will change, or if this series is more enclosed than the previous.

Still rewatching Deep Space Nine in dribs and drabs (mostly during lunch and while making dinner), and I'm impressed this time with how well the writers deal with some of the minor characters, particularly the ones that are (or seem to be) the "bad guys." A few recurring characters of that sort (like Gul Dukat or Garak) are given enough time and story to be often sympathetic even when you know they have done awful things.

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2019-08-05 08:10

Started Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Long Sun this weekend. Like The Book of the New Sun it starts with a lot of unexplained setting content and unfamiliar words. A world that is a mix of low and high technology in what I am beginning to think is some kind of O'Neill cylinder, as the characters seem to see another landscape in the sky above them that is lit when they are at night and some kind of "shade" that makes me think there is a central column with a rotating sun-like light source (that would also lend credence to the term "long sun"). Curious to see where it is going, and of course the writing is amazing.

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2019-08-02 08:11

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a collection of fiction by James Tiptree Jr. (a.k.a. Alice Sheldon) showed up two days ago and I dove into it. Only a few stories in and I'm even more regretting not reading her work sooner. "The Screwfly Solution" is a dark story that is at once both about misogyny and aliens, but the latter only when you get to the very end after finding yourself believing in a more mundane explanation for the horrifying events.

I had to restart one of the stories. I got a handful of pages in the previous night, but last night, just needed to restart to reorient myself. So many science fiction (and fantasy) stories require a certain period of adjustment when you start them. There are unfamiliar words; the setting is often of an unclear place or time; the rules of reality are unclear, expected, or unknown; and it can take awhile to reorient your reading to fit the story. To me this stands in contrast to most realistic fiction where the time, place, and rules of the setting are often clearly posted before you even start reading.

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2019-07-31 08:13

Finished up rereading Wittgenstein's Mistress last night. I came around a little more to the "the narrator is mad" point of view by the end. That's the view the back of the book takes, that she's mad and that everyone in the world didn't really just disappear suddenly. But I like the idea of her not being mad, or of her being mad but that everyone really did just disappear. That requires a science fictional reading, but one that doesn't provide any of the normal elements you expect from science fiction, like some kind of explanation for the event, or at least a protagonist who seems interesting in the explanation for the event. The narrator of the novel doesn't really address the "everyone disappeared" problem at all. In one of his essays about science fiction and language Samuel Delany writes about the phrase "his world exploded" (I may not have that exactly right) and how in a conventional novel that is a metaphorical statement, but in a science fiction novel that can be a literal statement. Wittgenstein's Mistress straddles that divide, offering both the metaphorical and the literal reading.

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2019-07-30 08:14

On one of my book buying whims awhile back I picked up a cheap copy of The Freebooters by Barry Windsor-Smith. After reading some of his old Conan stories, I was curious about his rare, more recent work in comics (though even this is from awhile ago now). It's a beautifully illustrated sword and sorcery story about a has-been hero (Conan stand-in, clearly) and company in a pseudo-arabian setting. The setting gives BWS an excuse for a certain type of decorative visuals (lots of fabrics and colors) that would be absent in a more European medieval type setting. It's a decent enough story, but nothing that isn't mostly shopworn, and the only female characters in the whole thing are all these half-naked serving girls at the tavern the hero owns, who act as a kind of twittering background noise in various scenes. Only one of them really differentiates themselves, and that for being mute and interested in the young man who shows up with a prophecy of doom for the hero.

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2019-07-21 10:41

Somehow ███ and I ended up watching the first episode of Firefly last night. He's never seen it and seemed to enjoy it. Probably my fifth time, at least, seeing it, though it's been a few years. The first episode does a really effective job at both world building and character establishment. If it does have to work in some slightly awkward exposition at different points, it also establishes a lot via less explicit methods, via the set dressing, the locations, and how the characters respond to various objects and events (Kaylee pulling a strawberry out of a wooden box and then eating it in rapture says a lot about the food). At times the dialogue works too hard to reiterate information we can already infer from actions, for instance some of the characters spend too much time describing Mal's character to us, even though we can already get all that information from his actions. The ship set is also really impressive as are most of the actors (it's telling how many of them are now familiar for other more recent work). The set-up and plot are perfect sci-fi rpg fodder.

Finished up reading James Tiptree Jr's Houston, Houston, Do You Read? the other half of that double novel I got. It's a really effective feminist sci-fi story about three mostly contemporary male astronauts who end up time travelling into the future. Tiptree manages to slowly and effectively reveal the situation via focalization of one of the astronauts and exposes the misogyny of the astronauts in a pretty brutal (but in many ways positive) ending. I really need to read more of her work.

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2019-07-19 08:14

Along with The Unfortunates I picked up from Powells recently, one of the old Tor double novels: Houston Houston Where are You by James Tiptree, Jr. and_Souls_ by Joanna Russ. The book is a small paperback with two covers so you can start reading at the either side with both short novels ending in the middle. This is a double shot of two pioneering female science fiction authors. I read the Russ side of the book between last night and this morning. It's a historical science fiction story in that it takes place in medieval Germany at an abbey raided by vikings, but the protagonist of the story is fantastical in at first a subtle then an increasingly obvious way. The whole thing is narrated by a man looking back on the events from his childhood, so it allows for a mingling of both the child's naivety and the man's experience. In the end I'm not sure how well the ending succeeded. This is a short, limited story and I'm wondering if I missed something important, as the final lines didn't really land with me like I feel they were supposed to. It's a quick read so maybe I'll reread at some point.

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2019-07-15 08:13

As part of my payment for writing the essay on Crepax for The Comics Journal online the other week I got a bunch of free books from Fantagraphics that showed up on Saturday. Yesterday I read Inés Estrada's Alienation, a near future science fiction dystopia (well, depending on how you read it I guess), about ubiquitous virtual reality, transhumanism, and, kind of, the singularity. I've not read much of her work before because her art style is not stylistically what attracts me, more cartoony, often simple and flat (visually speaking). She breaks out of that fairly often in this book with landscapes, VR UIs, and some of the VR worlds/programs shown. Those slight stylistic changes help make the "real" world of the story a bit different than the virtual one, but I think that could have been played up to better effect. The whole comic is printed in a dark ballpoint pen blue that makes everything a bit drab and grey. I feel like, based on the content, that making the VR scenes somehow less drab, more realistic, would have improved the real/VR divide visually and added to the theme. All in all it is an interesting read, projecting a future world that feels believable in many ways, but it also feels like it doesn't give enough attention to some of its elements. One of the characters (the partner of the protagonist) often acted in ways I didn't understand the motivation for, and the ending seemed a little rushed.

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2019-07-08 08:08

It's a grey overcast sky for this Monday. I made myself an egg sandwich and watched part of an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine over coffee. After many recommendations, ███ was watching the pilot episode the other day when I went over for lunch (to get out of the house while the cleaning lady was here), and then I ended up watching more later when I was looking for something casual to watch over lunch. This is probably my... fourth? at least third time restarting the series, still my favorite of the Star Trek's and the only one I've managed to watch fully through more than once. It's attention to larger plot lines amongst all the problem of the week episodes always attracts me (yes, that is a theme in my television interest when a series is not a hyper-focused modern single plot series).

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2019-07-07 00:00

Another recent read, also picked up at a bookstore up in Massachusetts was James Tiptree Jr.'s Brightness Falls From the Air. I'm not sure I've read her work before (maybe something short when I took Samuel Delany's sci-fi lit course), but as I've been reading more sci-fi and fantasy lately I thought I'd try it out. It is a really engaging novel that takes place in basically a single location over a single day. In reading it, like much sci-fi from the past, you have to suspend the disconnect between the futuristic technology in the book and our current tech, but she does a great job of creating an interesting web of characters and generating suspense. The point of view in the chapters shifts a few times in an effective way.

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