Category Archives: Interstellar Gas

The Demolished Man–SciFi Self Education

Wow. What an amazing book in a lot of ways.

Don’t pay any attention to its award-winning primacy. It won the first Hugo in 1953, but that’s a nearly meaningless fact; sixty years ago a group of people chose it from among its cohort for a prize, but the prize is only a snapshot of how its quality was assessed back then. What books were in its cohort? I don’t know–remember, no research around here unless it’s fun.

This is a fun book. There’s this killer, and there’s this telepathic cop, and there’s this cat-and-mouse game between them to catch him. The cop knows he’s the killer, after all, the cop’s a telepath, and the killer doesn’t particularly care if the fact that he’s the killer is a secret so much that he cares that he doesn’t get put away. And, in this case, being put away means Demolition. Demolition, we are given to understand, sucks. Eventually we find out why.

But along the way there’s a fun, fun book.

Murder! Mayhem! Tough talkin dames! Naked people!

Alfred Bester has built a beaut of a world, sometime in the modestly distant future. Maybe a couple of hundred years, maybe a bit longer, but close enough that we’re still in a recognizable environment of cops, skeeze, wealth & poverty, and things like the burden of proof. Just because the cop is a telepath doesn’t mean he can just arrest the killer. He has to build a case solid enough to convince the Big Data computer in the prosecutor’s office that the case against the killer can be successfully prosecuted in a court before the prosecutor is willing to press charges.

This world feels real with high society shenanigans, an underworld of gangsters, gamblers, and down-and-out pariah telepaths, and a middle class of professionals. Shot through this world is a sizable minority of telepathic people who–almost entirely–are members of the telepath’s club which demands and gets funding through a steeply progressive dues structure in order to help fully integrate telepaths into society, and–in the future–usher in a world where… well, that’s only touched on, since it doesn’t have anything to do, really, with the plot at hand.

And in this future, people have spread out across the solar system, with people living on Venus and Mars not just because they want to because they can, but because they want to because they like it. And in the asteroid belt there’s an amusement park/resort complex/wild animal wilderness sanctuary the characters visit because it’s easy to get to and a big enough place to hide in that’s it’s reasonable to make the effort.

But.

At the end of the book, like some 1980’s era nite-time soap, the explanation for the killer’s psychosis and sociopathy is presented, and–though it’s been well foreshadowed throughout the book–it’s really kind of weak. There’s also a romantic sub-plot which I find… icky, given the power disparity between the two people, and how that power disparity defines how the relationship plays out.

But those weaknesses don’t really make the rest of the book ineffective. There’s a lot of really well done regular stuff in this novel, and a couple of really remarkable new stuff going on, especially the way telepathy is presented using various type styles and layouts, and the thoughtfulness Bester exhibits in how telepaths might find themselves integrated, perhaps even hobbling themselves for generations, in order to make their way through a world we could call our own.

“We have a… hang on, what have we got?”

We've got a Superbucket

It’s been a little while since we saw this. It was certainly worth while. And, like so many, I was impressed with the interplay between Stark and Banner, and with the oh, so short but effective, human moments of the dynamic heroes ArrowGuy and SexyChick (what were their actual Super Hero names? Something less dismissive, I’ll bet.). Particularly SexyChick’s; those were effective.

But the best parts? When the seven-year-old, who put up the seat arm between us and wrapped my actual arm around his shoulder laughed at the Hulk’s antics–like falling off a fighter jet, and when he was… mopping rather than moping.

Game of Oh Lookit That! A Crow!

What's that you say? Someone is coming to kill me?

Geek Night has moved on to season one of Game of Thrones. We’re about half way though, and here’s what we’ve learned. If you’re little, you’re likeable, and the larger you are, the less likable you’re likely to be.

There are exceptions. Ned, while amongst the largest characters, remains among the most likable. However, he’s recently been hobbled, which cuts him down a bit. And he’s played by Sean Bean, so I expect him to look increasingly like a porcupine.

Also Robert, while clearly the largest character round, is not the least likable; unless you think the Dothrocknroller king is the largest character around–and we’ve seen plenty of evidence that he might be–and he’s far from the least likable character.

Anyway, that’s about the clearest summary I can give of this show.

You will Believe a Man Can Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound

20120325-205006.jpgThis is neither faint praise nor a lame attempt to connect a pre-Superman hero with all that came after. It’s an assertion of how I felt watching John Carter. The boy liked it quite well, too; he was completely sucked in, and had some good questions like, “Why does he keep falling over like that?” and “Is there air on Mars?”

Anyway. The post title, as much as it harkens back to Superman with Christopher Reeve specifically, is also about the effects in John Carter generally. In a movie made up of, probably, something like 95% effects shots, there was only one short sequence where I thought, “hey, that guy must be computer generated!” The rest of the effects are, or–at least to my eyes–were, invisible. I mean, obviously, I could see them–those four-armed green guys, as a fer-instance. And those ships that fly on light–very cool looking, yes. Also, all Disney movies need a cute animal cavorting around helpfully annoying the hero and crew, and it’s all the better that the, if you’ll accept the word, dog was in the source material (if probably not as cute).

But this is no mere effects movie. There’s a Story. It is, alas, a pretty typical Story of a Man Out of Sorts with the World Saved by the Love of a Good (if Conniving) Woman, though very well-constructed within those bounds, since pretty much every element gets cross-referenced to do at least two of these three things–drive the plot, display character in action, or take your breath away; the Story is one which carries forward, somewhat transcends, and somewhat wallows in, the source material. For instance: the women, in addition to being not naked in the movie, are also presented as competent, fully rounded (stay out of the gutter!), and equal participants in a complex para-modern society (unless you happen to be a Princess of Mars, in which case you run the risk of getting married off in a political deal to keep your dad alive).

That’s the transcending part. Honestly.

As for wallowing: watch out for the Civil War back-story which provides the, alack, pretty typical motivation driving John Carter’s actions. There’s a lot of deep conversation about this at Ta-Nehisi’s Coates’s blog at The Atlantic‘s site. I’m not going to get into it in any detail here, since, ‘no research,’ and all. Go read it.

But, without getting into it, I do want to point out that the Civil War stuff was dropped pretty quickly in the books, and that it plays out across the entire movie. And this is a bit of a problem. Not a huge problem, maybe. And, on the whole, it’s probably balanced out by the up-powering of the women in the story. If you’re the sort who tries to balance all that sort of thing.

If you’re not that sort though, it’s a good fun movie, with lots of good running around, and flying, and a little bit of jokeiness, and probably just about all the blue blood you’ll ever need, and even that serves to move the plot forward, and the movie will probably hold up well over time. And the trick John Carter plays on his nephew to make him draw the bad guys out at the end is a beaut. Even now!

Geek Night Update: ST & SG-1

We’ve started up with two new shows.

Of course, they’re not really new shows, so much as shows some of us were familiar with from long-standing fandom. More-or-less.

We’re still doing two episodes a night, generally, mixed in with eating (especially chocolate cake, when I’m lucky), and–in addition to the now-seven-year-old–two (count ’em, two! and soon to the three!) babies. This is a hoot. The first episode is a classic Trek, because we feel comfortable that the boy-o can enjoy the show without parents worrying about any PG-13iness.

The second hour is an episode of Stargate: SG-1, which is where I’ll stop for the moment. More on SG-1 next time.