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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mailvox: The Hydrogen Sonata

TT notices what I've been reading recently and has a question or two:
A couple of years ago I tripped across Iain Banks’ Culture series and fell in love with it.  I used Player of Games as the gateway to get my friends hooked. I was greatly saddened by Banks’ far too premature death.

Have you read the others in the series?  Are you enjoying the Hydrogen Sonata?

But for the consciousness uploading, I think we’re getting close to the technology that could create the Culture.  Or, at least, put an end to want.  That idea really excites me. What are your thoughts on the subject?
I have read most of the others in the series. While I quite like the concept of the sonata and I found it initially intriguing, the book itself has thus far proved to be remarkably tedious. Part of the problem is that the central plot device, which is the Subliming of the non-Culture race, is almost totally uninteresting to the reader; with precisely one exception that I will not mention for spoiler reasons, there is literally no reason why he should care about it one way or another. That being said, I'm only halfway-through it, so I cannot honestly say that I have an opinion on it until I finish the book.

The problem with the Culture series is the same problem that Star Trek has faced for decades. First, imagine that all the Earth's problems are solved! Okay... so now what?

The answer, apparently, is to go outside the area in which the problems are solved and then recreate those old problems using new and different cultures to take the place of the divisions inside the amalgamated culture. What this represents is a failure of the imagination; neither Banks nor Roddenberry were ever able to actually present a credible future of the sort they were nominally envisioning.

It's remarkable how much war and violence there is in these officially peaceful cultures, is there not? Why, it's almost as if the alternative it literally too boring to imagine!

Because he was considerably more talented and imaginative than Roddenberry and his heirs at the helm of the Star Trek franchise, Banks's Culture feels much more rationally credible than Roddenberry's UN Stormtroopers in Space nonsense, but it is still, at the end of the day, an artistic and imaginative failure. In fact, it is a testament to the man's skill as a science fiction writer that he managed to make such a comprehensive failure so interesting.

As for the potential end of want, I have been thinking about that a lot lately and will reserve my thoughts on the matter for a future post. Post-scarcity economics is a fascinating topic, but I would not consider the Culture to be a serious take on it for reasons that should be discernible in light of what I have written above.

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70 Comments:

Anonymous a_peraspera October 20, 2013 10:36 AM  

Yes, to me the main problem is that Banks likes to have the Culture AI warships swoop in and solve all the characters' problems. Deus ex machina.

It's even worse when he uses the AIs as characters! I mean, if you're a flying city with enough firepower to destroy planets - that thinks a million times faster than a human and can fly at 300,000 times lightspeed, what kind of challenges can you encounter that make an interesting story?

Blogger Jan October 20, 2013 10:47 AM  

The "potential end of want"?

According to the series "Ancient Aliens", the Jews had a manna machine that kept them fed for their supposed forty year jaunt in the desert. Some sort of protein-rich green algae, which I'm positive they would have happily slurped down 24/7/365 for almost a half century.

You bet. But it did end a potential want for food.

Nowadays, we have the them at the Fed pumping out not manna, but money.

In my view, the old Jews had it better with their green slop... you can't eat green paper.

Anonymous Stingray October 20, 2013 10:54 AM  

I remember watching Star Trek the Next Generation as a kid and hearing about the perfection that was earth in the show. Even then, it made no sense because I knew it was an impossibility of human nature. It never sat right with me, because I think the human race needs a challenge. It needs adversity. If there isn't natural adversity (well, even when there is) we will create it for ourselves. Lack of want, in material things might be technologically possible, but it would never satisfy the human need. We would simply move on to wanting something else.

Anonymous Jack Amok October 20, 2013 12:37 PM  

End of want for material things? The Star Trek universe in reality would b a cesspit of people fighting for power. People who think lust for material things is terribly evil are shortsighted. Lust for power is far, far worse, and a society that has eliminated lust for material things will have bucket loads of lust for power.

Anonymous Mudz October 20, 2013 12:46 PM  

I am actually watching the original Star Trek series right now, and I'm frankly really enjoying it. (I always enjoyed the movies, even when I was old enough to roll my eyes at Save the Whales and all the rest.) It isn't quite the neutered sordid tedium that comprised a distressing amount of the Next Generation episodes I've seen. Men act like Men, and the show is pretty fun with the natural dude/chick thing. (And you gotta love those professional mini-skirts.)

The episode with Khan, I think, is the best example. I always felt like Worf in NG was a pussy, and contrived, but Khan is pretty damn convincing in his role.

I actually always thought that what the writers were trying to do (according to a book by the series writers I read ages ago), was an interesting one. I always thought it could be cool to see, what if Man had resolved all his own social problems and was the American Ideal (Exceptionalism?), and take the greatness of Man into the galaxy and find their philosophy still doesn't automatically and perfectly solve everything. Their excellent character and civilisational achievement is still inadequate on its own to resolve the problems they encounter, and so its up to the Enterprise to find a way. With some intelligence and derring-do. Basically, that Problems are never omni-solved in finding a magical pithy phrase that cures all social issues everywhere so you don't have to think about it anymore.

Not a cultural relativity thing but a - to use an analogy - 'communism sounds great, but it just doesn't work' kind of thing. Human solutions might not work with aliens or at least cannot be applied the same way, not because their opinions or customs are different, but because their natures are different. Which I think is just cool for sci-fi speculation.

The Original Series I think, portrays men and women, and all the rest, far more palatably than I had expected, and I actually totally love the plots. (Time-travel and kill substitute-Hitler? Escape from the Magician's Dungeon? Why not?) The age of the show also give it a certain charm.

And one of the episodes was directly about them encountering Paradise, where there was perfect happiness and contentment and love and music in the hills, but still running away because it was boring and there were no achievements, and who wants that? Kinda ironic, innit it?

Perhaps this was a 'Before Roddenberry Raped It' kind of thing.

So, I actually Quite Like Star Trek. The first one. And most of the movies. And while I still like Picard and his Ahab fetish, what I've watched of Next Gen I think got a little weird sometimes (I could be thinking of Voyager, but I can't remember), and the whole Loving Sweet Simpering Non-Judgmental Enterprise Family with Kindly Grandfather atmosphere could get a little cloying at times. Occasionally redeemed by Picard telling Wesley to shut up. Who didn't hate that little shit?

So. Nyeh.

(Haven't read Banks yet. But 'Use of Weapons' is waiting in my queue.)

Anonymous Sojourner October 20, 2013 12:53 PM  

Heh...do the Ilk read Warhammer 40k? Cynical as anything to ever have existed and yet is still more heroic than most Sci-Fi/Fantasy I've read. Some is hit or miss but I tell you, nothing is fixed in that universe and basically you wonder when everything will fall apart (obviously suffers from the lack of the real God in it's universe with a "god-emperor" in it's place).

Anonymous a_peraspera October 20, 2013 1:11 PM  

Use of weapons and Against a Dark Background are good Banks books. People say they are dark/cynical/depressing, but no worse than Martin or Abercrombie, really. I can't recommend the rest. Player of Games is pretty good, but an early effort somewhat tarnished by the Deus ex Machina effect I talked about earlier.

Anything from Banks in the last 10 years is utter shash, done lazily and just for the money. (Excession, Hydrogen Sonata, Algebraist, Matter, Look to Windward, Surface Detail)

Anonymous bob k. mando October 20, 2013 1:21 PM  

finished Vinge's Children of the Sky.

there are some amusing concepts and turns but the story is fundamentally unsatisfying.
1 - because the actual threat is the Blight and the vast majority of the book ( 675 mmp pages ) has nothing to do with addressing the threat posed. in fact, most of the book is spent with the protagonist fighting against a group that denies that the Blight was even a problem, which asserts that the Blight was actually the hero. verisimilitude with real life, i guess? and just as tedious as dealing with these idiots in real life, no matter what tactical threat they may actually pose.

2 - this is the actual sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep. Fire was published in 92, Children in 2011. ~20 years is a bit too damn long between installments. i don't really remember a thing from the first book other than that i liked it.

3 - the last 5 pages of the book is devoted to gamma sociosexuality, in which a youthful male protagonist ( who had been a Denier ) who has spent the last half of the book in the presence of the elderly ( although aging suppressed ) female protagonist inexplicably announces his thorough love and devotion for her. even though he's never shown any such interest in the rest of the book and there hasn't been anything even remotely 'romantic' which has occurred previously.

4 - the culture from which the shipwrecked humans derive is Norwegian ... but most of the surnames have a '-dot' suffix ( clearly, a form of anglicized 'daughter' ). this is in marked to contrast to actual Norwegian culture in which the 20 most common surnames all have the suffix '-sen' ( anglic "son" ).
http://www.mydanishroots.com/surnames-meaning-and-origin/the-100-most-common-surnames-in-denmark.html

this reflexive feminism is probably an artifact of the original Fire novel. Fire was published well after Joan divorced him, so it doesn't appear that he learned much from the experience.

6 - it's clear that Tycoon is the dues ex machina by which the Straumers are going to be enabled to best the Blight in an upcoming sequel. frankly, Tycoon's ability to bootstrap out of Stone Age tech into industrialized production lines is hardly credible.

Anonymous Anonymous October 20, 2013 1:27 PM  

It seemed to me that Star Trek was well-crafted enough, with good enough casting, acting, writing, effects, and so on, to be watchable even when the premise of a particular episode was kinda stupid. So they could say, "Humanity has evolved beyond the need for money," and you could roll your eyes and then enjoy watching them blow up Klingons or whatever.

DS9 was the best Trek because it ignored or subverted the worst of that stuff. From what I've read, that's because the core Roddenberry crew was still working on TNG when DS9 started, and then they went from TNG to Voyager, so the DS9 crew were able to do their own thing to a large extent. As the only series not to take place on a starship, it features a lot more characters who aren't perfectly evolved Federation officers. It even takes some pot-shots at the idea of the Federation being some morally advanced galactic police force which seem fairly prescient today.

Anonymous Cajin October 20, 2013 1:27 PM  

Wouldn't even planets become scarce at some point? Or could you build your own planets? When those become full, would we then need additional suns and systems.

Maybe on a small scale scarcity can be eliminated, but not on a large one.

Anonymous Anonymous October 20, 2013 1:34 PM  

I always felt like Worf in NG was a pussy, and contrived

The problem with Worf on TNG was that the whole premise of the show was, "Fighting is not the answer; diplomacy for the win," and Worf was a fighter, not a diplomat. He was like the token conservative on a talk show: only there to present the "wrong" option so the leads could look more thoughtful by comparison. Or to get the crap kicked out of him to show that some species was too powerful to fight (as most were on TNG) so that only words could prevail. He was much better on DS9 where he got some actual character development and could hold his own against enemy soldiers.

Anonymous bob k. mando October 20, 2013 1:35 PM  

Mudz October 20, 2013 12:46 PM
I am actually watching the original Star Trek series right now, and I'm frankly really enjoying it.




well, duh. 8-p

TOS created a mythology so powerful that the fandom has survived all of the crappy series sequels AND the odd numbered movies.

also, TOS ( 1960s ) and TNG ( 1987+ ) make a good dividing line culturally between the old line actual Sci-Fi writers and the feminized shit that lines the SF shelves now.

Anonymous Jack Amok October 20, 2013 1:59 PM  

TOS was campy, but it was usually action oriented and set in a universe with masculinity. Even the episodes with goofy philosophy at least showed masculine behavior in resolving whatever complications resulted from it. I think it was the rest of the industry that kept Roddenberry from indulging his worst impulses. The original pilot for TOS has a woman as 2nd in command, and she was the emotionally cold, logical character that Spock eventually became. She didn't test well, so Roddenberry was forced to dump the character for the series.

By the 80's, the rest of the industry wasn't holding him or anyone else accountable that way.

Blogger Old Harry October 20, 2013 2:09 PM  

I am so out of touch with current sci-fi. I thought the post would be about an H2 powered Hyundai.

Blogger ThatWouldBeTelling October 20, 2013 2:19 PM  

One other issue with war vs. diplomacy is that back when ST:TNG was done special effects were still quite expensive and they couldn't use very many of them on any given show, according to one of the top effects guys who hung out on BIX.

Blogger RobertT October 20, 2013 2:23 PM  

It is becoming highly possible to fine tune the economies of the world and the supply mechanism using technology. But the end of "want" is a literal impossibility. But have my doubts. Introduce a new product and you;ll get ripples, maybe riots. Satisfy one want and another pops up. Humans are very seldom satisfied. Remember the good old days? Weren't they great?

Blogger jmyron October 20, 2013 2:38 PM  

I am surprised that no one has mentioned The Golden Age by John C. Wright - which features the most interesting and realistic far-future post-scarcity Utopian society that I have ever come across.

Anonymous Harold October 20, 2013 2:42 PM  

when the transmutation of elements becomes commonplace, the only thing left to fight over will be control.

Anonymous Matthew October 20, 2013 2:51 PM  

jmyron, I was about to mention that. What's even more interesting is that the post-scarcity Utopia is explicitly libertarian in a credible, non-strawman way, and that the libertarian society becomes the oppressor of the protagonist.

Wright is one of Vox's Standout SF Authors, listed in the right sidebar, and he's very deserving of the title.

Anonymous Dr. Kenneth Noisewater October 20, 2013 2:55 PM  

Incidentally, can anyone recommend anything good involving a post-scarcity, post-Singularity society? Seems to me it'd be difficult in such a milieu to find stories that involve growth, or plots/situations with meaning.

Anonymous Salt October 20, 2013 3:04 PM  

I agree on Star Trek. Wrath of Khan was the best of it, but I always wondered of there was anyone on Earth at all. Everyone having left to escape the boredom.

Blogger Brad Andrews October 20, 2013 3:48 PM  

"The poor you shall always have with you."

- Jesus

Anonymous Aeoli Pera October 20, 2013 4:33 PM  

Even in post scarcity, hunger is the best weapon for authoritarian control. The SNAP "glitch" and this post by Vox hopefully illustrate this point for me.

The elegance of the logic is that specialization is necessary for advanced civilization, which means people aren't usually producing their own food.

Anonymous biff October 20, 2013 4:33 PM  

Post-scarcity economics

Larry Niven's 'Ringworld' started with something close. And I like Dorothy Sayer's 'Paradiso'.

But you get good science fiction when it really looks like our society is headed in that direction.

Blogger TontoBubbaGoldstein October 20, 2013 4:39 PM  

I am so out of touch with current sci-fi. I thought the post would be about an H2 powered Hyundai.

I was worried my sleeping pill might go "BOOM" like the Hindenburg.

Anonymous The Next to Last Samurai October 20, 2013 5:11 PM  

I couldn't stand Worf. He babbled on constantly about Klingons and honor, but whenever there was a possibility he'd have to put his money where his mouth was..."I can't do [unpleasant thing required by Klingon custom]! I'm a Starfleet officer!". I remember one episode where his brother called him out on this, but instead of following this interesting plot line, they gave the brother permanent amnesia and he was conveniently never seen again.

Anonymous bob k. mando October 20, 2013 5:30 PM  

Cajin October 20, 2013 1:27 PM
Wouldn't even planets become scarce at some point?



Dyson spheres.

how far into the future are you extrapolating? even just consuming the resources of the Milky Way ( 100k light years across, 1k ly thick, perhaps 400 billion stars ) won't be done within a human conceivable time frame.

look up the Hubble Deep Field picture. Hubble was pointed at a 'black' area of sky for an extra long exposure ... and they STILL found thousands upon thousands of *galaxies*. it's probable that simple speed-of-light constraints will 'prevent' any entity from utilizing all the resources of the universe before Heat Death.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2012/10/10/how-many-galaxies-are-there-in-the-universe-the-redder-we-look-the-more-we-see/#.UmRJlBCtGM0

Blogger Jared Livesey October 20, 2013 5:39 PM  

Happy are the people whose annals are blank.

Anonymous Salt October 20, 2013 6:09 PM  

What one can play with are the multi-verse. Unlimited timelines. Lenin could go to the US and not Russia. The Spanish Armada was successful.

Blogger Markku October 20, 2013 6:18 PM  

What one can play with are the multi-verse.

What I absolutely hate is Fringe-type ridiculous multiverse. A few changes are possible here and there, but still the exact same sperm always fused with the exact same ovum and the genes crossed over the exact same way, producing the exact same people every time? Absolutely ridiculous. Either all the people should be different, or the universes would have to branch only from a specific point in time, before which things were the same and after which they start to radically deviate.

Anonymous Observer October 20, 2013 7:22 PM  

Markku, I hear you, but they are infinite so your criticism fails.

Blogger Markku October 20, 2013 7:42 PM  

Yes, there would indeed be some universes of that sort among infinite number of them. But they would be a preposterously small fraction of them all. If Walter just randomly and accidentally opens a portal to one, without having a mechanism to find that exact universe, then it is impossible for him to find it, for any sane definition of "impossible".

Blogger Markku October 20, 2013 7:47 PM  

And even if he had a mechanism that selects in favor of an exact genetic replica of his son being there, then there is no reason for any other lineage to be the same except the lineage that goes from the first human being and ends up in his son.

Blogger Markku October 20, 2013 7:52 PM  

Mr. Bean explains how Walter found such an unlikely universe.

Blogger Jared Livesey October 20, 2013 8:13 PM  

It wasn't magic - it was fringe science.

Anonymous Myrddin October 20, 2013 9:15 PM  

Classic Trek had two advantages over what came after. 1) Roddenberry was constrained by publishers who knew better, asthere was no cult of Roddenberry at the time. 2) Next Generation was written largely by fans of Star Trek, whereas Classic Trek was written by a broader set of SF screenwriters, as there was no cult of Roddenberry at the time.

Anonymous Samuel Scott October 21, 2013 9:11 AM  

Vox,

Because he was considerably more talented and imaginative than Roddenberry and his heirs at the helm of the Star Trek franchise

Was always curious what you and everyone else thought of "Babylon 5." I finally watched all but the last half of the last season so far, and I was impressed after the mediocre first season. Israeli cable took it off before I could finish the last season. Last episode I saw was when the female officer died after being paralyzed in a battle or something.

Thought was it a rip-off of DS9 (or vice versa)?

Blogger Unknown October 21, 2013 9:31 AM  

I offered my thoughts on the Culture in the context of science fictional utopias recently. I agreed with Vox for slightly different reasons.

http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/09/science-fiction-troubled-relationship-utopias/

Blogger Markku October 21, 2013 9:47 AM  

B5: Sucky first and final season, seasons 2-4 the best sci-fi series ever in terms of creating the feeling of a genuinely epic story.

Anonymous Mudz October 21, 2013 12:19 PM  

but whenever there was a possibility he'd have to put his money where his mouth was..."I can't do [unpleasant thing required by Klingon custom]! I'm a Starfleet officer!"

Hahaha, yeah, that was pretty much my impression. In 'First Contact' when he whipped out his token 'If you were any other man, I'd totally kill you." I was just like 'uh-huh, sure dude.'
He got punked by a frizzy old white guy. You just can't recover from that, son. Blackness revoked.

*

Oh man, I freaking love Babylon 5. Also coincidentally! I'm watching that now too, and just started on Season 2 and want it to be the mother of my children immediately.
But my long-frustrated desire to see B5 again probably means I would have gone for anything with a blue space station and a Russian red-head (my secret weakness).

The show is actually, you know, intelligent and thoughtful. I love the mystery and general awesomeness of the universe. And I love all the religion/spirituality debate, because it actually has me thinking about it for the rest of the week, which is basically the holy grail of good cinema.
Unlike Joss Whedon's 'fascination with faith' which seems to take the form of cannibilasing it into an unrecognisable mess of trite philosophical phrases that don't mean anything, the writers/director who did B5 put some genuine inquiry on the table, and portrays the religious characters and religion in general with, that magic word again, intelligence, and even respect. I would say he has the film-makers version of 'journalistic integrity'. And it makes for a really great platform for delving into the hypothetical questions, controversies and moral doodah.

I never got why some other kids went crazed-eyed over ST(TNG), I knew that B5 with its Starfuries, telepaths, Vorlons and whodickey was a squintillion times better. And I was right. Childhood vindicated. *stamps*

Anonymous Anonymous October 21, 2013 12:25 PM  

Sorry, but the best is "Firefly", and it's not close, though TOS had some good episodes. Though sometimes the feminism was cloying, at its best the dialogue is fantastic, plus "Objects in Space" is a philosophical masterpiece. "Serenity" deserves a place among the greatest sci-fi movies of all time.

Anonymous Anonymous October 21, 2013 12:28 PM  

Unlike Joss Whedon's 'fascination with faith' which seems to take the form of cannibilasing it into an unrecognisable mess of trite philosophical phrases that don't mean anything...

This is true at times, but I think that in "Serenity" Whedon (and Nathan Filion) did a terrific job portraying what it really means for a man to look for meaning in his life and find nothing there - in other words, true atheism. He would disagree and say that it was merely about the importance of "belief" in general, but frankly he's too good of a writer for me to really buy it. Mal's whole transformation into a jaded, cynical nihilist was because he lost his faith. The only way for him to recover was to find a substitute.

Anonymous Anonymous October 21, 2013 12:30 PM  

Also, the main problem with TNG is that it's boring, Patrick Stewart's excellent acting notwithstanding.

Anonymous Mudz October 21, 2013 1:07 PM  

I totally get why people love Whedon, but I also think I understand why FOX may have killed it. I love Firefly because freaking Cowboys in space, man (though I love Cowboy Bebop way more).

But there was a bit too much of the empty-souled nihilist in the show that got a little vacummy in my soul after a few rewatches. And honestly there were two, no, three things that irritated me after a while, in the belief vein of things:

1) Book was the worst Christian preacher ever. 'It doesn't have to make sense.' I mean, really?
2) River Reads Bible. Immediately Determines/'Knows' It Makes No Sense, Because She's Superintelligent. (I can let this pass because, you know, atheists, but still, sheesh it was crude.)
3) Mal is committed Christian, talks about God. Loses a battle because his dudes don't show up. Now hates God and everything in the universe, and gets snooty at other people for believing in God.

You can buy into number 3 I guess with the 'time has passed' leverage, but it just comes off as a little hm, what's a synonym for 'trite'? I don't want to sound repetitive. Anyway.

But I will say this, I did really like Firefly, and I would have loved to see it continue. I just think he's overdoes his desire to play cute, with character dialogue and the like (in the same way that Nolan overdoes his penchant for cleverness), and that he has some marked flaws that can really compromise his work if left unchecked (Aliens Resurrection comes to mind, Avengers was a little dull as well, etc, etc).

Anonymous Anonymous October 21, 2013 1:51 PM  

1) Book was the worst Christian preacher ever. 'It doesn't have to make sense.' I mean, really?

Yes, but unfortunately he's probably pretty representative of a lot of liberal pastors out there.

2) River Reads Bible. Immediately Determines/'Knows' It Makes No Sense, Because She's Superintelligent. (I can let this pass because, you know, atheists, but still, sheesh it was crude.)

Yeah, it was a little crude, but like you it didn't really bother me too much. I also found it funny that instead of rejecting it she decided to make sense of it.

3) Mal is committed Christian, talks about God. Loses a battle because his dudes don't show up. Now hates God and everything in the universe, and gets snooty at other people for believing in God.

You can buy into number 3 I guess with the 'time has passed' leverage, but it just comes off as a little hm, what's a synonym for 'trite'? I don't want to sound repetitive. Anyway.


This I just flat-out disagree with, because you know...time really HAS passed, and I think that whole issue was handled beautifully in "Serenity".

(Aliens Resurrection comes to mind, Avengers was a little dull as well, etc, etc).

Never seen Aliens Resurrection, but what was the problem with "The Avengers"? Not as good as "The Dark Knight" but undoubtedly one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. His portrayal of Captain America was excellent (Dr. Feser did an entire post on one of his throwaway lines about Loki).

One of the big reasons I like Whedon is that I'm a sucker for clever dialogue, but his biggest problem is that his philosophy can sometimes be cloying. Buffy suffered hugely from this to the point where I couldn't watch it. It was peddling its ideology too blatantly. "Firefly" doesn't get it nearly as bad and is at times brilliant, but certain episodes (*Cough "Heart of Gold" *Cough*) are definitely eyeroll-inducing. Yes, you're very feminist. We get it.

That said, its good points well more than outweighed its few flaws.

Anonymous VD October 21, 2013 2:13 PM  

Actually, we just watched Serenity the other night. Definitely a well-executed way to wrap up a series that ended too soon.

Blogger Markku October 21, 2013 2:29 PM  

Sorry, but the best is "Firefly"

I specifically said "in terms of creating the feeling of a genuinely epic story" because just as a series, Firefly is best.

Blogger Markku October 21, 2013 2:31 PM  

though I love Cowboy Bebop way more

But I agree with this too. Cowboy Bebop is better than Firefly.

Anonymous Mudz October 21, 2013 3:32 PM  

This I just flat-out disagree with, because you know...time really HAS passed, and I think that whole issue was handled beautifully in "Serenity".

Well, there you go, we just fundamentally disagree. Preacher saying 'I don't care what you believe in, just believe in some random thing you find lying around is the sort of thing that has my eyes orbiting at record velocities. But I get it, you like it because of the underlying message of man's need for faith.

I think my issue with all this, is the psychology that I immediately infer behind it. Something Bad Happens, Suddenly Can't Make Myself Believe in God any more. That's a typical atheist conceit. One that they favour projecting onto Christians, that believing in God is essentially dependent on a denial of the real world in one way or another, and that if forced to confront it too directly, God takes a hit.
It totally possible that some do suffer in this way, but it's not what I'd consider a typical Christian frame, certainly it's not how it's supposed to work.

That's what irritates me about it. It was just a set-up for an easy atheist projection. Not that he would have been conscious of it, because to him, it's legit.

AVENGERS

This will doubtless simply be a matter of taste, but I found Avengers to be a bit of an awkward jaunt through disjointed arcs, bright colours and vaguely tedious filler. It didn't really reel me in, or commit me to anyone or anything.

And when I hear little exchanges like:

"At this point I doubt anything would surprise me."
"Ten bucks says you're wrong."

I mean, wow, that's killer stuff. This stunning bit of dialogue is resolved by Fury giving CA 10 bucks, thereby deeply impressing upon the audience that the flying carrier is cool. It just fell completely flat.

It's hard to express exactly what I found flawed about the movie, other than to describe it as dull, uncompelling, unimaginative. I could just about hear the plot stretching in the background as Whedon tried to assemble a full-length movie out of a whole bunch of disparate parts and little lines that he wanted to put in.

But to give one example of stuff that came off silly, was Thor hitting Iron Man with lightning, and Iron Man getting 400% supercharged (IT'S OVER NINE-THOUSAAAAAAAAAND!), because that's just how stuff works, and he typically carries around 1/4th the power his suit is capable of handling. I don't care how 'high tech' Tony Stark's armour is, you get hit by lightning/godfist/hammerthatmassesmorethanathousandsuns you're not going to laugh it off because the word 'energy' holds magical properties that allows your suit to do energy things with its energy batteries to be not punked by Thor because you're Wolverine. Not to mention that Iron Man should be something out of medieval times compared to Thor, but that's a bit of a nitpick. (Oh, it's dark energy, not magic? Because science? That's special.)

Anonymous Mudz October 21, 2013 3:33 PM  

The dynamic was mediocre, the interaction of the characters was stilted, so that none of them was too OP or too cool. Like he was measuring them each out to a careful quota. Though I can buy CA blocking Mjolnir with his shield because its some sort of magic space rock, but otherwise, this is an example of how all the interaction between characters was choreographed in a fashion so that nothing really leapt out, but just maintained an acceptable level of not-too-unpredictable action, except for what could be safely stretched to. Nothing built up much momentum in any interesting direction, because I think he instinctively feared it going stratospheric and out of control and creating more work for him. It's what made it seem like Whedon was really pressured by the demands of the movie.
And it's not something I'd entirely pin on Whedon, I think he just didn't have enough people, or the right people, assisting him with the script and creative material.

I'm not sure what line you mean, but I did like the one where he goes "There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that." Which was a great bit. I appreciated Whedon playing the 40s Captain America the right way. There was a lot of good bits sprinkled through the movie. And I dutifully misplaced my gonads when the flying carrier made lift-off.

But here's a couple of things in the vein of '??'

- Intergalactic uber-superior army invades city. Like seven really cool people rip their shit up. 2 of them had no powers, one of them shoots arrows fer crying out loud.

- Hulk is suddenly, for no particular reason other than receiving new pants, an attentive team player. Was the most Incredible Hulk I've ever seen.

- Did anyone give a shit about Johansson with her TragicBackstory and I'm-Scared-Of-Rape, or whats-his-face with his what'shisfacing? At all?

- Loki just walks around a lot and seriously what the fluff are you doing, just shoot magic at people or raise an army of undead, or do something. He exerted himself for like five minutes then took a nap. I don't care how you justify it, that's just lazy. And I'm pretty sure 80% of everything Loki did in that movie was hit a mark and make a face. Wait for someone to talk to him.

As far as Avengers and superhero movies go, frankly I think that animation is the only comfortable medium to do it in. Live-action demands a lot.

So, there you go. My personal objections:

Firefly - Irritated by Atheist manglings of Christian faith.

Avengers - Found watchable, but fairly average. Prefer the animated version, even with the whiny Bruce Banner. I mean, it had a Russian red-head. (I don't care what ANYONE says, Johansson's BW is not Russian. I seriously watched the whole movie of Iron Man 2, and somehow didn't even click till 10 minutes after it finished that Super Ms. America was supposed to be Black Widow. She's Russian? I mean that's just crazy. Right? I can't be the only one who thinks that.)

(*Cough "Heart of Gold" *Cough*) are definitely eyeroll-inducing. Yes, you're very feminist. We get it.

Hahaha, yeah, I think it has its own page on TV Tropes. But yes I agree, it's good points outweigh its bad. I still watch it from time to time.

I've never watched Buffy, though. Not really my interest.

Anonymous Mudz October 21, 2013 3:42 PM  

Just so we're absolutely clear. When I first watched Firefly, I was it's biggest most uncompromised fanboi overwhelmed by the novelty and awesomeness of cowboys in space. If I travelled from the past to meet myself now, myself would get punched in the face real hard. But then I watched Cowboy Bebop and, well, people change y'know? So now I just really like the series. It's an excellent series.

But I do hate him for killing Wash. So I'm motivated by bitter vengeance to criticise him.

Anonymous Anonymous October 21, 2013 7:35 PM  

I think my issue with all this, is the psychology that I immediately infer behind it. Something Bad Happens, Suddenly Can't Make Myself Believe in God any more. That's a typical atheist conceit. One that they favour projecting onto Christians, that believing in God is essentially dependent on a denial of the real world in one way or another, and that if forced to confront it too directly, God takes a hit.

It totally possible that some do suffer in this way, but it's not what I'd consider a typical Christian frame, certainly it's not how it's supposed to work.


Right, like you said though I looked at "Serenity's" philosophy to something similar to what Puddlegum said in "The Silver Chair", that even if Narnia doesn't exist it's better to believe in it than to accept the Hell of a meaningless reality. Like you said, I looked at "Serenity" as a movie about man's need for meaning and faith, and the implications of staring into the void and seeing nothingness looking back - it's not a pretty picture.

I'm not sure what line you mean, but I did like the one where he goes "There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that." Which was a great bit.

That was the bit. Dr. Feser did an awesome article all about that line and how it's an excellent refutation of the idiotic "One God further" objection.

As far as Avengers and superhero movies go, frankly I think that animation is the only comfortable medium to do it in. Live-action demands a lot.

The Incredibles is one of my favorite movies period, and probably the most conservative-leaning movie made in the last ten years at least. Maybe more. Awesome movie.

But I do hate him for killing Wash. So I'm motivated by bitter vengeance to criticise him.

That was horrible, but the scene itself was so perfectly executed I do find it hard to criticize. Still, he was my favorite character.

Anonymous JC October 21, 2013 11:10 PM  

I'll have to rewatch Serenity. My memories of it are that it was trite and weak compared Firefly.

Avengers, I felt Whedon phoned it in. Dialogue was weak compared to his usual, arcs and plot were generally alright at best. Basically an above-average action movie, and I honestly think Iron Man was better.

Babylon 5? I'll have to check that out.

Blogger Markku October 22, 2013 7:10 AM  

Babylon 5? I'll have to check that out.

Don't expect to be wow'd immediately. As I said, its greatness is in the entire story. That unlike so many other sci-fi series, things are actually moving forward, slowly but constantly. But individual episodes are still mostly about the daily lives of the people there (like life is).

That's what made watching it such a meaningful experience, because you knew that things didn't just reset back to the way they were at the beginning of the episode. Things mattered.

Blogger Markku October 22, 2013 7:45 AM  

However, B5 takes a theological position, but it not in your face about it. However, I know that the Ilk will be somewhat annoyed in one particular episode.

I don't merely mean something vague, like "all religions are equally correct" which by now you'd come to expect. I mean something much more specific about how it all plays out.

Anonymous JC October 22, 2013 12:11 PM  

Thanks, Markku. I'll keep that in mind.

Anonymous Eric Ashley October 22, 2013 2:00 PM  

Serenity suffered from having too stuff a season of shows into a couple hours, I think. Not as good as Firefly, which had more time to space out the lines so they came more naturally. I think Serenity was basically the next season of Firefly.

With Avengers, even in the comic books, you had the problem that Thor was so very much more powerful that he simply had to be toned down, or it would be Thor and his Amazing Friends.

Think of the comparison this way as to their techs. Stark is an engineer, a toolmaker. Thor is a warrior from a super-duper tech level who has one major device. Thor's culture shows no signs of toolmakers. Asgard is decadent/content.

If you use both those ideas, the story holds together better. Also, the idea of absorbing energy is typical comic bookium.

Hulk had the difference that this time he chose to be Hulk instead of being forced into it.

Avengers was awesome.


Anonymous Mudz October 23, 2013 5:59 AM  

The Incredibles is one of my favorite movies period, and probably the most conservative-leaning movie made in the last ten years at least. Maybe more. Awesome movie.

Along with Iron Giant, whatshisface is pretty much my favourite filmmaker.

I honestly think Iron Man was better.

Dude. Iron Man was the shit. Probably has inspired a whole generation of wannabe inventors.

Think of the comparison this way as to their techs. Stark is an engineer, a toolmaker. Thor is a warrior from a super-duper tech level who has one major device. Thor's culture shows no signs of toolmakers. Asgard is decadent/content.

That's fair enough. Like I said, I was nitpicking, simply because they had Iron Man stand toe to toe with the mightiest god of Norse mythology from a civilisation of immortal deities who had interstellar travel when men were still scribbling on cave walls. The hammer vs Iron Man should be the equivalent of an AK-47 vs a knight on horseback.

But you're right, some things have to give. If Thor was true to Norse mythology he'd be flattening mountains and wrestling with planet sized snakes.

Also, the idea of absorbing energy is typical comic bookium.

That's why it's a matter of taste. Comic bookium was exactly why I rolled my eyes.

Avengers was awesome.

I love the first Judge Dredd movie, so who am I to judge?

Anonymous Eric Ashley October 23, 2013 11:52 AM  

Like Clark Kent taking off his glasses to reveal superman, comic bookium has a reassuring and familiar charm for those of us raised on it.

Judge Dredd was more of a missed opportunity, in my view. Now I like BAttlefield E argh.

Anonymous Anonymous October 23, 2013 12:15 PM  

Along with Iron Giant, whatshisface is pretty much my favourite filmmaker.

Daniel Bird, I believe (I'll have to check to confirm). He also did the terrific "Ratatouille", another Pixar masterpiece (though in my opinion not as good as "The Incredibles").

Anonymous Mudz October 23, 2013 1:27 PM  

Bird sounds right. And I totally agree. He does brilliantly charismatic films. 'Iron Giant' just edges out 'The Incredibles' for me, but they're both pretty incredible, and I love his enthusiasm and dedication.

Now I like BAttlefield E argh.

I remember saying something nostalgic and friendly about BE a little while ago to a bunch of other film grads. It was like I'd entered the sixth circle of hell.

comic bookium has a reassuring and familiar charm for those of us raised on it.

Hahaha, I grew up on my dad's comic books, and I still have my little Superman cape my momma made me, and ah, *cough*supermanbeltbuckle*cough*. So don't you judge me.

But Avengers didn't hold that charm for me. It wasn't a Phonebooth Costume Switch moment, or Lois taking a nosedive off the closest available ledge. It just came off as a Hollywood film with some really bad lines, because I seriously doubt that Whedon intended anything of the sort, and it didn't carry that kind of atmosphere. He was just trying to justify Iron Man vs. Thor, and made up a really crappy device to do it. AND I'LL JUST NEVER BE OKAY WITH IT. O.O

Anonymous Anonymous October 23, 2013 2:18 PM  

Best live-action superhero movies ever: My list:

1) "The Dark Knight" - Heath Ledger put on the best performance for a villain since Anthony Horowitz did . Every scene he was in was mesmerizing.

2) This is where it gets more difficult. I'll go with "Iron Man", because RDJ is awesome.

3) Spider-Man 2 - Awesomely campy dialogue. Classic superhero movie.

4) "The Avengers". Sorry guys, but my only major issue in the film was the Hulk's non-character development. Otherwise I think it had killer dialogue and did a terrific job spreading the wealth throughout an awesome ensemble cast. No one character dominated or was undersold - an extremely impressive feat.

5) This one is really difficult. Maybe the original "Spider-Man". Those first two movies were really pretty great.

You might notice that there are no Superman movies on here. That is because Superman sucks.

Anonymous Anonymous October 23, 2013 2:21 PM  

BTW, if we count animated, "The Incredibles" comes in at number two and the original Spider-Man is pushed off the list.

Anonymous Eric Ashley October 24, 2013 3:17 AM  

Wow. There's two of us that liked BE.

As to the Avengers, I believe what you meant to say with that last line was....Trust me, you wouldn't like me when I get angry....

As to Superman, 1 and 2 were the best superhero stuff out there, until Bryan Singer came along, and stopped doing the RINO, and actually gave folks what they wanted with X-men. Superman 5 Quest for Peace, OTOH, was worse than many made for TV movies.

Anonymous Mudz October 24, 2013 7:23 AM  

You might notice that there are no Superman movies on here. That is because Superman sucks.

It's like you want to get punched in the face... >.>

Wow. There's two of us that liked BE.

To be honest, I don't really remember it. I just remember enjoying it.

My live-action list would probably be:

1) X-Men
2) Iron Man
3) Batman Begins
4) Superman the Movie
5) Something Else

I agree that Bryan Singer rocked it.

And that's all I can think of. And that's the only l.a Superman movie I've actually watched.

Heath Ledger can kiss my ass. From the cold dead grave. He was the phoniest Outside The Systemer that ever stopped to give everyone a big speech (multiple times) about how Outside The System he is.

90s Animated Series for me, bitches. That was the shiznik.

Anonymous Mudz October 24, 2013 7:25 AM  

Oh, shit. Totally forgot Judge Dredd. Let's put that in at #4, and move Superman down another. I enjoyed the movie, but it has limited rewatch value for me.

Anonymous Mudz October 24, 2013 7:26 AM  

That's if Judge Dredd counts as a superhero.

Anonymous Anonymous October 24, 2013 11:11 AM  

I'm not a big X-Men fan but "X-Men: First Class" was extremely impressive and is close to knocking the original Spider-Man off the list for me.

Anonymous Mudz October 24, 2013 11:40 AM  

It's like you're my evil nemesis! o.O

I can agree that Spiderman was pretty cool, except that whenever I go to watch it I remember what a whiny putz Peter is and just frag it.

X-Men: FC, production value aside, was terrible. Just in every way possible. While the first X-Men was nigh an operatic masterpiece (I'm allowed to be hyperbolic when fanboying), First Class was just a fruity pop song of Superhero High School.

While -thatguy- was well suited to play a young Magneto, the film itself was a pile of fluorescent shit that was so devastatingly shit the fumes of it's ripening corpse of pastel-coloured Dora the Explorer level of infernal cartoonish cinematic blasphemy were even powerful enough to reach backwards through time and smear itself all over Magneto's solemn and pseudo-historic intro in X-Men 1.

If you like FC better than X-Men 1, you're a soulless construct of walking cinematic tragedy, man. I mean, I can understand Dark Knight, but First Class? I just can't work with that. *washes hands of the whole affair*

Anonymous biff April 07, 2014 8:52 PM  

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/learjet23.html

Lears are said to be a handful.

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