Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy Hogmanay!

Yes, it's that time of year again, Hogmanay. When we don our mistletoe Speedos and Hogmanay drinking boots in time for the Hogman and his Merry Piglets to deliver drams of restorative single malt to all the good little child-free partygoers who have been extra happy this year.

Did you hold back your bestie's hair when she worshipped the porcelain god?
Did you snake the car keys from your wingman's back pocket when he went three over the limit in Tampa?
Did you update your clubtard Biffle's NYE sunglasses to 2016?

Then you will sip of the Hogman's best whiskey!
May your headache be mild and your hangover light!
Happy Hogmanay!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Force Awakens: Lots of Fan Service = Fewer Fans [SPOILERS]

I liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But I didn't luuurrve it. Please, rabid fans, don't egg my car.

I don't think I'm alone. I saw the movie Sunday night in a packed theatre, and there was a relatively subdued audience reaction...some scattered applause for the first appearance of Han Solo and R2-D2. That's about it.

For the record, TFA has a lot of good. John Boyega as Finn makes a good protagonist. He hits the right balance between comedy and drama, and he's one of those lucky actors who's immediately likable. (And, from a story perspective, Finn's origin is compelling.) Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron, Finn's rescuee, has the same kind of charisma - so much so that the Finn/Poe friendship is more interesting than Finn's possible relationship with Rey (Daisy Ridley), the Force to be reckoned with in this generation of Jedi.

TFA also has a good, sensible answer for what happens when someone who is clearly not a Jedi uses a light saber. Answer: They can use it, but a real Jedi will clean their clock. Speaking of which, there is more than enough X-Wing and light-saber action for even the most die-hard fan.

Finally, it's wonderful to see Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill again, older but still so important and so good that their gravity practically warps the space-time of any scene they're in.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Status Update for "The Expanse" [SPOILERS]

Status Update:
From Cautiously Optimistic
To Hopefully Pessimistic

I've now seen episodes 1-4 of The Expanse on Syfy.
Now, I don't want to be that guy...
You know, the one who's always going on about how the book was better.
Or the original play was better.
Or the original movie was better.
Or can't understand why they changed X, Y, Z.
But...let's just say that the showrunners have been making some choices that I don't understand.

The second episode is mostly the five survivors of the Canterbury trapped on a crippled shuttlecraft, trying to be rescued. Other stuff happens - Miller uncovers water thieves, Avasarala does politico stuff - but the life and death happens onboard the Knight.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Some Paleo-SF References You Might Have Missed in The Expanse

The Expanse books were written by two hard-core SF fans. They not only know their science; they know earlier SF, and they are happy to throw in the occasional homage to Those Who Came Before. If you have absorbed all your sci-fi from ST:TNG and Halo, you might have missed a few of them. Here are some of the ones I've caught so far.

1. Larry Niven: Niven wrote a lot of excellent "hard" science fiction in the '70s and '80s. Some of it has been OTBE'd (Overtaken By Events) but it's still fun.  
A. He invented the term "Belter."
B. He came up with the "Belter crest" - a high Mohawk to which The Expanse pays tribute with the topknot fades of Naomi Nagata and Detective Miller.
C. The "Forgotten Arm" mentioned by Miller when he interviews the prostitute in Episode 1 may be a reference to Niven's book The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton, about a Belter who loses an arm, has it replaced, but retains a body-image memory of the old arm that he can use for telekinesis...invisible, and very dangerous. (On second thought, this one seems a little tenuous for me.)

A Quick Note on My Note on "The Expanse"

By now, Syfy has managed to garner a lot of very positive buzz from reviewers for The Expanse. I don't begrudge them that. I think making the first episode as widely available as they have - not just on their website, but for free on-demand viewing across cable providers, etc. - is both clever marketing and a nice gesture to potential fans.

But to be clear: The pro reviewers have seen (I believe) the entire first season of the show. I'm not one of them. My opinions so far have been based entirely on the only episode I've been able to see - Episode One. As the show progresses the opinion may change, mutate, become more refined, or stay completely the same.

We shall see.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Expanse on Syfy - I Came, I Saw, I Reviewed

A sigh of relief. The Expanse is worth watching, so far.

This was not a sure thing. Even though it's based on the bestselling (and damned good) space opera by James S.A. Corey, The Expanse could have easily screwed the pooch. Syfy has a history of bad, bad, terminally dumb shows, and they could have found a way to make this one of them.

Instead the visuals, the sound design, the pacing, and the performances are all impressive at best, and convincing at worst. The title sequence is damned good. A lot of the shots (such as those in space) are obviously CGI, but designed well enough so that it doesn't matter.

For those unfamiliar with the books, The Expanse takes place in a future where an efficient fusion drive has put the solar system - but not the stars - in humanity's reach. We've colonized Mars, Luna, the Asteroid Belt, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Earth is home to the majority of humanity; Mars has the greatest military power; and both siphon resources from the Outer Planets. Tensions are building. And then, something happens...