Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Monday, November 10, 2008

Things That Annoy Me About Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles

[Spoilers for Episode 2.8, Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today, airdate Nov 10, 2008]

I've been trying to like Sarah Connor Chronicles. Really, I have. And I do like certain things about it. But a few things about the plot are really starting to get to me:

* Too much time travel. Yes, of course it's a time travel show. But there are so many resistance fighters/Terminators traveling back to the past, there must be airport-style TSA check-in queues at the time machines. (Though, to be fair, time travelers go naked, which we don't have to do. Yet.)

Instead of being an insurmountable barrier, time travel is now a minor inconvenience. It turns "I came across time for you, Sarah," into "I went a couple blocks out of my way for you, Sarah."

* Too many Terminators. Just like the Borg in the Star Trek series, Terminators are best used sparingly. (Understandably, this is especially a problem for the Terminator universe -- in Star Trek, there were plenty of other villains to use. Which is why it was extra grating when they kept bringing out the Borg whenever they needed a ratings kick.)

If you go to the well too many times, you water down the... water. Because you have to keep figuring out ways to escape, or beat, what is supposed to be an inexorable, unstoppable foe. Which means that an unbeatable foe not only becomes beatable, but routinely beatable. Which means that...

* It's too damn easy for the good guys to kill Terminators. In tonight's allegedly-climactic, far too John Woo-ish church shoot out, Cromartie, who we've previously seen take out 20 heavily-armed FBI HRT guys without breaking a sweat (in what was, admittedly, a very cool scene), gets taken out by Sarah Connor, David Silver, their two submachine guns, and River Tam's three, count 'em, three, shotgun blasts.

(Though to be fair, Cromartie did have to expend considerable effort maintaining his Jesus Christ pose.)

Earlier, we've seen Terminators locked in a bunker, steamed to death (or was it electrocuted?) in a nuclear power plant, taken out by a .50 caliber sniper rifle (presumably, why California, pandering to the Terminator lobby, banned them), stiletto-heeled and pretzeled by River Tam, and given the Chromartie Kali ma! One-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Pretty soon, they'll just go *bing* and fizzle out when the warranty expires.

* Regular Terminators should not be sent back to impersonate specific people. If Skynet can cook up T-800s (or T-888s, whatever) to send back to specifically impersonate specific people at specific points in time (the nuclear plant guy and Agent Ellis), it really knows too much. Impersonation is supposed to be done by the shapeshifter models, like Shirley Manson and Bloodrayne.

* Enough with the future factions. Man, everyone is stealing from The 4400 these days. First it was Heroes with that ripped-from-promycin "Everybody gets a power" storyline; now it's Sarah Connor Chronicles with the dueling future factions sending machines back. Pretty soon, it'll be Temporal Cold Wars and Evil Leapers and the future High Fructose Corn Syrup faction sending back Terminators.

Lastly, a few secondary annoyances:

* Until tonight, I thought that Cromartie was played by that guy from Sports Night. (He's not.)

* Terminators are too gun dependent. Way back in the original Terminator, T-1-0-Ahnuld could have just punched Linda Sarah Hamilton Connor's heart out in the Tech Noir club, but nooooo, he had to stop to reload his Uzi. Same with the Sarah Connor Chronicles pilot -- Chromartie could have just been Inappropriately Close in the Classroom Teaching Terminator and then just whipped out the Super Soldier Billy Miles-patented Denogginizing *JUDO CHOP*, instead of having to pull out the inconveniently-holstered quadracep Glock.

* The Fox Terminator Wiki (a WetPaint wiki & discussion board) is overloaded with crap widgets. It's really annoying and takes forever to load.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Dummy in a Dumb Land

Over the weekend, I finished Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

The book is said to have been an influence on the hippie movement of the '60s; if true, it goes a long way in explaining why hippies were such big flakes.

You can also see some of the book's influence on Dune (Dune... Arrakis... Desert Planet), which I guess is a mitigating factor. Then again, it seems to track pretty closely to Scientology -- do with that what you will.

I do still like Heinlein's other works, particularly his juvenile fiction, which I grew up devouring. I still have a fondness for them, even after time and a grownup perspective brings to light some of their shortcomings (e.g. clumsy speechifying, Mary Sue-ism, etc).

In fact, if memory and Wikipedia serves, I probably still have hardcover first editions of The Rolling Stones and Have Space Suit, Will Travel at home. Although I might have told Mom it was okay to throw that pile of books out. And in any case, they were public library book sale acquisitions to start with, and got pretty beat up over the years. But I'll try to find them next time around.

One more quick hit of dumb... stuff:

* The Meat Loaf/Tiffany GoPhone commercial is one of the dumbest commercials I've seen in a while. Not just for the overall cheese and cringeworthy reworking of the lyrics -- it's because the commercial ends on the line, "I swear, I'll love you 'til the end of time," when anyone who knows the song at all instantly and instinctively starts into the whole whole, "So now I'm waiting for the end of time to hurry up and arrive" bit of the song.

This is infinitely worse than the Microsoft Windows 95 campaign using "Start Me Up" and cutting right before the "you make a grown man cry" bit.

Although Tiffany still looks pretty damn good.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

William Gibson's Thing for Damaged Experts and Ninjas

It was apparently a weekend for wakeup dreams -- Saturday morning's jolted me awake at the precise moment when I'd realized that someone had burglarized my (dream) house -- an idealized version of my parents' house. (The dream's tipoffs: It was far too tidy and had a Miata in the garage.)

I attribute the dream to some It Takes a Thief reruns I saw on Discovery last week.

Anyway, despite the fact that it was 5am-ish, I couldn't get back to sleep. So I finished reading William Gibson's Spook Country, which I had just borrowed and started.

I enjoy all of Gibson's works.* This one was a little unsettling because one of the protagonist arcs -- primarily Tito's -- doesn't reveal who the "good guys" are until very nearly the end. In fact, for a while it seems possible that Tito is helping terrorists set up a nuclear device or dirty bomb. It's that Le Carre novel-ish, morally ambiguous kind of thing.

Gibson's recurring themes are really prominent here. They include:

Mysterious, Wealthy, Oddly-Named String-Pulling Savants: Hubertus Bigend (also featured in Pattern Recognition) takes a more benign but essentially similar role to Cody Harwood in All Tomorrow's Parties and Josef Virek in Count Zero.

You can see the root of this in Neuromancer's Wintermute AI (though Julius Deane handles a bit of this in the early going).

Ninjas: While Neuromancer's Hideo is the only actual ninja (outside of the short stories), you can see the ninja qualities in the effortlessly efficient, ruthlessly competent others who dance elegantly through the world with catlike grace -- usually while killing people: Most notably, Molly (and the Panther Moderns) in the Sprawl Trilogy and Konrad the Taoist knifeman in ATP.

In Count Zero, Beauvoir represents part of this, though it's mostly Turner, a rougher, Westernized, more everyman version. Idoru's tomahawk-wielding ex-toecutter Blackwell is on the edge of this, as an even more brutal, not-quite-reformed-criminal variation. And I exclude Virtual Light's Loveless, as he's a bit too psychotic (and too easily beaten).

Alternately, in Spook Country's less fantastical world, we see the ninja manifest in Tito and his extended family of Russian-speaking Chinese Cuban spies, whose focus is espionage tradecraft, not assassination.

Damaged Experts: In Neuromancer, all the primary characters are damaged experts in some way -- Case, drug-addicted hacker; Armitage, insane Special Forces; Molly, ex-meat puppet assassin, though we can also see it to a lesser-extent in the supporting characters: Finn, agoraphobic fixer; Peter Riviera, speedball-addicted holographic artist; and Maelcum, ganja-addled space pilot.

However, the prime example in Neuromancer of the damaged expert is the Dixie Flatline ROM construct -- a dead man's expertise and personality hardwired into a cassette.

In Count Zero, the damaged experts are smaller roles (the Finn; Pye, the rarely-sober vet who sews up Bobby), until the appearance of Turner's reclusive backwoods tech genius brother Rudy), the brain-implanted Angie Mitchell, crazy space hacker Wigan Ludgate, the robotic boxmaking artist itself.

In Mona Lisa Overdrive, though we can see bits and pieces in other characters (AI guide Colin, hacker Tick, nurse Cherry), the primary role falls to Slick Henry, the memory-impaired robot builder, and his drug-abusing, former console cowboy patron Gentry. (Though the Finn has a cameo as a ROM personality construct playing oracle in a laser-armed, armored housing.)

It's been a while since I read the Bridge Trilogy books, but Virtual Light's Skinner sort of fulfills this role, though he's more of an oracle. We see damaged experts in Zona (and some of the other computer-dwelling otaku) in Idoru. And the prime example would be ATP's Silencio, the quasi-autistic boy, drawn out by his watch fixation, as well as Colin Laney, who's introduced with his nodal point fixation in Idoru, but who becomes truly damaged (and ultimately dies for his obsession) in ATP.

As to Pattern Recognition -- I'm not nearly as familiar with it as I am with the other books, though Hobbs Baranov, the former government cryptographer who provides information probably qualifies, as does brain-damaged Russian twin who is behind the footage (though she is also the mystery being solved).

In Spook Country, the damaged experts are very clearly Milgrim, the psychoactive drug-addicted translator of idiomatic Russian, and Bobby Chombo, the obsessive-reclusive GPS-hacker who doesn't sleep in the same square twice. (Art expert Odile Richard is not damaged -- she's just French.)

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about Gibson's tendencies towards the Nancy Drew aspect, as well as his peculiar manifestation of techno-fetishism.

*Note: I'm less familiar with his Bridge Trilogy and post-9/11 books (which presumable form the first 2 books of a trilogy to be named later) -- I couldn't even find my copies of Virtual Light and Idoru, which were at the bottom of a box until today. Why yes, I am procrastinating. Very badly.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Trying to Finish What I Started

While technically my NaBloPoMo quota was fulfilled yesterday, that was a timestamp technicality and I wanted to get at least one honest Wednesday post in. [Edit: Dammit. Missed it. I do the GMT timestamp kludge thing to show up properly in the DC Blogs Live feed. Oh well -- at least the Blogger FTP upload problems seem to be resolved.]

I couldn't get to sleep last night -- I blame a late day large coffee -- so I did some more reading. I started and finished Edenborn, the second book in a sci-fi trilogy by Nick Sagan.

To be honest, I wasn't really a big fan of the first one (Idlewild) -- books that start out using amnesia as a primary plot driver get hit with penalty points -- but I read it and it was okay, so I figured I might as well finish the trilogy.

At this point it's kind of like Kid Nation (I assume, never watched it), only the kids are all genetically engineered geniuses and everyone else on Earth is dead.

His depictions of the thoughts of the batshit crazy are also unsettling, although well done.

I finished it in a few hours, then I started in on an impulse borrow from the New Fiction section -- One Day on Mars, by Travis Taylor. I borrowed it on the strength of the breathless back cover blurbs, which pitched it as a Heinlein-esque hard science/military SF thrill ride, etc. etc.

I made it two chapters in -- 28 pages -- and honestly, I don't think I can finish it. Military/hard science is my preferred genre, but the writing is just awful. The dialogue is crushingly bad, and I lost count of the sci-fi cliches in just the first 10% of the book.

Look, I know I personally can't do dialogue or characters -- that's why I would be an essayist, if I could. But I don't know if I can even find it in me to skip ahead to the space and mecha battles. It's just bad.

I rarely abandon books (I may not start them for... years, but I don't abandon them), so this is pretty significant for me.

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