Friday, March 1, 2024

Will a Neuromancer series be able to overcome the insurmountable challenge for books that are simultaneously super influential and super dated?

We're in a weird place with television and movie adaptations. On the one hand, I love what is happening. For example, the first two premiere episodes of Shogun on FX were nothing short of spectacular. Their adaptation is so faithful to the book material, and it all just looks so good. On the other hand, decades of people desiring to either get a side gig, become rich, or become famous by telling stories has resulted in a flood of material that is so deep, that the original (that may have kicked it off decades ago) seems derivative. actually have to tell people that Dune and Star Wars got their ideas from Asimov's Foundation. If you don't, then anyone who looks maybe at Apple TV's version of Foundation will declare it as a "Star Wars knockoff done poorly." It's very rare when writers of new ideas and the media (that we consume) go hand-in-hand. This happened for Rowling with her story of a wizarding school. But if she'd been just a decade or more late...The Magicians by Lev Grossman might have told the first wizarding school story that hit it big and then people would have declared that Harry Potter was just an English knockoff, when it's clear that The Magicians is the actual knockoff.

Now, we are set to have another such phenomenon land. A favorite book of mine that won both the Hugo and the Nebula is set to be adapted on Apple TV plus. And it's about time. This book, called Neuromancer is the singular book that started a ton of ideas. Neuromancer gave us the terms we use today for things like "the Web" and "Internet." It was the thing that inspired movies like The Matrix which has an incredibly original world. Neuromancer invented cyberpunk. But for one reason or another, William Gibson's incredible novel has been stuck in development or non-development hell for decades. Meanwhile, all of these other projects got greenlit around it while Neuromancer just floundered despite its enormous fanbase at the time. And that's crucial to understand. It has been almost forty years since that book was published. Millennials and GenZ for the most part will have no idea what Neuromancer even is. We've had Shadowrun tabletop games come and go. We've had hundreds of cyberpunk video games. And now that Neuromancer is finally getting a ten episode season, it will be hard...almost impossible not to succumb to the "John Carter Effect." I define this as an intellectual property that will seem derivative despite being the originator of so many tropes of the genre. It's a case of too little too late, I've already seen all that. This is 100% the insurmountable challenge for books that are simultaneously super influential and super dated.

All that being said, I'm pretty excited for this. Apple tends to actually spend money on their shows, which certainly helps, too. And they don't seem to want to cancel shows, unlike Netflix which frequently chops off 80% of the shows that it green lights for a season one. TV is also (probably) a better format for Neuromancer. It will give the novel the time to highlight the slow burn qualities that are present within the work. Still, I wish there had been a movie in the timeline between 1986 to 1994 or so, before the novel's influence started to percolate into popular culture via games and other media. There's definitely a cinematic, vivid quality to Gibson's prose that, in the hands of a skilled director, could translate into a stunning thing to watch.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Neuromancer. Next week, I'm only blogging on Wednesday for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. I'll resume my normal blogging schedule on Monday, March 11th.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Let's talk about True Detective season four.

This weekend I finished up True Detective: Night Country. In this post, I'm going to talk about the five episode season, and in reviewing it, I don't think I can effectively avoid spoilers for it. So here's your spoiler warning.

If you haven't watched any True Detective yet, then the thing that you should know is that it is wildly inconsistent from season to season (season one was great and seasons two and three were terrible). Each season (also) is a tale unto itself with some very minor attempts to tie it all together with recurring imagery. But each season has new actors who don't know any of the other actors, and they are usually immersed into some kind of plot that seems supernatural at first, but that is ultimately explained by the end of the show. However, they take great leaps and bounds with suspension of disbelief.

For example, if there's a one in a million chance that something actually could happen, you get to see that 1 in a million thing in True Detective. And because it is so kind of buy into the idea that something supernatural may be occurring. But by season's end, that balloon has been popped, and you are once again grounded in the reality of what actually happened. Anything supernatural gets explained away by schizo-affective disorder, pollutants that cause hallucinations, severe abuse that causes dementia-like imaginings and etc. And usually there is some utterly corrupt and terrible person(s) behind it all that get exposed for the terrible things that they have done and the manipulations they have initiated.

There is inevitably a character who is so wrapped up in their faith, that they speak of the unknown in terms of vengeful spirits rather than do the hard work to figure out what is happening. There are also plenty of unreliable narrators who are walking vessels of their trauma that they just can't let go. This too makes the deciphering of clues really hard, because they are dealing with their own shit which is probably being triggered by the crime being investigated in the show. Having people like this around the main detectives serves to muddy the waters and provide plenty of opportunities to just say, "ghosts did it" or something like that and call it a day. But the "True Detectives" of the show never fall for this, which is why the show exists. They persistently go after clues and the truth up to the point that it completely endangers their lives.

The "True Detectives" of season four, called "Night Country" stars Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers and Kali Reis as Evangeline Navarro. The story is called "Night Country" because it takes place in a small town named Ennis that experiences more than a month of night every winter, and because the native Americans who live there refer to the ice caves under the permafrost as the "night country" and use these rocks with swirls on them to indicate where the ice is dangerous so that you don't go there and fall through. My favorite of the True Detectives was Jodie Foster's character, Liz Danvers. And this is simply because she was the more reliable narrator of the two.

The other one, Kali Reis (Evangeline Navarro), was a walking bag of trauma both from the unsolved murder of a native American girl (stabbed 37 times and having her tongue cut out) and from her deeply disturbed sister who commits suicide halfway through the show by walking into the freezing ocean (she had obvious schizo-affective disorder among other things). Additionally, Evangeline was unreliable because she was "deeply spiritual" and felt a "connection" to the land and the spirit guides and so on and so forth. Whatever. The point of all this was that she became deeply unreliable in the episodes because every time the story was told from her point of view, she saw things that simply couldn't be there or made no sense that they were there at all. Yet, as a viewer of the show, you have no choice but to buy into the "there's something supernatural going on here" narrative. Ultimately, she's a good person, but still it's aggravating to try and suss out all of these things on your own when so many things you are shown aren't real.

There are also clearly scripted plot points that stand out to me as a writer. They probably wouldn't be so obvious if I wasn't familiar with the fact that to tell a story, you need to kind of loop things back around again. One of these is that Danver's invites Prior (a character played by a Finn Bennett that I really liked) to stay over in her freezing shed purely so that he can be there for when his dad shoots his gun. It also makes me realize that his wife was there purely for plot point reasons. She needed to get upset at Prior to drive him out of the house so that he'd move in with his dad and find that to be toxic so that he would end up staying with Danvers. It seems really contrived, and I don't like when I can see behind the curtain so easily.

Anyway, that's my analysis of season 4 of True Detective. Overall, I did like it, but I don't think I'd rewatch it. Once is enough. So...maybe 3 stars out of 5. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Foundation season two was really good.

I'm not an abject fan of Asimov's Foundation trilogy, as it is rather dry and boring in ways that The Silmarillion by Tolkien is also dry and boring. It takes place over huge swaths of time. Characters rarely last more than three chapters. So you're switching out constantly with new characters who are following the decline of a galactic empire and trying to make sure that instead of 30,000 years of darkness and lack of knowledge, that it only lasts for 1,000 years. But one of the things that the Appl plus series did to correct this was to make concessions for the story that really rile up the "Die Hards" of Asimov's fanbase. I think these changes are a huge bonus to the story. But (I think) people will always be divided between what works in storytelling and what is sacred and should not be altered in any way. My thoughts on this are simple: sometimes big stories are two big for one mind. I think this is the case with Game of Thrones, which functions much better when there's a small village of people providing input than it does with one person's brain who tires and quickly reaches the limits of their imagination and falls short of filling in all the blanks. So what are these changes exactly? There are spoilers ahead in case you intend to watch Foundation, which I hope you do. It's an incredible science fiction series...maybe one of the best in modern times. Okay, now to answer that question.

The first of these is that Hari Seldon gets to die and yet through computer programs and cloning and what all else, he's a continuous character that not only gets to exist to establish the Foundation, but he continues onward as a primary protagonist throughout the narrative. He doesn't just "appear" in the vault as a pre-recorded message every fifty years or so like he seems to do in the book. 

The second thing that Apple's staff of writers did was establish a genetic dynasty of emperors named "Cleon" that continues on and on and on, and is in fact one of the main reasons the whole thing is collapsing.

The third thing they did was bring in the character of Demerzel, who is the real power behind the throne...her story comes to full bloom in season two. Demerzel is the most fascinating character in the show, full stop. Demerzel is the last survivor of this event called "The Robot Wars," which occurred between man and machine thousands of years ago. And her story is extremely sad, having been sliced up and imprisoned for countless centuries within a room, fully conscious of who she was, and just having to stay there without company only to then be freed by a morally ambiguous Emperor who had romantic designs that had to do with her, would force her to love him through programming, and would force her to be a caretaker of his clones for even more centuries to come. How awful would that be?

And the fourth thing they did was invent Gaal Dornick, who is Hari's protege and who they've managed to figure out how to hurl through the centuries as a living person (they use hybernation pods for this to slow down metabolic processes). She's the tape measure by which Hari's plan can be measured. You see, Hari has got this timeline of events that need to be overcome due to what he's learned from his mathematically-based psycho-history. With Gaal Dornick, she's a living person, and thus she can have children. If (for example) a child dies outside of when it is supposed to (as predicted by psychic dreams and prophecies), it means that the future can be changed. I really liked Gaal's kid named Salvor, and I was sad when Salvor died at the end of season two. But this is exactly what shouldn't have happened but did, and because of that they know that the next big bad that they will face, called "The Mule" will be overcome because Salvor wasn't supposed to die when she did (if that makes any sense).

Anyway, I get why some of the "die hards" are upset at all of these changes. But they make for some really good storytelling if you can let go of a stoic adherence to Asimov's actual writing. We have gotten quite a few good things from the books. The Hober Mallow/High Cleric-Brother offshoot of the Foundation arc was fantastic. We also got the Riose-Mallow-Constant arc that was a genuinely interesting adaptation of the books. That arc emphasized the Foundation from Terminus using their soft power. Season 2 also gave us the necessary Second Foundation introduced into the story via the mentalics arc, and we now have Gaal becoming the single most important person in the universe because she has nigh on "magical" powers that are probably aimed at an upcoming boss fight with "The Mule." Even though the writers have had to do a lot of hand wavy, science magic to keep characters from aging out of the story, I think the sacrifice has paid off in spades. And the nothing but spectacular destruction of the planet of Terminus left me awe struck. The way the show has been doing the ships "faster than light" travel is to have each of them use a micro black hole that serves as the engine. Well, they crashed one of the big ones into the planet Terminus, and I never really put together that the singularity in those ships could in fact tear apart a planet, but it totally did. One of the best pieces of special effects I've seen in sci-fi shows.

Anyway, thanks for visiting. On Wednesday I plan to talk about HBO's fourth season of True Detective called Night Country.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Invincible season 2 comes back in March and I have a few thoughts on the first half of the season.

season 2 is coming back for its second half in March. I'm not sure why Amazon decided to split the season, but it is nice that there are more episodes that I haven't watched that I can look forward to viewing. It's a good series with a very strong comic-book vibe that live action usually misses (and which cartoons seem to miss as well). When I watch it, I feel like I'm reading a comic book, and that (I think) is the true magic of Invincible. I think that overall, the storyline does feel a bit weaker than it did in season one. Season 1 set up Omni Man as the ominous threat waiting to destroy the Earth. Each episode drove us a little bit closer to that final confrontation of him versus everything that Earth could throw at him with little chance of success. Season 2 on the other hand is a lot different.

We got introduced to Angstrom Levy who I thought was supposed to be this season's bad guy, but then we hardly see him and hardly understand how much of a threat he is supposed to be. And then in a move that surprised me, we got introduced back to Omni-man living in exile on another planet (and he's fathered a baby with an alien being) and he wants his Earthling son Mark to join him in a fight against the Viltrumites who have come to extinguish Omni-man and his progeny. This was a kind of crazy thing that I absolutely didn't see coming. 

This also does seem to be the season where many of the characters are trying to figure out what their place is in the crazy world of superheroes. For example, Atom Eve has this tug of war where she doesn't want to be a superhero, but then she changes her mind and gets angsty. Omni-man too seems to be going through some soul-searching. In season 1 he practically demolished his own son. Now in season 2, his cruelty has been really toned down, and he somehow now has empathy for at least the bug people that he rules over. 

Anyway, it's a lot to process. But here's my predictions of things that will need to be addressed when the show returns in March:

1) Will Mark return with Nolan's second son, forcing Debbie (his mother) to come to terms with how fast Nolan moved on from his previous life on Earth?

2) Will Angstrom Levy become more of a villain?

3) Will Mark and his girlfriend, Amber, break up? He kinda did just up and leave and go to another planet to fight alongside his dad.

If you have anything to add regarding Invincible, I look forward to reading your comments. 

On Monday, I'm going to blog about the spectacular season 2 that Foundation put in on Apple Plus. I finished it up last night, and I've got oh so many thoughts regarding the events that played out. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

My spoiler-filled review of He-Man Revolution on Netflix.

Kevin Smith's reboot of Masters of the Universe landed first with "Revelations," and it continued with "Revolution." It seems weird to market it that way, but "Revolution", which landed on January 25th, was basically just season 2 of the show. This "second" season is much shorter, being only five episodes long. But there is still some good lore nuggets that got dropped, and (with it) the "Prince Adam" character has finally become an adult with his father's death.

It's a strange thing to see cartoons evolve with real life events like the death of a parent or some other thing. In Adam's case, the entirety of the second season was mostly about the succession. When not fighting Motherboard and Skeletor (who was a cyborg masquerading as He-Man's friendly uncle) there was always this question of "who would be king?" should the need arise. At this point I'd like to note that I was pleasantly surprised to hear William Shatner's voice as the scheming "Keldor." And it turns out that (at least as Kevin Smith sees it), Eternia's ultimate fate is to become a democracy (maybe borrowing a page from the ending of Game of Thrones?). So, no more kings. Just a democracy with powerful magically enhanced protectors to ensure that the bad players of the universe don't meddle in what the people of Eternia actually want from their government. Maybe that's the only real way a democracy can survive the strong man personalities that are out there. It's too bad that Earth doesn't have a super moral, magically enhanced protector, looking out for democracy. We could really use one.

I do have my criticisms though. Again (just like in season one), He-Man is the most boring character. Hordak as the ultimate villain was great, and Mark Hamill as Skeletor is perfect casting. That character is so absurd that the campiness of his villainy is just entertaining to watch. The second season also could have used more episodes (8 might have been just right). There were multiple storylines that needed more development, and some missed opportunities to give the characters more depth. The new "man-at-arms" could have gotten a bit more screen time, and I think I could have used more time to get used to referring to the character of "Evil Lyn" as "Good Lyn." That transition though does feel earned, even if it doesn't immediately roll off the tongue.

The final epilogue scene also drops two reveals for the next season: Horde Prime is coming and has a masked female servant named Despera. I believe that in the original series, Adora went by that name while brainwashed by the Horde. These are also part of the She-Ra intellectual property license. So I think there's probably going to be a crossover soon, and that seems fresh and exciting. All in all, I like these new cartoons, and I recommend them for anyone who also shares a love for He-Man cartoons.

Thanks for visiting. On Friday, I think I want to talk a little bit about Invincible season 2, as the second half is returning in March on Amazon Prime. Until then, may you all "have the powa!"

Friday, February 16, 2024

All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix was a poignant and moving drama that has made me want to read the book.

I watched All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix. This very moving four episode mini-series was a fictional account of several lives and how they all intersected during World War 2. The first character is Werner Pfennig, played to a tee by Louis Hofmann. This character is one I absolutely fell in love with. He's a real whiz at making and fixing and using radios, and the big hook for his character in the story is that (during the rise of Germany) he listened to illegal broadcasts from France. In particular, he learned a lot from a professor who spoke at length about science, and this professor made learning fun. The caveat then of all this learning is that Werner gets instilled with compassion and ends up with a lot of what we'd call modern liberal values at a time when everyone in his entire country is going far right, straight into fascism and brutality. There's a very uncomfortable scene in this show that is difficult to watch. It takes place in Berlin's most exclusive school of learning for radio construction. In this scene, Werner is forced to undergo a physical exam, and the racist instructor of the school (who is also clearly a pervert) is dead set on proving that Werner deserves to be there by virtue of his Aryan blood (and he's going to prove it by measuring every single thing on Werner's naked body). If he fails (of course) then Werner will just be killed. He does pass the test, but the scene feels extremely rapey, and I think its meant to be this way to illustrate how horrible these people actually were.

The second character that we end up spending a lot of time with is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who is a blind girl that takes over broadcasts from within the French city of Saint-Malo. We see her (at first) broadcasting a reading of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea over a radio (we later learn that it is the same radio that the "professor" used years earlier to broadcast his science program and where he garnered listeners like Werner Pfennig). Sometime later, we learn that the braille book she's reading from is being used as a kind of code to the allies who are listening in on the broadcast, and they are able to bomb areas of Saint-Malo (thanks to these readings) that are infested with German soldiers hiding out. Because it is a fictional story, most of us can overlook how contrived these events are that bring Werner together with Marie--he being someone whose very work is listening to the radio and she being someone who broadcasts over the radio but is at odds with the fascist German military to which Werner owes his allegiance. If you can manage to overlook this contrivance that fictional tales often need to do, then the whole thing kind of comes together in a gorgeous dance of these two beautiful souls who must endure the harsh reality of the world around them.

The last character that really plays a strong part in this show is played by Mark Ruffalo. He's basically the "dad of the year." That's what I labeled him, anyway. He's the dad of Marie-Laure, incredibly accomplished...he's entrusted with all the keys of the museum of natural history in Paris and is essentially an expert on everything. What he doesn't know is probably not worth knowing. Into this enormous walking bank of knowledge is poured a ton of empathy. He's super soft-spoken, loves his daughter immensely (and treasures her despite the blind disability that he may believe he could have caused), and will stop at nothing to be a good teacher to his daughter. When they were living in Paris, he constructed (in miniature) the section of town they were living in out of wood. This diorama was how he taught his blind daughter where they lived and how she could find her way around town. When they fled to Saint-Malo after the Nazi occupation, he built another one so that she could learn her way around this new town. Into this then is a McGuffin of sorts that is introduced into the storyline: a gigantic diamond known as the "Sea of Flames." I'm not sure what purpose the diamond serves other than to add a layer of superstition and magic to the story. Legends say that anyone who touches the "Sea of Flames" will be cured of all things and live a wonderful life. But their loved ones will be struck down by something horrible. This is the thing that Daniel LeBlanc struggles with as he wonders if he is responsible for his daughter's blindness. Thus, the phrase "all the light we cannot see" becomes a really strong metaphor for the goodness in the world that exists in places where they eyes cannot detect it, and how souls can shine even in the darkest of days.

All in all, I really enjoyed this mini-series. I wish it had been longer. Four episodes did not seem like enough. It's definitely got me invested in reading the book, which I discovered won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014. If there's anything to complain about, it's maybe that the Nazi characters did come across as a bit cartoonish. However, the banality of evil is one of the most terrifying aspects of Nazi Germany, and that may be difficult to show on screen when you are given only four episodes. In some could be a Hallmark film since it has a happy ending (does that sound bad?). I've been told that the ending isn't happy in the book, and since I'm going to be reading that after Shogun, I'll be able to see all the changes. In the end, I love Louis Hofmann who is the actor that brought me to this show and it was the first time for me to see him speaking in English (he's basically the Timothee Chalamet of Germany). If you have a few hours to kill, I highly recommend you give this one a watch.

I won't be blogging on Monday, as it is a holiday (President's Day). So I'll see you back next Wednesday. This brings me to the end of the backlog of things that I wanted to talk about that I watched over the holidays. So, now I'll have to work on new material.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Our Flag Means Death may be canceled but it's still a wonderful show about the potential of community love and queer life.

So, Our Flag Means Death, which is a show that I liked, got itself canceled on Max. However, it did have a rather good ending with Stede and Ed (Blackbeard) shacking up together in what I presume will be that Inn/hotel that they've been floating as an idea they would pursue in the entirety of the last two seasons. Rumor is that Waititi may be shopping the series around, and that it "may" get picked up. But, it also is just fine with the episode count that it has. Our Flag Means Death was always just super ridiculous, which is what made it fun, and I wondered how long the writers could keep the gags coming. However, they never dropped the ball and just when I thought something was played out, they found a way to continue playing it out some more.

If you happen to be queer, there's a lot to love in Our Flag Means Death. It's the show that tried to take bloodthirsty, murderous, and thieving pirates and then inject into them the modern liberal values of respect, gender equality, reasonableness, creating safe places to express emotions, and treating each other with dignity. It was that utter contrast that got me invested in it in the first place. It was full of comedians who are very good at comedic timing. You had Leslie Jones as a murderous polygmist who runs a bar and has over a dozen husbands. She literally has a jar of noses she cuts off men that displease her, and it sits on her bar. Yet, she had this fun soft side where she got to act like a girl and just be treated to massages by her husband of the night. 

There was the actor who played Stede Bonnet, a rich aristocrat from England, who was bored with his life of silver spoons and who had a lovely wife, but what he really craved was a life at sea while getting shagged by a man. But you could never take the "aristocrat" out of Stede, so he hosted tea parties on his ship, which was meticulously clean, and was the captain of a pirate crew who were free to be who they really are with no judgment. So, you had gays loving on each other, baking cakes, and others crying out their traumas in emotional support groups on deck.

Most of these people were based on real-life folks who actually lived. And I was surprised to learn that there is evidence to suggest that Blackbeard and Stede actually did have a romance together. This is where life gets stranger than fiction. But for its lovely queer moments, Our Flag Means Death was also a freakshow of violence and death, albeit carried out in over-the-top performances that managed to stay charismatic to the very end. One such moment came when Izzy Hands died. This was a character I liked a lot that had a grotesque amputation earlier in season two (due to professing love for Blackbeard and Blackbeard being in a dark place due to breaking up with Stede). In the end, Our Flag Means Death was always a bittersweet show committed to portraying the full scope of queer life and identity. As a result, it attracted a fanbase that wasn't ashamed to let its freak flag fly. This show had an enormous amount of queer expression and characters of all stripes and flavors of queer. The fanbase which is mostly made of Gen Z peeps was not happy with Izzy's death due to many people identifying with that character really hard. 

Some of the comments made online that attacked this fanbase circled around the idea that LitRPG and isekai are both effectively centered around reassuring readers/viewers that their inability to cope with reality isn't a failing. Rather, you're just meant to live in the world of your favorite video game where everything is numbers, and you can control everything with your elite skills. Like seriously...these are comments from haters of Our Flag Means Death lobbed at the "modern snowflakes." It's dismissive in the sense that there are other generations of people who watched the show (I'm a Gen Xer) got invested in the characters, and many of us aren't afraid of conflict. Rather, it's just nice that there's a show about processing grief and finding community, which is at the heart of what made Our Flag Means Death a special thing. However, the first few episodes of Our Flag Means Death did not telegraph this well. It started as a black comedy similar to how The Orville got its start. Early on, people got killed, they made jokes about doing horrible crimes, and the romance side didn't really start until the last couple of episodes of the first season.

In the end, I loved Our Flag Means Death and while my favorites have always been Ed (Blackbeard) and Stede and their romantic arc, I came to appreciate the strong underlying through-line of the power of community, especially queer community, to save lives and give hope. Ed and Stede were comic protagonists in the most archetypal sense. They were flawed people who are facing a flawed world, who nevertheless will (ultimately) be able to create something better through the power of their love, because love is transformative. But Our Flag Means Death showed us so much about the transformative potential of "community" love, which the crew embraced, but which Ed and Stede weren't quite ready for. The character of Izzy (who fully embraced that transformative community love) ends up being the one that suffers. I understand why the story played out as it did, but it would have been nice if they had found a way to reconcile those powerful themes a little better than just killing off Izzy's character.

On Friday, I plan to write about All the Light We Cannot See. Until then, godspeed.