Wednesday, December 31, 2014

io9's best science fiction & fantasy books of 2014

Well, the only books I've read from the list are The Peripheral, The Martian, and Lock-In, which just goes to show I should really read more new stuff (I blame this on my pulp addiction). I actually thought The Martian and Lock-In came out last year, so I'm a bit more current than I usually am at this point in the year.

Here's their list.

And here's a fairly new video of William Gibson talking The Peripheral:

I love how the interviewer mentions he used to pretend he was Case as a kid

As for my New Year's Eve plans tonight, I have no idea. Frankly, I just want to sit around at home and watch the ball drop because that and The Oscars are the only two television "events" I watch all year. I just don't like getting drunk on the one day of the year everyone's drinking and yes, I realize how crazy-paranoid-silly that sounds. A friend reminded me of time zones and the fact China isn't celebrating the new year today, so theoretically there should be plenty of sober people to deal with a potential alien invasion.

Speaking of time zones, each year I'm reminded of Louis Wu in Larry Niven's Ringworld who, at the beginning of the story, decides to extend his 200th birthday by hopping across time zones via teleportation. Here's something I haven't realized until today: that novel's over forty years old. Man, we're getting old, aren't we?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Infobitt: the news version of Wikipedia


This might be cool: Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger is working on a Wikipedia-like site that ranks facts from the news in an interesting way. From the "short version" of the manifesto:
I’m co-founder of Wikipedia. Now think back to a time before Wikipedia—the 1990s, if you’re that old. If you didn’t know the answer to a question, and a web search brought no joy, you might have to take a trip to the library, or stay ignorant.
Today, if you don’t know the answer to a question, you can find one on Wikipedia within seconds. That’s a stunning development for humanity: we now have virtually instant access to answers. That’s a historical first. It changes how we learn, how we communicate, and how we think.
How did it happen? Millions of people from across the globe understood the vision of a free, open content encyclopedia and acted on it. It was my job to organize this effort. Wikipedia was the result.
Now I hope to organize people to summarize and rank the world’s news in a free, open content news resource. The project is called Infobitt.
If this sounds a bit like Digg or Reddit, it kind of is, but with fewer cat pictures and overused memes. During a recent AMA, Sanger was asked, "How will infobitt help me decide beyond my own gut whether a piece of news is correct or not?" His answer: "We are a 'mere aggregator,' but we do not aggregate articles; we aggregate facts which we find in articles." Elsewhere in the AMA he talks about solving the problem of needing several news sources just to get all the facts, but bypassing all the redundant (and sometimes wrong) information.

I have my doubts that lightning will strike twice for Sanger, but I'm nonetheless excited about Infobitt. For the record, every service I've ever been excited for went relatively nowhere (Anyone remember me banging the drum for Diaspora? Hell, does anyone remember Diaspora?), but if he does manage to combine the reliability of Wikipedia with the ease-of-use of Reddit, I think Infobitt is going to be pretty useful. While I was originally skeptical of putting too much faith in the accuracy of Wikipedia, I've since learned to use it for what it's best at: being a starting point for research and a handy collection of references. Today I love the featured article of the day and the "in the news" section, too. Luckily, Sanger is the guy who wrote "Wikipedia's neutrality policy" (according to him), so the problems you would except from "just anyone being allowed to contribute" will hopefully be mitigated as well as they are on Wikipedia.

The Infobitt team is holding a "pledge drive" for facts: "When we reach 100,000 pledges to add one fact, we’ll ask everybody to show up at once!" You can pledge here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Terminator series officially jumped the shark


I know the new Star Wars teaser is a tough act to follow, but come on guys. It doesn't even seem like you're trying. The trailer for Terminator Genisys (wow, I can't believe how icky it feels just to look at that spelling, let alone force myself to type it) feels like a lazy kid on YouTube edited it and tacked on whatever shitty music he already had lying around on his hard drive. Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese is such a gross miscalculation (here's proof) I initially turned the trailer off before it was over. That's never happened before.

To quote a hilarious line from Beavis & Butt-Head, "These special effects aren't very special, huh-huh." Watching a gray-haired Arnold Schwarzenegger dive into a helicopter prop is jumping the shark in the most disingenuous way possible. So is having a T-1000 chop off his own knife-arm to make a javelin. Speaking of the new T-1000, how is it physically possible for him to conceal all that liquid metal mass in something as thin as a car hood?

I'm not making fun of Arnie here—the guy's easily my favorite movie star ever—but he's gotta be sick of his famous catchphrase by now. According to Wikipedia, he's muttered the line (or an obvious variation of it) in over a dozen films. That's like forcing Travolta to dance in every movie he's made after Pulp Fiction. I know I'm not the only one rolling my eyes at this point..

You can read my review of Terminator Salvation here. In it I say Terminator 2 is the best in the series, but in the time since I've come to enjoy the original more. There's just something about it that's hard to define and Schwarzenegger seems more like a machine. Hell, the entire movie feels more like a machine, coldly logical and smoothy efficient.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Bullshit Awakens: Does anyone really care that John Boyega is black?

Answer: Not anyone who matters.

I'm really sick of this click-bait bullshit spreading like wildfire. Fans of Star Wars don't have a problem with the new lead's skin color. Rather, sleazy entertainment writers figured out they could design "news stories" around what know-nothing morons say in anonymous internet forums. And so it inevitably happened to Star Wars: suddenly there's a manufactured controversy.


There is no real controversy here. "Controversy" suggests Skywalker Ranch is getting picketed by nerds with lightsabers and nooses. "Controversy" suggests more than a vocal minority actually give a fuck. "Controversy," unfortunately, is nothing more than a buzzword that gets silly people to visit silly articles on silly websites like TMZ. The fans of Star Wars are too busy worrying about how a cross-hilt lightsaber works to care about an actor's skin color.

I'm an average fan of Star Wars who had an average reaction to the new teaser trailer. The second I saw Boyega's face pop into view, I breathed a sigh of relief. For one, I didn't expect to see a lead in the trailer at all. Two, the teaser immediately looks, sounds, and feels more energetic than most of the stuff we saw in the PT ("prequel trilogy" for all you muggles). Those were my only two reactions to Boyega's appearance and I've known and been around enough Star Wars fans to say with certainty that's a pretty universal response. The majority of us were thrilled when we originally learned the lead of Attack the Block had been cast... when the news was reported several months ago.

The only people who have a problem with Boyega's skin are anonymous internet commentators... you know, the people who don't matter in the real world because they don't even live in it. These are the same sheltered morons who believe humans never landed on the moon and that Obama is related to Saddam Hussein. So why, really, does anyone give a shit what they think on this matter when we don't give a shit about everything else they say? And why the hell haven't the rest of us figured out they'll keep coming back when we keep giving them so much attention?

Some fans are worried about the story continuity because they believe all post-PT stormtroopers are clones of Jango Fett, who wasn't black. But the most obvious indication that the reign of Jangos is over is that all the stormtroopers in the original trilogy don't all share the same voice or height. Yeah, I understand that the OT was made a long time before the PT and George Lucas may have just messed up. But given Lucas's reputation, we can be reasonably sure he would have dubbed over all the OT stormtroopers' voices in the newer editions if he had intended them to be clones.

But that's not our only indication that all stormtroopers are not clones. From the Star Wars wiki:

By the time the Galactic Civil War began in earnest, Jango Fett's clones were heavily supplanted by clones based on a variety of templates around 9 BBY,[13] followed shortly after by enlisted Humans.[19] Thus, the Fett clones were ironically reduced to a minority status after years of virtually filling the stormtrooper ranks in its entirety.

And even if all stormtroopers are clones in the new trilogy... who cares? I just assumed Boyega was wearing the armor as a disguise, the way Luke and Han did in the OT. It didn't even occur to me he might be a real stormtrooper until I started reading the comments on fan forums suggesting he was a bonafide deserter. (I still think he's just using the armor as a disguise, for the record.)

This is all to say that this is Star Wars, not Duck Dynasty. Nobody gives a shit what color your skin is in this fandom. The ones who do just aren't welcome and they never have been.