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My Archives: June 2003

Monday, June 30, 2003

Hyperion on my mind
Posted by CKL @ 05:56 PM PST
I finished reading Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion last week. I admit, I often hurry through books, especially ones which are heavily plot-driven. Even so, there were a lot of Big Ideas packed into that little paperback, and by the end, I felt like my head was about to explode. Seriously.

The story is a direct continuation of Hyperion, but I understand why Simmons (or his editor) split it in two. First of all, if it had been a single book, it would have been a couple thousand pages long. Harry Potter notwithstanding, most readers aren't going to lug around a book that requires heavy machinery to lift. Secondly, and most importantly, the two halves are complete narrative opposites.

Hyperion is all leisurely storytelling, and has been compared to The Canterbury Tales; Fall of Hyperion metamorphoses into a slam-bang interstellar war epic that recalls Larry Niven, Tom Clancy, and Virgil in scope, if not style. Hyperion describes the world of the Hegemony in great detail, and Fall tears it all down.

I admire a writer who is willing to create a universe for the express purpose of destroying it. Maybe it's because I'm so reluctant to abandon my own stories after putting so much work into them. Sometimes I don't want to finish writing something because once I'm done, I'll have left that world. I can't fully separate my roles as creator and audience. I almost feel as if the story would cease to live once I had ended it, and I don't want to leave yet.

I know, it's silly. We all have our neuroses, don't we?

As for Fall of Hyperion, I still feel like I didn't quite understand everything that happened in the last hundred pages or so. I'm also not convinced all the time travel stuff actually works out. But hey, that's why I'm reading Endymion.


Sunday, June 22, 2003

Posted by CKL @ 02:46 AM PST
I have a lot of problems with The WB's Smallville. I watch it because, well, I'm a drooling fanboy, and I loved the Superman comics when I was growing up. (These days, I don't have time to keep up with all the seventeen thousand Superman titles that DC publishes-- I'm sure it's actually fewer than that, but geez, how shamelessly can you milk a cash cow?)

I had high hopes for Smallville. Believe it or not, I like the idea of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor being friends in childhood; it's a classic betrayal story, fraught with Shakespearean potential. I also support any revision to the "Superboy" canon. Anyone remember Beppo the Super-Monkey? Or the Superboy Robots, which were activated by Superboy's X-ray vision and could travel through time? I'm not making this up.

Unfortunately, Smallville is managing to be just as silly, albeit in different ways. Lex Luthor is, hands down, the most interesting character on the show, but the stories are constantly cutting away from him to deal with the kryptonite-of-the-week supervillain. Why, in the name of Joss, would you ever want to not deal with such a deeply tortured and conflicted ego?

Tell me the show wouldn't be more tantalizing if it revolved around Lex Luthor, with only glimpses of the Kent family. We know all about Clark Kent; that story's been told and retold for sixty-five years now. But what about Lex Luthor? We know next to nothing about his history. Why not focus on filling in those blanks, and avoid annoying all the purists who prefer their Superman history unsullied by lazy writing and vapid love triangles?

Another thing: Tom Welling is just too damn pretty to be Clark Kent.

The thing I loved most about the whole Superman phenomenon, the most fundamental coolness, is that it was created by two nerdy Jewish kids who probably got their glasses broken more than once in the schoolyard. From an interview with Jerry Siegel:

"As a high school student ... I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed. As a matter of fact, some of them looked like they hoped I didn't exist. It occurred to me: What if I was real terrific? What if I had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that? Then maybe they would notice me."

Tell me Smallville wouldn't be more interesting if it starred DJ Qualls as Clark Kent. And just about anybody else on the damn planet as Lana Lang. I'm sure Kristin Kreuk's a sweet girl, but I can't believe she actually gets paid for "acting." It doesn't help that the writers feel they need to manufacture tension through coincidence and random jeopardy rather than invest their characters with real emotion. Most episodes, I feel like there's only about twenty minutes of actual story.

Having said all that, there are some good things about the show.

Lex and Lionel Luthor are consistently engaging (though the "hey-I'm-blind-oh-wait-no-I'm-not" thing was stupid. Really stupid. 24 stupid). And the visual effects and stunt teams kick ass. I still miss the first season opening titles, with that shot of Lex's car and Clark's body falling off the bridge. Beauty. Though it's always a bad sign when the best thing about an episode is the bullet-time raindrops scene, and you have to fast-forward through all the boring crap about the little ghost girl who's actually a clone. With kryptonite-based superpowers, of course. Sigh.

I like the latest plot twist, in which Clark's biological father, Jor-El, is actually a megalomaniac who wants his son to take over the world. And it tickles me that the producers got Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in Superman II, to play the voice of Jor-El. But I could have done without the ridiculous cave paintings.

Last but not least, the theme song (Remy Zero's "Save Me") rocks.

All in all, Smallville is a pretty good demonstration of Sturgeon's Law: it's ninety percent crap. But, surviving as I do in a world of mundanes, I have a pretty high tolerance for crap. And the ten percent that's good is, so far, still worth my time.


Saturday, June 21, 2003

Remakes From Hell
Posted by CKL @ 02:03 PM PST
Okay, so I've just watched all six teasers for the Sci-Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica remake, and I'm ready to be disappointed in December. The teasers were pretty much content-free, not surprisingly, but the production design alone disheartens me.

The new Galactica looks like pretty much any other space show on TV, which means it's already lost one of its big selling points. Sure, the original show tried to cash in on the Star Wars craze-- Colonial Vipers instead of Rebel X-Wings, Cylon Raiders instead of Imperial TIE Fighters-- but the look of the show was unique, in large part because the art department borrowed liberally from ancient Egyptian symbology.

Now, however, Stargate SG-1 has a lock on the whole Egyptian thing, and all the other Galactica 2003 downloads on confirm my teaser observations: it's going to look a lot like Space: Above and Beyond. Where the original Galactica wasn't afraid to make props plain or boxy, in true military fashion, Galactica 2003 appears to want everything to look sleeker and more streamlined-- including their actresses. (Yeah, Jane Seymour was in the original Galactica, but she usually wore a uniform.)

I shudder to imagine what they've done to Stu Phillips' theme music. Please, ghod, let it not be techno.

I also suspect some of the more exotic embellishments-- funny names ("Starbuck," "Cassiopeia"), non-standard units of measurement ("centon," "yahren"), G-rated profanity substitutes ("filter-carb")-- have disappeared, in an attempt to make the show more accessible to Joe Six-Pack. Doesn't anyone remember the Galactica 1980 spin-off and what a colossal failure that was? The point is not to make something that's like every other damn thing on the tube, the point is to make something new and interesting in a different way.

Maybe I'm wrong. And maybe the actual story will make up for all these shortcomings and more. But for a TV show, what the audience sees is a big part of the experience, and even if your story is Hamlet or Citizen Kane, if it looks like crap, well, I'm not going to taste it, too.


Friday, June 20, 2003

Headline of the Week
Posted by CKL @ 04:15 PM PST
"Army sent to stop killer elephants"

I can't wait for the movie, which will surely be called...

wait for it...

Operation Dumbo Stop.


Thursday, June 12, 2003

Japanning for Gold
Posted by CKL @ 06:42 PM PST
(No, I didn't steal that title from Win Ben Stein's Money. Thanks for asking.)

Back in March, Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I, for one, was very happy about this. After handing the award to Shrek last year-- a good movie, mind you, but hardly better than Monsters, Inc.-- I was ready to be unequivocally outraged when the lame-ass talking-horse flick won in 2003. But justice was done, for once.

I mention this because I've been watching anime this week. Cartoon Network airs "Cowboy Bebop" six nights a week (albeit at 1:30AM), and Warner Brothers just released the Animatrix DVD: a collection of nine short films based in the universe of The Matrix, most created by Japanese animators of the ilk whose work inspired much of the design of The Matrix to begin with.

Granted, these two things might have happened anyway. Certainly the Matrix juggernaut would not have been stopped, and Cartoon Network gets at least a quarter of its schedule from the empire of the sun anyway. But an Academy Award commands respect.

If justice prevails, mainstream Western culture will stop dismissing anime as just kiddie fare like "Pokemon," "Hamtaro," or "Voltron." Those paying attention will get wise to Grave of the Fireflies, a drama which "belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made" (thank you, Roger Ebert). Or Ghost in the Shell and Akira, whose teleologies make the philosophy of The Matrix look like a misspelled fortune cookie.

Sure, most anime is still about giant robots, young schoolgirls in short skirts, and/or furry creatures with huge eyes. And that whole hentai thing is pretty disturbing. But, as I've always said, this is what happens when you drop two atomic bombs on a country: the mutation of a traditional art form into something more. Some expressions will be hideous. Some will be beautiful, perhaps even magnificent. All of them will be transcendent.

Think of it as evolution in action.


Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Voodoo Economics
Posted by CKL @ 10:56 AM PST
Things are only worth as much as we say they're worth.

Repeat after me: there is no intrinsic value to anything. There is no absolute arbiter of price. What may be too expensive for you is a pittance to someone else, and I'm not only speaking in monetary terms. Ethnocentricity and parochialism are the bane of rational thinkers everywhere. Allow your own cultural, personal, or emotional bias to influence your observation of the universe, and you'll get no useful information. Not everyone shares your philosophy. Not everyone values freedom above security. Not everyone enjoys sitcoms.

I was out with some friends last week, and one of them mentioned that he'd downloaded The Matrix Reloaded from the Internet, where it had been available a full day before it opened in theatres. He had burned the movie to a VCD and played the "good parts" version for his fiance, so she got to skip all the less-than-thrilling exposition scenes.

Nobody blinked an eye at this casual mention of piracy. Movie studios are spending ghod-knows-how-much money trying to convince the world that video piracy is rampant and will bankrupt the entertainment industry, but consumers aren't listening. Most don't even believe the argument.

Why should only the studios get to reap the benefits of technology? They can save time and money by producing and distributing films digitally, but box office ticket prices are still rising. This is considered good business. When the average moviegoer saves time and money by downloading a movie to watch at home instead of paying $10 or more to see it at a theatre, she's considered a criminal.

Intellectual property is a fictitious construct. With physical property, we can at least fall back on the old adage that possession is nine-tenths of the law; when we're dealing with information that can be reproduced as many times as possible with no degradation of quality, things get more confusing.

A long string of ones and zeros has no intrinsic value. It could be a movie, or the complete works of Shakespeare, or a new single from Eminem. It might be in QuickTime format, or mp3, or Ogg Vorbis, or something you've never heard of. It might be encrypted. It might be truncated. It might have been corrupted in transit and now useless.

The seller and the buyer have to agree on the value of the merchandise. In this case, when the seller is unwilling to offer the merchandise the buyer wants, and the buyer simply extracts it for herself, what is the cost of that action? The seller, having already paid to produce the merchandise, doesn't actually lose anything except profit. Yes, it is a breach of the social contract, but is it a crime?

Things are only worth as much as we say they're worth.


Sunday, June 8, 2003

Where am I?
Posted by CKL @ 12:54 AM PST
Right now, I'm in a room on the tenth floor of a Courtyard Marriott in San Francisco, typing a new HotSheet entry using a wireless keyboard and the in-room "TV Internet" service ($10.99 for 24 hours). The web browser-- a Java client developed by Espial-- identifies itself as Netscape 4.61, but the interface looks and feels suspiciously like WebTV. (Not to mention the Windows 98 shutdown logo that appears when I choose "Exit.") Several features, including "History" and "Favorites," are disabled, but at least the "Search" button takes me directly to Google.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Future Shock
Posted by CKL @ 01:22 PM PST
"I don't usually wear my glasses into a shower. Since I couldn't see what buttons I was pushing, the crotch-level nozzle blasting 102-degree water came as a shock--and my attempts to shut it off only caused other nozzles to splash me as if I were in a penitentiary riot." -- from "A Night in the Hotel of the Future" by Michael S. Lasky,

Recursive Poetry
Posted by CKL @ 12:26 AM PST
It's Rob's Amazing Poem Generator at! (Yes, I know the source code was last modified over five years ago. What's your point?)

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Fun Steps
Posted by CKL @ 05:55 PM PST
One: I visit, which I do nearly every day, to keep up on my Buffyverse news.

Two: I follow the Eliza Dushku: Girlfriend Of The Day link to the Maxim magazine web site. Hey, I'm male.

Three: I am nonplussed by the whole "Girlfriend Of The Day" concept. It's a little too obvious, and the sound-bite/centerfold combination doesn't do anything for me. Especially with such unimaginative photography. Thank you, I know what female anatomy looks like. Have you anything more interesting to show me? No? Good-bye.

Four: I remember the Flick Filosopher Bias Meter, a much more amusing web page which includes not only "current boyfriend" but "current enemy" (sometimes "enemies"). Better. The only thing she's missing is web links to the objects of her obsession, but I can see how that might cheapen the whole Bias Meter experience.

I'm sure I can make up eight more steps, but that would be pretty silly.


Posted by CKL @ 01:36 PM PST
So I haven't been writing quite as much as I had wanted to. But I have been thinking about it a lot more-- constructing sentences or phrases in my head, stringing words together, even if I don't actually write them down. That's not the important thing anyway.

I used to keep a journal, but gave up after two hard drive failures sent all my data to oblivion. And maybe somebody will be interested in my ramblings after I'm dead, but I'm not really writing for other people... it's difficult to explain. If I wanted only to please others, I'd just be a drone, and I don't want that. I write to express myself, yes, but it's not just communication. It's art.

I'm easing myself into it. Yeah, that's the ticket.


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