What’s All the Hoopla About?

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So, I’m a little late today as I got up a bit later than normal.  I would normally do the blog either during breakfast or shortly afterwards, but today (in addition to picking up my car–yay!) I needed to reset my password to Hoopla, a service that my home public library, Chattanooga Public Library subscribes to and that I have access to by being a member.

What is Hoopla?

Hoopla is a streaming service that is more than just a traditional streaming service.  It allows you to borrow (for my institution) 10 items per month.  Notice that I said, items, not movies or TV shows.  It does have movies and television, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.  However, it also has comics/graphic novelsebooksaudiobooks, and music (!).  I’ve used it before and really liked it.  What it lacks in terms of terms of hit releases (very few major releases), it makes up with breadth–there are a lot of good genre materials embedded within each of the categories.

Summer Hoopla

So, while I’ve got a ton of work to do over the summer, in terms of getting ready for my summer classes this summer, I’m going to try to catch up on reading some of the comics/graphic novels (& books) that I’ve put off over the school year.  They have quite a few Marvel graphic novels, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other properties (again, books and graphic novels, mostly, not so much with movies/television).  Still, now that I trying to integrate Popular Culture into my scholarship as a Pop. Culture scholar, I actually need some pop. culture to go with my scholarship.

I would encourage you to check out Hoopla if your library has a subscription.  If not, then you might want to see if your library has something similar.  It is a really useful service that I plan to investigate more over this summer.

Sidney




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The Expanse: Season 1 (Mini-Review)

A “Spaceship Show” for the Grimdark set

So, The Expanse is a “Syfy” TV show that has been billed as “Game of Thrones in Space” (it isn’t really, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have similarities.  The story is supposed to be a more mature, “realistic” look at Science Fiction.  The show is based on a series novels by James S. A. Corey, which according to a quick check on GoodReads, is up to Book 8 in the “mainline” series, although based on GR, it looks like the author has several “gap” novels that fill in various parts of the story and that exist “between” the time-period of the main story.

I’ve not read the novels, but the show is fairly standard.  It weaves three main stories together: a sci-fi noir detective story about a cop trying to find a missing young woman, a political thriller between a potential war between Earth, Mars and “Belters” (those who live & work in the Asteroid Belt), and a “spaceship show” about the survivors of The Canterbury (aka The Cant) who later become the crew of a new ship: The Rocinante (The Roci).  Each of these tales gets woven with the others, although it doesn’t happen until the later episodes (season 1 is 10 episodes long).

Too Dark, Literally & Figuratively.

Is the show any good.  Not really, not unless you like poorly explained character motivations, trite dialogue that is supposed to be edgy, and character deaths just for the sake of “shock” value (the whole “no one is safe–anyone can die at any time” motif).  The problem is that is a fairly conventional TV show masquerading as edgy.  While a few characters do die, it is nothing like what I’ve heard happens on shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and the few deaths that occur, like most in the genre of “Grimdark,” seem mean-spirited and in poor taste.

Also, in order to go for that grimy, noir vibe, they made the filter really dark.  No, I mean really dark–the color pallet is so desaturated that, after 2-3 episodes, you’ll be reaching for your brightness controls to turn them up just to see the action.  It’s a stylistic choice, sure, but a poor one–they do it to emphasize the deficit that Belters and Mars citizens feel that they have to Earth with its open skies and open water, but it just makes the show seem really bland to me–Bladerunner (the original) did the whole “dystopian” vibe better and with more vibrancy and that was 30-40 years ago.

Oh, and as was suggested by an online review on Amazon Prime where I watched it, be sure to turn on Captions.  Not only is some of the dialogue hard to hear/understand, but the “Belters” speak (sometimes) in their own made-up dialect.  Sometimes this dialect sounds like creole and can be understood and sometimes it is completely alien words that are more like a foreign language.  Good idea in theory, but again, in practice, a poor choice.

Good actors, Poor Story

About the only things that I liked in this first season was the “spaceship scenes” and the female characters.  Anytime anyone was in a spaceship, the show was at least watchable.  Somehow, the producers, directors, and writers seem to “get” the whole spaceship, crew interactions, and space drama of the show (except for the intro “sex” scene not 5 mins into the first episode which turned me off initially–again their attempt to be “edgy,” but it just made it feel sophomoric–especially since this follows the noir section which itself seems like a pastiche of other, better dystopias).  All the other times, the show seems forced, pretentious, and decidedly not fun to watch.

really liked the female characters, however, on the show.  For some reason, these seemed like the only real characters on the show.  All of them, from the political diplomat on Earth, to the “Captain” of The Rocinante, to the “former” girlfriend/lover/partner to the noir detective, even down to the “mother” of one of the main characters (who is only in one episode for a few minutes) feel fully realized where the men seem like caricatures is many instances (for the most part–of course, there are exceptions).

Overall Score: C (73-77)

The only reason I didn’t score it lower was because I really like the female characters in the story and the acting overall by the cast.  Had I been grading just the actual material (writing, dialogue, style, plot, etc.), then it would have earned a D (63-67).

Look, I don’t like “Grimdark.”  So any story that features grimdark elements has an uphill battle for me to enjoy it, no matter its success in the mainstream.  It just isn’t what I like–not to read, not to watch, not to consume in any medium.  Will I watch Season 2 which is available on Prime right now?  Yes, probably.  Will I watch it immediately?  No, I’m good for now.  I might pick it back up later this summer, but I think I’ll move on to another “spaceship show” if I can find one.   Will I read the books?  Most assuredly not.  Like Game of Thrones, this one is for a different audience than me–and that’s okay.

As a writer myself, however, I just wished it worked the other way around.  Fair’s fair, after all.

 

Sidney




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Potpourri May 2018

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So this (short) post is just a little bit about everything that I’m currently doing right now.

  • Watching The Expanse: I’m not really feeling the show all that much, but I need a “spaceship” show at the moment to get me through Final Exam week and help me as I get my car repaired.  Will probably do a mini-review of it after I watch all the seasons (there are 3 total, but only seasons 1 & 2 are currently “free” on Streaming via Amazon Prime.
  • Project Poet (Rough Draft): Two-Thirds (⅔) way complete.  Not really happy with the way it is turning out, but then again, I guess that’s what rough drafts are for.  There’s no magic in this one, so it doesn’t really seem like a Fantasy story, but it is one that I really like the idea for.  I may have to find a way to add in a “magic system,” however, because it seems really slow and boring otherwise.
  • Recently Watched Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: I’m putting this one on the list to remind myself that I need to do a mini-review of this movie as I saw it about 2 weeks ago.  I didn’t much care for The Fifth Element (never actually managed to ever get through the whole movie), but I thought this might actually win me over.  Spoilers for the mini-review: it didn’t. 🙂
  • The trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp has just been released.  Now this is a Marvel movie that I think I can get behind this summer.  It looks really fun!  And best of all, NO SPOILERS ANYWHERE IN SIGHT!  🙂  🙂

 

  • Finished the OUTLINES for two (2) new Projects: Project Paradise and Project Independence:  I finished the plot outlines for two new stories.  Both are science-fiction stories that I’m really excited about writing over the summer.  More on these projects as when I finish the Rough Drafts for them.

Well, that’s all I have for right now as I need to work on finishing several small school-related projects.  Talk to you later!

Sidney




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Mini-Review: Netflix’s Lost in Space

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Image of Netflix’s Lost in Space, Robot and Will Robinson, Penny and Judy Robinson.  Image Source: Film Daily

A Great Start

So, last week I finished watching Season 1 of Netflix’s Lost in Space, a 10 Episode Science Fiction show reboot of the original 1960s show and the 1990s movie version and I have to say that I really enjoyed it!  I watched it a 2nd time over this weekend in lieu of Avengers Infinity War in order to help take my mind off the car trouble that I had over the weekend and it held up over a 2nd viewing.  It is classic science fiction, but unlike most modern shows (this includes pretty all genres), the science is fairly crucial to the story.  While not overblown or overbearing, the fact that the new show portrays the Robinsons as mostly a family of scientists and doctors (the father is now a marine vet. who is better at combat than at pure science–but even he has his moments), they actually use the skills and knowledge that they are supposed to have in much the same way the detectives and lawyers on Law and Order use their skills find the perpetrator of the crime and use the law to get a conviction.  This makes the show feel grounded and more realistic than other recent sci-fi shows that I like and watch.

Danger, Will Robinson

I won’t go into spoilers, but a certain robot with a certain “catch-phrase” is back and the origin is pretty unique.  The robot is central to the plot, however, so if you’re not a robot person, then you’re not going to like the show because the robot is as much the main character in the show as is Will Robinson.  Sometimes the robot is CGI and sometimes the robot is some sort of “suit.”  While the robot didn’t bother me particularly, I know from at least one YouTube review of the show that one reviewer said that when it was the “suit,” it brought her out of the experience.  I didn’t really notice it myself, so I’ll just say Your Mileage May Vary depending on your tolerance for special effects.  I know it makes a difference as, while I wasn’t born yet when the original show came on, I could never go back and watch reruns of the original show because of the dated nature of the special effects after having seen the special effects in the Star Wars and Star Trek movies.  I really liked all of the characters in the Robinson family–each was made wildly different from one another and it was easy to differentiate between them, but their skill set and knowledge-base complemented each other.  Well done to the writers on clear and effective characterization.

Dr. Smith, I Presume

So, the chief antagonist is Dr. Smith, played by Parker Posey.  Now her character is polarizing: one reviewer loves the character while another reviewer called her character a major problem for the show.  I personally liked the way she played the character.  The way the character was written and the way the story unfolded, I felt like I understood her every motivation.  Again, no spoilers, but they update Dr. Smith’s character into a “modern day” conception of a bad guy.  If there’s a problem with the character, this is where I think it lies.  I’ve said time and again that being the anti-hero doesn’t really work because at some point, the anti-hero/villain is only out for number one and will work against you when their purposes no longer align with yours, and Dr. Smith is the epitome of this philosophy.  What I think is happening is that the dislike/distaste that people feel toward the Dr. Smith character is actually their distaste for the notion that someone would be selfish enough to work against the group for their own ends so ruthlessly (which is what a villain actually does) and their transposing that distaste onto the character/actor.  Again, Your Mileage May Vary, but the “flashbacks” that show Dr. Smith’s earlier actions before crashing with the Robinson’s sufficiently explained why she acted the way she did and I always felt that I understood her motivations even if I didn’t agree with them.

Overall Score: A- (91-92)

Look, I’m not going to lie, I really liked this story.  I like that there’s a lot of science and science-based concepts in it while also retaining quite a few “science fiction” tropes that really make it interesting.  I really like that it isn’t “grim dark” and is more of a family show that kids and adults can enjoy.  I like the characters and felt that all of them (even Dr. Smith) had interesting and sufficient characterization for me to understand why they were doing what they were doing.  The only reason that I didn’t give it a solid was the fact that it did slow down in a couple of places where they were establishing the robot as a “friend” to Will and Will’s decision not to tell his father (originally) about the robot.  Not telling his father was something that seemed like the writers needing it for the plot and not organically from Will’s character because it sets up a situation later on that could have been avoided had Will told his father about it sooner.  Other than that, however, I found the story to be a fun, and interesting ride.  I’m looking forward to Season 2 (fingers crossed as I haven’t heard if it will get another season yet).

Sidney




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The Olympics Opening Ceremony

So, this will be a shorter blog post–I’ve managed to get behind in my school work (what’s new?) and I need to use today to catch up–but I wanted to give a shout-out to the Olympics Opening Ceremony which I will hopefully watch tonight.  I really love the Olympics, but I never really get to see a whole lot of it.  I probably (still) won’t get to see many of the sporting events, but I almost always try to see the Opening Ceremonies, but we’ll see if that happens today.

I cut the cord a while back and the major disadvantage is trying to find live sporting events that are not on regular TV.  In this case, NBC in America is showing it on regular TV, but I won’t be where I can get to the TV easily and it is always a crapshoot as to whether NBC (& to be fair, other providers such as CBS and ABC) will allow people to watch content without a subscription/login.  NBC also streamed the Super Bowl without needing a login/subscription, so I’m hopeful they will stream this as well, but I haven’t actually investigated it yet.

Here’s hoping and I’ll keep my fingers crossed!  If not, I’ll just have to miss this Opening Ceremony and hope that I will be able to see the Opening Ceremony for the Summer 2020 Olympics.

Sidney
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Battlestar Galactica: Then and Now

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Battlestar Galactica TV Poster,

Battlestar Galactica: Then
I suppose this is my “when I was a child . . .” posting where I rant and rave about these “darn kids” and how the new generation is messing everything up.  It is isn’t really, but I do want to briefly talk about Battlestar Galactica (or BSG as it is referred to these days).  I am lucky enough to have seen the original as a child and (some) of the newer series (more on that below) as an adult and one can see how media can shift over a generation.  I love the idea of BSG.  Yes, it was inspired in that wave of “knock-offs” where TV execs of the time wanted a “Star Wars“-like show to capitalize on the popularity of the movie.  BSG was one of many such endeavors, but it stuck around because even though the stories are “hokey” by today’s standards, they still revealed a pathos and a sense of “fun” that was endemic in late 70s/early 80s TV.  This was the Sci-Fi equivalent to The Love BoatFantasy IslandQuincy M.E., Alice, and The Facts of Life to name a few.  Even though it was on in the early 80s, it was just before the “New Wave” of 80s show exemplified by Magnum P.I., and Miami Vice, both of which, while having fun plots, had a much harder edge to them at the time.  BSG‘s plots were mostly sci-fi in nature, but with a social tinge to them.  However, they were mostly about family (Boomer & Boxie) being the main giveaways.  They could go dark (I seem to remember a character died in the show), but for the most part they were fun stories that shows like Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda harkened back to.

 

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Battlestar Galactic: Now
However, BSG’s new series was critically acclaimed and lauded as one of the best shows on TV.  I watched the Mini-Series and was fairly impressed.  I knew that they would update the themes and the like, so I wasn’t expecting a “saccharine” version of the original.  I think the mini-series was very well done.  I could have gone without the fascination behind Baltar’s sex life or the rumination on Religion and the “Sins of the Father” that they use as a theme for the show, but the science fictional story/set-up was great and the music was exceptional (still influencing sci-fi shows and games to this day).  However, when the actual series started and season 1 began, it went downhill from there with me.  The science fiction lessened and the social, political, and religious elements took forefront in the stories to such an extent that I was only able to last midway through the first season.  I would periodically check in on the show by checking out various odd episodes, but I was never able to get back into the series.  The science fiction, when they focused on that, was top-notch.  Seeing the Galactica plummet in the atmosphere of a planet as it gives aid before jumping back out again is one of the strongest examples of sci-fi I have ever seen on TV and is seared into my mind.  Yet, in many ways, it helped to usher in the whole GrimDark idea that shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones took and ran with as there were many times when I saw Bad Things Happen to Good People on the show and while others might argue that is “sophisticated” and “realistic,” I argue that it is exactly the opposite, “churlish,” and in “poor taste.”

I happened to watch the Mini-Series again on Amazon Prime and was reminded of the potential that the show had–potential to really focus on the greatness of humanity.  While others will say that the potential was realized–to be fair, it has more Emmy wins than I even have publications.  However, based on the way the original BSG fired my imagination as a child and helped to mold me into the reader/writer/lover of Sci-Fi that I am today, I can’t help but wonder it that is really true.

Sidney




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Star Trek Backwards–Finished Star Trek: The Next Generation

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So, over Winter Break I finished quite a few Sci-Fi shows (series).  One of them was Star Trek: The Next Generation.  This one was my first Star Trek series that I watched and finished during its syndicated run.  I had seen episodes of the original Star Trek series (and really liked one in particular which I’ll talk more about when I watch the original series), but STNG was the first series that I was able to sit down and watch on a weekly basis.

Old School and New School
The show starts off quite a bit rougher than I remember.  I knew that Worf’s character underwent alterations as the show went on, but I hadn’t remembered how extensive those were in terms of both characterization as well as costuming.  It was almost jarring to watch the first season (and most of the 2nd) until the third and fourth seasons, where the show began to resemble what my (nostalgic) mind remembered.  I have to be honest, I really liked the “New School” (later seasons) quite a bit better than I did the “Old School” episodes (the earlier ones).  I found the stories to be more nuanced and sophisticated.  Many of my most favorite episodes, appeared in the later half of the shows run.  My favorite episode would probably be “Cause and Effect” (in Season 5) which is a “Looping” sci-fi story done right.  This would be followed closely behind by “Remember Me” in Season 4 which is a mystery in which Dr. Crusher must find out what happened to an old friend.

Science Fiction vs Social Stories
To me, STNG is at its best (I feel) when it deals with Science Fiction first and deals with Social Issues second.  While I have enjoyed some of the social issues that the show presents, such as the episode where women are dominant in the culture and men are striving for a more tolerant society, I feel that the stories that deal explicitly with some science concept–even if it is based on “technobabble”–are the much stronger stories because they are what George Scithers from the book On Writing Science Fiction says is the purpose of science fiction: real people dealing with real problems involving science.  This is what truly sticks out in my head and something that I try to remember when writing my stories.  It is, in fact, one of the reasons I couldn’t get into the new Battlestar Galactica (I’ll talk about this in another blog post) fully and dropped out midway through the first season.  When BSG focuses on its science fictional plots, it was one of the best series out there, but too often, the stories (I feel) were weighed down with lengthly polemics on religion, politics, and the soul.  These are questions better left to the “subplot” of science fiction stories, but BSG often made them the primary plot which took so much of the fun out of it for me.  Luckily, STNG was before the current “GrimDark” nonsense that currently pervades media (such as Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and others of similar ilk).  It kept the social commentary (mostly) to the subplots and allowed the main plots to focus more on how the crew of the Enterprise solved the problems that they were thrown into which revealed their characters’ drives and made the show such a well received entry in the Star Trek universe.

Overall Rating: A (I really should say A- due to the uneven nature of the plotting/characterization of the early seasons, but the nostalgia factor is high on this one, so I give it a slight bump up to the low A’s for being a Sci-Fi show that understood science and character first, social commentary second.

Sidney
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