messier object

the fringe files: 2×11*, “unearthed”

Hooray, Fringe is back – and back to direct calques of X-Files episodes.  In this case, s1e21: “Born Again.”  There’s a girl and freaky memories she can’t possibly have and a dead dude and whoooooa.

This time, Fringe is much more into explaining what the heck is going on: in “Born Again,” the strange coincidences of death and birth (or was it conception?) were more than enough to explain what was going on; nearly 20 years on apparently we need more explanation.  Because of Experimental Radiation Poisoning Treatments (Fringe‘s treatment of radiation, in general, is really on the lines of a fifties b-movie.  I’m just waiting for the Night of the Lepus calque.) and dying violently a murdered USN sub officer ends up in the head of a dying Catholic schoolgirl, who is instantly reanimated because, well, brains and spirits and dumb shit and I dunno a weird non-dualistic theory of mind, because she gets his brain’s radiation poisoning too.

Aside from the deeper digging into What’s Going On In Radiation! Science, Fringe is also taking a less agnostic tack than The X-Files towards religion, of all things.  While Fringe doesn’t have characters who are even occasionally defined by their faith like Scully was, the show is in general a lot more respectful of the notion of faith in a way I have trouble pinning down.  I can’t see Mulder (much less Scully) ever defending exorcism or actual demonic possession, for example – while The X-Files treated the weird as undefinable, it was never treated as anything symptomatic of bigger cosmic structures.  An episode like “The Căluşari” doesn’t try to reveal any truths about the existence of anything beyond the weird shit that’s happening in the here and now.  I don’t know to blame this on a change in culture in the past couple decades, or the overarching plots of the shows, with Fringe‘s whole-universe-defining mytharc.  Time, I guess, will still tell, although Walter’s ending beat calling on Isaiah and the old science-and-faith-are-the-same-thing duck wasn’t all that promising.  If you ask me, at least.

So while John Noble throws around a bunch of technobabble (although “What happened to subjects 1 through 5?” “I believe the University settled with them out of court.” was a pretty good exchange) about Tibetan theories of the mind and the right kind of drugs to do an exorcism with, we get to watch Olivia and Charlie run around Boston looking for clues.  That’s right, Charlie.  Because this isn’t actually a season 2 episode: it was made, but not aired, for the first season, which gives us the chance to see how far the show’s come since then.

The show has, frankly, improved a lot.  Importance of minor characters (neither Broyles nor Astrid do a thing in this, which makes them basically boring space-fillers) has been upped, John Noble’s Walter has gotten more sensibly nutty (or at least he’s gotten a little subtler and smarter than “whoa he’s drinking milk from the cow from a beaker! wacky”), and – this is probably the best change – the whack-you-over-the-head romance plot with Peter and Olivia has nearly been killed due to the total lack of chemistry.  When you have a one-ep victim character pushing something to happen, you should know you’re in trouble.  So in conclusion: thank god season two is back.


Communists Say Avatar Director ‘Robbed’ Soviet Science Fiction: Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia

Indignant party members say that Cameron, prepared to do anything to execute the command of the White House, surreptitiously entered the mysterious and romantic world of Soviet science fiction, and transferred all the action to his primitive propaganda film and to the Strugatsky-created world of planet Pandora.

Now, I haven’t seen Avatar yet.  But, of course, as we all know, the Strugatskys’ Pandora is a world given over entirely to scientific research giant crayfish hunting where when you try to go there you end up crashing off-course because you got hijacked by a time-traveling Red Army officer and if you try to go back in history you end up being menaced by a skull.  And does this mean Frank Herbert’s The Jesus Incident is also to blame for this?

whoa there, wsj
2009, December 25, 2:34 pm
Filed under: history | Tags: , ,

But what if the whole notion of global imbalances is a myth, and that policies to reverse them only make things worse?

The blunt fact is that at no point in the past century has there been anything resembling a global economic equilibrium.

Consider the heyday of the “American century” after World War II, when Western European nations were ravaged by war, and the Soviet Union and its new satellites slowly rebuilding. In 1945, the U.S. accounted for more than 40% of global GDP and the preponderance of global manufacturing. The country was so dominant it was able to spend the equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollars to regenerate the economies of Western Europe via the Marshall Plan, and also of Japan during a seven year military occupation. By the late 1950s, 43 of the world’s 50 largest companies were American.

Not that picking on the Wall Street Journal opinions page is exactly difficult, but lately I think they’ve been getting even nuttier than usual.  (Is it because nobody likes fruitcake any more?)  This editorial piece from Monday is supposed to be about the history, I guess, of economies, but… aside from the fact that I think it’s straw-manning and side-stepping the point about extractive economic setups and the history of colonialism the notion that 1945 or 6 or 7 or 8 can be pointed to as an even vaguely typical economic year is just mad – of course in 1945 the United States had about 40% of the world GDP and manufacturing; every other industrialized country had just been razed to a plain.  By contrast, the next example (why skip 20 years ahead?  What about the ’60s or early ’70s?) – the global economic shittiness of the ’70s – is actually an example of everything being equally awful everywhere, but… wait, why am I still writing, even?  They’re not gonna see this and retract anything, and all my points about people predicting the future are just moot because this is an ideological strawman.  Fuck.

I’m gonna go eat some Christmas ham.  Merry economy, world.

wonder women! rated pg
2009, December 20, 10:00 am
Filed under: cinema | Tags: , , ,

Jai alai! Is there any sport more retrofuturistic?  Sure, we saw it on Mad Men, and the catch version in this classic bit of Syd Mead futurist-Americana is a nice little touch (although not enough to distract one from wondering why the ground is hovering and the lake is cut off by a concrete barrier, or what the deal is with Orange Jackie’s weird asymmetrical just-a-bit-more-conservative-than-a bikini).  But, frankly, the sign that a sport hasn’t made it is probably its appearance in a Z-grade movie (sidehacking, anyone?), which I think also signals it’s ripe for the taking – the endless Rollerball remakes (well, okay, the one Rollerball remake that felt like it went on forever), the Death Race remake with King Silas Al Swearengen Ian McShane, sidehackers in any number of post-apocalyptic road movies.  So when is it going to be jai alai’s turn?

a burning ring of fire
2009, December 19, 10:50 pm
Filed under: history | Tags: , , ,
"Love/is a burning flame/and it makes a fiery ring/Bringing hurt/to the heart's desire"

“H32 jet helicopter is propelled by blazing ramjet engines on blade tips at Camp Rucker Army Aviation Center. (1956)”

reblogged from the always-delightful x-planes.

old news, apparently

Image comics presents: the Soviet Syd Mead!

But there’s a Soviet SF manga?  As bizarre as it seems to me to create socialist-inflected science fiction in this day and age*, it’s certainly interesting both as an aesthetic (ushankas for everyone!) and as a stylistic experiment.   I think the fact that it’s comics makes it even more fun, potentially, in the former – there’s certainly enough neatlooking abandoned Soviet futuristic hardware. But I don’t know how far it actually is going to go as a style experiment.  In Subversive Imaginations: Fantastic Prose and the End of Soviet Literature, 1970s-1990s, Nadya Peterson wrote that (and I think I agree) “the Stalinist novel and Soviet science fiction are both formulaic structures whose protagonists ‘know or discover the laws governing their social existence, and the ultimate outcome of those laws in a Great Society of the future.’ Which, if you’re writing a Soviet-style science fiction history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, leaves you with a pretty depressing Marxist world-system – something that could be cool, but might not be attractive for most authors.  So will it live up to the maxim**?  I dunno, but I just ordered the first volume, so we’ll see.

*and, yes, I’m not counting China Miéville here.

**so, so hard to avoid a Mac Sim/Strugatskys pun.

am i high, 1940s?

Membership [in Mister Mind’s Monster Society of Evil]:

  • Mr. Mind
  • Archibald, a satyr
  • An army of termites and worms
  • Artificial bodies Mr. Mind could mentally inhabit, consisting of:
    • A Goat-Man, half-man, half-goat
    • A robot, seemingly indestructible
    • An octopus with a human face, constantly grinning
    • A circus strongman, with strength rivalling that of Captain Marvel himself
  • Bonzo, fanged hunchback with large eyes
  • Captain Nazi, superstrong Aryan warrior
  • Crocodile-Men, a race of humanoids from the planetoid Punkus
  • Dobbin, Mr. Mind’s seahorse steed
  • Dome attendants who tend to Mr. Mind’s undersea base, consisting of:
    • A pig-man
    • A goblin
    • A werewolf
    • An ogre
    • A midget submarine captain, the last of Mr. Mind’s minions to leave him
  • Dr. Smashi, short Japanese scientist and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Dr. Hashi, spiky-haired Japanese scientist
  • Dr. Peeyu, tall Japanese scientist
  • Dr. Sivana, the “world’s wickedest scientist”
  • Evil Eye, monster with the ability to hypnotize
  • Herkimer, Crocodile-Man and Mr. Mind’s second-in-command
  • Herr Phoul, bald Nazi scientist with a monocle and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Adolf Hitler and all the resources of Nazi Germany
  • Hydra, head-regenerating monster created by Mr. Mind
  • IBAC, criminal who sold his soul for superstrength and durability
  • Jeepers, last of a race of bat-monsters
  • Jorrk, greatest scientist of the Crocodile-Men and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants
  • Marmaduke, criminal with big ears and a fat face
  • Monster Brigade, undersea monsters under Mr. Mind’s command, consisting of:
    • A sperm whale
    • A giant octopus
    • A hammerhead shark
    • A huge sea-serpent
  • Monster Professors, teachers at Mr. Mind’s Monster School, consisting of:
    • A human,
    • A Crocodile-Man,
    • A fanged monster,
    • A humanoid with the head of a hippopotamus
  • Monster Students, pupils at the Monster School, consisting of:
    • Human tough guys
    • Crocodile-Men
    • A black, horned demon
  • Mr. Banjo, criminal and leaker of secrets via coded music from his banjo, played on a popular radio show
  • Benito Mussolini and all the resources of Fascist Italy
  • Nippo, master swordsman and spy for the Japanese
  • Sylvester, Crocodile-Man and one of Mr. Mind’s preferred gunners
  • Synthetic animals created by Mr. Mind, consisting of:
    • Oscar, a giant lobster
    • Oliver, a giant octopus with human hands
    • Ophelius, a huge ram
    • Oliphant, a dragon
  • Hideki Tojo and all the resources of Imperial Japan
  • Tough guys, generic human enforcers of Mr. Mind’s wishes, notable ones include:
    • A tommy-gun wielder
    • A cloaked swordsman
    • A beret-wearer
    • A stereotypical “Goomba”
    • A Gatsby cap-wearer

Keep in mind, of course, that Mister Mind is a two-inch-tall caterpillar.