Finished: “Stranger Things”

My thoughts:

The logo feels very “Spielburg-y” too.

This show is way better than it has any right to be, meaning, it’s AWESOME.

If I had to describe it, I’d say “Basically every 80’s genre movie ever made rolled into one”. You can see shades of “E.T.”, “The Goonies”, “Poltergeist”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Alien”, “Predator”, the John Carpenter oeuvre, and even “Half-Life”, of all things (which isn’t eighties, but hey, whatever). You can even sprinkle some John Hughes type stuff in there thanks to a subplot involving the dating drama of one of the main characters.

But two things make this really shine:

1) It isn’t just a homage to 80’s movies. I think a lot of reviewers get this sort of wrong. I came into this series not having seen too many of its influences (I’ve never even seen “Alien” or “Close Encounters”), and I was still highly entertained and impressed.There are no near quotes followed by a wink. Nobody says something cheesy like “What, you think this is some sort of movie”? Nobody says “We’ll be just like the Goonies!” This IS an 80’s movie that just so happened to be made in 2016.

2) More importantly, it’s incredibly well executed.

“Stranger Things” is eight episodes long, and let me tell you, “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” – especially the latter – would have benefited greatly from the narrative focus. There isn’t a wasted moment. Pacing is arguably the most difficult part of writing. Even great authors struggle with it. Tolkien struggled with it. As the saying goes, even good Homer nods.

“Stranger Things” never nods. The pacing is flawless. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show or movie this good at heightening suspense or tension since “Jaws” (Hey, another movie I forgot!). Each new twist and turn tightens the screws, sometimes subtly, sometimes more overtly. There isn’t a wasted moment – everything that happens not only furthers the development of characters but also the overall plot.

Awwww. Admit it, he’s adorable.

And the characters! “Stranger Things” is an eight hour movie, and where that extra time is most apparent is in the character development. All of the main characters are three-dimensional people with flaws and virtues, and all of them have full character arcs. They’re recognizable as real people. Of particular note are the exceptional performances by the child actors. They take four characters that can easily have been simple stereotypes or archetypes and turn them into complex human beings with unique roles on their team that go a step beyond “The Leader”, “The Skeptic”, “The Comic Relief” and “The Psychic”. The character of Dustin in particular (who, let’s face it, is adorable) impressed me; he looked to be a standard comic relief “third wheel” type character, like Chunk in “The Goonies”, and instead ended up being something more: The smartest, the most level-headed, the most mature, and the most self-aware of the four man child band, without ever losing his endearing goofiness.

Don’t make El angry.

Actually, let’s talk about the number four in that band: Eleven, also known as El, played by Millie Bobby Brown. What an amazing performance, for any age. El is given a limited vocabulary, but it’s a marvel to see how much Brown manages to communicate with an expression. El’s attempts to communicate with the other characters from such an alien mindset is practically an acting masterclass. Brown’s facial expressions and body language communicate more than pages of dialogue often could, and she is the surprising dark horse winner for the coveted award of best performance on the show. She was so good that I hope she gets some awards love come nominating season (she won’t, though).

Of the teen characters, the stand out was Steve, who started out as the typical douchebag boyfriend of one of the other main characters but as the season progressed developed into something more, and without ever betraying what made his character unique in the first place. The end result of his character arc is one of the show’s biggest and most impressive surprises, yet another case of taking a character who could easily have been a two-dimensional archetype and turning him into a complex three-dimensional human being.

Her face for the majority of the show.

As for the adults, Winona Rider gets a lot of billing because she’s Winona Rider and the biggest star in the whole cast, but of everyone there she probably gives the worst performance, which is saying something. Rider is engaging but starts off as a very one note “hysterical mother”. By the end of the season she’s showed off more of her acting chops, but due to the hyper-focused nature of her plot arc she’s probably the least interesting of the main characters. The star here is Hopper, played to absolute perfection by David Harbour. Hopper is the Chief of Police, who starts off his odyssey looking like a drunken, possibly drug-addicted loser but who in time is revealed to be a competent investigator motivated by personal tragedy and guilt. The disappearance of Will at the start of the series sparks Hopper into working harder than it is clear he’s worked in years. Hopper’s backstory is revealed in pieces throughout the season, and by the time the credits roll in the finale it becomes completely clear why, exactly, Hopper is so invested in the fate of Will.

And, yes, I was very moved by the climax. Were I the type of person to do such things, I would say that during one particularly emotional moment I might have shed a single, manly tear. For a show to have that sort of effect on me is very, very rare. I need to be really, REALLY invested in the characters for that sort of blatant emotional manipulation to work, and I was.

Oh yeah, before I forget: The show is EXTREMELY superversive, and not only that, it’s superversive while working in genres known to be precisely the opposite. As I mentioned previously there’s this wonderful, subtle theme about the importance of personal, human connections as opposed to cold government statistics. The selflessness and bravery of the main characters, particularly the kids, is a breath of fresh air in a world of anti-heroes and gray morality. These are people that we’re not only supposed to root for because the plot tells us to but who we WANT to root for because they’re people we want to see succeed. How’s that for a change?

So, is the show flawless? Well, what do you think? Nothing is flawless. I criticized “Watership Down”. Heck, in this thread I criticized “The Lord of the Rings” and Homer. If I was to nitpick “Stranger Things” I’d say that the ending of El’s character arc was telegraphed a little too loudly, and Winona Rider’s performance didn’t really come together until maybe halfway into the series. For all of its nuanced characters, the villains are very “cardboard cutout”, government agents who torture young children and drive people insane for shadowy, insidious reasons. Of that four man child band the “Skeptic”, a black child named Lucas, doesn’t do as much to distinguish himself as the other three and ends up falling back the most into his archetype. The kids in general come off as a little bit too competent.

Nothing uncomfortable going on here.

But honestly, that’s pretty much it. In the comments of the previous thread I criticized the actions of one of the main characters, but in the context of the story they made perfect sense, so it’s not really a criticism of the show so much as a testament to the fact that I was invested enough in the character to be disappointed in his decisions. I can’t think of anything else about it that bothered me. For what it was – an eight hour sci-fi/horror movie done in the style of an 80’s pulp film – it was almost perfectly executed. Practically immediately became one of my all-time favorite shows. I can’t recommend it enough.

Machine Masters provide all

Companionship — Sex — dare I suggest Love?

Can a robot mend a lonely heart?

images (1)
“Aiko Chihira” takes over as Receptionist of Tokyo department store

The “Her” operating system AI from Spike Jonze’s movie.
images (2)

Conceptual AI cooperation in production and self-production. Who is “God” now?
images (3)

From CNET Magazine: AI-equipped sex toys could either make human contact unnecessary or help the socially awkward learn intimacy.
Link: http://www.cnet.com/news/can-a-robot-mend-a-lonely-heart/?ftag=CAD1acfa04&bhid=20814318211964119594251571961690

“Perhaps I have been alone for too long,” writes the self-described 34-year-old from Germany. “Perhaps I have found in my dolls what I was looking for in vain among humans for an even longer time. Being a quiet man myself, my two silent companions and I [are] getting along quite well.”

Today’s erotic dolls are passive, making them the sex toy equivalent of the flip phone. But thanks to virtual reality and hardware that plugs into phones, the latest sex toys can redefine the meaning of “long-distance relationships” while others can take humans almost completely out of the sexual equation. Now, a few doll makers and researchers would like to add artificial intelligence to the mix, creating erotic dolls that would do a lot more than just lie around. When that happens, it could isolate Nukeno and others like him even more — or it could help them learn real, person-to-person intimacy.

“[Artificial intelligence] could open the hearts of men and women,” says Justine Cassell, an AI expert and associate dean at Carnegie Mellon. “[That] might offer transitional stages between being entirely closed down and being able to feel emotion.”

Voltron: Legendary Defender

Voltron_poster_finaljpegOne of the wonderful things about cartoons is that they tend to be a low-risk investment when it comes to the time required for them. Most animated shows are only twenty minutes or so without commercials, and so if they turn out to be terrible, it’s not a huge waste of time.  I say all this because, even as a consummate child of the 1980s, I have no prior experience with the Voltron franchise. I’m not sure if my local TV stations didn’t carry it, or if some crazy 80s paranoia managed to get it banned from our TV, but I don’t ever recall seeing even commercials for it. As much as I like mecha shows, I think I mentioned that I lean more towards real robots over super robots and so without a prior experience to draw upon, I’ve never really felt the need to even attempt to watch a Voltron show before. There’s just something about space going lions that makes the tiny little hard scifi voice inside of me start shrieking.  But Netflix has had a pretty good run with their original shows so far, and I had twenty minutes or so to kill, so Voltron: Legendary Defenders fit the bill.

And so I promptly spent an hour watching it.

Continue reading

Currently Watching: “Stranger Things”

It’s a new Netflix show, and I’m on episode 6 of 8. Full review will come later.

The plot: A girl with psychic powers escapes from a government facility at the same time a young boy disappears after being attacked by a mysterious monster. The plot follows various groups of people – the psychic girl, the young boy’s friends, the Chief of Police, the boy’s mother, the boy’s brother, a teenage girl whose friend goes missing (it does a really great job juggling a lot of balls) – as they pull on the various threads surrounding the mystery of the boy’s disappearance and slowly uncover a vast government conspiracy hiding evidence of paranormal investigations.

Current thoughts: Extremely entertaining. The writers are experts at milking suspense, and the characters are excellently drawn. There’s a wonderful bit of superversion in there about the nature of relationships between people: The big conspiracy the governments are trying to hide from everybody is starting to fail because the government is failing to take into account personal relationships in favor of statistics. Maybe, statistically, it’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw that a man with fingerprints on a gun next to his head shot himself, but when you’re friends with the guy, it starts to sound less plausible. Maybe a teenager stealing a car and running off is reasonable and commonplace, but when you know said teen the facts start to look a little shaky. And so on and so forth.

My biggest criticism is that the kids in the show are too competent; they get further in the mystery faster than everybody else despite being 11 or 12 at most. But then, in keeping with the 80’s movies this show is so obviously inspired by, this is all in fine Goonies tradition, and so is somewhat forgivable.

This is a very well executed show, and I look forward to finishing the story. I’m honestly not sure how this is going to end, and I can’t wait to find out.

Book Bombs Away!

The answer to all your Summer Reading Needs!

The folks over at CLFA (Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance) have their first ever book bomb going today for 20 books.

This list includes books by myself, John C. Wright, and SuperversiveSF’s own Ben Zwycky!

Books marked with an * were finalists in the CLFA Book of the Year contest (which was won by Larry Correia’s Son of the Black Sword.)

You can find the list here.

Please share!

In Defense of Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters

I really shouldn’t have to do this. At this point, the best course of action for everyone is to dismiss the artistic and moral failure that is Ghostbusters 2016, let the remake die a quick, unmourned, and forgotten death, and rest secure in the excellence of the one true Ghostbusters film.

But now inveterate contrarians and shills are vainly trying to make the reboot look better than the Cannon Films fire sale material it is by taking passive-aggressive shots at the original classic.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: your claims that the original Ghostbusters is dumb, sexist, or overrated don’t make you sound cool. They make you sound like a smug, revisionist poser. It’s just as irritating as a hipster saying he liked a band before they were popular. And in this case, calling the first Ghostbusters a bad movie is empirically wrong.

The short version

Ghostbusters (1984–how detestable it is having to clarify that) is an SNL satire–from back when SNL was good–of a Lovecraftian horror story.

The reimagining, on the other hand, is a cynical parody of the original.

That is what fans are upset about; not the sex of the lead players or the perceived effrontery of making a new entry in a “sacred” franchise. By all reasonable accounts the new film is a shallow cash grab smothered in sanctimonious propaganda, and fans have been wise to the con since the trailer dropped.

The film makers should have heeded the fans’ warning. But as I’ve said before, Hollywood hates its own audience.

Defense in depth

If you still doubt the original Ghostbusters’ greatness, consider the following reasons why it is rightly hailed as a classic.

The talent

Ghostbusters talent

Comedy is the hardest genre to write well. Just ask any pro screenwriter to find out why good comedy writers are held in such high esteem. Nothing else requires such precise timing, tone, and dialogue.

Well-crafted, genuinely funny jokes aren’t written by accident. If a writer is consistently turning in solid comedic scripts, you can be sure he knows what he’s doing.

It’s no coincidence that the creative team behind Ghostbusters includes Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and Bill Murray–talents responsible for the golden age of Saturday Night Live, Animal House, Meatballs, and Stripes.

When a pro writer goes to work, he operates at a certain level of ability. Ghostbusters didn’t just rise to its creators’ high standard of excellence, it took their game to a whole new level.
The world building

Ghost Smashers

Okay, Ghostbusters might not be your thing. That’s understandable. But with the shortage of movies based on original IPs these days, you’ve got to at least give the first movie credit for originality.

I already explained that comedy is the toughest genre to write. Ghostbusters ups the difficulty even more by genre bashing comedy with horror and sci-fi: two of only three genres that require the added element of world building.

Take it from someone who’s built an expansive SFF/horror setting: world building ain’t easy.

 

The unique lore of Ghostbusters wasn’t thrown together in a weekend, either. Aykroyd first developed the film’s core concepts based on a real-life fascination with the paranormal stemming from his childhood. He spent years refining these ideas into an expansive mythos that’s only hinted at on screen.

Come to think of it, the fact that Aykroyd’s original, somewhat rambling, vision was pared down to a manageable yet still satisfying feature length experience stands as further testimony to the film’s brilliance.
The performances

Filmed in one shot.

Not only were the talents behind Ghostbusters ingenious writers, they were also gifted comedic performers. Stellar acting chops are also on full display among the rest of the cast–especially Bill Murray, whose celebrated deadpan delivery made Dr. Peter Venkman a font of legendary quotes.

Seriously, this film alone accounts for at least four percent of the 100 funniest movie quotes. All four belong to Murray, who improvised most of his lines. It’s been argued, and I think rightly so, that Murray deserves a co-writer credit on this film.

Also worthy of high acclaim is Rick Moranis, who improvised the notorious party scene during a single, long shot.

Sigourney Weaver, better known for more serious roles, ad-libbed the famous “You’re more like a game show host” line.
The visuals

Ghostbusters Wrightson

“Effects Movies” tend to get a bad rap, but let’s face it: if your film deals extensively with SF and/or horror elements, you need sharp visuals to sell the story.

Few films can boast the art design pedigree of Ghostbusters. With an art team that included venerable Swamp Thing and Frankenstein artist Bernie Wrightson, this movie’s startling yet endearing visuals and largely practical effects continue to endure as CG effects from movies made five years ago grow old before their time.

Ghostbusters Librarian

The original Ghostbusters was indisputably smart, funny, visionary, and visually gorgeous. What more proof do you need? I rest my case.

@BrianNiemeier

Call For Artists

The Superversive team are currently working on a huge project that with luck we’ll be able to announce officially in the near future – but we’re going to need a bit of help.

Right now a bunch of our writers have comics sitting in the pipeline, but we need ARTISTS! Preferably people with some experience in comics, but we’ll take a look at anyone. We’ve made a lot of progress but until we get more artists on the team our project is stalled.

All artists will be getting compensated for their work, via a percentage of royalties from the finished products (i.e., comic books). If you’re at all interested in learning more about our plans and what sort of work you’ll be doing, shoot an e-mail to callforartists@superversivesf.com. We can answer all your questions there. I CAN tell you that while we have some other things planned for the future, our first comics are probably going to be superhero related.

Please, even if you’re not interested in contacting us, share this post where you can! The more the merrier!

Remember: callforartists@superversivesf.com!

Machine Masters have feelings too

Machine Masters have feelings too

From the Futurist–

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ROBOTS WITH THE FEELS

Sony has announced plans to develop a robot “capable of forming an emotional bond with customers.”

Sony’s chief executive Kazuo Hirai did not disclose specific details about the robots but says it will propose new business models that integrate hardware and services to provide emotionally compelling experiences.

Sony is re-entering the consumer robotics game after increased competition in the Asian markets led to massive cost cutting in 2006. It has, however, launched Aibo, its canine-modelled artificial intelligence robot. Alongside its popularity as a consumer robot, the robots were used by researchers for a number of areas, including a robotic football tournament in 2005.

Author Earnings: Amazon a Majority of the Print Market; Indie Publishing Vindicated

author earnings - Amazon eBooks

My stance on indie publishing has changed significantly in just a few short years (not coincidentally, over almost the same period covered by the graph above).

I’m one of those rare folks whose minds can be changed by data. When I first set out to become a professional writer, I did my homework. Reading books, blog posts, articles, and reports on the publishing industry led me to the following conclusions:

  1. The Aspiring Author Who Works Hard to Land an Agent and Finally a Book Deal that Makes Him an Overnight Superstar is a pure fairy tale. Movies and TV shows perpetuate this false view of reality because audiences like a good Cinderella story. Also, it boosts the screenwriters’ egos.
  2. Even if you’re among the 1 percent of aspiring authors who do land agents and book deals, chances are all you’ll get is a $3000 advance for giving up all rights to a book that will languish spine-out on Barnes & Noble’s shelves for a few weeks before getting pitched to make way for next month’s contestant. The circle of life goes on.
  3. Despite 1 & 2, traditional publishing is still the only viable game in town.
But I kept up on my research, and after a couple of years, my thinking shifted to the following position:
  • The publishing industry as a whole still sucks.
  • Amazon has now made indie publishing a viable option for certain people, e.g. traditionally published authors who’ve recovered the rights to their big midlist catalogs.
  • Either way, expecting to make money is the wrong reason to get into this business.
Rather recently, after reading all of Joe Konrath’s eye-opening Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, I further modified my opinion.
  • Traditional publishing is broken.
  • Some authors are actually starting to earn a living by self-publishing.
  • Indie publishing is the right choice for me, but that’s a call each author needs to make based on his own circumstances.
I’ve been self-publishing for a year now, and the amazing results have more than vindicated my decision.
Sales of my first two books placed me among the top half of Amazon writers, even before Larry Correia’s BOOK BOMB!
Enough people read and liked my writing to nominate me for science fiction’s most prestigious award for new authors.
As for what I might’ve given up by rejecting the tradpub route, I’ve already out-earned the standard advance for a first-time author. Except I don’t have to pay that money back before earning ongoing royalties.
Royalties which are 5.6 times higher than those earned by most traditionally published authors.
Yeah, going indie has worked out pretty well for me. But I still wasn’t ready to recommend indie publishing to everybody until I read the latest Author Earnings report.
The Definitive Study of Author Earnings
The May 2016 Author Earnings Report expanded its scope to include 82% of Amazon’s daily eBook sales. This study shed light on many dark corners of the market that had been hidden from the public–until now.
Here’s what AE found, specifically in regard to indie vs. tradpub earnings.
Author Earnings May 2016 midlist
This graph shows the number of authors in the midlist (here defined as making at least $25,000 a year), divided into four categories based on date of first publication.
Not only do indie midlisters dominate every category, they do so even when pitted against traditionally published authors who’ve been working for decades and have substantial catalogs under their belts. We’re talking everybody who’s debuted since 1916, including Hemingway, Tolkien, Heinlein, Card, King, Martin, Patterson, and Rowling.
Then figure in the fact that Amazon has only been around since 1994 and the Kindle has only existed since 2007.
Yet indie authors have remained on top of the midlist regardless of when they started out, while the number of tradpub authors lucky enough to make even 25 grand per year keeps getting cut in half.
But 25k is chump change, I can hear the tradpub diehards say. Surely, if you want to make it big, a big deal from a big publisher is the only way to go!
Author Earnings May 2016 7 figures
Not so much.
The power of big New York publishers to hand out golden tickets capable of turning struggling authors into millionaires is an artifact of the 20th century. Now? As Moe Greene would say, they don’t even have that kind of muscle anymore.
If you were an aspiring author trying to break in prior to the 1980s, New York publishers were your best shot at the big time. Since 2006, indie has stolen tradpub’s thunder to the extent that you’re now four times more likely to make seven figures by going indie than by signing with a traditional publisher.
The other side of the Coin: Dark Matter
Indie publishing might be going like gangbusters at the midlist and seven figure levels, but what about the low end? Are self-published authors also over represented in the shadow market of books that never make the category best seller lists?
In short, yes. But that’s not the whole story.
Author Earnings May 2016 Dark Matter authors
Only 14% of authors on Amazon have eBooks on category best seller lists.
Author Earnings 2016 Dark Matter earnings
But authors with eBooks on Amazon’s best seller lists earn 58%  of the Kindle pie.
Author Earnings May 2016 Dark Matter sales
And just as they account for a majority of best sellers, eBooks by indie authors make up 52% of Dark Matter sales.
It would appear at first glance that going indie gives authors a nearly equal likelihood of being totally invisible or becoming best sellers. But appearances can be deceiving. According to AE:

Once again, indies make up the bulk of these invisible sales and authors — an even higher proportion than in the other shades of Amazon sales matter. We even found a few dozen invisible authors here — mostly indies — who are earning six figures from titles that live entirely in this “pure” dark matter. But the majority of these 2,600,000 titles comes from the lowest-selling 750,000 authors on Amazon, and 900,000 of them belong to the lowest-selling 160,000 indies.

Even though a few indie authors are quietly making six figures in the Kindle Store’s black hole, 160,000 indies are among the 750,000 worst sellers on Amazon.
But as tragic as that sounds, tradpub authors have it even worse.

It might be discouraging to consider the 300,000 lowest-selling Big Five titles that we find here in the “pure dark matter”, belonging to 86,000 invisible Big Five authors…Each of these authors successfully fought their way through the traditional-publishing slush pile, and secured themselves an agent and a publishing deal — even a Big Five deal. Those achievements appear to have granted them little career advantage, in either sales or visibility. Today, these several hundred thousand traditionally published authors find themselves earning even less than the very lowest-selling indies are.

[Emphasis mine]

In the past, when traditional publishing was the only real choice authors had, their manuscripts would have instead languished in traditional publishing’s slush pile, unpublished and unread. Instead, they are now collectively selling 150,000 copies a day, earning each of their authors, on average, $250/year — or roughly $100/title. And getting read, too, if not yet by many, and hopefully finding a few fans along the way.

The takeaway: the Big Five have lost their power to make winners and losers. A traditional book deal doesn’t guarantee more sales or visibility than going indie. Even if your self-published book ends up among the lowest sellers on Amazon, you’ll still average $250 a year instead of zero.
Several factors the AE study didn’t take into account:
  • Of the highest/lowest earners, which authors commissioned effective covers?
  • Which of them had their books professionally edited?
  • How many made sure their books were formatted properly for Kindle?
  • Which authors published just one book, and how many have series?
  • How many authors treat publishing like a job?
  • Which of them do any marketing, e.g. blog regularly/release podcasts/engage fans on social media?
Publishing is still a gamble, but there are steps all authors can take to improve their chances. The AE report proves that self-publishing shifts the odds in your favor more than any other step.
Get off the manuscript submission carousel. Stop waiting for agents and editors to give you validation like a fat kid hoping to be picked for kickball. Seek validation from readers. Write good books, get professional editing, formatting, and covers. Then publish them yourself on Amazon.
And check out my category best selling books.

Gurren Lagann

TTGL titleI’m doing my best to avoid having this post devolve into an anime-centric column, but there are a couple of things working against me: A) What I wind up reading is not always something I feel like talking about for one reason or another (some things aren’t so much bad, which is perfectly valid review, as they are unnoteworthy)  B) I didn’t get to finish reading something I do want to talk about in time, and C) I feel like there’s a lot of good scifi and fantasy to be found in anime that folks might otherwise miss out on.

With that said, onward! When I wrote about RahXephon back in May, I mentioned my love of mecha (giant robot) shows. Now, mecha shows nominally come in two flavors: “real robot,” where ammo, fuel, and the like are a concern, and “super robot” shows, (careful, TVtropes!) where the mechs might as well operate by magic and do things like shoot their fists off.

You do get some drift back and forth between the two. Neon Genesis Evangelion is pretty much a real robot show where the parent technology falls under Clarke’s third law– it’s indistinguishable from magic. You could argue that RahXephon is similar, but you could also probably argue that the robot tech in RahXephon is magic impinging on a real robot world. On the flip side of all that is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. It’s a super robot show, it knows it’s a super robot show, and it’s okay with that. It is, in fact, more than okay with that. It loves what it is with a man’s deep and burning passion. It’s so okay with it that opens with what is at least a galaxy and very likely might be an entire universe exploding while determined men look on in approval. Continue reading

Three Day’s Only! The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin on sale now!

In honor of the release of the revised ebook for The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel, the first Book of Unexpected Enlightenment, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is

ON SALE NOW!

Only 99 cents on July 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

! Rachel Griffin Cover

For those who would rather just enjoy the fun, here is the website for Roanoke Academy of Sorcerous Arts. (Warning, it makes noise when you first get there.)

And for those who wonder whether Hogwarts will be getting its own website, check out The Setup Wizard – the diary of the Hogwarts IT guy.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

ƒz?ƒXƒ^[5I’m not usually the kind of guy who watches magical girl shows. As a general rule I prefer my universes to be “rivets rather than magic”; I tend to like the science fiction worldview better than the fantasy worldview. (There’s something about scifi that resonates with me on a deeper level than fantasy, but that’s neither here nor there for this discussion.) And as a general rule, I tend not to gravitate towards shows aimed at women, because, well, I’m a man. But general rules always have exceptions and for me, my overriding exception is that a work that’s well written and well executed enough will earn my time regardless of premise, genre, or target audience.

This is all relevant because it’s the only way I was remotely willing to watch a show with the cumbersome and oh-so-anime title of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The show literally had nothing to recommend it to me, besides the recommendation of an ex-girlfriend who thought I’d like it enough to run the risk of attracting my ire (for existing, y’know.) It’s a magical girl show, done in the aggravating moe (overly cutesy) style that suffuses way too much of the modern anime world. There was literally nothing that would cause me to give it a watch other than her recommendation. (Well. There is a cheerful Jpop song in the opening, and cheerful pop music is my secret shame.)  I mean, just look at some of the images in this article: It looks girlier than My Little Pony. Continue reading

Mutiny in Space by Rod Walker

Mutiny_480I’m old enough to remember a world pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation– though not by much– and so I’m old enough to remember the excitement of seeing how something that I loved so dearly would look with all the shiny, modern flair of the 1980s. Maybe it’s the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, or maybe it’s that I the reboot-recycle plague hadn’t really settled in yet, and so even call backs to classic episodes were exciting, but it was a wonderful experience for me as a young boy.

One of the things that I’m grateful to my parents for is that they made sure I knew the value of media from by gone decades. I grew up watching Arsenic and Old Lace, Charade, and North by Northwest. When I watched This Island Earth it was with wonder and without the ironic overlay of MST3K. And as much as I enjoyed Encyclopedia Brown and Choose Your Own Adventure books, I spent way more time reading things like Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, and Andre Norton’s Star Rangers. I say all this because I want you to understand that when I say Rod Walker’s Mutiny in Space is the product of a by-gone age, I’m giving it the highest praise I can. Mild/Early spoilers follow.
Continue reading

More Reviewer Praise for “God, Robot”

From Amazon unless specifically stated otherwise:

Get your copy here! And LEAVE A REVIEW!!!

  • 5.0 out of 5 starsMay God have mercy on our souls.,

    I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect going into this as the book is blatantly treading all over Asimov’s cultivated humanistic worldview. I expected something campy, philosophically engaging, and maybe a bit corny as I hadn’t yet to read any modern Christian authors that haven’t been. To my surprise and pleasure it was not corny, had just the right amount of camp, and really engaged me on a philosophical and theological level while telling stories with characters that made me care about them.

For the record, I find these sorts of reviews interesting. I’ve said it in the past, but it honestly never occurred to me that I was writing Christian fiction; I picked the concept because it sounded interesting. I’m pretty sure (though he’d have to confirm) that EJ Shumak’s robot wasn’t specifically Christian, and Vox Day’s definitely was not – yet both stories appear to have been very well received by readers, something I’m not at all surprised by. It was just a cool idea; that it ended up looking quite a lot like Christian fiction is something I’m not unhappy with but was never the plan.

  • 5.0 out of 5 stars True Sci-fi Philosophy
    By Joshua H.
    Fantastic series of short stories. Unlike anything. True old-school sci-fi/philosophy.
  • 5.0 out of 5 stars The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
    One can read each story on it’s own: it may be amusing, or straight up adventure, or grim, or contemplative… there’s a fair bit of variety in tone and style, as might be expected from having different authors for each one…However, all together they become complete speculative tale of how men might deal with the reality of true A.I. and Christianity. It’s also a real page-turner, despite having some wonderfully chewy philosophical meat on its bones. And I found the conclusion – no spoilers – truly poignant.
  • 5.0 out of 5 stars Reading twice is required
    A marvelous tale told in wonderful chapters. A belief in something greater then us has driven mankind to ultimate heights and deepest savagery. Here is a collection of stories about how belief can change individuals and entire worlds. You will read this and cheer, feel humble, and wonder about your place in the universe. A great ride as it will become, in my humble opinion, a classic.

(I really liked that last sentence ;-) .)

But the best yet, my true favorite review, is from Marina Fontaine of the Sci Phi Journal. Miss Fontaine reviews each story in detail, and ends her review with this:

And so, we come to the Epilogue, or which I will not speak except, as previously mentioned, the last paragraph made me cry…God, Robot is not a re-telling of an Asimov classic, nor is it a gimmicky story of science gone wrong. It is a tale of what makes us human, what makes us strive and fail and overcome. The reason so many adults are drawn to science fiction is because in showing us different possibilities, it reveals the truth we don’t always notice in everyday life. God, Robot succeeds in that regard, and therefore I can highly recommend it to dedicated science fiction fans as well to those who want to understand what makes this genre both special and timeless.

Awesome!

One last note: James Pyles (who wrote his own positive review) has taken inspiration to write his own tales of religious robots, all of which are excellent, and completely different from “God, Robot” in almost every way. I highly recommend them; they can be found on his blog “Powered by Robots”. The current full list of stories is here, as well as an additional story added since. Check them out!

The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2

With The Conjuring 2 dominating the weekend box office, now seems like a good time to expand on my short review from the most recent episode of Geek Gab.

The sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring, also helmed by director James Wan, this installment features the dramatization of another case from the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Though a couple of the Warrens’ other famous investigations are referenced, the plot mostly revolves around the 1977 Enfield Poltergeist case.

Like all films “based on a true story”, The Conjuring 2 takes copious amounts of dramatic license with the original source material. But James Wan’s stated aim was to restore the reputation of studio horror films; not make a documentary.

Did he succeed? Let’s examine the movie in light of the director’s goal.

In case you’re totally unfamiliar with The Conjuring 2

…here’s the theatrical trailer.

Seeing as how the film’s premise is based on a highly publicized haunting that’s been in the media since 1977, I’m dispensing with spoiler warnings. I’ll also restrain myself from discussing major fictionalized plot details.

The facts in the real life case, as in the film, are that a young girl and her family experience strange phenomena in their North London home after she plays with a Ouija board.

Obligatory pneumatology PSA: legends, folklore, and old wives’ tales often contain a kernel of truth. The universally negative portrayal of Ouija boards and other methods of communicating with spirits is one nut that Hollywood’s blind squirrels reliably manage to find. DO NOT play around with this stuff.

And to head off the skeptic’s favorite sophomoric objection: it’s not that a mass-produced toy is magic. It’s that the chosen end of seeking undue power over preternatural beings and phenomena is inherently evil; not the specific means used.

The more you know

Back to the film review. When ongoing disturbances, including but not limited to strange noises, poltergeist activity, teleportation of people and objects, apparitions, spiritual oppression and possession drive the family from their home, paranormal investigators–including the Warrens–intervene. The ensuing case becomes one of the most well documented hauntings in history.

Analysis

The Conjuring 2 is an atmospheric, often smart, supernatural horror film with welcome thriller and mystery flourishes. James Wan set out to make a studio horror movie in the tradition of genre classics like Poltergeist and The Exorcist.

Although this movie doesn’t quite rise to the level of those iconic films, Wan does prove that “studio horror” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “lowest common denominator schlock” while producing a rare sequel that rivals the quality of the original.

This film’s greatest successes lie in three areas”

  • Background and foreshadowing: The Conjuring 2 cleverly sets up its main plot through a properly terrifying introduction that scores bonus points by delivering on a promise made at the end of the first movie.
  • Mood, atmosphere, and tone: director James Wan strikes a superb balance between visceral scares, psychological horror, existential dread, and, refreshingly, scattered rays of hope. The main theme that God remains ever present even in the midst of seemingly unrelenting terror shines through strongly.
  • Character: the writers, director, and actors deserve high praise for avoiding the cliched cardboard cutouts seen in too many horror movies and instead populating this film with believable characters whose problems we easily and immediately care about.
As for the film’s few drawbacks, the most egregious are a couple of scenes featuring obvious CG animation that’s visually and tonally dissonant with the setting. If you’ve seen Wan’s other, similarly themed series Insidious, you’ll instantly recognize the scenes I’ve described, as well as the director’s self-indulgence.
My other beef with the movie might be specific to those who are familiar with Catholic theology and ecclesiology, but in a movie that claims to be based on true events, this one sticks out.
The plot point in question–don’t worry about spoilers; it’s dumb, anyway–is the reason given for Ed and Lorraine’s involvement in the Enfield case. In the movie, the Church gets ahold of taped conversations with a self-identified 72 year-old dead guy spoken by an 11 year-old girl.
The Conjuring 2 trailer
“Priests like me are sworn to serve others’ spiritual needs hand and foot…but we don’t want to look bad, so we’ll just send a lay couple in case this one’s a hoax.”
The English hierarchy supposedly ask the American hierarchy to approach the Warrens about evaluating the goings-on  in Enfield, with the justification that the Church can’t be seen to be directly involved if the story turns out to be a hoax, because besmirching their reputation would hinder their ability to help people.
Such as the people they’re not helping already.

By sending proxies not empowered with the seal of Holy Orders into potential contact with demonic forces.

Proxies who publicly trade on their close affiliation with the Church anyway.

In real life, this isn’t happening. The local diocese is responsible for investigating claims of possession. Enfield is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Westminster, home of English Catholicism’s mother church. The archbishop is unlikely to need assistance from a couple of Yanks.

Supporting this assessment, original Enfield Poltergeist investigator Guy Lyon Playfair said that in real life, the Warrens turned up uninvited.

Also contra the film version, it was a priest; not the Warrens, who helped the Hodgsons get their paranormal problems under control.

But in the finest movie tradition, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t let real life get in the way of a brilliant, climactic ending.

@BrianNiemeier

Brief Review: “Lord Talon’s Revenge”, by Tom Simon

This is brief because the longer review will eventually appear on Castalia House.

“Lord Talon’s Revenge” was almost exactly what I expected it to be. It was a fantasy novel that hints at being something of a cynical parody, but doesn’t quite go all the way. Mr. Simon is simply too fond and respectful of the genre, and of western civilization, to really mock fantasies; so instead he mocks BAD fantasies, then takes those tropes he mocked and elegantly shapes them into something wonderful.

Basically, he creates the world of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a world full of backstabbing liars and villains and where the only hero is a hopeless idiot, spends time thoroughly tearing down the hopeless idiot, and then has said idiot pull himself up by his bootstraps and stick his thumb in Mr. George R.R. Martin’s eye, and with a smile on his face all the while.

But it wasn’t what I expected because, quite honestly, I expected it to be worse. My experience with Mr. Simon’s book of short fiction lead me to the conclusion that he was a pretty good fiction writer who sometimes achieved great depth of insight (as in his Smiggy McStudge stories/essays and related works). I expected something smart and entertaining, but not something brilliant.

And yet, brilliant is what I got. The characters were memorable; the plot intricate and complex but never convoluted; the prose sharp and memorable; the humor and parody dead-on and clever. And when Mr. Simon wanted to be serious, and tried for moments of beauty and longing, he managed it. Sections were genuinely stirring, and not at all in a humorless way.

Everyone who loves fantasies needs to read this book, and at less than three dollars, you have no excuse. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

After you read it, WRITE A REVIEW!!!

Happy Anniversary, Nethereal!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

My indie publishing adventure began one year ago today when my first novel, Nethereal, went live on Amazon.

It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. In the past year, I’ve released my first book’s sequel, Souldancer, put together a second edition of Nethereal based on your feedback, got nominated for a Campbell Award, and received a coveted BOOK BOMB from super author Larry Correia that you guys made the fourth most successful he’s ever done!

Book Bomb
Do not underestimate the power of a Book Bomb!

It’s been said that half of self-published authors only earn $500 a year and sell about 250 books.

When I started this little publishing enterprise, I had no idea what sort of outcome to expect. It was entirely possible that everyone would hate my writing–or worse, ignore it.

Thanks to you, my growing ranks of readers and my fellow author friends, my first year sales have crushed the numbers cited above. I can’t thank you enough.

I now know that it’s possible to self-publish for a living. There’s still some altitude to gain before I reach that lofty peak, but it’s now much closer than the ground.

No turning back now.

I hope you’ll join me on the way up. And bring a friend.

What does the coming year hold? What’s really exciting is that I have no more idea what to expect this year than I did last year. Anything could happen!

One thing I do know: Soul Cycle Book III, the penultimate entry in the series, is coming along quite well. I’m aiming for a late 2016 launch, so watch this blog for updates and release dates.

In the meantime, what’s an anniversary without gifts?

Nethereal, the SFF book that started it all, is on sale today for $2.99 in the Kindle Store.

Already own Nethereal? Get the even better sequel Souldancer right now for the same low price!

Have you already read Nethereal and/or Souldancer but have been waiting to leave a review? What better time than on this auspicious day to share your informed opinions with me and Amazon’s customers?
Honest Amazon reviews benefit authors in several ways. For one thing, they figure into the Kindle Store’s ranking algorithm. Plus, Amazon ramps up their promotional efforts for books with 50 or more reviews. Last but not least, feedback is good. I read every review, and as Nethereal 2nd ed. shows, I listen to reviewer feedback.
Writing a review can seem daunting, but don’t worry! It’s perfectly fine to leave something as simple as, “I really liked this,” or “The story wasn’t to my taste.” Every little bit helps.
Thanks to all the folks who have already left reviews. If you’d like to express your opinion, please consider leaving a review for Nethereal, Souldancer, or both today.

Which Iron Man Film Is the Best in the Series?

Iron Man

It’s the series that turned a comic book character nobody had cared about since the Cold War into the hottest IP on the planet and redeemed its star’s career in the process. Initially considered a huge gamble, the Iron Man franchise kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe–a coup that the competition has been scrambling to replicate; so far without success.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

There’s no question that the MCU–and the Iron Man films in particular–have left an indelible mark on the pages of cinematic history. But do these movies live up to the astronomical hype they’ve generated? That loaded question aside, which epoch-making installment is the best of the bunch?

The quick and dirty answers: not really, and Captain America; Civil War.

Team Iron Man
Everything the Russos touch turns to gold–or in this case, gold-titanium alloy.

Alright, invoking the Russo brothers in this context is like entering Carl Lewis in a high school girls’ track meet.

To find the answer without cheating, I shall conduct a thorough analysis of the three standalone Iron Man films. Join me as I compare the relative merits of each movie according to objective standards of the cinematic and general storytelling arts.

WARNING: It’s impossible to run this kind of analysis without venturing into spoiler territory. If you haven’t seen Iron Man parts 1, 2, and 3 yet, a) welcome back from the desert island and b) correct your omission immediately.

OK. I’ll grant a dispensation from watching Iron Man 3. In fact, if it saves somebody the 90 minutes and five bucks I wasted on that flick, this post will qualify as a PSA.

Main Antagonist
A hero is defined by his enemies. It’s no exaggeration to say that the main villain can make or break a film.
Iron Man
Obadiah Stane Newsweek
Possibly the most badass picture of Jeff Bridges
A little-known fact about the first Iron Man: the original antagonist in early drafts of the script was none other than Howard Stark himself, who would have donned the War Machine armor to do battle with his own son.
Marvel almost certainly made the right call by scrapping that idea. They did carry over the father-son rivalry dynamic to the finished film, in which Howard’s lifelong friend Obadiah Stane violently turns on his late business partner’s heir.
I’m torn by Jeff Bridges’ turn as Stane. On the one hand, he tackles the role with maximum effort, as is his wont. On the other hand, Bridges himself admitted to having some discomfort with the production’s improv style.
 

Obadiah Stane’s real weakness has nothing to do with Bridges’ performance, but with the writing. He’s never given a compelling motivation to order the hit on Tony. He even highlights the foolishness of his decision by confessing that Tony is a “golden goose” whose lucrative ingenuity Stand can’t hope to match. Such petty, short-term thinking undermines his portrayal as a corporate tech genius.

Then, because clunky final battles were mandatory in MCU Phase One, the Dude goes crazy or something and suits up in an ambulatory Soyuz for frenetically shot yet plodding showdown with Shellhead.
Iron Man 2

Whiplash and Justin Hammer
Not pictured: Iron Man 2’s main antagonist

Let’s cut to the chase. Most critics of Iron Man 2 call out Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell for giving lackluster performances as the movie’s dual antagonists. These critics fail to understand a number of mitigating factors.

First, a lengthy amount of footage establishing Ivan Vanko’s motives and background were cut from the final version. So hate on Whiplash if you must, but blame the editing; not Rourke’s acting.

Second, Rourke went to absurd lengths to infuse his character with authenticity, even going so far as to spend some quality time in a Russian prison. Say what you will about his effectiveness as a villain. You can’t say that Rourke isn’t utterly convincing as a Russian lowlife.

Third, if you think that Justin Hammer is passive-aggressive and grating for no good reason, you’re not paying attention. From what I can tell, most critics assumed that Hammer is a pale imitation of Obadiah Stane. Viewing the character through that lens will produce a distorted image.

Stane was out for revenge. Or money. Or…honestly, it’s hard to say why he tried to have Tony killed. By contrast, Hammer’s motivation is much clearer. He’s not after Tony Stark’s head. He wants Tony’s approval.

Like Stane, Hammer knows he’s not in Tony’s league. Instead of murderous rage, Hammer’s envy turns into a deluded obsession with proving himself Tony’s equal. Stark repeatedly makes it clear that he views Hammer as an annoying tag along at best, but Hammer’s self-worth relies so heavily on Tony’s acceptance that he can’t let himself acknowledge his rival’s contempt.

Think I’m grasping at straws? Revisit Hammer’s dialog. The man makes a positive reference to James Joyce’s Ulysses for crying out loud! 90% of people who say they enjoyed that book haven’t read it, and 100% are lying about liking it just so highbrow literary types will think they’re smart.

All of the preceding is moot, however, because neither Vanko nor Hammer is Iron Man 2’s main antagonist.

Remember: the main antagonist is the character who poses the biggest obstacle between the main protagonist and his goal.

There’s no question that Tony Stark is the main protagonist. What does Tony want in Iron Man 2? He has two complimentary goals.

  1. Continue operating as Iron Man free of outside interference.
  2. Continue running Stark Enterprises as he sees fit.
Hammer and Vanko certainly obstruct the attainment of Tony’s goals. However, they merely complicate the major source of conflict imposed by this guy:
Garry Shandling - Senator Stern
A big prick hurts even more.
If Senator Stern, brilliantly portrayed by the late Garry Shandling, weren’t orchestrating a government shakedown against Tony for control of the Iron Man armor, Hammer wouldn’t be a threat at all and Vanko would’ve been neutralized in Monaco.
Not that Hammer and Whiplash are superfluous. Unlike most superheroes, Iron Man’s civilian persona is a force to be reckoned with in his own sphere. The best Iron Man stories give the Armored Avenger a super-powered foe to tangle with on the battlefield and a viable threat in the boardroom. While Stane ably filled the latter role in the first film, only Iron Man 2 presents our hero with equally formidable challenges in both arenas.
Dramatically upping the stakes, Iron Man 2 pits Tony against the most implacable foe of all: the United States Government.
Iron Man 3
Fake Mandarins
“I am the Mandarin!””No, I am!”Somehow, they’re both wrong.
Fake Mandarins.
Next.
OK. You want more exposition on the bait and switch that Iron Man 3 pulled with its main villain? How about Fake Mandarins Prompted by Cynical Pandering to the Chinese Market Passed off as Creative Integrity?

The minute you start to govern your creative impulses based on anticipation of someone else’s response or their expectations, then you’re going to fail. You’re going to fail them, too. Because you’re not going to surprise anybody – you’re going to be busy second-guessing what other people want and indulging that people-pleasing side of yourself.

-Iron Man 3 co-writer/director Shane Black

Have I mentioned lately how Hollywood hates its own audience?
Hey Shane, “they” are the people who pay your extravagant salary. It’s all well and good to surprise them. Just make sure you give them pleasant surprises; not pandering, PC, dirty tricks that betray the audience’s trust.
Best Main Antagonist: Iron Man 2
Stakes
While the main antagonist places obstacles in the hero’s path, the consequences of failing to surmount those obstacles largely determine the level of dramatic tension and audience engagement.
Iron Man
Obadiah Stane attempts to assassinate Tony Stark with Wile E. Coyote-level tenacity. If Tony doesn’t foil these schemes, he will die. Which would be a huge bummer.
Iron Man 2
The US government, represented by Senator Stern, will stop at nothing to acquire Iron Man’s technology for themselves. Unless Tony can stave off Congress while countering Justin Hammer’s industrial espionage and surviving Ivan Vanko’s vendetta, Stark weapons tech will be proliferated worldwide, reigniting the arms race and certainly heightening US foreign and domestic military intervention.
Iron Man 3
If Tony can’t stop Fake British Mandarin, Trevor Slattery will continue interrupting contrived, duplicitous television with equally contrived, marginally less duplicitous television.
Iron Man must stop Fake Hollywood Nerd Mandarin to escape an unwanted job offer at a corporation that makes super soldiers. The super soldiers explode, but only when it’s convenient to the plot.
Iron Man 3 Creepy Fire Monster Lady
Hey Shane, my creepy fire monster lady can beat up your creepy fire monster lady.
Highest Stakes: Iron Man 2
Plot
A protagonist vying for stakes against resistance supplied by the antagonist is what forms a plot. Let’s face it, all three Iron Man movies have pretty convoluted, sometimes nonsensical, plots.
But we need to pick a winner, so here goes!
Iron Man
An arrogant billionaire arms dealer gets a sharp lesson in humility from his own handiwork. With deadly shrapnel in his heart and a price on his head, he must use his natural genius and discover untapped reserves of courage to save his own life and atone for his mistakes.
In other words, the same superhero origin story that Hollywood–especially Marvel Studios–keeps churning out ad nauseum. Robert Downey Jr’s career-resurrecting performance elevates the material, though, and energizes the proceedings with a refreshing dose of fun.
Iron Man 2
Having embraced his pledge to make up for a lifetime of war profiteering, Tony Stark finds his successful privatization of world peace threatened by US government intervention. Heightening the tension, the only known treatment for Tony’s heart condition is proving as fatal as the malady itself.
The pressure sets off a midlife crisis which places Tony’s business, relationships, and life in even greater jeopardy while interference from an unscrupulous competitor and a vengeful nemesis further compounds his peril.
Will Tony find a reason beyond his own interests to be a hero before his time runs out and his powerful technology is set loose on the world?
Iron Man and War Machine
The most awesome fight in a cherry orchard since Bleach
Iron Man 3
Traumatized by events that happened in another series but are only vaguely alluded to here, Tony Stark throws himself into his work. No, not ensuring world peace. Puttering around in his basement. Meanwhile, his love life–and life on earth in general–circles the drain.
A character with a Chinese code name who’s played by a British actor of Indian extraction to avoid racism and certainly not to appease an audience that Hollywood desperately hopes to milk now that they’ve alienated most of the West, claims responsibility for a series of bombings.
When the director of the first two Iron Man movies is blasted into a coma, Tony argues with Pepper about their relationship, fails to prevent three helicopters form destroying a house packed with enough firepower to turn North America to glass, and visits Chattanooga, Tennessee. His panic attacks sporadically grind the story to a halt.
Pepper is abducted and infected with the same nanotech virus that makes some people explode, but turns most of them into super soldiers capable of shredding multiple Iron Man suits apiece. The dramatic tension needle remains fixed at zero.
Tony and Rhody team up. A sub-par episode of Riptide ensues.
Riptide
How Bill Gates really made his money
Culminating in…
Fake Mandarins
Fake Mandarins
Least irritating plot: Iron Man 1 and 2 tie.
The Best Iron Man Film
Iron Man 2
It’s not even that close. The first Iron Man set up an intriguing character and laid the groundwork for an enduring superhero mythos, but the sequel did what a good sequel should: deliver on the promises made in the original while raising the stakes and expanding the secondary world.
Yes, the first movie is good. But being an origin story, it only hints at the hero’s full potential. Only in Iron Man 2 do we get to see Tony Stark at the top of his superhero game squaring off against equally formidable superpowered opposition.
This movie keeps every promise made by its predecessor and does it in style. Rhody finally suiting up as War Machine and kicking drone ass after ogling the Mark II and vowing “Next time, baby” is one of the sweetest payoffs in the MCU to date.
I could go on, but the point has been made with mathematical precision. Iron Man 2 is the best film in the franchise. Case closed!
Special recognition for entry in the series that bends over the farthest to indulge the stars’ egos, the director’s condescending PC bullshit, and the studio’s servile greed goes to Iron Man 3.

Superversive Blog — Review of Diary of a Robot by S. Dorman

S. Dorman reviews Diary of a Robot by Lewis Jenkins

Diary of a robot

Diary of a Robot on Amazon

The oddest thing about Lewis Jenkins’s first novel, Diary of a Robot, is the robot’s prime directive. That the “Doc,” its inventor, succeeds in his artificially intelligent creation is shown in Jenkins’ premise — or conceit, if you will — that the AI is the one telling us its own story.  But, I have not yet revealed the weird — the robot’s prime directive.  In the robot’s diary are respectful nods to I, Robot, Isaac Asimov’s work, and touches of evident love for Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner.  You’ll find history, science fiction, and mystery in this story.

Dr. Little’s invention, the TM 2000—Robey (pronounced Row-bee)—is on its way to becoming a self-directed systems, software, and hardware testing machine. The “Doc” does not invent without the aid of his little company (TLC —The Little Company). In much of Jenkins’ book Robey displays the learning process of an artificial intelligence. But the book does so much more, as regards the imaginative reading experience. What we want while reading science fiction is hardware, suspense, defined characters, situation, and the “what if” or BIG IDEA.  This novel has that, and more — corporate espionage, bad news, abduction, impersonation, intimations of murder, and chess problems.  But the real more is in TM 2000’s process of testing, of learning, What’s a human being?. Many questions are asked (by The Machine) and, as we watch it mature toward its full intellectual stature, many more possible answers are given (also by The Machine).

Have you ever heard of a computer program designed to test for truth? And why would financial backers invest in a testing machine with such a prime directive? Although to “do no harm” is an important directive suggested by Asimov, Dr. Maynard Little’s team have encoded those specs and others—but secondarily.

Robey wants to determine the thoughts and intentions of the human heart. Its aim is incisive: Precision in reading the human intention in order to act toward its goal of perceiving the truth about each person. Intelligently, even heroically, Robey intends to achieve it. Being designed specifically for the task, nothing can stop it but a command to … stop?…  What if the command to stop is not based on truth —?

Robey’s heroism comes in when his maker, Doc Little, commands him to shut down. Not to turn itself off because Robey has disobeyed its directives, but because it has. From there on, The Doc gets his wish, and havoc results in the AI department of The Little Company.

Do you like exposition and introspection? This is the SF for you. If you read to escape, or for respite from, introspection, this book may not be for you. Yet, it’s a fun and funny novel.  The frequent SF take on AI, e.g. Clarke’s HAL, is often sinister, but this robot is different in being innocently tedious, or irritating, boring, obnoxious, office-disrupting; some kind of pain, depending on who is charging/spending time developing (in concert with Robey) its core directive.  The reader has fun watching it “test” (read bedevil) the crew at TLC.  However, we see that Robey is a servant and understands that it is a servant. Everyone is either Mr. or Ms., e.g. Mr. Guy and Ms. Marie. Robey is also, of course, the ultimate testing machine. This is, after all, how it makes money for The Little Company. There’s an abundance of humor in this book, the kind I like. I won’t give examples because the humor is always contextual. The kind that punctuates (or punctures) the silence of reading with small explosions of laughter.

A big theme, a BIG IDEA, in Robey’s story is (metaphorically) the increasing influence of surveillance in our lives.  C.S. Lewis has said about our human condition that the more we take precautions to be secure, the less secure we feel.   But this Big Idea is also not present at first in Jenkins’ story of Robey.  Instead, as intelligent software and machines increase at TLC, themes of security and surveillance accelerate the Diary’s narrative force, while underscoring C.S. Lewis’s observation about our condition.

Diary of a Robot is not a review of my brother.  It is a review of my brother’s book.

Diary of a Robot on Lulu