URLs du Jour — 2013-03-11

  • Dystopia Kevin D. Williamson rambles insightfully on the tired sci-fi trope of corporate dystopia. Is that a credible fate? It certainly gives comfort to the prejudices of today's "progressives" who spit out "corporate" as a swear word. Among Kevin's fascinatin' facts:

    You would not know it from reading fiction, speaking with Occupy types, or listening to the speeches at the Democratic National Convention, but the corporation as we know it is in decline: The average size of a corporation as measured by personnel has been diminishing since 1975. In 1955 the largest U.S. company, General Motors, employed 576,000 people out of a U.S. population of 166 million; today Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. company, employs only 82,000 people. Microsoft employs fewer than 100,000 people worldwide; Google employs about 54,000, and Facebook fewer than 6,000.

    More interesting stuff at the link. Especially recommended to science fiction writers who don't want to write complete economic hooey. ("Progressives" are probably hopeless.)

  • Gosh, the professional journalists at USA Today, with layers of editors and fact-checkers, have (as I type) this story with lead paragraph:

    The approval Thursday by the U.S. Security Council of tougher sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program sparked a war of words Monday.

    Yes, they misspelled "U.N." Two lousy letters, they still couldn't get it right.

    They'll probably fix it soon. Or maybe they won't.

  • You too can write press releases for politicians. The grab bag of words to describe your favored policies: balanced; bipartisan; sensible (or common-sense); all of which will responsibly deliver benefits to the middle class. You never want to raise taxes; but increasing revenue is a must.

    Conversely, your opponents' policies: reckless; irresponsible; harmful; mindless; haphazard; spending cuts are always indiscriminate and arbitrary; and the programs they affect are all vital; Worse, your opponents want to keep open loopholes (usually corporate loopholes).

    Nearly all of these are present in the latest press release from my own Congressperson, Carol Shea-Porter.

    She (of course) claims to want to "reduce spending", but that's a joke.

    For extra credit, you can score this short press release from Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02). I count six instances of bipartisan; three common sense (with one sensible); three responsibly (with one responsible); three balanced; three middle class. Yeesh! It's a surprise they had room for anything else besides the buzzwords.

  • News you can use: How Fast Would the Earth Have to Spin to Fling People Off?

  • On the Pun Salad movie page: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and my take on Taken 2. On the book page: Pat Cadigan's Tea From an Empty Cup.

Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:24 PM EDT

Taken 2

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Why yes, we did watch two movies set in Turkey right in a row. Thanks for noticing.

But could two movies be any more different. This one did not win Grand Prize at Cannes. Mostly in English. About one merciful hour shorter. Not boring at all.

In Taken, hyper-competent and deadly security consultant Dad (Liam Neeson) was on the outs with Ex-Wife (Famke Janssen) and Teenage Daughter (Maggie Grace). But Teenage Daughter was kidnapped in Paris by white slavers (honest) and was barely rescued at the last moment when Dad killed all the bad guys. That sets up the scenario of this movie, where…

Dad breaks into a little more of a sweat, as the father of one of the previous movie's corpses swears revenge on him and his family. Conveniently, the entire family is in Istanbul, where a small army of villains aims to capture them and subject them to violence and degredation. In a switch, Dad and Ex-Wife are the ones initially Taken, while Teenage Daughter escapes initial capture. She shows unexpected pluck in helping rescue Ex-Wife and Dad.

This is one of those cynical movie-studio attempts to squeeze out a few more millions by rehashing a successful formula. Still, it held my interest, and there were a few laughs as Daughter, who has yet to pass the driving test back in the US, drives madly through the crowded Istanbul streets, dodging bad-guy gunfire and dozens of cops. Reminds me of teaching Pun Daughter to drive, I thought.

Consumer note: even though Maggie Grace is playing a teenager here, she's actually nearly (as I type) 30 years old.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 12:55 AM EDT

Tea From an Empty Cup

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

The reading of this book completes the project I set out upon about three years back: to read all the books mentioned on this io9 list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time". To recap: two I had already read, and considered reasonably decent. My results for the next seven: not bad; mediocre; not my cup of tea; meh; hated it; pretty good; another clunker. So my hopes weren't that high for Tea From an Empty Cup. You might say—(taking off sunglasses)—I suspected it (also) might not be my cup of tea. But, while not great, it wasn't bad.

It's set in a near future where video games have morphed into full-fledged Artificial Reality (AR); players don "hotsuits" which take over their sensory inputs and get dropped into scenarios of their choosing. Sort of a Matrix deal, except that the participants know what they're seeing isn't real.

So if you die in AR, it's no biggie. Except a number of players are winding up dead in Actual Reality too, and having kicked the bucket in disturbingly similar ways to their virtual counterparts. Female police detective Konstantin is on the case; she decides she must invade AR-land to investigate fully.

In a parallel thread, Yuki is in search of missing boyfriend Tom; she has heard that Tom was seen in the company of the mysterious Joy Flower. Unexpectedly, Joy Flower offers to hire Yuki as a personal assistant; Yuki accepts in order to further her search. Pretty soon she finds herself in AR too.

AR is kind of a cyber-Wonderland, Yuki and Konstantin playing the mutual role of Alice. They meet up with all sorts of bizarre characters, nightmarish situations, and dreadful jokes. (When Konstantin encounters a building entrance guarded by two werewolves, her escort remarks: "Well, their hair is perfect." Moan.) And commercialism is a running joke: you can always spend more money to improve your AR experience, and you keep getting nagged about it.

I can only take so much loopiness though. In an anything-goes, anything-can-happen AR, not much actually matters. Didn't care much about the characters or the outcome.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 12:55 AM EDT

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another "your mileage may differ" flick for you. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia won the Grand Prize at Cannes in 2011, and the IMDB raters bring it in at 7.7 (as I type). So it's not impossible, nay even likely, that you'll like it better than I.

It's set in eastern Turkey. A murder has been committed, the alleged perpetrator has confessed, and the local prosecutor has organized a search party for the corpse. They drive out into the rural countryside with the accused, his mentally-challenged brother, and a few hangers-on. Unfortunately, the perp has only a dim recollection of where he buried the body. So there's a lot of driving.

Spoiler: they eventually find the victim. It takes a real long time, however. The movie is about two and a half hours long. If I were being polite, I'd say the pacing is leisurely. Alternatively: it's sluggish and padded and boring. There are a lot of long scenes where you just see cars driving across the landscape, guys trampling through the countryside, guys staring at each other, or staring at nothing.

The characters spend a lot of time chatting with each other, and there's an interesting subplot revealed in discussions between a prosecutor and the doctor that's been brought along. (Or rather: would have been interesting if the movie were about an hour shorter.)

Last Modified 2024-01-28 12:55 AM EDT