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News You Can Bruise

Your chicken, your egg, your problem


Jokes For Minecrafters

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:20:48 GMT

The last time I went to California, my nephew told me lots of punny jokes about animals ("Why are cats so vain? Because they're purr-fect.") He'd gotten these jokes from a Pokémon joke book, in which the jokes were about Pokémon ("Why are Meowth so vain? Because they're purr-fect."), and kindly translated the Pokémon into real animals for my benefit. Which worked out well because the jokes had clearly been about real animals to begin with.

This reminded me that I'd been meaning to report back about two other joke books about a common childhood obsession: Jokes for Minecrafters and Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters. I'm really interested in the shady but seemingly profitable world of unlicensed Minecraft books. I've seen Minecraft self-insert fanfic being sold as an 80-page chapter book at Target! I applaud Mojang's lax stance on fan works but that seems a little excessive.

I recall from my own childhood that this sort of obsession-feeding book is usually a big disappointment once obtained. Themed joke books are the worst because they're often a big cash-in on preexisting folk jokes. Plus you have to find someone who's as big a nerd as you, and wants to listen to you tell the jokes instead of reading the book themselves.

I was prepared for disappointment, but I had to find out what Minecraft kids' jokes were like, so I ventured one more time into a world I'd abandoned long ago. Fortunately, this time I didn't have to pay the Troll Book Club to send me two slim paperbacks. I just put the ebooks on hold at NYPL.

And... the best joke in the series is probably the very first one in Hilarious Jokes for Minecrafters:

Q: What happens when a creeper walks into a bar?
A: Everyone dies.

It's all downhill from there. Here are the two runners-up:

Q: Why do players shop at Endermen yard sales?
A: To get their stuff back.
Q: Do zombies eat popcorn with their fingers?
A: No, they eat their fingers separately.

I'm not here to make fun of bad jokes, because comedy is hard, but most of the book is more like this:

Q: What did the pig say to the creeper?
A: Nothing. The creeper blew up the pig.

Many entries have the form of jokes, but are actually Minecraft trivia. Here's one I didn't know:

Q: How do zombies and skeletons keep from burning during the day?
A: They stand on soul sand.

This one hasn't aged well:

Alex: "What do you call a polar bear in Minecraft?"
Steve: "I don't know. What?"
Alex: "Lost, because there are no polar bears in Minecraft!"

I need some help on this one:

Q: What happened when it became so cold in the icy biome?
A: The snow golems were holding up pictures of thumbs!

There are also many jokes that require knowledge of the Orespawn mod, which I'd never heard of. One book had a separate chapter dealing with "mods", but a lot of Orespawn jokes were not in that chapter. This seemed unfair to kids who are just trying to understand jokes and maybe laugh a couple times.

This one makes me irrationally angry:

First player: "I heard the End has its own soundtrack."
Second player: "What does it sound like?"
First player: "You can only hear it in the End."

This one has an artifact that makes me think most of the book was copy-and-pasted from an IM conversation:

You might be a Minecraft addict if you forget to give your mom a present for her birthday and instead get her a Minecraft account XD.

Anyway, I'm here to tell you that the terrible Amazon reviews of these books are more or less accurate. In the spirit of reconciliation, I thought I'd close by trying my hand at corny Minecraft jokes:

Q: How does Steve detect if someone is raiding his marijuana stash?
A: He uses a BUD switch.

That one's on the house!

The Review of Things 2016: Accomplishments

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 17:32:58 GMT

Library Work: In 2016 SimplyE went from a two-developer team with me as backend guy, to a seven-developer team with me as architect. We launched the SimplyE reader for NYPL patrons and started work on rolling it out to other libraries across the country. We also launched the Open Ebooks project, which led to our brush with power. I'm not comfortable bragging about the SimplyE product because it needs a lot of improvements, and I feel like saying how nice it is will lead to people thinking (or at least asserting) that I'm okay with the status quo. But if you compare it to the status quo ante, it's really damn good. We took checking out an ebook from a 17-step process to a 3-step process. And I'm totally happy bragging about the team, which is incredible. For the first time I ran a bunch of job searches and decided who to hire, and I think the past year's work has proven I made good choices. At the end of the year, NYPL recognized our team with a Library Leadership Award! To the right is our official team photo (two of the developers are not pictured). I think this is an incredible achievement for a team that basically didn't exist a year ago. Writing: Late 2015 I pitched a number of novels to my agent and we decided on Mine, a Rendezvous with Rama type political thriller. Lately, though, I'm haunted by the pitch I wrote for Nice Things, a novel about the fascist takeover of the Federation. Sometimes when I sit down to write Mine I feel like I should be writing Nice Things instead, but most of the time I'm glad I'm working on absolutely anything else. Progress on Mine is slow but steady. But slow. My increased responsibilities at the library haven't been good for writing time. Short stories I wrote in 2016 include "Quest For Boredom" (which I... supposedly sold??? but haven't heard back), "The Girls Boys Don't Notice" (possibly the best title I will ever come up with), "Fool, Professor, Peasant, King", and the unsellable "Unicode Changelog", which I might self-publish. Situation Normal is still on the Desks of Editors. Bots: I've drastically scaled down my use of Twitter because I don't like what it does to my brain. As a corollary, I don't really like that my whimsical software encourages people to spend more time on Twitter. So I've stopped putting bots on Twitter. Also, Twitter randomly suspends my bots without telling me. After the completely innocuous Vintage Groaners was suspended, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I've thought about taking down my bots in a fiery cataclysm, rather than letting Twitter pick them off one by one, but a lot of people get happiness from Minecraft Signs, Hapax Hegemon, and (finally!) Smooth Unicode, so I'll commit to keeping the big ones working at least. I have a solution in mind for my computational creativity going forward, but I'm pretty damn busy so it's going to be a while. I've been doing this stuff since 1998 and it's still something I like, so consider this not a goodbot, but rather au botvoir. Here's the 2016 robot roll call: The Lonely Dungeon, my fave of 2016. That's Life! Anniversary Gifts, inspired by my and Sumana's 10th anniversary. The aforementioned Vintage Groaners. Location: Bot Heaven. Ingsoc Party Slogans. I admit that Twitter really is the best medium for this particular idea. A Time of the Day [...]

The Review of Things 2016: Games

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:25:11 GMT

If you've come for cutting-edge gaming news, I must disabuse you of the notion you've somehow acquired. I buy computer games when they're ported to Linux. Then apparently I only talk about them at the end of the year. Let's get started!

Two excellent tabletop games stick in my mind: the thrilling Pandemic Legacy, about which much has been said elsewhere; and the unassuming Stinker, which once you play it is revealed as an absolute marvel. Stinker cleverly fixes all the problems, large and small, with "spell-something" games and "one-person-judges-everyone-else" games and "come-up-with-something-funny" games. It's not as surefire a hit as Snake Oil, but I love it and it's usually a hit when I introduce it to new players. Stinker is the Board Game of the Year.

Three years ago I closed the book on non-tactical RPGs and declared Mother 3 the all-time winner. Well, now I gotta re-open that book because Undertale improves on the formula. It's clearly based on the Mother series, but it has a solid new combat mechanic, a lot of memorable characters, and a type of humor I like better than the humor in the Mother series (which I do like, quite a bit). I really disliked the climax of Undertale, but a lot of Mother 3 was rambling and unfocused, so it kind of cancels out. Undertale overcomes my prejudices to become Computer Game of the Year.

Runner-up is Duskers, the space exploration game which combines survival horror with system administration. Your typing speed can make the difference! Super creepy, but feels a bit unfinished.

Other computer games I enjoyed a lot in 2016: Mini Metro, Stardew Valley, RimWorld, Beglitched, Brogue, Caves of Qud, Sunless Sea, and XCom: Enemy Unknown.

The Review of Things 2016: Books

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 16:32:00 GMT

Nearly all the books I read in 2016 were in electronic format. I either read library books through SimplyE, or I dug through the piles of ZIP files I've accumulated through Simon Carless's video game StoryBundles. Greg Millner's Perfecting Sound Forever was the only paper book I read in 2016 that I recommend; in fact, it's the Book of the Year.

I've got seven more super-recs and I'll give little capsule reviews for them, since they predate the first occurrence of Book Roundup. I read a decent amount of fiction, but you'll notice there's not much fiction on this list. What happens in my head when I read fiction seems highly idiosyncratic, so I'm more comfortable recommending super-detailed nonfiction.

  • The four-volume Designers and Dragons by Shannon Appelcline, an incredibly broad survey of role-playing game publishing. This is absolutely not for everybody but I loved the uncovering of weird little experiments and the anecdotal gossip.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century, by Tom Shippey. This book is a deep dive into what I would argue is the invention of worldbuilding. It does a great job explaining how the unreadable parts of Tolkien make the readable parts so compelling. Here's the money quote IMO:
    [P]eople can tell the genuine from the fake, even when it comes to making up names. Do not make them up, therefore.

    There are a series of amazing close reads that show how Tolkien worked, e.g. by finding weird stuff in medieval texts (What is the name "Gandalfr" doing in the middle of "Tally of the Dwarves", when "alfr" means "elf"?) and making up a retcon.

  • Digital Apollo by David A. Mindell. Narrative of the computer architecture of the Apollo, the process of designing it with each piece being made by a different contractor, how it performed during each mission and how it was changed after each mission.
  • Before the Storm by Rick Perlstein. 'Nuff said. Everything I've read by Perlstein is great.
  • Starboard Wine by Samuel R. Delany. Like the Tolkien book, a really useful book on the techniques necessary to write fantastic fiction, but written by a practitioner.
  • ZZT by Anna Anthropy - Great coverage of an obscure but incredibly important game. Like the cover copy says, "[N]ot everyone has played ZZT, but everyone who played it became a game designer."
  • Way Station by Clifford Simak - Introspective prose captures a type of melancholy that science fiction could be doing all the time but doesn't attempt very often.

Oh noooo

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 12:31:45 GMT

(image) (image)

The Review of Things 2016: Film

Wed, 04 Jan 2017 00:30:53 GMT

Film: Maintaining Film Roundup Roundup (now updated with 150 high-quality films!) makes it pretty easy to come up with a top ten for 2016:

  1. Man With A Movie Camera (1929)
  2. Dekalog 10 (1989)
  3. Tampopo (1985)
  4. Inquiring Nuns (1968)
  5. Approaching the Elephant (2014)
  6. Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed (2004)
  7. A Short Film about Killing (1988)
  8. Dekalog 1 (1989)
  9. Hail, Ceasar! (2016)
  10. The Defiant Ones (1958)

Look at that list, we got four documentaries on there.

My lower-tier "recommended" list gets longer every year; here's a quick stab at the top ten of my twenty-one recommended movies from 2016:

  1. Moana (2016)
  2. Ghostbusters (2016)
  3. Deadpool (2016)
  4. Caucus (2013)
  5. La La Land (2016)
  6. Avanti! (1972)
  7. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  8. Three Colors: Blue (1993)
  9. Synecdoche, New York (2006)
  10. It (1927)

I'm not really happy with calling that second tier "recommended" because it implies I'll scoff at your decision to see a solid film like Arrival or Kung Fu Hustle that I didn't put on my list. Hopefully no one does the data gathering necessary to deduce (incorrectly) that I'm scoffing at you.

After several years of Film Roundup I think I can now make what to me looks like a normal person's top ten film list, containing only movies from 2016. All of these were worth watching:

  1. Hail, Ceasar!
  2. Moana
  3. Ghostbusters
  4. La La Land
  5. Deadpool
  6. Arrival
  7. Star Trek: Beyond
  8. A Beautiful Planet
  9. Shin Godzilla
  10. Zootopia
  11. The Last Arcade

Kind of a boring list though! Where are the nuns, the fourth-wall-breaking gangsters, or the convicts handcuffed to each other? Answer: in movies from previous years.

December Book Roundup

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 15:57:47 GMT

Just a few notes on the books I read in December 2016. Books marked with a * are ones I read for free through NYPL's SimplyE mobile app. (Big news on that coming up! Also, I guess I should write a simple explanatory post for people who don't want to read my RESTFest talks.)
  • *Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson. This was fun sci-fi spycraft, and just as the concept started to get old there was a MEGA TWIST that kept me interested to the end. The sequel, *Europe at Midnight, went deep into the world of the TWIST. It reminded me of Giles Goat-Boy, except good. Presumably there's a third book... yes, there is. I've requested that it be added to the NYPL collection.
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. Combining observational humor and pop science creates a book that reminds me of two of my favorite authors, Susan McCarthy and Mary Roach.
  • *The Dead Mountaineer's Inn by the Strugatsky brothers, translated by Josh Billings. The big standout in this book was a wonderfully clueless, desperate alien who doesn't get a lot of page time.
  • Perfecting Sound Forever by Greg Milner. Sumana read this book a while back and raved about it. I must agree: it's really, really good. It takes recorded music, something you're already familiar with, and makes it clear how weird it is and how many social constructs surround it. Then it retells what you thought was an artistic history in terms of technological changes and business decisions. A lot of nonfiction books give you the facts, but Perfecting Sound Forever gives you a hidden history of something you've been living with your whole life.
  • *Double Entry by Jane Gleeson-White. Not as good as Perfecting Sound Forever but also does a good job of showing that something frequently thought of as an objective record of reality is actually a measurement taken through a mess of social constructs.

December Film Roundup

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 23:08:04 GMT

Looks like December 2016 has escaped its holding pen! As you flee, please consult this Film Roundup for next steps and valuable offers from our partners. Blue Collar (1977): Solid work/heist movie with Richard Pryor doing a Peter Falk-like job of putting comedy and drama into a single role. In fact, the movie poster shows Pryor twice, once doing a "drama" face and once doing a "comedy" face. Like those old Greek masks, I guess. Not pictured: Pryor's co-stars. A good thriller with authentic 70s grime. Cool factory footage means this was probably Krzysztof Kieslowski's favorite Richard Pryor movie. Plunder Road (1957): Some films noirs claim to be LA-centric, but only Plunder Road has the guts to focus entirely on the logistics of highway transportation. High quality popcorn noir. The smog inspection scene made me laugh. La La Land (2016): The movie that picks up where Plunder Road left off. It's a pretty musical, a genre you don't often see in modern American films, and I was enjoying the settings and the low-tech accomplishments of craft and the fact that it's more emotionally realistic than most pretty musicals, and then the ending happened. Such a great ending! It recontextualizes the entire movie in a way that only works because you spent 90 minutes in a pretty musical with above average emotional realism. I'd go into more detail but for once I think I don't want to spoil you. The whole movie I was thinking "I know Ryan Gosling is a different Ryan than the guy from Deadpool, but they look exactly the same and I can't remember the other guy's name so I'm going to pretend this is a Deadpool prequel." This did not enhance the movie as much as I thought it would. Ghatashraddha (1977): "Such a good movie!" - Sumana's mom. A Kannada New Wave weepie in the style of the Apu trilogy. It was pretty good, but I didn't like it as much as Sumana's mom does. The print I saw included a hilarious subtitle. Two teenagers from the village school are arguing, the younger one runs off in a huff. The older one: "Tut! Poor fellow!" I kind of felt it didn't mesh with the tone of the rest of the film. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016): This year's Christmas movie with Susanna. Finally, the superb junkyard art direction of the Star Wars universe is matched by an appropriate storyline: "we got the job done but everybody died." I know they only did it to avoid answering the question of why these people weren't in Episode IV (possible alternate answer: "they were somewhere else"), but it was so good to watch some characters in this universe unconstrained by the burdens of myth. A surprisingly high recommendation. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964): Clearly an inspiration for La La Land, but the new film is more to my taste in a couple ways. First, Cherbourg isn't really a "musical" in the [HB]ollywood sense, it's more like an opera or a very long cantata. Second, this film has the same ending as La La Land, but because it's an understated French film and not a noisy American musical the really cool thing doesn't happen on screen. Unlike my Deadpool fantasy, this film really is kind of a sequel to Lola, a film I saw in 2014. I didn't notice this until IMDB trivia time afterwards. I would definitely pick this movie over Lola. As the year draws to a close (actually, afterwards; I'm writing this addendum on Monday) let's turn the Television Spotlight on the beloved classic, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968-2001). I don't think I've said this explicitly on NYCB, but when I was growing up my family did not own a television. You might think this was snobbish behavior, but I don't think Mom and Dad went around bragging about this at parties, and looking back on 1980s TV I have to say it was a solid choice. This means that I didn't see any Mister Rogers' Neighborhood until I was thirty-seven, but no harm done. MRN is really good for kids who have se[...]

little of my collections have enabled in contemplation

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 14:46:33 GMT

I created a blackout story as a present for Allison and decided to retroactively make it my 2016 NaNoGenMo project. I call it "Amazon Prime". Enjoy!

At work, in the morning, when it's quiet

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:49:52 GMT


November Book Roundup

Sat, 03 Dec 2016 20:54:24 GMT

Please join me in writing a long-overdue Crummy feature, Book Roundup. Hmm, I'm being informed I have to write this myself. Please join other NYCB readers in reading a long over-due Crummy feature, Book Roundup. This is part of my up-ramping effort to post to NYCB more often and to control more of the information I put on the Internet.

It works like Film Roundup, but with less detail. At one point I pledged less detail on Film Roundup and it hasn't really worked, but here I'm serious. I'm just going to mention the books I read that I liked or that I need to remember I read. I'm reading most of these books on NYPL's SimplyE reader, and since libraries don't keep track of which books you read, this is a great way of remembering what I've read.

  • Carnegie by Peter Krass. Read for work research. The true story of a poor radical who became a rich reactionary who convinced himself he was still a radical.
  • The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner. A history of Bell Labs that does a good job explaining the relationship between the Labs and the AT&T monopoly. It's always awkward to see UNIX called a programming language. I don't think this impeaches the overall accuracy of the book, but there are probably similar technical errors I couldn't catch.
  • Speer: Hitler's Architect by Martin Kitchen. A well-deserved hit job on a man who successfully cultivated an image as The Guy Who Didn't Know. It's petty of me but I really liked the architectural criticism aspect of the hit job, which always ended with Kitchen mentioning that the site of Speer's Eternal Palace of the Volk (or whatever) now holds a parking garage (or whatever).
  • Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley. The Idea Factory reminded me that I'd checked out this book a long time ago and wasn't able to finish it before my DRM license expired. It's the same story as The Idea Factory, where the phone system is a big time-share computer, but from the perspective of the computer's unauthorized users.
  • Comic trade paperbacks! Sumana and Leonard agree: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 3 is the best! Leonard agrees: Gwenpool Vol. 1 is fourth wall fun. It got a little gory but not as bad as your average Deadpool. I'm assuming there's a connection between the two? But it didn't actually happen in the book. I don't think I'm ever going to like low fantasy but Rat Queens volumes 2 and 3 are pretty nice.

November Film Roundup

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 02:37:03 GMT

A few movies seen in a miserable month. Really high success rate though! Plus, this is the first month since the beginning of Film Roundup where every feature I saw is a new release. Maybe that counts for something in this messed-up world. Naw, who am I kidding? Update: turns out that's not even true, I forgot about Avanti! when I was writing this. When I was writing this I knew there was probably a movie I'd forgotten and I'd have to write an update like this one, and now it's happened. I saw a long series of Kieslowski shorts and the standout was Hospital (1977), a slice-of-life documentary shot in a Warsaw trauma center where everything is super Communist and falling apart. Even the hammers don't work properly! Unglamorous gore and unsexy nudity abound. For half these people it's the worst day of their lives; for the other half it's just a normal day of improvising. The Target Shoots First (2000): Watch it on Vimeo! A thought-provoking documentary about managing creative people in an anticreative environment/being creative with the disappointing materials on hand/being uncertain about the moral valence of your creative work. This film has a fun Office Space vibe, I think because of the editing. It was filmed at the last moment your boss might think "it's just home video, not like this could end up in a movie or anything." I loved the Aerosmith cameo. Steven Tyler saying "such a deal!" has become a catchphrase in our household. I'm pretty sure it's Steven Tyler who says that, but I admit I would fail any "Aerosmith member or random old dude of equivalent age?" test. The Age of Shadows (2016): Man, Korean movies, huh? This was much more violent than the corresponding American R movie would have been. You think you're out for a classy espionage movie and it's just people getting murdered from the first scene to the last. In between the murders there were some cool fights, some good espionage, lots of nice looking period sets and costumes. I do not recommend overall because the amount of gore takes it past Robocop territory, but Sumana liked it. There's a suspenseful scene where you don't know whodunit, but the real question is, whocares? There are maybe six characters here, we're near the end of their movie, and I'm not so attached to any one of them that I'm going to be shocked by a revelation that this one is the Cylon. And... I was right not to get attached to any of these characters. Whew. Avanti! (1972): Pulling out a new Billy Wilder DVD is like uncorking a vintage bottle of wine--an unrepeatable experience. At least I assume that's what it's like, from the way wine snobs talk about wine. We opened Avanti! uncertain as to the precise mixture of dark and funny in its bouquet, and... it's about 70-30. Laughs and callbacks all the way through, but it's a rom-com about a guy having an affair, handled with the attitude you'd expect from the director of The Apartment and Double Indemity. Caution: includes fat jokes. They don't even land anymore because Juliet Mills is not fat by 2016 standards, and probably not even by 1972 non-movie-star standards. Arrival (2016): Sometimes I'll tear up during a movie and I resent it. It feels cheap, like I'm just having a physiological reaction to the soundtrack. This happens a lot during trailers. Sometimes it's a good movie and the content legitimately makes me tear up. This happens pretty reliably when someone's spouse or kid dies and you have to see the effect of that death on the surviving spouse or parent. (Parent death, not so much, maybe because that's actually happened to me.) Three Colors: Blue and Waiting both did this to me. Because of its narrative structure, Arrival made me not just 'tear up' but full-on cry in the theater. There are things about this adaptat[...]

October "Film" Roundup

Thu, 03 Nov 2016 02:41:20 GMT

October was a Krzysztof Kieslowski month at the museum, so we saw a lot of his stuff with a few other things mixed in. Kieslowski is Sumana's favorite director, whereas I had seen one of his films. Tons of new stuff, many new favorites, some duds... it's all in a Film Roundup's work! Film (1965): Or as Wikipedia calls it, "Film (film)". I make the decision on a case-by-case basis whether to review shorts, so don't look for consistency. Instead, look for post-Sunset Boulevard Buster Keaton doing Samuel Beckett's version of a Buster Keaton movie. Like Dali/the Marx Brothers, it's a conceptually satisfying matchup (the great surrealists! the great existentialists!) but one that's spoiled by a lack of mutual admiration. Groucho didn't like Dali's screenplay for Giraffes on Horseback Salad, and he was correct--it sounds like a disaster. Beckett had tried to get Keaton as Lucky for the American production of Waiting for Godot (and it's even possible Waiting for Godot was inspired by a Keaton short) but Keaton turned down the part because he didn't 'get it'. Film isn't a disaster and it even has some really good gags, but if you don't 'get' Waiting for Godot you certainly won't 'get' this movie, even if you're the star. The Double Life of Veronique (1991): I saw Blind Chance (1987) a couple years ago, and it was pretty decent, so although this movie disappointed me I didn't write off Kieslowski's entire oeuvre because of it. It starts off pretty good, and then the romance subplot kicks in and both Sumana and I lost interest. On the plus side, I believe this is the first film I've seen that shows a Minitel terminal. (It doesn't get used.) Safety Not Guaranteed (2012): A fun date movie. Good laughs, good chemistry between the weirdo characters, is okay with leaving a couple things unexplained. Recommended. The Scar (1976) and Short Working Day (1981): Although I'm not impressed by Kieslowski's storytelling when it comes to romantic love, when it comes to talking about work, I think he's right up there with Billy Wilder. These are awesome socialist-noir films about the impossible job of being a middle manager in a planned economy. Their protagonists are forever squeezed between the Workers and the Party, unable to make anyone happy. Maybe it's all a metaphor for filmmaking or something slight like that, but the sheer number of films Kieslowski made about work makes me think he finds it really interesting. I'm gonna give Short Working Day the nod, because it's shorter and has more action. But they're both good. Shin Godzilla (2016): First, I gotta say I did not like this Godzilla design. Did not like how dinosaur-like it was. I say: classic Godzilla all the way, 90s Godzilla an acceptable substitute. Also mystified by this movie's attempt to retcon "Godzilla" as an English word. But whatever. Like all the Godzilla films that aren't completely silly, this one's about the humans, not the monster, and it's solid. A long time ago I suggested that the The West Wing should do an annual Halloween episode: a noncanonical story about an alien invasion or zombie attack. Well, here it is! This is a Godzilla movie done as an episode of Veep. Lots of walk-and-talk, lots of government incompetence on display. It was kind of corny but definitely closer to the original Godzilla than to the silly stuff in its emotional resonance. I saw this subtitled, and although I prefer subtitles in general, I gotta say a dub might be better here. There are a gazillion charaters in this movie and each is introduced with a caption giving their name, organization, and position within the organization. Some of these people are only in the movie for one shot! The same thing happens for every military unit we see, each distinct piece[...]

Reviews Of Old Science Fiction Anthologies: 1972

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 01:51:31 GMT

(image) Just finished Donald A. Wollheim Presents The 1972 Annual World's Best SF, an old SF anthology with one of those funky 1970s Yves Tanguy-esque cover paintings, obtained, I believe, through Jed Hartman. While it's fresh in my mind I wanted to take note of my favorite stories from the book. If nothing else, it's sometimes useful for me to go back and remember stories that I really liked.

As you'd expect from a year's-best anthology all the stories in this book are pretty good by 1972 standards. I'd say the champion is probably "Real-Time World" by Christopher Priest, which is weird in a way I found really interesting. Has a PKD-like plot but written in a different style. Honorable mention to Joanna Russ's "Gleepsite", which is weird in almost the same way, and a lot shorter. R. A. Lafferty's "All Pieces of A River Shore" was my favorite story in the book all the way up to the last paragraph, which enraged me to the point that I've bumped it down to third place.

Runners-up: Paul Anderson's "A Little Knowledge" was slight but really fun to read. Larry Niven's "The Fourth Profession" (Hugo nominee!) combined the superb inventiveness characteristic of the very best SF with a very 1972 conception of the range of acceptable human behavior. The introduction to "The Fourth Profession" mentioned it was originally published in a Samuel Delany anthology series called Quark, which looks like it's got a lot of good stuff.

Now that I've started writing all this down, I'll conclude by mentioning that I recently read the September/October 2011 F&SF and my favorite story was "Aisle 1047", Jon Armstrong's goofy story of brand warfare.

September Film Roundup

Sun, 02 Oct 2016 02:19:41 GMT

Ah, September, the month of cinematic disappointment. Wake me up when September ends. What's that you say? Well, just gimme like five more minutes. The Seven Samurai (1954): Okay, I've learned my lesson. No more Kurosawa films that take place prior to the Meiji Restoration. I think I've now seen all the big ones and although this one is clearly the best of the lot, it couldn't hold my attention for three hours. Some good scenes, but way too slow for me, and minus points for the blah romance subplot. Mikey and Nicky (1976): If you're like me, nothing I can say will talk you out of seeing an Elaine May crime drama starring Peter Falk, but a used DVD of this movie goes for a hundred fifty bucks, and what do you get? A pretty normal 1970s dramedy. I saw Mikey and Nicky at Metrograph for $15, a significant savings, and I don't regret spending the money, but it's the least good Elaine May movie I've seen. Is it funny? Kind of. Is it awkward? Definitely. Does everything go wrong? Absolutely. It's interesting to see a woman's take on the 1970s small-time crooks immortalized by male directors like Sidney Lumet. But this isn't even May's best "Person A is person B's friend but also trying to kill them" movie. (That's A New Leaf.) It's the kind of movie that other people like more than I do. There's only one Elaine May movie that I haven't seen (The Heartbreak Kid, DVD also $150 used) so I'll only have one more chance to say this in Film Roundup: The fact that May is still in movie jail over Ishtar is one of the great injustices of the film industry, especially because Ishtar is a really good, really funny movie. I saw a number of old Vitaphone shorts at Film Forum, but they were nothing to write blog about. However, there was also a really interesting talk from Alejandra Espasande, an archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, with a (kind of too long) clip show afterwards. One of our New York traditions is a variety/clip show called "Kevin Geeks Out". We don't go very often because it starts at 9PM on Thursday in Brooklyn, but host Kevin Maher makes it a fun time with guests, games, etc. As you might imagine, "Kevin Geeks Out" has a certain attitude towards the unlicensed projection of short motion picture clips in an intimate but definitely commercial setting, and the attitude of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is... at the other end of the spectrum. However, the two clip shows were very similar in tone. Where Kevin Maher might have told the story of the infiltration of vaudeville performers into Hollywood via appropriate clips taken from... various sources, Alejandra Espasande told the story through ephemera from the collection she manages: PSAs, newsreels, and especially movie trailers. The Academy has a collection of about 65,000 film trailers, most of which came from a single dealer's collection. The most interesting bit of the evening was Espasande's remark that this dealer did a lot of business with people who were making documentaries, because it was easy to get movie footage via the movie's trailer, and almost impossible to get it from the movie itself! She didn't go into detail on this, and there was no Q&A, so I have only speculation to go on. But I could see this making sense in the pre-1972 era, when copyright had to be registered and film collectors were underground. The studio wouldn't bother to copyright trailers, so they (and the footage within) would be public domain. However, this authoratative-seeming web page says: A scene from a movie that also appears in a coming-attraction trailer can be regarded as enjoying the copyright protection of the movie, in cases where (as is common) the movie wa[...]