Monday, March 31, 2014

Intelligence Season 1 Finale: The Stars and the Chips

An excellent Intelligence Season 1 finale tonight, which tied up some loose ends, and brought out at least one new one to dangle before our eyes and beckon to a second season.

You can analyze this episode by a look at the stars.

Tomas Arana, who played the bad guy in the 1992 movie The Bodyguard - who portrayed the assassin who masquerades as a bodyguard - reprises much of that role in Intelligence.  He plays an intelligence chief who in fact is one of main bad guys - Iranian super spies deep undercover, out to kill a governor on her way to likely being elected President, and anyone who gets in the way.

Lance Reddick plays another intelligence chief who turns out not to be such a bad guy, after all.  But his character doesn't have much luck, and suffers the same fate as his character over on NBC's The Blacklist, also on Monday night.  The character dies.   Reddick played two memorable, long lasting characters on The Wire and Fringe, but his characters haven't had much longevity since.

And Peter Coyote, an outstanding character actor for decades, and Lillian's father on Intelligence, turns out in a nice twist to be the bad guy who hired Mei Chen.  We'll need a second season to find out why.

Gabriel's mother, played by Debra Mooney, makes her first appearance in the series, and is an important new character who lends humanity to Gabriel.  Not that he needs it - as Riley and everyone who knows him sees - he's a human being enhanced not degraded by his chip.  And that's really the thesis and essence of this story, and what makes the series so good.  It has a balance of tech and human, of digital and flesh-and-blood, which is right where it should be, and where I think it will indeed be in our real future.

My one criticism is the continued refusal to mix pleasure (aka sex) and business by Gabriel and Riley. But that can be easily remedied, and is one of the many reasons I hope Intelligence gets the future on CBS it deserves.

See also Intelligence Debuts ... Intelligence 1.2: Lightning Changes ...Intelligence 1.3: Edward Snowden and 24 ... Intelligence 1.4: Social Media Weaponry ... Intelligence 1.5: The Watch ... Intelligence 1.6: Helix meets Rectify and Justified ... Intelligence 1.7: Nanites ...Intelligence 1.8: Heart of Darkness, Cyberstyle ... Intelligence 1.9:  EMP Amnesia and Children ... Intelligence 1.10: Lillian's Daughter ...Intelligence 1.11: American Chernobyl Countermeasures ... Intelligence 1.12: Cyber Adam and Eve


Like stories about near-future high-tech counter-espionage?  Check out The Pixel Eye

The Walking Dead Season 4 Finale: From the Gunfire into the Frying Pan

Well, it could never be that anyone on The Walking Dead could have a happy ending, and certainly not a major couple like Glenn and Maggie.  So when they finally were reunited last week, everyone and their grandmother had to know that their joy would have to be short-lived.

Tonight, in The Walking Dead Season 4 finale, we quickly, at the end of the episode, but with clues throughout the episode, find out why.

The series-wide context: Safe havens can never be safe in this post-apocalyptic world.   Hershel's farm seemed safe enough, certainly about nursing back Carl.   But at the end of that respite, we find that Hershel has been keeping zombies in the barn, in the understandable but insane belief that they still retained some of their humanity, and could be cured back to health.  The next refuge was even worse: the Governor brought peace but was a flat-out psycho when it came down to it, not only hoping and working to bring his zombie daughter back, as Hershel had wanted to do with the walking dead in the barn, but happy to kill anyone who got in his way about anything.

So, with that progression to the worse on The Walking Dead, you just had to know that Terminus and its haven would turn out to be worse still.  As my daughter mentioned when she called right after the show, there were lots of clues throughout.   That whole bit about the rabbit at the beginning - how to snare the prey - and, come to think of it, the crop-growing flashbacks and Rick's talk about the importance of food - all were signs of what was to come at Terminus.   And then, at Terminus itself, why the denizens with the guns didn't kill Rick and company when they posed such a threat.   And to seal the deal, my daughter emailed the image you see on the side - human bones, right?

So our team has really gone from the gunfire of the Governor into the frying pan of Terminus.  They've decided that the best way of surviving is to lure humans with signs of hope, and then serve them eventually as dinner.   A new twist on Damon Knight's classic "To Serve Man," which was also made into one of the most memorable original Twilight Zone episodes.   Not my cup of tea, but what do you expect when you're watching a series about the end of the world?

See also The Walking Dead 4.1: The New Plague ... The Walking Dead 4.2: The Baby and the Flu ... The Walking Dead 4.3: Death in Every Corner ...The Walking Dead 4.4: Hershel, Carl, and Maggie ... The Walking Dead 4.6: The Good Governor ... The Walking Dead 4.7: The Governor's Other Foot ... The Walking Dead 4.8: Vintage Fall Finale ... The Walking Dead 4.9: A Nightmare on Walking Dead Street ... The Walking Dead 4:14: Too Far


no cannibalism but at least a plague in The Consciousness Plague

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vikings 2.5: Caught in the Middle

Vikings 2.5 was a satisfying episode on the domestic front.  As expected, Ragnar beat Jarl Borg.  In the battle and aftermath, Rollo had a chance to demonstrate his life-and-death loyalty and value to his brother, and Bjorn got what we wanted - a continuing place with his father.   Not expected was Ragnar first not killing Jarl, and then, based on the coming attractions, recruiting him for the return trip to Wessex in England.

And so the balance tips back to the conflict between Norse and English cultures, which is the part of the series I like best.  We already know that Ecbert will be the most effective enemy Ragnar has ever encountered, if Ecbert stays an enemy.  In episode 2.5, we learn that Ecbert spent time in the court of Charlemagne, one of Europe's all-time most effective kings and conquerors.  Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by the Pope in 800, and was the first crown to rule over most of Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.   Ecbert, in other words, had one good teacher by example in Charlemagne.

My guess is the fictitious Athelstan will play a crucial role in the battle or whatever the evolving relationship between Ecbert and Ragnar.  Both men know this.  One reason that Ragnar did not want to leave Athelstan in England - in addition to wanting his counsel and his knowledge by his side - was that Ragnar did not want to see Athelstan either killed or brought under Ecbert's influence.   Ecbert understands Athelstan's value, which is why he saved him from the crucifixion.

And what does Athlestan think?  He's now a classic Greek or Shakespearean tragic hero, a man caught in the middle of two cultures, almost perfectly and therefore intractably.  He still keenly feels his religious roots, which are English, even as he feels a deep loyalty to Ragnar.  In a significant exchange in episode 2.5, he says that ways of the Norse are in some ways better than what the English do, but not in all ways.  It will interesting and memorable indeed to see where this former denizen of Lindisfarne comes down in the contest of cultures, which may or may not be to the death.

See also Vikings 2.1-2: Upping the Ante of Conquest ... Vikings 2.4: Wise King

And see also Vikings ... Vikings 1.2: Lindisfarne ... Vikings 1.3: The Priest ... Vikings 1.4:  Twist and Testudo ... Vikings 1.5: Freud and Family ... Vikings 1.7: Religion and Battle ... Vikings 1.8: Sacrifice
... Vikings Season 1 Finale: Below the Ash

Lindisfarne plays a role in The Consciousness Plague


Da Vinci's Demons 2.2: Renaissance Radio

Radio had enormous influence on the world politics of the 1930s and 1940s, when it first became a device in many households in America and Europe.   As I detail in The Soft Edge, a radio broadcast from Adolf Hitler after a bomb put him the hospital in 1944 confirmed his leadership and kept him in power for almost another year.   Radio was also used by FDR, Churchill, and Stalin to rally their publics against Hitler, and, in FDR's case, to establish a direct relationship with the American people during the Great Depression.

Radio, of course, did not exist in the time of Leonardo Da Vinci, not even in his sketches, many of which were prescient about the future.  But radio played a major role in last night's Da Vinci's Demons 2.2, and worked perfectly as an instance of the historical science fiction in which the series really excels.   Much like Hitler, Lorenzo Medici is badly wounded (Lorenzo actually worse than Hitler). Much like Hitler, Lorenzo's tenure as leader is in dire jeopardy, because the populace is not even sure he's alive.  In Hitler's case, his Minister of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels, went to his hospital room with a microphone and a hook-up to Germany's radio system, via which Hitler was able to assure the German people that he was ok and still in charge.  In Lorenzo's case, the genius Leonardo creates a radio system on the fly, via his understanding of acoustics, and Lorenzo uses it to assure the people of Florence and ratify his power.

Just to be clear, Lorenzo in both history and in Da Vinci's Demons has nothing else in common with Adolf Hitler.  To the contrary, Lorenzo was a benevolent despot, a classical Renaissance prince who brought his city and people much prosperity.  He actually helped maintain a measure of peace among the contentious Italian city states, and his reign is considered the high point of the golden age of Florence.

If the series moves to New World as it's been promising to do, I'll miss Lorenzo and Florence.  On the other hand, in real history, the real Lorenzo died in April 1492, so there's not much more of his story for Da Vinci's Demons to tell, if it wants to remain true to history.   In any case, the first two episodes of the second season have been outstanding, and I'm looking forward to more.

See also Da Vinci's Demon's 2.1: Science Fiction v Fantasy

And see also Da Vinci's Demons:  History, Science, and Science Fiction ... Da Vinci's Demons 1.7: Leonardo Under Water with a Twist ... Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 Finale: History, Science Fiction, Time Travel

Interested in a story with a passing reference to Leonardo?   Try The Plot to Save Socrates ...

Helix Season 1 Finale: A Better Clime

Well, the best thing about the Helix Season 1 finale was the final scene, which showed Alan in a warmer climate than we've so far seen in the series.  Buenos Aires, Marseilles, who knows, but it's welcome indeed after 13 weeks out in the cold.  That cold was leaving me cold, wearing thin, pick your pun.  However you say it, I'm glad to see the story out of there, and come to think of it, there was no reason it ever really had to be in the frigid north in the first place.

The second best thing was Peter's treachery.  Not that I liked it - I think I'm still routing for the good guys - but it was a sound plot development.  I never liked that guy, and it was consistent with naivety of Alan and his group that they would put so much trust in Peter.   Or maybe it was an understandable lack of understanding, not naivety, but it amounts to the same thing.

Also good was the destruction of the base, leaving us not knowing whether Sarah survived, especially significant because she's presumably carrying Alan's baby.  And Julia apparently in charge of Ilaria, or pretty high up in its command, was also a good move.   It brings home the point, already made by Peter, that no one with those eyes can be trusted.

So Helix has some pretty intriguing pieces in place for its second season, including the canister that Alan rescued, which I have to hope was the cure.

But I gotta say that I hope Helix plays them better than it did in the first season, which was slow moving and confusing throughout much of its run.  The last two episodes finally got the narrative up to speed, but the unanswered question of who the Ilarians are still looms large.  Let's hope that whatever their identity, we don't need all of the second season to discover it.

 The  Silk Code - bio tech in a warmer clime


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: Redshift Rendezvous by John Stith is Perfect Science Fiction Mystery Hybrid

I've published dozens of reviews of science fiction novels by well-known and little-known authors in the past few decades, in the New York Review of Science Fiction, Tangent, the Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, and other places.  I thought it was time to begin putting these reviews up on this blog, one or two a month, right alongside the more numerous reviews of television series.

To start, here's my 1992 review, published in the Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, of John Stith's  Redshift Rendezvous (Ace, 1990, 256 pp.), now available on Kindle.   People often ask me to name a science fiction/ mystery hybrid that really works.  Isaac Asimov's robot stories (in contrast to his faster-than-light ships in space) are a good example.   And then there's Redshift Rendezvous, in some ways even truer to the hybrid ideal ...

Faster than light travel has been one of the most intriguing and frustrating challenges of science fiction, which generally distinguishes itself from fantasy by writing about technologies and events that are at least scientifically plausible. But according to Einstein's theory of special relativity, movement at faster than light speeds is flatly impossible, and the slightly more lenient theory of general relativity insists that objects attain infinite mass at light speeds. So how, then, is science fiction to write about human relations across star systems and galaxies in human time frames?

One approach might be to contest Einstein's proscriptions on super-luminary travel on scientific or philosophic of science terms. If we agree with the philosopher Karl Popper that even the best corroborated scientific theories are nonetheless highly fallible and destined for falsification -- as Einstein himself did -- then fiction writers should have little trouble amending Einstein much the same as Einstein amended Newton. But not many science fiction writers seem aware of Popper, or indeed sophisticated discussions of philosophy of science, at least insofar as these might pertain to speed of light.

The result has been a science fiction that by and large has repealed Einstein without much of a hearing. Whether the hyperspace drive of Asimov in the 40s or the warp drive of Star Trek and most else in between, travel at faster than light speeds has been more of an assumption than a challenge in a genre which is supposed to engage rather than subsume technological puzzles. (Cryogenic solutions that posit transport of frozen humans to be wakened upon reaching their destination at least have the merit of not ignoring Einstein. Frank Herbert's approach of beings "folding" space in the Dune series has an Einsteinian plausibility, but relies a bit too much on the quantum mechanical idea of mind pushing matter to be satisfyingly scientific.)

Even more disappointing than the repeal by fiat of Einstein has been science fiction's treatment of human relations in the faster than light environments. That treatment has usually been a simple transplantation of human dynamics from Earth to far vaster realms, with the assumption that travel from here to Tau Ceti and beyond should in principle be no different in terms of human effects than our capacity to easily travel now from New York to Los Angeles. But history and philosophy of technology have shown over and over again that new modes of transportation profoundly transform their passengers -- the medium is the message, as McLuhan pointed out, whether communication or transportation -- and science fiction that treats a trip across the galaxy as no different in human principle than a trip across the country thus shortchanges its readers.

Which is why John Stith's Redshift Rendezvous is so refreshing. The book is in many respects a standard adventure of murder and hijacking in space. But in one crucial regard this book is extraordinary in science fiction: it deals with the human detail of faster than light travel. Indeed, speed of light and its consequences is the real hero of this book.

The "Redshift" is a ship that travels faster than light, and Stith posits that speed of light inside the ship is therefore reduced to some ten meters per second, or 30 million times slower than its usual speed. This is far from always pleasant, and passengers are advised to keep their lifebelts on at all times (in order for their neural chemistry to operate at normal speeds), and trust their kinesthetic rather than optical perceptions.

Simple dining can be very interesting in this environment -- a morsel of fish turns indigo as it enters its eater's mouth and life field -- but committing and solving murders are even more so (the latter can be done by removing the victim's lifebelt). The chief security officer single-handedly manages to nearly disable an entire terrorist crew by virtue of his superior understanding of human movement and vision aboard his ship, and in the end he calls upon the physics of the ship's corridors to quite literally hoist the villain on her own petard.

If you like your science fiction to treat faster than light travel with a bit more respect than Dorothy clicking her heels together three times to go from Oz to Kansas, you'll enjoy this book. I look forward to return voyages on the Redshift and other Stith vessels that speculate on the stretching of natural laws and its effect on humans.

"As a genre-bending blend of police procedural and science fiction,
The Silk Code delivers on its promises." - The New York Times Book Review


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Intelligence 1.12: Cyber Adam and Eve

Intelligence checked in with its best episode of the season last night, with the first a two-part finale, of what I hope will be the season not the series.

The set-up puts everyone on the show in crisis:  Mei Chen has killed three high-level agency people, and made it look like Gabriel did it, under some enemy's nefarious control.  This sets Gabriel and Riley - who of course implicitly believes in Gabriel - on the run, and gets Lillian removed from command, too.   The Cassidys are expected to keep working for Cyber Command, but soon lend their acumen to helping Gabriel and Riley find out what really happened with the murders.  This leaves Lance Reddick's Tetazoo in charge of a mostly ruthless Cyber crew - hey, it was good to see Reddick back on the screen after his character was killed last week on The Blacklist - but in a good final twist, it seems he may not be that bad, or at least not the worst, after all.   If we can believe Mei Chen, she was working for someone else in our government when she did the killings and framed Gabriel.

There's lots of good material here, not just for the finale but a second season.   Gabriel gets the cyber drop on Mei by pretending he's enjoying her overtures and appeals that they both comprise a new kind of humanity who are above the rest of us, whatever the side, U.S., Chinese, or otherwise.   But as the audience at least can see, this perhaps was not a complete pretense on Gabriel's part.   He likely not only finds Mei physically attractive, but agrees to some extent with her view that the two of them share something very special and different.   The question for the future would be, to what extent?

Meanwhile, it was good to see Lillian take her most independent stance in the series so far.  Cyber Command and Gabriel and Mei indeed represent something never seen before in intelligence gathering and espionage, and binding such an operation to old-fashioned government structures and lines of command will never be able to make the best use of it, and indeed may hobble the operation.

Intelligence has rolled out a provocative start to an original and important narrative, and I'm looking forward to more both next week and next season.

See also Intelligence Debuts ... Intelligence 1.2: Lightning Changes ...Intelligence 1.3: Edward Snowden and 24 ... Intelligence 1.4: Social Media Weaponry ... Intelligence 1.5: The Watch ... Intelligence 1.6: Helix meets Rectify and Justified ... Intelligence 1.7: Nanites ...Intelligence 1.8: Heart of Darkness, Cyberstyle ... Intelligence 1.9:  EMP Amnesia and Children ... Intelligence 1.10: Lillian's Daughter ... Intelligence 1.11: American Chernobyl Countermeasures


Like stories about near-future high-tech counter-espionage?  Check out The Pixel Eye

Bones 9.18: Meets Day of the Triffids

Sweets says something about Invasion of the Body Snatchers early in Bones 1.18, but the scientific part of this funny episode of Bones has more in common with Day of the Triffids, in which plants gone wild, either genetically engineered (or whatever they called that back in the 1950s) or of alien origin, come close to destroying humanity.   In Bones, it's kudzu, which certainly has jeopardized many a garden, and in this case is growing at a feverish rate around a corpse.

Meanwhile, speaking of corpses, Dr. Edison has made like Bones and has written a forensic murder mystery, except in Edison's case the book is apparently awful.  I saw "apparently", because I have to go by Cam's, Angela's, and Hodgins' words for it, having not read the novel myself.  The sentences they did read aloud did sound terrible - but they could have been taken out of context.  Turns out, indeed, that the joke's on them in the end, because a publisher gives Edison a contract for the book.  Why would a publisher do that, for such a bad book?   To cash in on Bones' reputation as a forensic anthropologist and a best-selling author?  Perhaps, but no publisher I know would do that, so I'm guessing that Edison's book just ain't that bad.

There is another thing, though, that rings untrue about this whole book affair.  What is Edison doing lugging around his novel in a binder - did he get the idea from Mitt Romney?  Nowadays, wouldn't Edison have offered to send his novel to his colleagues via email, in a pdf?  Given that Twitter figured so prominently in this episode, a little digital savvy in book bestowing would have been just the thing.

There was a silver lining, not in the book part, but in the episode, with a great conversation between Bones and her father Max.   After all these years, we still don't know exactly why Max lived the life that he did.   He says again that he can't tell Bones because there are people out there whose lives would still be in danger if word got out about him and them.   In previous years, Max has said that Bones' life would also be in danger.   I have a vague sense that Booth may know more, and Max swore him to secrecy, but I can't quite recall when Max did this.   In any case, it was good to see this new conversation, and its reminder that there's still a piece of big mystery to be revealed in the Bones story.

Hey, happy birthday Christine!  Would be great to see a book by you in some distant future episode.

See also Bones 9.1: The Sweet Misery of Love ... Bones 9.2: Bobcat, Identity Theft, and Sweets ... Bones 9.3 and NCIS 11.2: Sweets and Ziva ... Bones 9.4: Metaphysics of Death in a Television Series ... Bones 9.5: Val and Deep Blue ... Bones 9.6: The Wedding ... Bones 9.7: Watch Out, Buenos Aires ...Bones 9.8: The Bug in the Neck ... Bones 9.9: Friday Night Bones in the Courtroom ... Bones 9.10: Horse Pucky ... Bones 9.11: Angels in Equations ... Bones 9.12: Fingernails ... Bones 9.13: Meets Nashville, and Wendell ... Bones 9.14: "You Cannot Drink Your Glass Away" ... Bones 9.15: Hodgins' Brother and the Ripped Off Toe ... Bones 9.16: Lampreys, Professors, and Insurance Companies ... Bones 9.17: Spartacus in the Kitchen

And see also Bones 8.1: Walk Like an Egyptian ... Bones 8.2 of Contention ... Bones 8.3: Not Rotting Behind a Desk  ... Bones 8.4: Slashing Tiger and Donald Trump ... Bones 8.5: Applesauce on Election Eve ... Bones 8.6: Election Day ... Bones 8.7: Dollops in the Sky with Diamonds ...Bones 8.8: The Talking Remains ... Bones 8.9: I Am A Camera ... Bones 8.10-11: Double Bones ...Bones 8.12: Face of Enigmatic Evil ... Bones 8.13: Two for the Price of One ... Bones 8.14: Real Life ... Bones 8.15: The Magic Bullet and the Be-Spontaneous Paradox ... Bones 8.16: Bitter-Sweet Sweets and Honest Finn ... Bones 8.17: "Not Time Share, Time Travel" ... Bones 8.18: Couples ... Bones 8.19: The Head in the Toilet ... Bones 8.20: On Camera ... Bones 8.21: Christine, Hot Sauce, and the Judge ... Bones 8.22: Musical-Chair Parents ... Bones 8.23: The Bluff ... Bones Season 8 Finale: Can't Buy the Last Few Minutes

And see also Bones 7.1: Almost Home Sweet Home ... Bones 7.2: The New Kid and the Fluke ...Bones 7.3: Lance Bond and Prince Charmington ... Bones 7.4: The Tush on the Xerox ... Bones 7.5: Sexy Vehicle ... Bones 7.6: The Reassembler ... Bones 7.7: Baby! ... Bones 7.8: Parents ...Bones 7.9: Tabitha's Salon ... Bones 7.10: Mobile ... Bones 7.11: Truffles and Max ... Bones 7.12: The Corpse is Hanson ... Bones Season 7 Finale: Suspect Bones

And see also Bones 6.1: The Linchpin ... Bones 6.2: Hannah and her Prospects ... Bones 6.3 at the Jersey Shore, Yo, and Plymouth Rock ... Bones 6.4 Sans Hannah ... Bones 6.5: Shot and Pretty ... Bones 6.6: Accidental Relations ... Bones 6.7:  Newman and "Death by Chocolate" ...Bones 6.8: Melted Bones ... Bones 6.9: Adelbert Ames, Jr. ... Bones 6.10: Reflections ... Bones 6.11: The End and the Beginning of a Mystery ... Bones 6.12 Meets Big Love ... Bones 6.13: The Marrying Kind ... Bones 6.14: Bones' Acting Ability ... Bones 6.15: "Lunch for the Palin Family" ...Bones 6.16: Stuck in an Elevator, Stuck in Times ... Bones 6.17: The 8th Pair of Feet ... Bones 6.18: The Wile E. Chupacabra ... Bones 6.19 Test Runs The Finder ... Bones 6.20: This Very Statement is a Lie ... Bones 6.21: Sensitive Bones ... Bones 6.22: Phoenix Love ... Bones Season 6 Finale: Beautiful

And see also Bones: Hilarity and Crime and Bones is Back For Season 5: What Is Love? and 5.2: Anonymous Donors and Pipes and 5.3: Bones in Amish Country and 5.4: Bones Meets Peyton Place and Desperate Housewives and Ancient Bones 5.5 and Bones 5.6: A Chicken in Every Viewer's Pot and Psychological Bones 5.7 and Bones 5.8: Booth's "Pops" and Bones 5.9 Meets Avatar and Videogamers ... Bad Santa, Heart-Warming Bones 5.10 ... Bones 5.11: Of UFOs, Bloggers, and Triangles ... Bones 5.12: A Famous Skeleton and Angela's Baby ... Love with Teeth on Bones 5.13 ... Faith vs. Science vs. Psychology in Bones 5.14 ... Page 187 in Bones 5.15 ...Bones 100: Two Deep Kisses and One Wild Relationship ... Bones 5.17: The Deadly Stars ...Bones Under Water in 5.18 ... Bones 5.19: Ergo Together ...  Bones 5.20: Ergo Together ... Bones 5.21: The Rarity of Happy Endings ... Bones Season 5 Finale: Eye and Evolution

Not kudzu, silk worms ... in The Silk Code