Space Grit

Stargate Universe.

Charlie Jane Anders has an excellent article on io9 about what happened to all the gritty space opera that I spent most of the last decade being wary of.

I’m generally suspicious of articles that try to paint the 2000s as some sort of pinnacle of science fiction on television, as it struck me as the decade when sci-fi shows tried to stop being science fiction. But I was as happy as anyone when I saw shows that paid serious attention to physics and using space to tell complex human stories, so an article about the Unfulfilled Promise of the period works for me.

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Jennifer Hepler was right.

One of the strange things about the stupid Internet outcry over some remarks that BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler made a few years back — which does a good job of illustrating exactly what’s wrong with both Internet culture and gamer culture — is that the games Hepler’s worked on, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, are pretty good examples of why she has a point.

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I don’t hate Dragon Age II. I’m just disappointed in it.

So it is written.

I really liked Dragon Age II. I liked the way they streamlined the combat, I liked that Hawke had a voice, and the dialogue wheel won me over pretty quickly. I could forgive the way they recycled dungeons because they seemed to have learned not to make them so monotonously huge, in the way that had destroyed Origins‘ replay value. Right up to the final battle, I was sure the game was head and shoulders better than its predecessor.

Then the game ended. There was like a three-minute cutscene, Cassandra says something cryptic, and it fades to black. There’s no denouement, no epilogue, the credits don’t even have music. It’s like they just stopped making it.

I got to thinking about this after I came across Kirk Hamilton’s reflections on the game in Kotaku. Because I’ve learned not to pay much attention to what people say about games on the Internet, I’d largely missed the backlash against the game while I was playing it.

While I understand some of the other complaints about DA II, but I think they’re overblown. But for all the work the team did to overhaul the gameplay, the best element of Origins — its story — is where the sequel fell down.

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Shocker: Different voting system might change something

Sometimes, the easiest way to understand why we have some particular status quo — for example, our insanely convoluted electoral system — is to find a bunch of people who agree the status quo is a mess and get them talking about what would work better. Committees are the force that turns great ideas into okay laws, and okay ideas into travesties.

I got reminded of this when I was reading this article on i09 about ranked choice, or instant-runoff voting, an electoral system that would let voters rank candidates in order of preference. This helps give a clearer idea of the voters’ preferences in an election where no candidate gets a majority of the vote, and therefore could encourage third-party candidates by getting rid of the spoiler effect.

The weird thing about the article is that it seems to view this feature as a problem.

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Recaps as Art

I’ve made kind of a game out of trying to figure out how much useful information the “Previously on…” recaps can actually tell you.

This impromptu social experiment came to me thanks to a job that had me watching a whole slew of shows that I previously hadn’t cared about, like the CW’s reboot of 90210. After watching twenty seconds of the characters’ anguished yelling, I still had no clue who anybody was, just some vague sense that some people were mad at each other and some other people slept with each other. Which I had already assumed going in.

At their best, this random series of events from yesterweek just tells you what the episode you’re about to watch will be about. At worst, they leave you trying to figure out why everyone was so worked up instead of actually watching the show.

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I review books!

Sometime around the end of Clarion West last year, I took a drive up to the Barnes & Noble because I was tired of poking through the awesome University of Washington bookstore and really missed the big box experience. I hadn’t actually planned to buy anything, but then I came across two books that were so awesome just in principle that I couldn’t resist.

The first was a compilation of two novellas by Karl Schroeder titled Virga: Cities of the Air, which everyone reading this blog should find and read immediately. The second is the book I’m actually reviewing right now, thanks to the review feature on Goodreads.com. It’s an unauthorized 1898 sequel to The War of the Worlds in which Thomas Edison conquers Mars, cleverly titled Edison’s Conquest of Mars.

Fascinated yet? I was!

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Musings on Democracy

I just realized something. First I’m reading this from Matthew Yglasias about why Congress and the White House can’t work anything out:

Note that if Obama were a hereditary monarch, this would be something like the historical process through which the United Kingdom became a parliamentary system with a symbolic head of state. Parliament started with a relatively bounded authority over granting new tax revenue to the king. But the king would, in practice, need new tax revenue periodically in order to fight wars. This fact, combined with parliament’s greater democratic legitimacy, victory in the English Civil War, and successful perpetration of a kind of coup in 1688 allowed it—and specifically the House of Commons within parliament—to over time seize control of the entire policy agenda. But of course Obama’s not a hereditary monarch, and both the House and the White House have independent claims to democratic legitimacy.

Probably the most sensible resolution to this is the original British one — establish a single center of power by systematically destroying the influence of the others, in their case the monarchy and the House of Lords. In a parliamentary system, there’s one head of government who’s indisputably in charge, so people know who to reward when things are going well and who to blame when they’re not.

But that was way too straightforward for our founders.

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