Posts tagged with "geekery" - Faerye Net 2013-07-24T21:37:25+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Don't yuck my yum: it's all I've got 2013-07-24T21:37:25+00:00 2013-07-24T21:41:05+00:00 <p>I&#8217;ve been thinking about this <a href="" target="links">Zefrank</a> video, the last few days: <a href="" target="links">&#8220;Don&#8217;t Yuck My Yum&#8221;</a>.</p> <blockquote>&#8220;And the Yum getting Yucked is when you like something harmless &#8212; and &#8216;harmless&#8217; is the trick here and leads to my confusion &#8212; when you like something harmless and someone tells you to stop liking it.&#8221;</blockquote> <p>This is, I am sure we&#8217;re aware, absolutely endemic to fandom. <em>That</em> version of the show is inferior to <em>this</em> and here&#8217;s why, I could write a whole book of reasons &#8212; that show was ruined when <em>that</em> person joined the creative team &#8212; why do you like that movie, it&#8217;s so <em>stupid</em>? Tearing down each other&#8217;s likes seems to be fandom&#8217;s favorite sport (too bad, Quidditch is way more fun to watch.) I have very, very, very much been guilty of this, and I&#8217;m sure I will be again, despite any good intentions I enshrine in this blog post. I hope thinking through the implications for this post will keep me on the straight and narrow.</p> <p>I do think it&#8217;s worth a sidebar here: I, like Zefrank, emphasize &#8216;harmless&#8217; here. I keep meaning to write a blog post about consuming and loving media that contains retrogressive tropes and attitudes (spoiler: all media does) and I do definitely advocate talking about that stuff &#8212; criticizing. But there&#8217;s a difference between saying &#8220;this is harmful, we should talk about that&#8221; and &#8220;that thing you like is trash.&#8221; It&#8217;s the difference between saying &#8220;Really? You spend time smelling glue? That&#8217;s&#8230;not really healthy. Let&#8217;s google up why.&#8221; and saying &#8220;Really? You like <em>papayas</em>? But they taste like <em>vomit</em>, and now I&#8217;m going to describe how disgusting they are in detail for like ten minutes.&#8221;</p> <p>Good training for this sort of differentiation is, I think, disliking something terribly popular. When you hate <em>That Space Show Series 4</em>, and so do 75% of <em>That Space Show</em> fans, it&#8217;s really easy to get going on a rhetorical rampage, since you&#8217;ll almost always have backup and a cheering section. When you completely fail to grasp the appeal of <em>Mr. Popular&#8217;s Space Adventures</em>, you soon learn that actually, the fact that you don&#8217;t like Mr. Popular isn&#8217;t very interesting, doesn&#8217;t contribute to the conversation, and is best served by you avoiding Mr. Popular topics entirely.</p> <p>And the point of this post: there&#8217;s one sphere where I think this ability, to suppress the inner grognard whose <span class="caps">SAY</span> <span class="caps">MUST</span> BE <span class="caps">HAD</span>, to skate gracefully away from the target instead of casting Internet Fireball, is particularly important. Characters of underrepresented stripes. Recent internet commentary on a character I really really liked reminded me of the horror of <a href="" target="links">having to argue Princess Leia is awesome</a>. This was in the aftermath of a post about <a href="" target="links">poor female representation in Episode <span class="caps">III</span></a> where I wrote &#8220;I love Princess Leia. She’s one of the most important fictional characters in my life — probably the most.&#8221;</p> <p>People, I have a bracelet with the letters &#8220;<span class="caps">WWLD</span>&#8221; on it. I made that bracelet, myself. As an adult. To remind me to be awesome. When you tell me Princess Leia is a shrill bitch, you tell me my best self is a shrill bitch. When you tell me she&#8217;s unimportant, you tell me I can never be important. When you try to talk me out of loving her, you are trying to talk me out of loving myself. Because I have been identifying with her since before I knew your name. (Guaranteed: anyone I knew before age 2 wouldn&#8217;t pull that shit.)</p> <p>We live on stories, we humans. We eat them and digest them and turn them into muscles and bone. We build ourselves out of what we see, and when we don&#8217;t see enough of the people like ourselves, we resort to writing it ourselves. (See: a certain subset of fanfic.) If there aren&#8217;t characters quite like us, we distort what is there until it&#8217;s enough like us to go on. If the only character like us barely gets any lines, maybe we imagine she or he or they have a huge important story behind the scenes, if only you knew.</p> <p>And having characters be like us is a form of privilege. I know that&#8217;s a fighting word in fandom these days, but it is. If you are a straight white cis dude, you have a million stories to identify with. You don&#8217;t like Indiana Jones? Try Luke Skywalker. Or Bruce Wayne. Or Jason Bourne. Or Jack Ryan. Or Harry Potter. Or Jack Aubrey. If you feel intimidated by hypercompetence, there are heroic everymen or sweet bumbling accidental heroes. If you got picked on in high school, there are the nerds made good, through genius, financial success or superpowers. There are shy heroes, chatty heroes, bookish ones and brash ones for you. This is awesome, and wonderful, and I&#8217;m so glad you have those stories. I love many of them too, even though I can&#8217;t inhabit them the same way<sup class="footnote" id="fnr1"><a href="#fn1">1</a></sup>.</p> <p>I have fewer stories. I go to an action/adventure movie praying I will like the love interest, because usually &#8216;heroine&#8217; is an exaggeration. And&#8230;here&#8217;s the thing. <b>She&#8217;s all I&#8217;ve got</b>. You&#8217;ve heard of the <a href="" target="links">Smurfette principle</a>? There is only one girl. If it&#8217;s a team, she doesn&#8217;t even need her own identity, cuz she has &#8216;girl&#8217;! If I am watching a mainstream adventure/heroic narrative, and it&#8217;s not by Joss Whedon (or is <em>Avengers</em>) that girl is almost always the only one<sup class="footnote" id="fnr2"><a href="#fn2">2</a></sup>. The Main Hero, the Deadly One, the Funny One&#8230;all dudes. And when that girl, that only girl in the world, is smart, self-reliant, opinionated, and a damn good shot with a blaster? I love her forever, for rewarding my optimism, for giving me a story I can make part of me without pain and adjustment.</p> <p>I&#8217;m a grownup now, and it&#8217;s not going to give me much of a skinned knee if you hate my heroines (though, you know, shocking bad form, see above). But this world is full of girls and young women, and those characters they love aren&#8217;t just a yum you&#8217;re yucking: they&#8217;re good, nourishing food they need to grow strong<sup class="footnote" id="fnr3"><a href="#fn3">3</a></sup>. And kids of color, gay kids, trans kids, have even fewer heroes to love, fewer stories to fold into themselves. Let the kids eat. Don&#8217;t tell that girl Katniss sucks. Don&#8217;t tell that black kid Miles Morales is the worst Spider-Man ever. Don&#8217;t take the food out of their hands because <em>you</em> don&#8217;t like it. You don&#8217;t decide how to feed their hunger. They do.</p> <p class="footnote" id="fn1"><a href="#fnr1"><sup>1</sup></a> Let&#8217;s not get too far into literary theory here. Yes, I can sometimes inhabit a male character. But there&#8217;s often a rude awakening. &#8220;Again if one is a woman one is often surprised by a sudden splitting off of consciousness, say in walking down Whitehall, when from being the natural inheritor of that civilisation, she becomes, on the contrary, outside of it, alien and critical.&#8221; &#8211; Virginia Woolf, <em>A Room of One&#8217;s Own</em>.</p> <p class="footnote" id="fn2"><a href="#fnr2"><sup>2</sup></a> Reasonable people can differ on whether <em>Xena</em> is mainstream. But there are of course more exceptions covered by that &#8216;usually&#8217;. I don&#8217;t think I actually wept with grateful joy when Toph joined the hero group on <em>Last Airbender</em> but I think I danced. Representation makes people happy. And lack of it makes them unhappy: I remember a heartbreaking story of a six-year-old <em>Last Airbender</em> fan who went to the live action movie and <em>bawled</em> because Katara wasn&#8217;t brown like her anymore.</p> <p class="footnote" id="fn3"><a href="#fnr3"><sup>3</sup></a> Even when you don&#8217;t think it&#8217;s good for them, try to be delicate, encourage critical thinking, and <em>listen</em>: I have fought down my opinions and listened to a young woman&#8217;s reasons for loving Bella Swan, and gods help me, I learned something.</p> Outstanding. Now all we need is a deck of cards... 2011-02-20T14:37:15+00:00 2012-05-09T23:45:13+00:00 <p>And a <a href="" target="links">brass plaque that reads &#8220;Chekhov&#8217;s Gun&#8221;</a>! I received many fabulous birthday presents for my thirtieth birthday, but none so geeky, and nearly none so unexpected, as this replica pulse rifle from <em>Aliens</em>:</p> <center><a href="" title="M41A Pulse Rifle by Felicity Shoulders, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="374" alt="M41A Pulse Rifle" border="0" /></a></center> <p><a href="" target="links">Ryan</a> got this for me without even knowing that I&#8217;ve been coveting it since age 17. He said he was afraid I would be less excited about having it around than he was. I think once he caught me petting it, that fear was dispelled!</p> Top ten ways I could be a better action heroine 2011-02-15T21:40:16+00:00 2011-02-15T21:43:57+00:00 <p>Some people achieve action heroism, others have it thrust upon them unexpectedly after they finish their waitressing shift at Big Jeff&#8217;s burger joint. I&#8217;m not a good prospect for the former: although P.E. activities with a hint of adventure or violence (obstacle course! archery!) got a better performance from me than team sports, I was never a prospect for rippling athleticism. But there&#8217;s always the latter. You can&#8217;t predict being the accidental survivor of a zombiepocalypse, or indeed the fated mother of mankind&#8217;s savior. I&#8217;d rather be prepared, especially if there&#8217;s any chance of 1980&#8217;s-era Michael Biehn shirtlessness involved.</p> <p><strong>How I could be a better action heroine</strong><br /> <em>Note: list draws from sources in a gender-neutral manner.</em></p> <p><strong>10. Learn Morse Code.</strong> I&#8217;m not sure how useful it is if no one else knows it &#8212; in the absence of Starfleet Academy, I may not put this one into effect.</p> <p><strong>9. Play flight simulators</strong> (See also #8) A little bit more theoretical knowledge of how to fly &#8211; and especially land &#8211; a plane can&#8217;t hurt, and occasionally it can really help. No reason not to do this.</p> <p><strong>8. Practice driving a stick.</strong> In theory, I&#8217;ve known how to drive a manual transmission car since I was commanded to learn for paleontological purposes. Realistically though, I haven&#8217;t driven one in over five years. The choice of cars for breakneck chases and last-minute escapes is not always wide, so it&#8217;s best to be prepared for anything. Should an opportunity present itself, I should practice.</p> <p><strong>7. Practice cheeking pills.</strong> I&#8217;m not saying I <em>expect</em> to have to avoid swallowing mind-numbing medicine in a mental hospital or hoard pills in order to poison my captors, but I don&#8217;t expect to be an action heroine, either. Taking my daily pile of pills just got more heroic!</p> <p><strong>6. Train up sense of direction.</strong> My sense of direction isn&#8217;t bad, precisely. It&#8217;s just limited. If I&#8217;m on foot, it works pretty damn well, and has even impressed people. If I&#8217;m in a car, not so much &#8212; this could get really awkward in case I&#8217;m ever in a car chase. But then, what do I need to know but &#8220;away&#8221;? I may forego doing this, and just hope I&#8217;m never called upon to, say, lead survivors through a maze of ventilation ducts pursued by an alien horde.</p> <p><strong>5. Get baseball bat.</strong> (Or cricket.) Good for zombie-crushing, fending off murderous failed novelists, and, given sandpaper enough and time, staking vampires. It&#8217;s actually very strange I <em>don&#8217;t</em> have a baseball bat, because I was raised in a house where the baseball bat was the what-was-that-noise weapon of choice. As a side note, I&#8217;ll mention I already have done one thing right: learn a sport with a swinging tool. Sure, a tennis racquet is a lousy weapon, but I bet I get a free point in shortsword for that.</p> <p><strong>4. Learn when to remove things from wounds, and when not to.</strong> I often think characters are pulling, say, shrapnel from exploded Terminators from their flesh when they should leave it in at least until there&#8217;s a tourniquet. If I learn this, I can be more helpful in an emergency <em>and</em> a more confident know-it-all when watching movies!</p> <p><strong>3. Get a shotgun.</strong> Watching <a href="">shocking numbers</a> of action movies, not to mention playing video games, has reminded me that the shotgun is your friend. It is suitable for big damn heroics, zombie slaying, and applying delaying force to nigh-unstoppable cyborgs. However, here in the real world, I&#8217;m not sure I&#8217;m ready to take this step. Even though I&#8217;d love to have a shotgun (or a replica pulse rifle, to be honest) hanging on the mantel with a brass plaque reading &#8220;Chekhov&#8217;s Gun&#8221;, it might cause an endless stream of gun-rights arguments in the unlikely event of us inviting people over. Not to mention, it&#8217;s a slippery slope from one gun on the wall to crossed guns and a mounted deadite head, and that just wouldn&#8217;t go with my aesthetic.</p> <p><strong>2. Start carrying a lighter.</strong> Due to my personal history of primness, practicality and asthma, I have never smoked. (Once I had to fend a cigarette off physically &#8211; ah, France!) However, it has not escaped my attention that the ability to summon fire is dead useful. Whether it means summoning help (<em>also</em> 1980&#8217;s Michael Biehn, although tragically fully clothed) via fire alarm or completing an elemental ritual in order to save the universe, the lighter pays its way. Much like a bit of rope in another context, you&#8217;ll want it if you don&#8217;t have it. I&#8217;m seriously considering this.</p> <p><strong>1. Cardio.</strong> (Run away, run away!) Already working on it.</p> Geek Valentine's: Serious discussions for geek couples 2011-02-14T16:21:53+00:00 2011-02-15T21:44:55+00:00 <p>Those of you who know me well may expect that if I acknowledge Valentine&#8217;s Day at all, I usually mark it as Oregon Statehood Day or extol its origins in the celebration of familial and platonic love before its absorption by <a href="" target="links">the romance cult</a>. So I&#8217;m going to shock you: this is an actual romance-related blog post to mark Valentine&#8217;s Day.</p> <p>Good communication is key to any lasting relationship, romantic or otherwise, and there are certain important conversations that the experts suggest people have before entering upon romantic commitments. But those experts are usually not geeks, so they overlook all sorts of situations that are specific to the geek lifestyle (or to the lifestyle geeks wish they had.) So, I have taken it upon myself to lay out some discussion topics. These are not small questions like who drives the starship: they touch on religion, ethics, life, death, and all that sort of thing. It&#8217;s important to settle such points if you want to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of your victory against the forces of evil together, instead of going on adventures all by yourself and wondering where your zippy banter has got to.</p> <p>What is my authority to designate discussion topics for you and your co-protagonist? My authority is that I have a blog and you are reading it.</p> <p><strong>10 Serious discussions for geek couples</strong></p> <p>10. <strong>Am I free to date if you die?</strong> It&#8217;s just good to get this out of the way: how long should you wait to make sure your old honey isn&#8217;t going to be revived, or resurrected by magic, or regrown by sinister corporations?</p> <p>9. <strong>Will you kill me if I am facehugged, bitten by a zombie, et c.?</strong> If it comes to that, your partner should do you both. If you&#8217;re not willing to even get someone <em>else</em> to stake my vampirized corpse, cut my head off and fill my mouth with garlic, what kind of commitment can you offer me?</p> <p>8. <strong>Do we convert if we witness a miracle?</strong> If the Holy Grail cures your dad&#8217;s gut wound, do you consider yourself illuminated, or just move on to the next thing?</p> <p>7. <strong>Do we welcome our alien overlords?</strong> For instance, I&#8217;m pro-cephalopod overlord, but I&#8217;m not too keen on reptilians.</p> <p>6. <strong>Are we going to get cyber implants? If so, how many?</strong> If flashing lights and servos are a dealbreaker for your co-protagonist, it&#8217;s best to know now.</p> <p>5. <strong>Are AIs and manufactured sentients deserving of human rights?</strong> Social justice, baby.</p> <p>4. <strong>Is being body-switched with your worst enemy grounds for a break-up?</strong> For the record, Callisto is very pretty. If you have to switch bodies with an evil murderer, you could do worse.</p> <p>3. <strong>Does the holodeck count as cheating?</strong> However you come down on the general rule, it&#8217;s best to specify that holodeck-snogging people you actually know is creepy as hell, as well as potentially more relationship-endangering.</p> <p>2. <strong>Are we raising the kids Orthodox Jedi or Reform?</strong> Oh, sure, some of us geeks are atheists and so forth, but you know if you raise Force-sensitive kids without any religious training, they&#8217;re much more susceptible to Sith interference.</p> <p>1. <strong>Are we in this for loot, or XP?</strong> Sure, you think this is an abstract question, but when you&#8217;re bickering over whether your co-protagonist should take the dream job or the six figures, or whether to return the culturally significant artifact to the village or fence it, you&#8217;ll realize I was right.</p> The Antilles Theorem 2010-12-26T21:23:59+00:00 2010-12-27T15:02:53+00:00 <p>In the course of acquainting myself with <a href="" target="links">Ryan</a>&#8216;s childhood favorites, the <em>Star Wars: X-Wing</em> series by Michael Stackpole, I have come up with yet another of my kooky and largely impractical theories. I call it <em>The Antilles Theorem</em>. It is a litmus test for (old school) Star Wars fandom. Because, let&#8217;s face it, they&#8217;re lovable movies. Many people <em>like</em> them but are not fans. Fans watch and rewatch and quote; some know the Expanded Universe or play the roleplaying game. Before you jump to conclusions and start talking about mouse droids and assuming your interlocutors are aware that <a href="" target="links">Han shot first</a>, I suggest applying this.</p> <p><b>The Antilles Theorem: Any real fan of the original Star Wars series knows who Wedge Antilles is.</b></p> <p>So you just say, &#8220;One of my favorite characters in <em>Star Wars</em> is Wedge Antilles,&#8221; and if the respondent says &#8220;Get clear, Wedge, you can&#8217;t do any more good back there!&#8221; or starts babbling about Rogue Squadron tie-in novels, you are gold. (Likewise if they say, &#8220;Did you know that the captain of the blockade-runner in the first scene of <em>New Hope</em> was going to be named Antilles too?&#8221;) If they stare blankly at you, unable to recall this crucial and beloved but secondary character, I recommend smiling kindly and keeping the conversation general.</p> <p><em>Many Bothans died to bring you this post. You&#8217;re welcome.</em></p> Top Ten Favorite Fictional Ships 2010-12-26T13:38:04+00:00 2010-12-26T13:38:21+00:00 <p>Because I recently named a vehicle, this <em>burning question</em> has been on my mind. (Wikipedia links contain spoilers, natch.) List subject to change without notice if I remember any more awesome vessels!</p> <ol> <li><strong>The Millennium Falcon</strong> &#8211; &#8220;I got your promise: not a scratch?&#8221;</li> <li><strong><span class="caps">USS</span> Enterprise-D</strong> &#8211; Icon of my formative years. I still physically wince when I watch <a href="" target="links">&#8220;Cause and Effect&#8221;</a>. Or <a href="" target="links"><em>Generations</em></a>, but please, who doesn&#8217;t?</li> <li><strong>Serenity</strong> &#8211; My favorite episode is <a href="" target="links">&#8220;Out of Gas&#8221;</a>.</li> <li><strong>(<span class="caps">SSV</span>) Normandy</strong> &#8211; Hey, <a href="" target="links">giving me a ship</a> is a good way to engage my affections. If you have a yacht on hand, I invite you to check if this works for non-fictional craft!</li> <li><b><span class="caps">HMS</span> Surprise </b>- Yes, I know there are real <span class="caps">HMS</span> <em>Surprise</em>s. But none of them have Jack Aubrey&#8217;s initials carved into the cap of the masthead, which <a href="" target="links">this one</a> does.</li> <li><strong><span class="caps">USS</span> Enterprise (-A)</strong> &#8211; It is a classic, I&#8217;ll admit.</li> <li><strong>The Dawn Treader</strong></li> <li><strong>The White Star</strong> &#8211; Despite the <a href="" target="links">dilution effect</a>.</li> <li><strong><span class="caps">USS</span> Defiant</strong> &#8211; It looks like an anteater, but then, my high school mascot was an aardvark.</li> <li><strong>Johnny Dooit&#8217;s sand-boat</strong> &#8211; From <em><a href="" target="links">The Road to Oz</a></em>. If anyone reading didn&#8217;t need to be told, then I salute you!</li> </ol> Mass Effect 2: Scorecard 2010-12-11T17:14:30+00:00 2010-12-11T17:14:55+00:00 <p>In my fine tradition of <a href="" target="links">playing games long after they come out</a>, I finally played through <em>Mass Effect Two</em> a few weeks ago. As that link I just threw attests, I loved <em>Mass Effect</em> with the force of several exploding suns. That&#8217;s right, <strong>several</strong>. I&#8217;d be embarrassed to find out, let alone disclose, how much time I&#8217;ve spent playing that game. And that was despite its flaws: the annoying vehicle and exploration issues, repetitive planetside encounters, inventory of doom, et c.</p> <p>In the <a href="" target="links">first post here</a> I went over why <em>Mass Effect</em> is so incredibly awesome. In <a href="" target="links">another post</a> I outlined my hopes, as a storyholic player, for the sequel.</p> <p>I didn&#8217;t focus too much on the gameplay quibbles for <em>ME1</em>, and that means I won&#8217;t focus too much on the way they fixed most of that stuff right up. They did fix the interminable off-roading over nearly undriveable terrain in order to do very repetitive planet missions; they did streamline inventory and equipment management. In general, they made the game much less granular. In some cases, like inventory, this delights, while in others it perturbs (the new, less driveable vehicle has no visual indication of its damage level or shield level. &#8220;Volume of klaxon&#8221; is not a system I embrace) and in others it&#8217;s likely to be a matter of opinion (fewer skills is simpler, but it does reduce the breadth of tactical options.)</p> <p>That sort of game crunch aside, I&#8217;d like to assess how they did on my four suggestions (and suggested titles!) from that long-ago post. <!--and then vent the long list of comments which I mostly refrained from unleashing on Twitter, both out of pity and out of late-adopter self-consciousness.--></p> <p>My requests:<br /> <strong>1. Plot-fanciers like to change the world.</strong><br /> <strong>2. We like our interactions to affect character actions.</strong><br /> <strong>3. Use your backstory to more effect.</strong><br /> <strong>4. Animate some object interaction.</strong></p> <p>Did they implement them?<br /> 1. Oh, heavens, yes. It would have to have been a shallow universe not to notice all the stuff my Shepard did last time, and this is not a shallow universe. There were at least whispers or news reports about all my doings &#8212; heck, even my non-doings were noted (I couldn&#8217;t get the <em>Bring Down the Sky</em> expansion to work, so apparently the sky was brought down.) They are making the world even more rich and multifarious, which just makes you hungry for <em>Mass Effect 3</em>. Huzzah for consequences!</p> <p>2. They made the squad member rapprochement I used as an example before into a game mechanic, so I guess so! The relationships Shepard had with her ME1 squaddies did create lots of fun results in this game. I mean, I don&#8217;t know how it would have been different if I&#8217;d played through with a more Renegade Shepard in ME1, but the interactions with former squaddies mostly seemed rich. Mostly.</p> <p>3. See #2. They&#8217;ve made the squad members&#8217; histories a big part of the game. As for the history of the universe, well, I think that ties in pretty well, too. If I see one more &#8220;a civilization used to live here but they are <span class="caps">ALL</span> <span class="caps">WIPED</span> <span class="caps">OUT</span>&#8221; planet description, I may cry. As for the big moral questions like the Genophage &#8212; they are plumbing the depths of those issues.</p> <p>4. Yes, they animated some object interaction. Not always well &#8212; while Shepard was wondering where in this large universe the Powers that Be had hidden her boyfriend, she took a few of the proffered drinks, and let me tell you, that animation is hilariously bad &#8212; but they did it. The world seems more endowed with useful objects: not just those you can actually interact with, but those the NPCs interacted with before they were (hey, it&#8217;s <em>Mass Effect</em>) slaughtered. Space coffee machines! Space TVs! Heck, we now have our very own space toilets. Men&#8217;s, Women&#8217;s, and Shepard-only. It&#8217;s the little things, you know?</p> <p>My titles from the previous post:<br /> <strong>Mass Effect 2: Now with 20% More Seth Green<br /> Mass Effect 2: Kill More Things, Take More Stuff<br /> Mass Effect 2: James Bond vs. Spectres<br /> Mass Effect 2: Commander Effing Shepard Beats Up Everyone<br /> Mass Effect 2: The Search for Liara’s Daddy</strong></p> <p>They fulfilled several of these &#8212; I think that was more than 120% the previous Seth Green levels. Joker forever! &#8212; and hinted at several of the others. (Okay, black tie garb does not a Bond make, but I said &#8216;hinted&#8217;.)</p> <p>In general, <em>Mass Effect 2</em> has done a fabulous job of continuing the narrative and deepening the universe of the first one while excising some of the things even die-hard Shepards like myself found incredibly annoying. Combat is smoother: taking cover works more intuitively and consistently, and my squaddies don&#8217;t run around with &#8220;press A to talk&#8221; on them, messing up my targeting. I love some of the new mechanics: the opportunity to do Paragon or Renegade actions as interrupts gets you very engaged during interstitial scenes. The new upgrade system is more sweeping, less fiddly. The game throws some amazing twists your way. There&#8217;s a lot of stuff here I wasn&#8217;t expecting. And there are a lot of fun in-jokes and touches for geeks like me, up to and including the stirring song &#8220;I am the very model of a scientist-salarian.&#8221;</p> <p>This game still knows how to throw out geek references without sounding like they&#8217;re slavishly copying the latest hip thing. Example: <em>Starcraft II</em>&#8217;s attempt at <em>Firefly</em> fan-service was to make a previously non-cowboy character into one, with horrible accent, and ape its soundtrack instrumentation. <em>Mass Effect II</em> does stuff like name a colony &#8220;New Canton&#8221;. Subtlety, people. Subtlety and remixing creativity allows you to have a race in your game that lives in a nomadic fleet after losing their homeworld to an AI race they themselves created, and not have it seem a cheap <em><span class="caps">BSG</span></em> ripoff.</p> <p>The game is not perfect (but then again, what is?) Some of the loss of tactical crunch was regrettable, especially the winnowing of biotic powers that move the adversaries around. As I said, while I appreciate not having to drive over endless mountainous terrain, I don&#8217;t like the new vehicle at all. As is unavoidable in these games, a few important character choices are made for you, which feels unfair when other characters cast those choices up to you. I already wrote about the way the new breadth of potential romances makes you feel <a href="" target="links">harried and beset, and I suggested a social networking solution</a>. This game felt a little shorter than the first, which means it felt a little less replayable &#8212; but we&#8217;ll see.</p> <p>They even improved on some of the things they already did well: I think the soundtrack was better, and the voice acting is even more fabulous (it was already the best I&#8217;ve heard in any game save perhaps <em>Uncharted</em> &#8212; perhaps they used more multiple-actor recording sessions this time?). The cosmetic customizability of the armor adds a layer to the character-customization process they carried over. Changing the Captain&#8217;s Cabin from a useless room to a retreat that holds a few useful interfaces and accumulates souvenirs was inspired.</p> <p>In general, this <em>Mass Effect</em> amply fulfilled the promise of the first: grand, epic space opera with lots of opportunity to affect and shake the world. Complicated politics, characters you can care about, fabulous performances. There were things I really wanted to do, faces I really wanted to punch, that I couldn&#8217;t &#8212; I&#8217;m assuming those will be forthcoming. I cannot wait for <em>Mass Effect 3</em>, and I&#8217;m already a little sad that that will be the last installment. I want to save this universe again and again.</p> <p>P.S. Alenko spoiler: <font color="white">Saving humanity had better count as &#8220;things settling down,&#8221; Bioware. Shepard wants her boyfriend back.</font></p> The Eyeliner Principle 2010-01-07T11:27:57+00:00 2010-01-07T11:34:16+00:00 <p>The Eyeliner Principle is simple. For decades, eyeliner on men has meant Evil in science fiction, adventure, and action movies and TV shows. (On women, eye makeup has little significance. I would say on women it means the character is awake, but we all know that Hollywomen sleep perfectly made up, and seeing them without eye makeup is about as common as seeing them in bras that don&#8217;t match their underwear.) <em>Pirates of the Caribbean</em> broke new ground using eyeliner for the merely morally ambivalent.</p> <p>Now, you could probably come up with several cultural explanations for this: eye makeup is associated with women, so men with eye makeup are coded as effeminate and therefore transgressive, flawed. Or perhaps it&#8217;s playing on white audience&#8217;s xenophobia &#8211; certainly some eyelinered villains, like Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon, play on tropes of the dangerous, exotic Other. Maybe it&#8217;s a mish-mash of the two. Whatever the origins, it&#8217;s a pretty good bet when you see a guy in eyeliner in a mainstream piece of media, you shouldn&#8217;t trust him.</p> <p>I bring this up because it isn&#8217;t just a handy way of tagging baddies like the fianc&eacute; in <em>Titanic</em>. It allows the omniscient viewing public to differentiate good male characters from their evil twins, clones, doppelgangers, possessed or de-souled counterparts. This incurs no plot damage, since the other characters always seem to be ignorant of the Eyeliner Principle (they seem to be slow to catch on about leather pants, too). This holds true everywhere from <em>Young Hercules</em> (Yes, I&#8217;ve watched that. Hercules isn&#8217;t the only one that was young once) to <em>Star Trek</em>. Which is really the reason I brought this up*. It&#8217;s important that you all know that Captain Kirk with eyeliner is evil. Seriously, if you ever see William Shatner wearing eyeliner, <em>run</em>&#8230;and thank me later.</p> <p>*More on Evil Kirk coming soon!</p> Terminator Week: Top Five + Five ways pets are like movie monsters 2009-11-02T11:17:08+00:00 2009-11-02T11:20:53+00:00 <p><em>Spoiler: Still spoiling</em> Terminator<em> after more than a week.</em></p> <p>As we all know &#8212; because surely those who have not watched <em>Terminator</em> have either rectified the oversight or abandoned my blog for the duration of <a href="" target="links">Terminator Week</a> &#8212; at the end of the original film, Sarah Connor has a dog. There is a certain thread of pro-dog propaganda in the Terminator movies which has always led me to believe James Cameron is a dog person. After all, he was stuck with that cat when he made <em>Aliens</em>: it was left over from Ridley Scott.</p> <p>But perhaps something deeper is at play here. Let us consider the Terminator and the Alien.</p> <p><b>5 by 5. Terminators don&#8217;t get along with dogs. Aliens don&#8217;t get along with cats.</b> While they don&#8217;t necessarily eat them, it&#8217;s clear Aliens and cats have a natural antipathy, as manifested in copious hissing. Dogs, on the other hand, flip out when they detect a Terminator.</p> <p><b>4. Terminators keep themselves clean. Aliens slobber.</b> You don&#8217;t see any Aliens heading home to freshen up and check the mirror before continuing their killing sprees.</p> <p><b>3. Terminators are lone predators. Aliens hunt in packs.</b> Yup.</p> <p><b>2. Terminators don&#8217;t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. Aliens are full of family feeling.</b> Now here I&#8217;ll admit the cat/terminator parallel has its flaws &#8212; cats do appear to feel fear, tho&#8217; pity and remorse are quite unlikely. But cats do tend to have a centered self-sufficiency more akin to the autonomous Terminator than the social xenomorph.</p> <p><b>1. Terminators are manipulative. Aliens are straightforward.</b> Either an Alien is going to growl and attack, or he&#8217;s going to sniff and attempt to snuggle you (really, Joss Whedon told me so.) There&#8217;s none of this &#8220;Oh, I&#8217;m just a cute cat, please further my mission goals.&#8221; Sure, currently they wiggle their way into our homes in order to eat food and sleep in the window, not open fire with chainguns, but you can give a Terminator a friendly mission too. Cats are infiltration units. We may love them, but let&#8217;s not let them have access to our launch codes. I don&#8217;t want to know how far this parallel goes.</p> Terminator Week: Fate, no matter what you make 2009-10-28T14:03:58+00:00 2009-10-28T14:11:43+00:00 <p><em>Spoiler warning: Terminator Week may spoil the original</em> Terminator<em>, which you really should have seen anyway. Oh, and today there may be mild spoilers for the first trilogy of </em> Dragonriders of Pern.<em>Yeah, you heard me.</em></p> <p>One of the reasons I love <em>Terminator</em> is that it&#8217;s not just a good action movie, it has a good sci-fi story. The dark vision of the future &#8212; the war machines grinding over a layer of human bones, children happily watching the fire they&#8217;ve made in an old TV shell &#8212; is compelling, but the actual plot is interesting, too.</p> <p>I grew up loving time travel stories. I could probably blame <em>Back to the Future</em> for this, but let&#8217;s not let <em>Star Trek</em> off the hook either. In serious childhood conversations with my dad, I asked about how time travel worked (Hey, my dad knew everything. I probably thought he took a class in Time Travel at Caltech!). Based on the theories he outlined, I had to admit that a <em>Back to the Future</em>-style universe seemed unlikely, one where you could make changes, perceive them, correct them, et c. But it took a while for me to warm up to the Immutable Universe alternative.</p> <p>Perhaps my first experience of the immutable timeline in fiction was in Anne McCaffrey&#8217;s original <em>Dragonriders of Pern</em> trilogy, where mysterious things have happened in the past, and the characters gradually realize they have the ability and the duty/destiny to go back in time and cause those events. It&#8217;s a tricky thing to write, but when it&#8217;s good it&#8217;s very good indeed.</p> <p>And the original <em>Terminator</em> was one of those times. You can dispute me based on the movie you saw, but I&#8217;ve read the original script. In the original script, the reason they end up at the factory at the end is that Sarah wants to try to prevent the rise of Skynet by blowing up the company that will eventually build it. Reese thinks it isn&#8217;t possible to change the future, but she manages to drag him along. After the final fight, we see a manager of the company pocket a computer chip from the Terminator. It&#8217;s a perfect closed loop: Skynet is made possible by technology that came back from the future Skynet created. John Connor is made possible by the <del>hot freedom fighter</del> <span class="caps">DNA</span> he sent back from the future he saved.</p> <p>Now, <em>Terminator 2</em> used the reverse-engineering conceit, but one of the reasons my affection for it is tinged with regret (besides the fact the Kyle Reese dream sequence is a deleted scene! Oh, and that damn kid) is that it ruined the perfectly finished time-knot of the first movie. Sure, all the details in the original script didn&#8217;t make it into <em>Terminator</em>, but nothing in the movie contradicts them: closed loop. Suddenly in <em>Terminator 2</em> you can change the future. The loop is open and frayed. Probably it made sense to a national consciousness emerging from the gloom of the Cold War, but I loved the austere fatality of the 1984 movie. It was an elegant little story, one that met the challenges of plotting in an immutable timeline admirably.</p>