Dragon’s Dogma coming

Well well, seems like Netflix is making an anime about Dragon’s Dogma. As might be gathered from my previous writings on the subject (and on the copious number of painstakingly composed screenshots that I’ve uploaded – seriously, you know how hard it was to reach some of those ledges?), I really liked the game.

Having said that, I liked the game as a game, not as a story. The plot itself was quite thin and not really that compelling (though the backstory was kind of interesting). To accurately reflect my own experience of the game, the show had better have extended sequences of the main character climbing up a cyclops to stab it in the crotch. Also it would need to have 20 minutes of catching rabbits and throwing them off a cliff, plus like 50 hours of trying on different outfits.

Still, the Castlevania show on Netflix turned out pretty good and it’s not like that franchise had an especially good story behind it. Of course, Warren Ellis was the one who wrote that adaptation and we still don’t know who Dragon’s Dogma will get. Fingers crossed the anime will be as fun as the game, though.

The angel of combat

I liked Alita: Battle Angel. I’ve mentioned before that I liked the original manga, and I was rather concerned that a sprawling story would end up condensed into an abbreviated mishmash of various plot points set up to justify gratuitous and boring CGI action scenes.

But Robert Rodriguez pulled it off. I’m please with the narrative choices he made in taking a comic book story that unfolded over years and turning it into a regular length movie. Apparently James Cameron’s original script was 180 pages.

From viewing the trailer I thought it might be odd to see a big-eyed manga character interacting with actual people, but I quickly got used to it in the actual movie. I can see why the character of Alita was entirely CGI because of the numerous action scenes of cyborg kung fu – any live-action actor (Rosa Salazar, specifically) would need to be replaced by a computer-generated model when the fighting started, but there would have been a noticeable transition between the real person and the computer one. Having the character be completely CGI prevented this uncanny valley-tude.

It’s disappointing but I expect the movie won’t see a sequel. It appears not to have been a gigantic hit with the US market, though it’s been doing gangbusters overseas, especially in China. It made money but not Avengers money. I’m not even really put out, since even though the ending of the movie calls out for a continuation, what’s there is still satisfying on its own.

And my take-away from the whole thing? Alita is a quite decent action sci-fi film that I thoroughly enjoyed. If enough of you watch it, we might see Ed Norton in the sequel.

Je suis un espion

Nest of Spies: The Startling Truth About Foreign Agents At Work Within Canada’s Borders is, as one might expect from the subtitle, a non-fiction book about the spy scene in Canada. Its authors are a journalist and a former operative of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, so the book ends up being more descriptive than deeply analytical.

I rather wish a sociologist had been the one to write this book, as I think one could have teased out some interesting insights from the inside knowledge that the authors clearly possess. As it is, the book mostly recounts spy stories that took place in Canada and organized by the country of the perpetrators. At the very least I wish the authors had organized the book around the traditional divisions of spy work – e.g., human intelligence, signals intelligence, etc. And some deeper comparisons with other countries would have helped put things into context.

But the book is still pretty eye-opening. I’m a big spy buff, so a lot of the generalities of intelligence work are familiar to me, but I hadn’t been aware of the specifics of how the whole thing works in Canada. There are a couple of anecdotes from the Cold War (did you know that when the Soviet consulate in Montreal burned down in 1987, CSIS painstakingly sifted the ashes and exposed at least one Soviet mole in France?) and the newer free-for-all today (did you also know that French spies steal anything not nailed down from not only their enemies, but also their allies such as the UK and Canada?).

The authors clearly wish to avoid libel lawsuits by carefully avoiding naming some individuals, companies, and even entire countries in their anecdotes. This is rather to the book’s detriment, since details are scarce enough in a world as secretive as the spy’s. Quit dangling juicy tidbits if you can’t deliver. I mean, tell me you don’t want to know more about Big Pharma hitmen after reading this passage:

Then there is the tactic of eliminating the [rival company’s] researchers [as a part of industrial competition]. We wish this were a tongue-in-cheek way of suggesting they be bribed, but we are in fact talking about murdering them. The pharmaceutical research industry has a remarkable reputation for brutality. The development and marketing of a single new medication costs on average $800 million, which means that a professional killer’s $50,000-$60,000 tab is just so much small change once the competing company’s two or three lead project researchers have been identified. (p. 306)

I suppose this reticence might be attributed to the inherently guarded nature of a spy (though spies aren’t immune to the lure of Hollywood – witness how this nameless intelligence worker gushes over their organization being featured in an episode of The Good Wife).

Entwined throughout the book’s  anecdotes are the authors’ calls for Canada to up its counterintelligence game at the corporate and governmental level. It’s true that no one in Canada really gives a shit about spying. Even after finding out just how much proprietary information is stolen in Canada by friends and rivals alike, I still can’t find it in me to care too much. If it ever comes to a choice between spending money on infrastructure or increasing funding for spy work, I say build that damn Toronto to Montreal hyperloop already. Or just that high frequency rail for the Quebec City to Windsor corridor.

Anyway, this book got me started in reading more about Canada’s spying history. Did you know it’s rumoured that Ian Fleming was the sniper who killed a Japanese spy in New York when the US was still neutral in World War 2, as part of a secretive UK-Canada “corporation” operating with the tacit approval of Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover? Or that throughout the 19th and early 20th century the Canadian government hired the Pinkerton detective agency to keep tabs on Irish malcontents in the US? I didn’t, until I started down this fascinating rabbit hole. These stories were from Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peacable Kingdom.

I’ll be doing some further reading on the subject, but for the uninitiated, I’d say Nest of Spies is a fascinating introduction.

Ode to Oblivion

The story behind the Oblivion mod Terry Pratchett worked on

The only Pratchett books I’ve read are The Long Earth books he collaborated on, but I found this article interesting anyway. The mod in question is for a custom companion you can get for Oblivion. The part where you can get her to lead you if you’re lost, or have her pick a destination for you at random, actually sounds like it would have been neat to have in the base game. Anyway, it’s not every mod that has dialogue written by a bestselling fantasy author.

Not the Renaissance

I just discovered the Reddit community r/AccidentalRenaissance and boy, this is some top shelf stuff. People post modern pics that resemble Renaissance paintings in composition and whatnot. I suggest filtering for the top-rated posts, as some people’s definition of a Renaissance painting is along the lines of “neat picture from a basketball game”.

My favourite of the recent posts is of a British soldier at a wedding checking his cellphone:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty

Just here to post an interesting little interview I found with Kim Stanley Robinson (author of one of my favourite science fiction books, The Years of Rice and Salt. I especially liked his observation on the cultural construction of beauty:

SP: I wonder if we would develop a different sense of beauty if we went out into the Solar System. When we think of natural beauty, we tend to think of gorgeous landscapes like mountains or deserts. But out in the Solar System, on another planet or a moon, would our experience of awe and wonder be different?

KSR: You can go back to the 18th century when mountains were not regarded as beautiful. Edmund Burke and the other philosophers talked about the sublime. So the beautiful has to do with shapeliness and symmetry and with the human face and figure. Through the Middle Ages, mountains were seen as horrible wastelands where God had forgotten what to do. Then in the Romantic period, they became sublime, where you have not quite beauty but a combination of beauty and terror. Your senses are telling you, “This is dangerous,” and your rational mind is saying, “No, I’m on a ledge, but I’ve got a railing. It looks dangerous, but it’s not.” You get this thrilling sensation that is not beauty but is the sublime. The Solar System is a very sublime place.

It’s December again

The holidays are upon us, which means it’s time once again to shit on Love Actually. Here is an interesting essay about hating the movie for its arrogant Englishness which links Love Actually to Brexit and manages not to break the shoehorn it was using:

Love Actually is objectively a very bad movie, but that explains nothing. The world is full of bad movies. Besides, I don’t believe in hating movies, no matter how bad. Honest critics can find a movie stupid or dishonest or boring or shoddily made or politically dubious. But hatred? That’s just a sign of something missing in yourself. If you hate Marvel movies, you’re probably just not in the target demographic. If you mock Tyler Perry movies, you’re really just mocking the people those movies are made for . . .

My revulsion for Love Actually nonetheless comes principally from its Englishness. I don’t believe in hating movies and I don’t believe in hating peoples either, but Love Actually forces the question. “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think of the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport.” The opening line tells you everything you need to know about the real subject of this film. Love Actually takes two of the most beautiful phenomena on Earth — love and Christmas — and replaces them with Englishness. Love Actually predicted the Brexit era, in a way, since both are the result of the ingrained English sense of their superiority and the final proof that their sense of superiority is an antiquated fantasy. George Orwell identified the basic assumption of English conservatism back in 1939: “Nothing ever changes and foreigners are funny.” That’s the operating principle of both Brexit and Love Actually. The dominant aesthetic is entitled insularity.

Basically it argues that Love Actually is English provincialism at its worst and that watching the movie is essentially like watching England savagely wanking over a photo of itself.

Sonic the, uh, fighter of Communism?

I’ve mentioned @fanfiction_txt before, which is a Twitter account that tweets quotes from actual fanfictions and reviews. I always look forward to a new tweet and most of the time it’s something hilarious. It’s great to see what fresh lunacy is out there after a long day at work.

This tweet is only okay for me, mostly because I’m not super into Sonic the Hedgehog and don’t really care about the characters from the games. But the fic the quote came from, on the other hand . . .

Sonic the Hedgehog: Make America Great Again

By: AmericaverseWarlord

Actions speak louder than words… and the barrel of a gun speaks loudest of all! Sonic the Hedgehog, a fearsome warrior who trusts only his instincts and his shotgun, fights alone after Americageddon to protect his star-spangled country. Will he be able to save America from the diabolical clutches of Communism, or will his quest for revenge ultimately destroy him?

Rated: Fiction T – English – Poetry/Angst – [Shadow, Sonic] [Bride of the Conquering Storm, Metal Madness/Metal Overlord] – Chapters: 42 – Words: 125,183 – Reviews: 47 – Favs: 40 – Follows: 32 – Updated: Nov 23 – Published: Aug 29, 2016 – id: 12125232

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN FINALE – THE SIEGE OF STALINGRAD III
Part 2 – God Is Calling Me Back Home

After a long, grueling battle with his greatest enemy, Sonic has finally succumbed to the might of Communism. However, he was able to deal them a crushing blow before his death. Will Donald Trump’s Space Force be able to finish what he started?

42 chapters of this horseshit? C’est magnifique!

SimCity loves Robert Moses

Professional city planners nitpick SimCity‘s realism:

Sim City: An Interview with Stone Librande Read the comments and you’ll see a bunch of urban planning nerds bitching about the game’s unrealistic simulation of traffic and parking.

how sim city greenwashes parking For more on the parking lot apocalypse that Sim City hides from its players.

Did Sim City Make Us Stupid? And some complaining about the zoning laws of the game (no mixed residential and commercial?).

I’ve gotten interested in urban planning lately so I recognize all of the criticisms, especially with how Sim City and The Sims considers the American model of suburbs and the car-centric commute to be the standard form of the city.  I suppose I won’t be able to build my dream city of walkable streets, cars banned from downtown, bike lanes everywhere, commercial and residential areas mixed together to allow people to work close to home, residential buildings being mostly mid-rise apartments and interspersed with parks and cultural attractions like museums, and public transit out the wazoo with buses and streetcars and commuter rail and subways all over the place.

As you may have guessed, I voted for Jennifer Keesmat as Toronto mayor.

I dunno, maybe Cities: Skylines is where it’s at.

PS

Check out this competitive SimCity 6 game where urban planners tried to fuck over each other’s neighbouring cities.