Jan. 23rd, 2017

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My lady asked me to track down some feeds she'd been reading on LJ.  I found some and wound up creating a few of them, and suspect that other friends might be interested, particularly in:

The East Kingdom Gazette

XKCD

What If?

Popehat

Note that not all of these have populated yet...
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While I think of it, a couple of reviews.  The most recent television season included two new genre (more or less) TV shows that were both brilliant and yet *wildly* different from each other.  In the modern TV environment, only a fraction of my friends have seen each, so it's worth talking them up.

Let's start with the obvious one: Westworld.  I'm not going to mince words here: it's the best new science fiction in ages -- best in the past decade that I can remember.  We'll see whether it lives up to the comparison, but the last time I was this jazzed about a series was Babylon 5.  And that's not an idle comparison: I've heard that this is going to be a five-year novel in the same way, and the pacing supports that.

In case anyone hasn't heard the premise: Westworld is vaguely a remake (but mostly just inspired by) an old SF movie about a theme park with robots run amok.  And that's kind of what's going on here, but it is *so* much more -- not least, in that the Hosts (the robots) might yet turn out to be the good guys.  At least, by comparison.

Mind, this story isn't light and fun.  One of the execs is Jonathan Nolan, who was behind Person of Interest (which I would previously have dubbed the best show of recent years), and he's exploring somewhat similar themes, but with HBO's budget and standards.  So whereas PoI got a bit grim sometimes, this one gets downright DarkityDarkDark.

The thing is, though, it doesn't just get dark the way you expect.  Yes, there's a good deal of violence and a modicum of sex.  But there isn't nearly as much sex as nudity, and the nudity gets downright disturbing -- it's used as a narrative tool, to show the way that the humans think of the hosts as *things*, not as people.  And even that only begins to set the stage for where the story winds up going, exploring concepts of sentience and free will very deeply, very honestly, and bone-chillingly.  This may be the first TV show since The Twilight Zone that manages to be fundamentally creepy through its exploration of existential questions.

Pretty much everything hangs together here.  The writing is tight (although I will warn that you need to be prepared for quite a bit of, "not all is as it seems"), the direction is solid, the effects are fabulous, and the acting ranges from solidly good to marvelous.  (I am a confirmed member of Team Maeve by now.)

Most importantly, the *structure* is delicious.  This feels like a novel, not a serial: deep, incredibly intricate, and finely woven together.  I'm fairly sure that Season 1 is just giving us the surface of the story -- there are ample indications that there is far more to this world, and I would bet we're going to see a lot more of it as the epic progresses.

We'll see if they can continue as well as they've started; I'm praying we don't get another Galactica at the end.  But this was the best first season I've seen of anything, period, and Nolan has demonstrated that he can finish strong.  This may turn out to be one of the all-time greats, and it is well worth seeking out.
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On the flip side, there's the show I *wasn't* expecting to love: The Good Place.

It starts off looking like they've set up basically a weird sitcom.  Our protagonist, Eleanor (Kristin Bell), wakes up one morning to find that she is dead, and is now in The Good Place.  Only the very best people (chosen by a terribly scientific algorithm) get into The Good Place; everybody else goes to The Bad Place, which you wouldn't want.  And The Good Place is so terribly *nice*.  They serve all your favorite flavors of frozen yogurt.  Everybody is there with their assigned (and perfectly selected) soulmate.  It isn't heaven per se, but it's lovely.

There's only one problem: Eleanor doesn't belong here.  She was really a fairly mediocre person in life: not evil per se, but utterly self-absorbed for nearly her entire life.  She's a fish out of water, and things are going wrong as a result.

Like I said, an obvious sitcom, right?

Except that it isn't.  Quite unexpectedly, The Good Place is *also* structured as a novel, and they make no bones about it.  Each episode is numbered, not named, and they follow hard upon one another, often starting seconds after the previous.  To my considerable surprise, it's structured as tightly as any thriller.

Mind, it's *not* a thriller -- it's a comedy, and an unusually funny one for modern network TV.  Bell turns out to have better comic timing than I would have given her credit for, and the cast play off against each other brilliantly.  There isn't a lot of depth here -- the show is painting in broad strokes -- but episode by episode you start to really like all of our characters.

Mostly, though, this is a ride through the unexpected.  It is *so* rare for me to watch a show any more and constantly be going, "I have no forking idea where this is going next", but that's the case throughout the first season.  Every episode is full of jaw-dropping WTFery, while still kind of making sense within the scenario's demented logic.

I won't say that it's at the same level of once-in-a-decade brilliance as Westworld.  But it doesn't cost an HBO subscription, and it is a *heck* of a lot more fun.  Check it out...

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