Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Thursday, August 13, 2009

TV Watch: Dollhouse, Epitaph One

The thirteenth episode of Whedon's Dollhouse was never apparently part of Fox's studio deal, but for foriegn release was highly desired, so Whedon apparently responded:

'I'll tell you what. I'll shoot a post-apocalyptic thriller that's all on our sets in six days with a cast of four other people, then we'll pepper it with different bits from our regular cast, and we can do it all during the schedule. It'll cost you half. I can do this.' And I was so in love with the idea that I just came up with off the top of my head, and that's what it turned into. It's one of the best episodes we've ever made."
-- Dollhouse Wiki: Epitaph One

So viewers can now either get the DVD set, or download the episode from iTunes or Amazon on Demand. The episode is well worth it by any means. Not only is it impressive that one of the best episodes of the season isn't technically in the season and cost half as much, it offers some great points on the problems and ideas raised by Dollhouse's premise. Rest assured, this doesn't feel like a tacked on piece of filler - there's a lot of meat to be had here.

Without going into much detail, what I think is most interesting here is the willingness to show the dark side of some "post singularity" concepts about the mind, body and immortality in general. It's a specific and unique kind of apocalypse being built up here, and shows a lot of expansion for the show to grow into.

Highly recommend, especially for Dollhouse fans waiting for the second season.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New iPhone iVerse App "Pending"

While it's around, check out the iVerse homepage for screenshots on their upcoming iPhone app. Looks like what fans (myself included) have been asking for is arriving, namely a unified place to find comics as well as more viewing options.

Let's hope "pending" translates to a fast approval process.

Book Read: Little Brother

I know I'm at risk at coming off as some kind of anti-Doctorow nut here, with several back posts complaining about his complaining about DRM, a very recent panning of Someone Comes To Town and now a review of his latest. That's not really fair, as I truly enjoy his shorts and thought Magic Kingdom was quite good.

However, Little Brother doesn't really get added into that particular pile.

Spoilers contained herein.

There is, at least, a focused plot and a consistent theme - so that's a major improvement over Someone Comes To Town. Doctorow has managed to couch his preachings into a character where such dialogue makes sense. While there are times when the book reads as if the main character, Marcus, is suddenly overwhelmed with the need to speak to some kind of literary fourth wall - the themes are still relevant to the novel in general.

Whether you find the technical soliloqouies of value is another thing, however, and completely depends on your personal level and/or tolerance for such geek topics as basic cryptography and Live Action Role Playing (though Doctorow probably deserves credit for probably having the first character who LARPs get laid in a mainstream novel). The setting is modern and much of the technical topics are pretty lightweight - and remembering that this was published by Tor Teen, the book is something of a primer for being a technogeek for tweens.

Occasionally the technical aspects backfire completely, however. At one point it is indicated that Microsoft started giving away the next generation of Xbox, called the Xbox Universal, for free. In Cory's world, this is an evil corporate trick to sell DRM controlled software at high prices, which of course (because Cory controls Cory's world) backfires completely and everyone ends up playing free community developed games on unlocked Xboxen instead.

Yeah. Right. This particular technofantasy would be more innocent if it didn't become such a central aspect of the story. Still, unlike Someone Comes To Town's regression into WiFi - most of the Xnet subplot doesn't hijack the novel in general. An often repeated portion, sure, but can be somewhat sidetracked with applied suspension of disbelief.

No, the real problem of Little Brother is the lopsided support for the "rebellion" that becomes Marcus' prime motivator. First, it requires the reader to blindly accept the fact that the United States government turns into a brutal dictatorship willing to torture and disappear high school students in less time than it has taken to read this post so far. In other words, that the government is already capable of doing this and is just waiting for an excuse to start flying minors to Syria.

And while many of Marcus' attempts to fight the Department of Homeland Security work quite well narratively, the story just assumes you're onboard with the entirety of the argument from the first word.

A semi-major spoiler - but I think an important lynchpin to the book's central fault ... at one point Marcus launches a city wide plan which causes multiple traffic problems and is later reported to cost the city more than the original terrorist plot. Marcus takes this as a measure of success.

Let's examine that carefully. This plan doubles the cost of a city after a terrorist strike, changes nothing in DHS policy except that the DHS ends up getting stronger in the long run, in some ways could be seen as a terrorist attack itself ... and the reader is supposed to cheer on the main character?

In other words, Little Brother fails at creating any kind of discourse or dialogue on the potentially thorny questions about security, privacy and the use of technology in a post-9/11 world. It dives in with both feet with all of its assumptions on page one and ignores all contradictory evidence. Actually, in many ways Marcus' actions make matters worse for San Francisco, do not resolve any major issues with the DHS, and only by intervention of the media and some insanely convenient legal deus ex machina at the end does he emerge a hero. Not exactly a shining example of technical liberty.

In the end, Little Brother is an somewhat entertaining exercise in talking about modern topics which really do deserve discussion ... but not a particularly good one. Not highly recommended, though as usual Doctorow offers his book for free online if you want to check it out yourself.

Game Play: Duke Nukem 3D (iPhone)

Duke's days of being forever may be over, but he can still live on in the world of ports, including over to the iPhone.

Sadly, it does not both kick ass and chew bubblegum. It looks like a Duke, sounds like a Duke - but does not walk like a Duke. The controls are abysmal and suck all of the original action out of the title. The developers tried to compensate with a wide variety of options - but none really work. It speaks to the difficulty of doing a good 3D shooter on a buttonless platform, sure, but that's hardly justification for purchase.

Trick someone else into buying it, maybe, and look over their shoulder. Otherwise a pass.