From the “Starred Items” in my Google Reader

It doesn’t matter who the author really is, just as long as you like the books.

Eloquent recommendations for your media consumption.

The issue of privacy has been much on my mind, especially after finishing Ken Auletta‘s fine new book about the monster from Mountain View.  Matthew Ingram gets you up to date on the Google convection in Italy and the fact that Google IS a media company.  And Danah Boyd reports from Harvard about evolving privacy norms in the context of teens using Facebook.  Let me put it this way: fifteen years ago, if you knew someone was opening, reading, and analyzing all your mail, would that have been OK with you?  But now you don’t mind?  The world is changing and so are you.

(SPOILER ALERT for links only)  Finally, Tamara from Caprica looks like a total bad-ass with her sub-machine gun because she IS a total bad-ass.  Annalee Newitz knows how good the show is.  Are you watching the best show on television?

I am ready for Caprica

Analee Newitz at io9.com is going absolutely gaga for Caprica, which apparently begins for real this Friday night (last Friday’s “pilot” was the broadcast of material that became available last spring on DVD and through other means).  ”[W]e think this series could become a classic.”  If Ron Moore and Jane Espenson can pull that off, it would put the back to back Battlestar franchises in the rarest of air.  I would also note, for good measure, that a show need not be a smash hit to become a classic.

And we’re off….!

I take a few days off and the next thing you know, I’ve got about three hundred unread items in Google Reader.  Some of these items are from that haul and some of them have whiskers on them (meaning older than three days) and some of this isn’t related to anything at all.

Now I’m going back to sitting on my ass for one more day, getting ready to listen to the Eagles (vs. Dallas) on the radio and walking my big puppy in the sub-zero wind chills.

It takes a long weekend to…

ProgDayHeaderArt-MushroomIt takes a long weekend to make a short movie, see some great music, enjoy the country with narrow dogs, and turn congressional hearings into a nationally acclaimed opera.  Let me explain.

Em is now back from her First Descents excursion.  As predicted, this was an intense time and I have no doubt the reverberations will continue for quite some time to come while they’re being worked into her general psyche and identity.  Basically, take about fourteen young adult cancer survivors to Jackson Wyoming (scene, coincidentally, of the Beckerantz honeymoon) and take them rock climbing, out of their comfort zone and let everybody feel alive in a way they never have before.  The results are hard to put into words, especially for someone who wasn’t even there, but I’m sure she’ll be reporting at length on Seeemilyplay.  But tonight, it’s all about iMovie.  I’ve supplied this girl with what little knowledge I have and she’s running hog wild.  The results are already tremendous, and she’s only up to about the three minute mark.  Hopefully, by the end of this long weekend, I’ll link to an audio-visual document that will give you some idea of what she has experienced over the past week.

ProsaicParadise is soaking in the groovy sounds at ProgDay 2009 down in Chapel Hill.  She’ll be seeing Ozric Tentacles and some other cool acts over two days.  Kudos to her for making the trek in the name of great prog!

FBdN is in the country with his family and the greyhounds.  Bucolic and calming pictures are already starting to emerge, and I urge you to check them out.

It’s Fringe Festival time here in Philadelphia and one of the local acts is an opera based on the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings and Alberto Gonzalez’s extraordinarily humorous performance.  The thing itself was outrageous, but the The Gonzales Cantata is swiftly becoming a national craze, especially thanks to Rachel Maddow.

Aliette de Bodard is catching up on her Battlestar Galactica and has a few choice thoughts as she gets into season 4.  This woman is an exceptional writer of sci-fi and fantasy and her career is just starting to take off, so it’s exciting to get her sincere thoughts on BSG and everything else.  Her blog and fiction are highly recommended.

Finally, there is a great Dylan bootleg from July 5, 2009, that has just surfaced at T.U.B.E.  There’s always great audience tapes of Bob’s shows, but this one is from the soundboard, which gives it a little more clarity.  Great setlist, including my favorite from the new record, a lil ol’ blues number called Jolene.

Pretty impressive show to get someone THAT riled up

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Over at io9, there is a link to a massive analysis of why the Battlestar finale is the worst ending in sci-fi history.  That’s a mighty assertion, but Brad Templeton seems to have the analysis to back it up.  Unless I have a mssive flare-up of colitis and have to spend the next few hours in the men’s room, I’m not sure whe I’ll have time to read this, but one thing is for sure:  any TV show that can get someone to do this kind of work is pretty powerful stuff.

And I’ll take this opportunity to keep banging the drum about what these people (Ron Moore, et al.) do for a living – they write series.  A series does not have a beginning, middle and end.  If you told a sponsor that you had solid gold viewership, millions of fans week in and week out, but that the show was only going to be on the air for a few months, would you get that sponsor’s support?  Maybe, but networks, sponsors, show-runners, all crave stability and consistency.  If it’s here today and gon tomorrow, that’s not really helpful, from a business sense.

So, who really cares if they flunked the ending?  Who cares if the mysteries aren’t fully resolved and the questions aren’t once-and-for-all answered?  Was it a good show?  Did you enjoy watching it?  Yes?  Then STFU.  I think the abuse of Bob Dylan in Battlestar is basically a crime against nature, but that’s not going to make me a hater.  Battlestar Galactica still one of the best things to ever come out of that idiot box.

Virtuality – amazing, extraordinary, completely irrelevant

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I have, for some time, wanted to set forth my thoughts on the most exciting TV show I’ve seen since the early days of Battlestar.  That’s no coincidence, because, as you’ve undoubtedly heard, Virtuality and Battlestar are authored by the same creative team.  The difference that on show will go down in history as a work of art that changed how we experience a sci-fi series, while the other will just fade away into nothingness, lucky to even become a footnote.

That is certainly unfair, because of the overall quality of the writing, production and performances.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out while you still can.  Just in case you didn’t just get back from watching the ‘pilot’ episode on hulu or somewhere else, let me say the following:

SPOILER ALERT!!  Proceed at your own risk!!

In the end, all I care about is whether or not it’s good TV.  Is it compelling?  Does it move me?  Is it exciting?  Do I care about the characters and story?  With sci-fi, I’m not so worried about how ‘realistic’ something is.  A show can be completely fanciful and even absurd in it’s premise and still be a completely kick-ass piece of drama.

From the very beginning, the viewer has constant reminders of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I think that’s an extremely dangerous trick.  It’s one thing to be Quentin Tarentino drawing references to obscure movies from the 70′s, but Virtuality presents not one, but many references to 2001, an iconic movie that everyone has seen.  If you want people to think about that film and your film in the same moment, then you’d better have one-hell of a product.  Otherwise, you’re just going to look like a stupid jerk.

There is an all-powerful computer (Jean (gene?) instead of HAL) that may or may not be responsible for numerous problems on the ship.  The problems start with the virtual reality rig that gives crew members a chance to blow off steam and get out of the loneliness and isolation of a ten-year space mission.  That sense of isolation is played pitch-perfect in 2001 and that’s the reference standard.  Does Virtuality measure up?  All I can say is, after watching it twice, it’s pretty good.  There is a strong sense, especially by the end of the ‘pilot’, that this crew is completely cut-off from anything or anyone they used to know, love or care about.  That’s a pretty cool trick.

I think the Battlestar guys overplayed their hand, and that’s why we’re not getting any more of this show from Fox, or SciFi (or SyFy) or anyone else.  They’re taking a major shot at the absurdity of reality TV while asking the viewer to question if what’s going on in the crew’s virtual reality modules is actually real and the disaster of their mission is not real.  Got it?

Then you’ve got a multitude of stories involving: (1) a character who is confined to a wheelchair, (2) a young gay couple, (3) a young het couple where the woman is pregnant and hasn’t told her partner, (4) a husband and wife where the wife is having an affair, but only in the virtual reality modules, with another crew member, (5) a doctor who has Alzheimer’s, (6) a reality TV program which is being filmed while the mission is going on and being produced in real-time by a crew member who also serves as the ship’s shrink, (7) a psychotic killer who only lives in the virtual reality program, (8) an engineer who is writing letters to his deceased young son, (9) and a computer that’s supposed to run the ship, but has no answers about why everything sucks so bad for these folks.  And, oh, by the way, the mission will take ten years and the fate of every human on earth depends on their success, unless that’s not real either.

Ron Moore said he had a plan at the beginning of Battlestar.  I don’t believe that he did.  As good as Battlestar was, it meandered from time to time.  I think that’s the nature of even the best series television.  There are so many variables and so little time between  episode to make evrything hang together.  And the job, as I’ve said before, is not to write a beginning, middle and end.  The job in TV is to keep the thing going: keep the ratings up, keep the sponsors happy, keep the viewers coming back, keep feeding the fire.

With the number of variables that are set in motion in Virtuality, it’s impossible to imagine that anything more than the roughest outline really exists at the outset.  Do they fail or succeed?  What’s real and what’s virtual?  Viewers want these questions answered if the series is to have any vitality.  The show runner wants to give us just enough to keep us coming back, but never  close the deal until the show is done.  Battlestar presented a world of great variety and infinite possibility.  Virtuality is just twelve people and their enormous problems.  I see TV exec’s thinking that, at best this is a copy of Lost and, at worst, it’s extremely tedious and melodramatic.

So, in light of all that, it may be for the best that the series is a dead letter.  I am sad that it, like the crew of the doomed starship, will slip over the ‘edge of never’, but what we are left with is a precious and ephemeral container of possibilities, unrealized, but REAL all the same.  Watch Ritchie Coster‘s turn as nuclear physicist Jimmy Johnson, and tell me that performance isn’t REALly powerful.  Listen to the soundtrack by Wendy & Lisa.  Watch the filmmakers make reference to the finest sci-fi in the galaxy and still produce something exciting, frightening, compelling and powerful.

Maybe somehow, some way, the show will find life.  That could be wonderful or it could be a mess.  But the two hours with which we are left, at least for the moment, holds up as some of the best TV I have seen.  Please watch.

Ronald D. Moore’s Virtuality – Fox ain’t buyin’ it

I just finished watching Virtuality, and I have to say that I loved it. It’s way past my bedtime and I’ll give a fuller review tomorrow. I can definitely see why Fox is passing on the series, but to get to see just two hours of the madness that might have been is still pretty satisfying.

Shirt version: if this thing gets green lit ( and I hope it does), Moore has given himself a massive canvas to work with. It may yet happen and it may even be profitable, but this is Moore looking to cash in on some hard earned Battlestar cred. If Virtuality happens, there is a risk of self-indulgence. Moore would proudly say that it is his intention to push the envelope of narrative to it’s outer limits.

Based on what we see in this two-hour pilot, he may hve gone beyond the limit.

Battlestar Digest – I Frakking Loved It!

It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn good. One thing – it was strange watching it without ads because the narrative flow kind of depended on the breaks. Our copy didn’t have any ads, so the breaks lasted less than a moment. This was particularly weird during the intense battle sequences of the first half. That all being said – it was still pretty unbelievable: the opera house, the OTHER earth, Kara, the battle, the child – whew! Here’s what some others are saying.

Laura Miller at Salon.com gets it. She wanted a more groundbreaking ending that smashes the rules a bit more. She thinks they may have played it a bit safe. She may be right.

Ginia Bellafante at the New York Times had a similar, though less articulate reaction.

Robin Abrahams at Boston.com has some interesting observations. Lots of women review this show, no?

Mary McNmara at the LA Times loved loved loved it. Another woman!

Make your opinion heard. Does BSG deserve an Emmy nomination?

A nice recap of the hits from four seasons, courtesy the Vancouver Sun.

NJ.com has a Q&A with Ron Moore. Hopefully less crying than in the SciFi ‘Last Frakking Special”.

Screen Rant has issues, but also a lot of love.

Newsday goes over the top with an A++.

Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan has a comprehensive article with a long interview and her glowing review.

More interviews and explanations at Discover Magazine.

That will just about do it…

Battlestar is wrapping up on Friday night, and it’s been fantastic for the past two episodes. Ron Moore, who used to be a writer for Star trek: DS9 is a master at keeping it going; making twists and turns that keep us coming back week after week. That skill has no application now. Now he has to bring about some kind of resolution. It’s a tall order, but if the the last few episodes are any indicator, this should be fine. Will we get an answer to every question and inquiry and mystery? Of course not. But we will get a big finish for a show that did a pretty good job of changing television.