De romanicorum physicalium 12

This would have been out sooner but as it turns out, Destiny is basically only technically an MMORPG. The Ms are mostly optional and the O is largely a technicality. Take those letters off and you have one of my favorite kinds of game, especially since this one is also an FPS instead of a click-fest.

SF thoughts.
  • If I could single out one piece of cant that makes a mess of too much worldbuilding, it would be the idea (arising from Marxist dogma) that it's elites that mistreat minorities. Overwhelmingly, the elite protects minorities, and the majority abuses them. I know, blasphemy, the idea that the masses are not the locus of all virtues. But while the masses can rein in the excesses of demagogues (the popular conception of that is also exactly backwards), it's generally the masses' own excesses being reined in by their non-revolutionary elites.

    Often the elite isn't protecting the minority out of the goodness of its heart, of course. Many times the minority makes useful cat's paws, to do things the elite doesn't want to dirty its hands with—members of the disaffected group having fewer potentially-troublesome ties to the masses the elite needs trodden down. (Then when the pitchforks and torches come out, the minority can be thrown under the bus: "I had no idea he was doing that! I only knew what he told me!") Generally, when the elite abuses the minority, it's as a piece of populist pandering.
  • You may recall my possibly unseemly speculation that Firefly's sanitized version of prostitution might be related to the fact the good guys are the Space Confederacy. Now, I was being facetious; but my sister did point out that the Companions are basically a "coon song" version of prostitution. That was the sub-genre of blackface minstrel song that had to do with an idealized, whitewashed version of Antebellum plantation life, capitalizing on the self-pitying nostalgia of the losing side in a war. The Companions are the same thing applied to an industry that may well challenge communism and total war for its efficiency in producing human strife and unhappiness.
  • I don't think I've mentioned this before, but even if I have, it bears repeating: a lot of people criticize the hive-mind trope in science fiction, as well they should, but they seldom mention the little fact that a hive is not a society at all. It's a family; the "queen" would more properly be termed the "mother". (In termites, there is also a father; they don't mate once and then have the male die, like the order Hymenoptera.) All the other members of a colony are siblings, each other's sisters (and brothers, in termites). Once you understand that, that a hive of eusocial creatures is a huge nuclear family, most of the tropes based on them are revealed to be even worse than you hopefully thought they were. (Okay some species of termite have multiple breeding pairs, often sisters I think, so presumably the members are sometimes cousins instead of siblings. All that means is they're an extended instead of nuclear family.)

    I was reminded of this by the CinemaSins of Ender's Game—which movie, to say something nice(?), doesn't seem to be any worse than the book. But that was especially stupid, because in that, the "Formics" die (or at least go unconscious) when their queen is killed. Which is totally what happens in eusocial species! Oh, right, that would be idiotic: one of the workers just takes royal jelly and becomes the new queen. (I'm unclear how exactly this works in termites, who need a breeding pair to produce eggs—surely getting both from the same hive is genetically counterproductive? Though then again the drone that fertilizes a Hymenopteran queen is typically her nephew, hatched from an unfertilized egg laid by one of her sisters.) Certainly the need to establish the new breeding female or breeding pair and re-organize the colony around its new breeding-caste would make them vulnerable, but the death of a queen wouldn't kill them. Card should probably be embarrassed that the undead zooplankton witches are more realistic than his aliens...
  • Arrival, aside from being one of those sci-fi movies where the plot hinges on the Power of Love™, is also one of those sci-fi movies with intellectual pretensions that still somehow can't resolve things without time-travel. (Interstellar, too—is the Power of Love™ some kind of space-time warping thing, like an Elder Scroll?) Admittedly Arrival has more right to its intellectual pretensions than most sci-fi movies, though I question some of their assumptions about linguistics—and find the nigh-literal StarfishAliens fairly uninspired.

    But seriously, time travel is a scourge. As I think I've said, I largely tolerate it only in fantasy. (Which fantasy can be set in space; the Vex are among the best examples of how to do time-travel writing, like a decentralized skinwalker Skynet...although their resemblance to Crow T. Robot rather undercuts their menace.) Time travel is too, well, weird, and involves math almost nobody knows, scientifically speaking; its inclusion in science fiction is thus very, very iffy. And unless the entire plot hinges on it, explicitly, like Back to the Future, its inclusion is almost certainly lazy writing.
  • I also watched the CinemaSins of Lucy and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. As it turns out, The Fifth Element is Besson's most intelligent work.
    Because Lucy is bottomlessly stupid (we knew that, of course, but I hadn't realized how much so). Not only does it repeat the "ten percent of your brain" thing, it has "dolphins are smarter than humans" too (their sonar isn't even better, as the movie also asserts). It also has the person who's using the more than ten percent (and not rapidly losing bowel-continence and having her breathing, swallowing, blinking, balance, and eyeball-tracking disrupted) become a pointlessly amoral psychopath. And be able to read all languages instantly, because languages aren't conventional, you can just figure out what their symbols mean, from first principles. Yet curiously she can still only speak English. Her ability to predict others' actions—and read their minds!—comes and goes purely "because plot". Then because it wasn't stupid enough, it has "evolving into pure energy" and a form of time travel!

    Valerian isn't quite as overtly contemptuous of its audience's intelligence—but it does sub in some typical European ethno-cluelessness, in the form of the obviously-based-on-idealized-Africans Pearls of the planet Mül, who "lived in harmony with the elements" before the mean old humans came along, and the rest of the Noble Savage foofarah. (Except they have light skin, which I actually attribute to light colors being easier to design around but which I'm certainly not going to stop anyone from attributing to less noble motives, because Besson has forfeited my charity.) The two main leads are as poorly-cast for the roles as they are weird-looking and unappealing in themselves; the plot is pure childishness involving behavior nobody would put in a story after their age reached double digits. Reading a number upside-down is a plot complication a six-year-old would include; vowing to kill someone who has a gun to your head is asking him to shoot you.

    To say something nice, Besson wasn't the worst filmmaker whose works I watched CinemaSins about. That laurel is for the brows of the war-criminals behind Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars.
  • It may perhaps come as little surprise that I don't have much regard for the Turing test; being able to pass as a thing is not being the thing. Apparently it's worse than that—apparently the test requires that the people the AI has to fool have no background in psychology, anthropology, or computers. Which is like saying "if it can convince people with no background in metallurgy that it's gold, it is gold." There's...there's actually a mineral that takes its name from that, you know? The name also involves reference to fools? Just sayin'.
  • There's this assumption running around that a big alien, or an "uplifted" animal, will necessarily have a deep voice. (Destiny notably averts it; the Cabal make high-pitched piggy sounds.) But actually, humans (and felids) have unusually deep voices, for communicating. Yes, felids too, and not just the big ones; compare the sound a housecat makes to the sound a comparably-sized dog makes. A horse, too, makes some pretty high-pitched noises—if you've ever heard an angry one, it sounds like a bear bellowing in falsetto. (I think bears might also have the modified voices you see in felids and humans.)

    Now, of course, aliens might've gone a similar route to humans, voice-wise; certainly zledo have deeper voices than humans, in my stuff. But they don't necessarily have to have; dog howls can carry pretty far, so you don't need to have chosen that particular method for improving your communication-abilities. But things like Planet of the Apes apes should have surprisingly high-pitched voices. It doesn't have to be ridiculous (though it would take deft handling); Charlemagne had a high-pitched voice despite being big enough to occasionally grab an unsuspecting courtier and toss him in the air like a baby.
  • With all the "diversity" and PCnikstvo in the Disney Star Wars installments, it's interesting that they've actually been drastically decreasing the diversity in one key way. Namely, species. Where the original trilogy had a lot of aliens (Chewie, Akbar, Nien Nunb, etc.), and even the sequels had, if anything, more (Newt Gunray, Jarjar, Darth Maul, Watto, Dexter Jettster), the sequels and other Disney installments have lots and lots of humans.

    Akbar is utterly squandered in The Last...One You'll See in Theaters; there is exactly zero reason that DJ, for example, had to be human, and in either of the previous two trilogies he wouldn't have been. One of the two Whill monks in Rogue One could easily have been an alien. Personally, I call it "apewashing". There really is no reason, except creative bankruptcy, to make a character in something like that a mangy monkey, when they could be something interesting.

    I honestly do not care what breed of mangy monkey you're giving me, if you're substituting that mangy monkey for something more interesting. As I've said before, quoting Penny Arcade, "A universe of possibilities, and you're fixated on the local flavor."