Here’s another from the Big Finish collection, because having gone to the trouble of having a template…
Four years ago, I wrote a long list of advice to your brother. That’s all still good advice, so take it.
You’d think after four years, I’d have learned something as a father, and would have all sorts of new things to say or whatever. But mostly, I’m just very tired. So very, very tired.
I could be all trite and tell you how I love you just as much as I love your brother. But the truth is, I don’t know you yet. You don’t know you yet. It’s reasonable to say that I love you the same as I love him, because I don’t love him the same today as I did when he was born. He’s not the same person he was four years ago, I’m not the same person I was four years ago. And you won’t be the same person four years from now. So I’ll say instead that, just like I love him the best way I can, I love you the best way I can. That’s how love works. It’s not like you use it all up or anything.
Your life is going to be different from mine in ways I’ll never completely understand. We won’t understand each other a lot. I guess that’s something I learned over the past four years. Like how you’ll never think of TV as temporal, and you’ll never have to wait for the library to open on Monday before you can find out the answer to a question about the world or the past, and you’ll barely even comprehend what a “phone number” is, and I’ll never know what it’s like to earn seventy-five cents on the dollar. That kind of stuff.
Look, anyway, read that stuff I wrote for Dylan when you get the chance. But before that, above that, just remember not to hurt other people if you can avoid it, and remember to never, never let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, that you’re not strong enough, that you’re not tough enough, that you’re any less of a person, that there’s anything “just” about being a girl. Be the best you that you know how to be. And if you don’t like being that, then figure out someone else to be and be that instead. And I might treat you differently from the way I treat your brother, because you’ll be a different person with different needs, but if you ever catch me treating you worse, you go and call me out on it.
Because I love you, and I am proud of you, and I have faith in you. You got this. You are going to be amazing.
By popular request of her mother’s doctors, my daughter has rescheduled her arrival for tomorrow morning. There may be some interruptions to the normal programming schedule over the next few weeks.
New Doctor Who posts will still be dropping on Saturday at least through the beginning of April, but there might be some slippage after that. Tomorrow’s War of the Worlds post has been bumped back to next week for a special post.
Inspired by a comment thread at Slacktivist:
And that’s why you shouldn’t build your entire religion on an inflexible all-or-nothing appeal to “literalism”.
You should probably be glad I didn’t find an excuse to include red-diapered Sean Connery in my Megatron/Zardoz joke. (Closed Caption version below the fold)
Text below the fold
It is January 22, 1990. Two days ago, Soviet troops were sent in to suppress independence protests in Baku, Azerbaijan. 130 protesters are killed. Today, communism kinda collapses in Yugoslavia when the 14th (extraordinary) Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia ends, the country’s ruling party suddenly breaking up due to the fact that the whole country was on the verge of splitting up and going to war with itself, which will occupy the region for the rest of the century. Also last week, Marion Barry, the popular incumbent mayor of Washington, DC, famous for his work as an activist for civil rights, as an education reformer, and as a hero during a 1977 hostage crisis, became best-known for the phrase, “Bitch set me up,” uttered in response to the discovery that he was being videotaped smoking crack with his ex-girlfriend in an FBI sting operation. He would later serve six months in federal prison before being reelected as mayor in 1994. The McMartin Preschool trial finally ends, with all defendants cleared of child molestation charges. Space Shuttle Columbia returns from mission STS-32, bringing back NASA’s Long-Duration Exposure Facility (a free-flying structure placed in orbit in 1984 to house seeds, spores, and various materials that might be used in space stations, in order to see how they liked being left in space for five years) and a bunch of IMAX footage that would later be used in the films Blue Planet and Destiny in Space.
Today, Robert Morris becomes the first person convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse act for releasing the Morris Worm, the first major recognized internet worm. Over the coming week, a hispanic Miami police officer will be found of being insufficiently white to get away shooting an unarmed black man. Avianca Flight 52 will crash in New York, killing 73. The crash is attributed to miscommunication between the plane and airport, leading to them running out of fuel. Benazir Bhutto will become the first modern head-of-government to give birth while in office.
Out in theaters this week is Tremors, a movie which I was really fascinated by in my youth because of the way it blended horror and dark comedy tropes, and also because I was twelve when I first saw it and it had a long scene of Finn Carter running from a snake monster in her underwear.
Tonight is the 17th annual American Music Awards. Bobby Brown and Paula Abdul win favorite male and female artists, New Kids on the Block are named favorite group, and their Hangin’ Tough takes favorite album. Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” is named favorite song. This all seems like some sort of fever-dream now. Michael Bolton unseats Phil Collins for the top spot on the charts, and Technotronic adds insult to injury as “Pump Up the Jam” peaks at #2. A lot of churn in the chart this week: new to the top ten are Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train”, Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”, Seduction’s “Two To Make It Right”, and Tesla’s “Love Song”.
MTV Unplugged premiered yesterday. Faced with ABC’s coverage of the American Music Awards, CBS and NBC respond with airings of Cocoon and Delta Force respectively. ‘Trek is off again, they’ll be back next week. Friday the 13th the Series gives us “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul”, like the four-hundredth episode where an antique has the power to suck out someone’s life-force and give it to someone else. The twist this time is that it’s a mortician’s aspirator, and he’s using it to resurrect attractive female clients, on account of he’s a lonely creep.
My God, you guys. This episode. Man-oh-man. Okay, the plot’s a little thin, the character development is haphazard, and the emotional beats aren’t entirely earned. But I don’t care, because this episode is lovely. This week’s War of the Worlds is about The Internet. It is 1990, and the World Wide Web doesn’t even exist yet, but this is an honest-to-goodness episode about the Internet. And I’m not talking about VR Cyberspace Bullshit like we got back in Captain Power (Oh, that’s coming. But not until April). No, this is old school Internet, with 31337 hax0rs. And this is just about the most wonderful techno-bullshit I have ever seen. Seriously, I came close to not even writing an article here, just OCRing the subtitles and pasting them in their entirety instead.
This is a Suzanne-and-Debi-light episode: about five minutes in, they turn up to announce that they’re leaving town for a few days because Debi’s got “exams”. There’s no elaboration on that, which, I mean, it’s a minor point and probably not worth the screen-time, but it does feed into the general sense that, to put it kindly, they’ve got a lot more ideas about how this world works than they have scope to fully integrate. I guess Debi’s in some kind of regulated homeschooling program that has yearly exams. That just seems weirdly mundane to be a thing in this world where the government’s in a state of pretty much total collapse and has shut down all social programs. I sort of took for granted that our heroes had gone to ground and were trying to live outside the system. Aren’t they on the lam or something? Seemed that way back in “No Direction Home”. In any case, they’re gone for the rest of the episode. Coupled with the return of Belinda Metz as Scoggs, I suspect this episode was filmed simultaneously with “Night Moves“.
Kincaid is almost out of ammo, and Blackwood needs replacement parts for their generator. Kincaid decides to check Craigslist. “The Internet” for the purposes of 1990 apocalyptic fiction is a system called “Grapevine”, a highly secure, highly robust network capable of accommodating perhaps as many as five users (Seriously. The UI design assumes exactly five users max), and includes such features as a non-private chatroom, email, and absolutely nothing else. The system is supposed to provide absolute secrecy and anonymity, aside from the fact that everyone uses the same cool post-apocalyptic nickname on-line as they do in real life, except for Kincaid, who goes by “Rogue”, because he’s all edgy and brooding and grimdark, and because “CatLover45” was already taken.
Kincaid’s usual contact for stuff like this is “Ace”, a middle-aged guy who lives in a warehouse. Kincaid’s never met Ace in person, and doesn’t know where he lives (beyond that it’s in “Quadrant 7”, because cities have quadrants now. At least eight of them, which technically, is too many), which probably makes buying stuff from him a little complicated. Luckily for Kincaid, Ace comes home while Kincaid’s on-line and signs onto Grapevine. Lucky timing. Too bad that The Internet doesn’t have any mechanism for someone to put up some kind of persistent document, a “page” of some sort, where a client could see what products a trader had to sell and somehow submit offers or purchase orders to be handled automatically by a program on the back-end. Perhaps even multiple documents arranged into some kind of “web” that could be accessed from around the world. We could call it the Global Document Lattice or something.
There’s a conceit about how computers work that I’ll put in here to help with your imagination. To operate a computer in this world, you just say aloud what you want to do, then tap on the keyboard a few times. At first, I thought maybe they were meant to be typing commands, and just repeating them aloud for the audience’s benefit, like when someone talks on the phone in an old movie (What’s that? You say I should repeat everything you say out loud so the audience can hear it? And I should use rising intonation, to pretend I’m actually repeating it in the form of a question?), but for every message or command, they only type three or four keystrokes. So it sure seems like they’re dictating to the computer. Yet they still need to use the keyboard, I guess to confirm the input? I don’t know. It’s weird and dumb, but has the glorious and magnificent result that we spend the entire episode listening to these 31337 hax0rs speaking aloud. Mostly chatroom conversation. The way it’s cut, you never actually see someone receive a message until the very end, but it seems explicit that they’re reading the messages rather than hearing them.
Since at this point, we’ve got about as long as any episode ever has without checking in with the Morthren, let’s check in with the Morthren. It’s demo day at the alien lair. A scientist named Kemo is showing off a new engram that can disrcreetly interface with human computer systems and “drain it”. Malzor, being a dick, is only interested in its offensive capabilities, and gets angry at Kemo when he says that the “direct pulse” still has some bugs to work out.
To save face (This is a joke that you’ll understand in a minute), Kemo offers to demonstrate just how effective his engram is by hacking one of the world’s most advanced networks, the Grapevine. Yes. Kincaid’s internet chatroom is one of the most advanced networks on the planet.
Maybe I was too hard on Malzor for complaining, because Kemo’s advanced, undetectable data-stealing engram… Immediately causes Ace’s connection with Kincaid to start breaking up. I don’t know what it would look like to Kincaid for Ace’s transmission to “start breaking up”. The writers were clearly imagining something like radio static. We get to see Ace’s screen replaced by an alien pattern that, for want of a better term, I will use the totally random phrase, “floating green weirdness.”
“My files are jammed,” declares Ace. And then I don’t hear anything over the sound of my own laughing for about five minutes. I can’t even begin to even. Thumping of the screen ensues, because that’s how you fix a stuck computer. Jammed files or not, Ace tries to send Kincaid… Something. Nope. No idea. He just says, “Here, take a look at this.” Kemo indicates that Ace has somehow stolen some data from the Morthren and passed it along. I… I guess by hacking him? Or something? How does that work? How does the engram interfacing with the human computer network cause Morthren data to end up on Ace’s computer? How does it make alien stuff appear on his screen? None of this makes any Godsdamned sense. If he’s opened up some kind of reverse shell into Ace’s computer, his data would all be on his end, not in Ace’s computer. If he had to deploy some kind of alien virus into Ace’s system, okay, but alien code won’t run on a human computer — they already established that, it’s the whole point of Kemo having to develop this new engram. So any of Kemo’s data that was deployed on Ace’s computer wouldn’t be alien code: it would be alien-created normal Earth-computer code. And in any case, there’s absolutely no reason that deploying this code would result in alien characters appearing on Ace’s screen. Even if some flaw in Kemo’s code caused it to screw around with the video bus on the remote system, it wouldn’t produce distinctively alien-looking patterns. It would most likely just produce complete junk.
I know. I know. Deep breath. It’s just a show, I should really just relax. Malzor panics and orders Kemo to kill the operator, despite that feature not having been tested. Kill. The. Operator. Kemo’s engram can cause a lightning bolt to shoot out of the screen of a computer and murder the user. I… I… I… <CRASH>
Okay. Okay. Fine. I’ll roll with it. Alien technology can make lightning bolts shoot out of your computer monitor and kill you, even though the monitor is just an ordinary television (I mean this. All the monitors in this episode appear to be ordinary NTSC television sets, not specialized high-resolution computer monitors) and the computer is a physically separate unit whose interaction with the display is limited to sending it an analogue signal telling the electron gun inside when to fire as it sweeps across the phosphors, and no, you can’t just overdrive the signal until it shoots death-rays out of the screen, because televisions don’t work that way and —
Look, we’re going to be here all day at this rate. The long and short of it is that Ace gets cooked. Kincaid jumps up in alarm and shouts to Ace in concern, even though he hasn’t seen or heard anything to indicate what’s wrong: all Kincaid knows is that Ace suddenly went off line, and given the state of public utilities these days, that really should just mean someone chopped down a telephone pole to steal the copper. But there’s really no sense in this episode that computer networks and the telephone system have anything to do with each other. Which I guess is possible, but it’s a big leap to assume that this city has some kind of independent data infrastructure that anyone can plug into and works basically like the internet, given that so far, the most advanced form of telecommunications we’ve seen is rotary-dial 1-fps video phones.
Killing Ace turns out to backfire for the Morthren, though. Literally: there’s a feedback pulse that electrocutes Kemo. Kemo’s electrocution is shown split-screen with Ace’s making it look as though the two are joined by a single tendril of electricity, to better symbolize that they are in this moment joined in a way that transcends the bounds of species and — Oh for Christ’s sake. They are going there. Kemo and Ace mind-meld. Via lightning bolt. From the screens of their computers. Okay, the Morthren have never heard of surge suppressors, I can accept that. But they don’t even try to justify this. They don’t even explain it. Kemo just has a bunch of Ace’s memories and his feelings and instincts now. Because fuck you, alien technology is magic.
We know that alien engrams are able to operate on human memory. We established that back in “No Direction Home“. We know that the aliens can transfer the human sense of identity during the cloning process. And we know that the cloning process creates a clone that isn’t just obedient to the Morthren, but has a Morthren sense of purpose and loyalty. So it’s not completely out of left-field. But it still requires that Ace’s completely normal human-made Earth-computer do the work on his end. Sucking out Ace’s mind accidentally, over the internet requires that the Earth-made consumer electronics in Ace’s lair magically reconfigure themselves at a hardware level to have the same technological capabilities as an alien engram. If you shove the power cord from your coffee-maker into the refrigerator, it doesn’t suddenly gain the ability to produce frappucinos. If I sound angry, it’s really not that. More sort of stunned. It’s like no one involved in the writing of this episode had ever seen a computer before and reckoned they were basically just genies who looked like televisions attached to typewriters.
They rush Kemo off to the infirmary and stick him in a bag and put a damp cloth on his face and everything, but they’re only able to save half of his face, leaving him very mildly disfigured with a bunch of scars on one side of his face, about on the level of an ill-considered prison tattoo. Our first hint of what’s happened is a classic old-fashioned reaction shot of Mana looking away in disgust when his bandages are removed. If you recall from “Loving the Alien”, the Morthren are obsessive about physical perfection, so of course Kemo is issued his pink slip and asked to kindly report for immediate execution. I want to stop a moment and consider that it’s a little weird that the Morthren were able to massively reconfigure their physical appearance, and we know they can xerox a human body while removing any scars or disfigurements, but they can’t fix Kemo’s burns.
They’re sort of cutely ginger with him about it. Kemo walks in on Malzor and Mana while she’s trying to fix his engram, and explains that the problem is with the feedback. Malzor politely takes him aside, and explains to him like he’s a senile grandpa that, look, they’re all super proud of him and everything, but what with his very mild disfigurement, they really have to have him put down. Kemo understands this, and even accepts it, but he’s been working real hard on this engram and reckons he ought to finish it before having himself offed. Mana gets catty at this point and insists that she’ll finish it herself. Malzor is more diplomatic, suggesting that he, “Let the knowledge that you have been of great value be your comfort.” But Kemo makes a big stink of it and demands to be allowed to talk to the Eternal. Once he’s out of earshot, Malzor notes that Kemo’s behavior indicates serious psychological damage in addition to his physical injury, but Mana’s already ruminating on Kemo’s comments about feedback, so clearly she’s willing to take advantage of his expertise even while calling for his death.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the Morthren god. I’m pretty sure this is the only time someone other than Malzor addresses the Eternal directly. I’d love for it to turn out that the Eternal doesn’t really exist, that it’s some kind of group hallucination by the Morthren collective or something. We never see the Eternal actually do anything, there’s never any change in the tone of its whalesong, or any particular expression in its eye, so it would be interesting to imagine that whatever the reality of the Eternal is, the way the Morthren react to it is based purely on them projecting their own goals and desires onto it. That would add a neat angle to this one, since when Kemo begs for absolution, I guess the Eternal turns him down, because he ends up crying and is escorted away for execution. Mana and Malzor are troubled by the way he, “Showed fear before the Eternal,” and ominously foreshadow that he acted, “Almost like a human.”
Just as Kemo’s about to be tossed into the Morthren trash compactor, he suddenly realizes that he’d really rather not, yoinks the weapon off of one of his escorts (Which I guess clarifies one point of vagueness I’ve had all season: the weapons are discrete devices they hide up their sleeves, not, as it sometimes looks, a thing they grow out of their bodies on demand), shoves him into the execution machine, and shoots the other one. After a confused shout of, “What have I done?”, he escapes with absolutely no fuss despite the alarm having gone off, because the Morthren are shit at keeping people from escaping their secret base.
While this has been going on, Kincaid’s been getting increasingly desperate to find out what happened to Ace. He’s touched base with the other Grapevine users, Lonelyheart, Roller, and Scoggs. None of them have heard from Ace, of course, and none of them know where he lives, or even what he looks like: no one’s met him face-to-face. At least Blackwood acknowledges that this is kind of weird, given that no one seems to know how it is they hooked up with him, but he’s their main supplier for a bunch of stuff. Kincaid meets with Scoggs in person at the strip club, at which point Dylan came home from school and plopped himself down on the couch with me, making me 2 for 2 in “Episodes of War of the Worlds featuring scenes set in strip clubs which my four-year-old has watched with me.” My own parents, of course, would not let me watch Prime Time US Broadcast TV filth like this until I was ten. I turn the show off until he’s gone to bed.
via TPM Livewire:
“We are at a cultural crossroads in our country, and if we can be in this race to show this country the face of the God that we serve—this Christian God that we serve is the foundation of our country,” she said. “Our country was built on Judeo-Christian values. We are a nation of freedom of religion, but the God of Christianity is the God of freedom, of individual liberty, of choice and of consequence.”
(If you have the chance, check out my essay on They Live)
Yeah. this was going to be a lot cleverer when it was the first one I had planned. And then all sorts of everyone had to go and die. Stupid mortality.
Or maybe not, I guess, if it’s too painful a subject. You can defend it not coming up pretty easily, I think. Besides, no one works out the role the music is playing until the climax, and we don’t have any scenes afterward where Blackwood would have a chance to reflect on how they’d tried this before. It’s easy enough to imagine that while Kincaid’s off with Rose and Larry at the end, Blackwood’s gone back to the shelter and is telling Suzanne all about how similar this is to what happened with von Deer and how proud he is of himself for not giving in to his addiction.
For that matter, the critical scene in “Terminal Rock” is that Blackwood suddenly notices that something’s affecting his behavior, looks around, and seems to just intuit that it’s the fault of the music. How does he come to that conclusion? Well, maybe it does indeed make sense that, as someone who’s been through it before, he’s more conscious of what it feels like when an alien audio embed is manipulating his behavior.
I like subliminal audio embeds as a sci-fi plot device, in case you haven’t worked it out. Probably just one of those nexus things where that episode of Probe and that episode of Max Headroom and these two episodes of War of the Worlds hit when my brain was in the right place for it to make a lasting impression. Looking back over my notes from the past twenty-five years, I see that I wrote similar plots into an X-Files fanfic I wrote when I was twelve and a Knight Rider fanfic I wrote when I was sixteen and a Kids Incorporated fanfic I wrote when I was eleven and that novel I completely failed to finish when I was twenty-seven. In my youth especially, before I took a psychology class and a phenomenology class, I was attracted to the idea that the human brain could be treated like a computer and be “reprogrammed” by surreptitiously poking zeroes and ones into it (This may also hearken back to the short story “Von Goom’s Gambit”, which I mentioned tangentially back in my essay on They Live).
The most obvious point of contrast is probably that, while “Choirs of Angels” has the aliens use subliminal embeds for a targeted campaign against one person to manipulate them into solving their medical issue, while in “Terminal Rock”, they’re targeting a group of people, which, as I said last time, is far and away the more common plot. Come to think of it, there’s a very straightforward comparison between “Choirs of Angels” and “Breeding Ground”. Both feature an old colleague of one of the heroes. In both cases, the aliens can’t just clone/possess him outright due to his poor health. In both cases, the patsy is convinced that the aliens have something to offer that will benefit humanity.
Watching “Choirs of Angels” right after “Synthetic Love” has me thinking of another thing too, because there’s a very ugly trend that emerges when I look at “Terminal Rock” and “Synthetic Love” in close proximity. Because when “Choirs of Angels” has the aliens embed their message in the prog rock of Billy Carlos, they might be poking fun at record label execs, but there’s really no judgment passed on the musical style itself. Its aficionados, Harrison and von Deer, might be a little peculiar, but they’re respectable, laudable characters.
I don’t know about you, but I thought the most impressive moment of Saturday’s debate was when the republican presidential candidates all agreed to remove their human masks and reveal their true faces underneath.
It all started when Marco Rubio suffered from a system glitch that caused him to just repeat the same sentence over and over. By way of explanation, he unexpectedly peeled off his skin to reveal himself as a robot, to the surprise of absolutely no one.
Not to be outdone, Ted Cruz immediately removed his own face, showing the audience that he was, in fact, a lizard person. Experts believe this bold move may help him in the New Hampshire primary, as the revelation was met with optimism from the crowd. Said one audience member, “He always seemed like such an asshole when I thought he was human. But as lizards go, he’s actually kind of warm and personable, relatively speaking.”
Less-well received was Governor Jeb Bush’s desperate attempt to claim some of the spotlight by shedding his skin. The move backfired when the audience discovered Bush to be literally empty inside, his thin, pinkish outer layer concealing only a void. Dr. Ben Carson was the next to doff his human disguise, shocking the audience, who had not anticipated that he would turn out to be a tall stack of cats wearing a suit. After the debate, a Carson campaign staffer commented, “We’re as surprised as everyone. I think we’d all assumed that Dr. Carson’s true form would be a man-shaped Jello mold. But it kinda makes sense when you really think about it.”
It had been widely speculated before the debate that should Donald Trump ever remove his human facade, he would be revealed as an eldritch horror, more hair than man, and that the very sight of his true form would drive all who gazed upon it irretrievably mad. His comments in the debate advocating torture did little to quiet these suspicions. Everyone was greatly relieved, therefore, when he removed his own face, revealing only another, slightly smaller Donald Trump underneath.
The most surprising move of the evening, however, came from Governor Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor removed his mask and fat-suit, showing his true form to be Old Man Withers, owner of the haunted Atlantic City amusement park, who had engineered the entire presidential campaign as a distraction to a complicated insurance scam in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The Christie campaign released a statement post-debate explaining that Governor Christie, “Would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those snooping kids.”
Governor John Kasich of Ohio was reportedly “disappointed” that no one noticed his own revelation. Cameras did not catch Kasich’s unmasking, on account of none of them were pointed at him.
Political commentators are eagerly awaiting this Thursday’s Democratic debate, to see if the candidates will attempt to match their GOP rivals. There is widespread speculation that Hillary Clinton will reveal herself to be some sort of amorphous darkness. Experts are divided over whether Senator Sanders will turn out to be the anthropomorphic embodiment of the denied and deferred hopes and dreams of the younger generation, or just Justin Bieber in old-age makeup, shamelessly trying to illegally seize the presidency for Canada.