july, 15, 2003 archives

alternate history, libertarian-style

the probability broach and the american zone are a pair of libertarian science fiction books by l. neil smith. the first was released in 1980, the more recent (a sequel to the first) in 2001.

the central conceit in both books is that a device has been invented that allows movement between parallel universes whose history has diverged since the american revolution. (in the first book, it is between a more authoritarian version of the united states and a libertarian version of the same, with most of the action set in the libertarian version. in the latter, all of the action is in the libertarian version, but with more alternate worlds considered.)

the probability broach is much better than the american zone. neither book is bad, but neither book is all that great. as you might expect, the political posturing of both books is pretty ham-handed.

as science fiction with a futuristic bent (neither book is set in the far-future, but of course the libertarian version of the united states is further advanced than any of the alternatives), the book falls pretty flat. there are some clever ideas (monkeys and porpoises as characters and full citizens, a historic site layered in a plastic coating to preserve it, and the use of dirigibles for transport), but the realization of the world just feels like it has more gaps than that of something like down and out in the magic kingdom.

there are some aspects to the books that are just unforgiveably atrocious:

but i guess you'd be gratified to know that it fits the same vaguely, if not overtly, misogynistic bill as most science fiction.

summer television

i've been enjoying keen eddie on fox this summer. it's a fish-out-of-water tale of a new york detective in london, and the show owes a lot of its style to guy ritchie's films. if fox is smart, they'll pick up a second season of the show to use as a midseason replacement for when their fall shows undoubtedly stink up the joint.

another new show is mtv's spider-man, which derives a lot of its characterization from the recent and upcoming movies. the animation is at turns quite good and quite not-good, but overall the show holds together and is fun. i went in knowing that neil patrick “doogie” harris was voicing peter parker, but ian ziering as harry osborn snuck up on me. the theme song was produced by john digweed and nick muir, which reminded me that i never followed through on picking up any of digweed's albums after watching groove those many months ago. i'll have to rectify that.

and in another television-related note, this is the “summer of people i know being on game/reality shows”. the score so far: one person i went to college with as a contestant on jeopardy, one of the organizers of the user group i spoke at this past week was the rabbi on the premiere episode of fox's banzai, and someone i used to work with is one of the temptresses on the upcoming temptation island 3.

(banzai is a pretty goofy show. it is basically a take-off of wacky japanese game shows.)

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