S.H.I.E.L.D. lacks luster

The premier episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. lacks luster despite direction by Joss Whedon. With Whedon at the helm you’d expect crisp, funny dialogue and engaging characters, and S.H.I.E.L.D. just has none of this, at least in the first episode.

Set in post-Avengers battle of New York, the show features agent Phil Coulson  (Clark Gregg) assembling a team of agents to investigate Rising Tide, whose worst threat seems to be exposing The Avengers or least The Hulk—the superhero team doesn’t appear in the show, except in brief references. In the meantime the team also encounters Mike Peterson (J. August Richards), an ordinary factory worker down on his luck who happens to have acquired superpowers through some dealings with an apparent nefarious group of scientists.

In the climatic scene of the first episode Coulson confronts Peterson in order to recruit him after Peterson rampages through a building. Peterson bloviates about the Man keeping him down and then one of the agents snipes him, knocks him out, and he is, thus, recruited into the super-secret organization that floats about in a giant helicarrier that no one seems to see.

So far, the show is working on comic-book narrative logic, and I wonder if that is enough, even with Whedon’s help to make it, especially when S.H.I.E.L.D lacks its master Nick Fury. Maybe future episodes will develop the narrative stronger. Or maybe it will get yanked like Firefly before it gets a chance to take off.

The show airs Tuesdays at 7 p.m. (CDT) on ABC.

—Todd

Fonts, Page Design and Publishing

I was just reading Rudy Rucker’s blog post today about his efforts to find the right font for his forthcoming self-published novel The Big Aha, and was Free Fontsstirred by this paragraph about fonts,  page design and reading:

Getting back to my rant about font design—one bad thing that that can happen is, I think, that a book or (more often) a web page might be designed by someone who doesn’t actually read.. They want to be different and cool and hardcore and they don’t actually like text. So—they go with 9 point Arial beige type on a brown background.

I wonder if this is true about web designers or other non-text-oriented types. Many of the commercial clients I write for aren’t text- or design-oriented, until I try to diverge from their preferred Calibri text, and write a document that fits with the product being sold. I’ve had email flame wars with my clients over fonts; I actually like bolder serif fonts for the main body of the text, but sans serif fonts seem preferred for online reading, and my clients presume the final documents will be read online and not printed out.

Are, generally speaking, most people reading business documents, or for that matter other online content, not readers? Does font matter to you? Do you consider the nature of readability over legibility? What do you prefer, serif or sans-serif fonts?

Is the sans-serif font of this page readable?

—Todd

 

Review of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World

The Drowned WorldThe Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is our future, or how our future was imagined by J.G. Ballard in 1962, about two decades before scientists generally began to notice and grow concerned about a significant spike in the Earth’s atmospheric temperature. The Drowned World, though, is not truly a novel about global warming–rising temps and melting icecaps result primarily from solar storms, an event humans can’t curb.

This drowned world is much like Earth’s Triassic period with humans thrown in the mix and struggling to resettle amid hungry iguanas and alligators. (For a perhaps more realistic SF novel of global warming as we now understand it, I recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain.) Ballard’s drowned world pits scientists like Dr. Robert Kerans and rogues like the bizarre and Kurtz-like Mr. Strangman against an environment that is physically and psychologically hostile toward humanity.

It’s good mix of 1970’s lost world movies like The Land Time Forgot and Heart of Darkness. The hallucinatory psychological adjustments humans have to make to this new environment are as intriguing as the drowned world itself.

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All Stories End: Links to an Obit and Narrative in Video Games

Both of these links are articles from Tor.com about endings, one an obit of writer A.C. Crispin, who died today, and the other about the ending of a video game that wonders about how video games are changing narratives. Do gamers want endings?

The first bit I posted earlier on Facebook, but thought I share it here as well:

I read this obit out of curiosity because I had seen her fans and colleagues share her post about her illness three days ago. I admit I haven’t read her fiction, but the obit writer’s second graf is as powerful of a tribute to the power and wonder of reading as any I’ve read in a while. Such a fine tribute. What a much better world it would be if more of us were stirred by the wonder and insight a storyteller can bring to us, rather than getting bent out of shape over a petulant twenty-somethings’ bare butt cheeks.

The article:

A.C. Crispin, 1950-2013

The other article Does the End of Red Redemption Underscore How Fractured Game Narratives Are? posits this question:

To see others protesting this ending left me wondering—very much in a thinking-out-loud way—if the very concept of narrative, or cause and effect, is simply broken in maturing gamers who have spent their lives absorbing narrative as it is constructed through games. Stories are typically elusive in video games, and even games that attempt it (like RPGs or similar adventure stories) usually have to ignore their own world and their own rules from time to time just so the characters live to see the next scene. If you grow up with that and only that, does this kind of jagged, cheat-able style of narrative become your baseline for how you judge all stories? John Marston’s death violates a core expectation of video game narratives; that there’s always a way to win.

 

One-sentence Review: Thomas Harlan’s Wasteland of Flint

Wasteland of FlintWasteland of Flint by Thomas Harlan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is fun read—a combination of a Traveller RPG adventure, Aliens, Prometheus, Lara Croft and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris with some Carlos Castaneda thrown in.

“In some far distant future year, the human race has spread out among the stars, encountering other species and an Empire that spans at least this corner of the galaxy. The Empire is ruled from the Imperial City of Tenochtitlan (which he know as Mexico City), the capital of the planet Anahuac. But the advance of Imperial Mexica has revealed that there were earlier powerful interstellar empires, which are long gone now, leaving behind their mysterious artifacts.

When a survey team goes missing, it’s up to Dr. Gretchen Anderssen to unravel the mystery, a mystery centered on these ancient artifacts, one that could shake the very foundations of the Empire.”—From the Goodreads description

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