Saturday, December 4, 2021

New and Noteworthy (Collected)

Back in the '00s, with social media rather less developed and utilized, it was not uncommon for bloggers to post little announcements or referrals to other material such as we would now convey to the world through a service like Twitter instead. I certainly did this with various items that caught my eye under such headings as "New and Noteworthy," "Links Round-Up" and "Items of Interest" (up until 2013, by which point the practice made less sense).

Many of these items have since lost their interest simply because they became dated, while in cases th items in question have disappeared altogether, such that it makes little sense to keep them here. Still, it seemed to me that a few were worth preserving and this post fulfills that purpose, providing a round-up of the lot in one place for anyone who might be interested in them, organized by date.

May 10, 2009
* As usual, io9's providing a lot of interesting items, with two of the more noteworthy its list of "Dumbest Space Operas of All Time!" and a "rant" asking the question "Have War Movies Become Superhero Flicks?" (My answer to that question is absolutely yes-and as it happens, I actually discussed some of the reasons for that in a January article in the Internet Review of Science Fiction, "Science Fiction and the Post-Cold War.")

* Also worth a look is Ken MacLeod's recent posting on the handling of the theme of the "surveillance society" in science fiction, and Geoff Ryman's thoughts on the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica.

As you might guess, Ryman is no exception to the disappointment felt by so many other viewers, feeling himself to have been proved right in a dismaying way.

I was left feeling proved right in a dismaying way myself, though the things that really bugged me weren't the same ones. In my May 2008 IROSF article, "The Golden Age of Science Fiction Television" I referred to the writing on the show as often being
silly, sensationalist, muddled and inconsistent (especially in its running post-Nine-Eleven commentary), its gimmicks more derivative than casual viewers of science fiction generally appreciated, and the theory of "naturalistic" science fiction touted by the writers really much ado about nothing.
In that regard the finale lived down to my lowest expectations, reminding me what utterly mediocre SF the show was, espousing an astonishing number of terrible genre cliches at its core, not the least of them a lame pseudo-religiosity (all the things that didn't make sense before still didn't make sense, thereby proving it was all God's plan!) and a "Frankenstein complex" Luddism that was already tired when Isaac Asimov coined that term seventy years or so ago.

So why was there all that hype about what a great, ground-breaking show BSG was? My guess is that the response was due to its catering to the skewed standards of TV critics, who overvalue pointless head games, "crisp" filler dialogue, unlikable characters (provided, of course, that they're unlikable in the "right" ways), homage to the political pieties of the moment, and the tendency to take oneself far, far too seriously, something this show always did.

August 27, 2009
* Charles Stross offers an impassioned and incisive analysis of the dark side of mainstream American political culture (more deeply frightening and disturbing than any of his Lovecraft homages) at his always worthwhile blog, Charlie's Diary.

* io9 recently published an interview with Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden which promises to be on the future of science fiction books (focusing mainly on the impact of e-books and the Internet, rather than on the content itself).

* Strange Horizons recently made the news-the regular news read by people who don't follow the genre (in this case, the Los Angeles Times)-after Hugo-winner John Scalzi offered to match up to $500 in donations for the non-profit magazine.

* Jonathan McCalmont, over at his Ruthless Culture blog, offers a compelling commentary on the whole issue of public support of the arts, which devotes some attention to the case of Strange Horizons specifically-and the ultimately structural nature of the problem of the respective places of amateur and pro.

September 21, 2009
* Plenty from the always worthwhile Charlie's Diary, including Stross and his readers' tracking of the saga of the Arctic Sea (the last entry on which was "More News From the Tom Clancy Dimension"); his thoughts on the joys of customer service call centers in the New Economy (said disregard for service I chalk up to the combination of "short-termism"-now an accepted term, appearing routinely in academic papers on economics and business-and the view that cutting wage expenditures is the way to business success); and an extended discourse on the "political threats of the 21st century" with an eye to the totalitarian potential latent within transhumanism and extropianism, and the prospect of Singularitarians in "chrome-plated jackboots."

* The return of the English-language edition of the Polish steampunk-themed compendium Steampunkopedia (as Steampunkopedia2) on September 3.

October 8, 2009
* A fairly lively discussion over at Lou Anders's Bowing to the Future about the old issue of the mainstream's literary elite's attitude toward speculative fiction (one which recaps recent high points in the debate-not least, the comments from Kim Stanley Robinson and recent genre coverage in The Guardian-and also includes participants unafraid of raising issues of cold hard cash, and possible hypocrisy).

* From io9's Lauren Davis, a graph offering a comprehensive track of the popularity of genre themes over time, one which suggests some interesting conclusions. Interestingly Davis notes that
the graph's most striking feature is the boom all the themes apparently experienced in the 1990s . . . [which] now seems to be on the decline . . . suggest[ing] a huge investment in genre television shows (and perhaps in television in general) that we simply aren't seeing any more . . . Interestingly, space travel shows were the first to go as circumstances changed, and although shows about managed to hang on longer, they, too are on their way out. Does this indicate that science fiction and fantasy shows are on the decline? Or does it represent a shift to less expensive, near-future science fiction with different speculative priorities, shows like Dollhouse, Chuck, and Fringe?
My methodology in setting forth my assessment of the situation in the June 2008 and June 2009 editions of the Internet Review of Science Fiction was less scientific, but similar in some of its conclusions (particularly about the shift in tropes, away from space, toward the close-at-hand, the subtly different, and the low budget). Chuck, of course, is all but finished, Dollhouse hung on by the skin of its teeth, and Fringe could be in trouble, so it may well be that the turn to "less expensive, near-future science fiction with different speculative priorities" may be a transition to even bleaker times ahead for the genre.

October 16, 2009
* Jonathan McCalmont's latest "Blasphemous Geometries" column over at Futurismic, in which he discusses the value system embedded in many of the best-known games in the first-person shooter, an additional comment about which he has posted on his personal blog, Ruthless Culture.

The heart of his argument is that in video games (as other observers, including Thomas Frank-who is cited in the piece-have pointed out about a great deal of other contemporary culture), we get an outrageous, even rebellious-seeming surface, underlain by the acceptance or even promotion of conservative or conformist values (from consumerism-as-the-essence-of-individualism to a Hobbesian world-view). As McCalmont rather elegantly puts it, these games present
man as little more than a beast: a blend of Hobbesian savage and PCP-fuelled homo economicus who can unleash unspeakable and unrepentant violence in service of his own desires, but who would never seek to question either the system he is a part of or his ultimate involvement in it.
* Over at (for which October 2009 is steampunk month), Vernian Process founder and Gilded Age Records cofounder Joshua Pfeiffer discusses differing treatments of the sociopolitical side of steampunk (which I think deserves as much attention as the sociopolitical side, and have devoted some time to myself).

* By way of M.C. de marco, Paul Graham's essay on "Post-Medium Publishing," which wrestles with a problem raised by, among others, Cory Doctorow-namely that (as he put it in "Happy Meal Toys Versus Copyright," downloadable as part of the Content collection available on his web site) an
"information economy" can't be based on selling information. Information technology makes copying information easier and easier. The more IT you have, the less control you have over the bits you send out into the world. It will never, ever, EVER get any harder to copy information from here on in. The information economy is about selling everything except information.
Which of course leaves us wondering-where do we go from here? As you might expect, Graham doesn't have any answers, but he does have some ideas about what an answer might look like.

January 7, 2010
* CNN's list of the "nine worst tech movies of all time." There's a bit of hyperbole in the title, of course, but there are plenty of "bad" movies here all right, and certainly bad in the ludicrousness of their depictions of the technologies concerned. (Incidentally, it's no surprise to me that most of the films are from the '90s, with the most recent given as coming from 2002-for reasons I discussed at length in my February 2009 article for the Internet Review of Science Fiction, "Racing Down the Information Superhighway: Computers in 1990s Film," in which I not only discussed the subject, but critiqued many of the same movies.)

* By way of the prolific video game blog Kotaku, one Karachi resident's observation that the street signs in Modern Warfare 2's recreation of the city are written in the wrong language-Arabic, instead of Urdu (Pakistan not being an Arabic-speaking country).

Naturally, this started a debate regarding the broader unrealism of the game (which is, of course, considerable at every point, even by techno-thriller standards), and even the real-life political situation it draws on for its inspiration.

My take on this particular error: a sad reminder of our collective geographic illiteracy (did no one at the company realize this very basic point?), and the tendency to simplistically view whole parts of the world as monolithic blocks-as when someone refers to "Africa," "Asia" or "Latin America" as though any one of these were all one thing. (In spite of U.S. foreign policy's preoccupation with the Middle East since the '70s, which went into overdrive in the last decade, the North Africa/Southwest Asia/South Asia/Central Asia region seems especially susceptible to such misconceptions, with especially unfortunate consequences, because of the political charge involved.)

* For those who haven't seen it before, Mark Rosenfelder's humorous piece "If all stories were written like science fiction stories," in which a perfectly ordinary trip to San Fransisco is given the genre treatment. (Of course, this particular prose style has long since ceased to be fashionable, with "lived-in" futures in which the characters take all the trappings in stride as part of daily life enjoying more favor, but the point is valid all the same.)

March 26, 2010
* Charles Stross on Blindsight author Peter Watts's conviction-with a focus on what this whole situation tells us about the directions in which both civil liberties and globalized capitalism are moving. (As usual when an issue like this comes up, there's plenty of interest in the comments thread as well.)

September 7, 2010
* By way of io9, Connal at A Dangerous Business on his visit to the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games. (Yes, they had video games there too.)

* Also from io9: this list of science fiction films Hollywood is currently remaking (twenty-one of them!), accompanied by alternative suggestions of successful but as-yet unfilmed science fiction works.

I don't know all of the alternatives they mention, and I'm not sure that all the ones I do know really would be worth filming, even when I happen to like the source material. (I don't think there's a two hour movie in John Kessel's "Pride and Prometheus," for instance. And while there's no arguing the place of E.E. Smith's Lensman in the history of space opera, it may be too sprawling and too old-fashioned to be viable as a Hollywood movie.)

All the same, I'm sympathetic to the idea behind the post. An unwillingness to let go of (or let rest) a salable brand name or profitable intellectual property--an obsession with the sequel, the series, the remake--has always been part of Hollywood's way of doing things, and if it seems more pronounced now, it is worth remembering that this is also a response to the ever-bigger gamble involved in gigantic and still-growing budgets, shortening theatrical runs, ever-more fickle attendance at theaters, and the ever-louder pop cultural cacophony which a project needs to get above to be seen or heard, something easier to do with an already-established IP.

But all that's really no excuse. The budgets are as big as they are because the studios are so preposterously wasteful, the audiences fickle in large part because so much of the product is so bad and the ticket (and concession) prices so high, while the larger cacophony of pop culture is a reflection of their own hype-creating machines. And it's well worth remembering that much of the mess is due to the contempt of Big Media for the new and the creative that has made reality television (ugh!) what it is today, another, crucial reason for this desperate clinging to the same old IPs.

Ultimately, the biggest threat of all to their profit margins is their small-minded insistence on trying to hold back change rather than adapt to it.

And so here we have the studios determined to produce mega-budget movies no one ever asked for while ignoring vast, fertile fields of possibility. Going down the list, it seems to me that not one of the listed remakes is a genuinely exciting prospect, with some of these movies redoing what hadn't even been worth doing the first time around, and others bound to be inferior to what was accomplished with their concepts on the first go.

* SfSignal's recent "MindMeld" on "the next big thing" in science fiction and fantasy literature. Predictably, none of the authors interviewed had a particularly good answer--at least, not as straight answers go. None of them convincingly points to a new scientific development or area of technology opening up explored new territory, to an orthodoxy that will be challenged, or a vein of untapped potential that can be mined, or a new work or talent changing the game. If anything, they put me in mind of the argument I've made time and again that nothing to compare with, for instance, the splash cyberpunk made in the '80s, seems to be on the horizon.

Still, Jeff Vandermeer in particular has fun brushing off the question with facetious answers.

* Jonathan McCalmont's review of Adam Roberts' New Model Army for The Zone. You may remember I reviewed the same book for Strange Horizons back in June, but his take is quite different, McCalmont declaring it "one of those rare works that seems to provide a cultural blueprint for the entire genre," and indeed, inviting comparison with the birth of the novel. (I think that's a bit much, but as might be expected from McCalmont, the case is certainly an interesting one.)

* Victoria Strauss dissects the implications of statistics on self-published books recently published by Publisher's Weekly at the blog of the Science Fiction Writers of America. That there are more books appearing through this avenue doesn't mean more people are actually buying them, a reminder that, as Andrew Orlowski put it, the hope that "things would get fairer on the Interwebs" for those whose path to authorship has been blocked by Big Media has not been realized, and perhaps will not be.

* Last but not least, the winners of this year's Hugo Awards have just been announced. China Mieville's The City & The City and Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl tied for best novel. Best novella went to Charles Stross's "Palimpsest" (first published in the collection Wireless, which I reviewed for Strange Horizons last year). Best novelette went to Peter Watts for his highly praised "The Island" (which appeared in the New Space Opera 2 anthology). You can click on the link to read the full list.

September 19, 2010
* Charles Stross, drawing on Alvin and Heidi Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock, recently looked back at the place of religious tolerance inside a world that is looking worrisomely authoritarian; and offered his thoughts on authorial fact-checking of minor details, with Carrie Vaughn's Discord's Apple held up as an object lesson.

* Airlock Alpha's Michael Hinman on HBO's recent loss of subscribers, itself part of the unprecedented, broader slippage of cable, this year seeing a drop in paying customers for the very first time. This has often been taken as a reflection of the broader economic crunch, but some also wonder if cable isn't suffering from competition with Netflix and the Internet.

There's surprisingly little comment so far, though, about how cable has tried to cope with that competition. Far from trying to fight by offering a better product or better prices as market enthusiasts would have us believe is the response to such a situation, the industry has dedicated itself to simply making it as difficult as possible for consumers to get the Internet on their TV screens, while offering less product and higher prices--yanking channels out of their analog line-ups without cutting their rates, but clearly pushing them to pick up more expensive digital packages (with John Luciew earlier this year offering an interesting take on one particularly affected group, those who rely on TV to help get them through their exercise routine).

I leave you to draw the obvious conclusions about this situation.

* Publetariat: People Who Publish, "an online community and news hub built specifically for indie authors and small, independent imprints." There is a fair amount of standard how-to stuff here, admittedly, but there is also quite a bit of news and commentary about the business itself, oriented to this marginal but heavily populated side of the publishing business (mentioned here in my blog post of the 7th this month).

November 29, 2010
• Ken MacLeod's posting on his blog of his 2006 speech on science fiction as "the first human literature," an analysis well worth the read.

• Michael Hinman of Airlock Alpha offers an incisive analysis of the "boneheaded scheduling moves" that have characterized the Syfy Channel's line-ups in recent years, with the demise of Caprica offered as an object lesson for the mismanagement of heavily serialized shows. He also offers a plausible alternative model, though my guess is that Syfy (which now airs some form of reality TV every weeknight, including Smackdown in the Friday night slot) has already written off science fiction-just as science fiction fans should be writing the channel off.

• Spy novelist Jeremy Duns' interview of J.P. Trevor on his blog, The Debrief. Trevor is an artist and production designer best known for cinematic special effects work on Star Wars and the Tim Burton Batman, but he is also the son of novelist Adam Hall, the author of the "Quiller" spy series. The Quiller novels have been translated to the big screen in a 1966 movie and the small one by the BBC in a 1975 series, and in the past decade MGM bought up the film rights in order to take another crack at the series-which has yet to materialize-and it is on this that the interview focuses.

November 30, 2010
* Airlock Alpha's Dennis Rayburn, revisiting the question of reboots, remakes and re-everything else, asks "Is Hollywood Creatively Bankrupt?"

This seems like a rhetorical question, of course. After all, can anyone but a Beverly Hills Babbitt possibly say "No" to that with a straight face? However, it's not just that I'm sympathetic to the sentiment that led me to note it here; Rayburn does show how it fits in with the industry's broader situation.

All the same, I think he's overoptimistic about the reality "craze" fading away. It's already gone strong for a decade now, with no sign of letting up, and the creative bankruptcy of which he's spoken, and the attractions of reality TV for media executives, especially those trapped between the shrinking resources of beleaguered networks, and the smaller ones of the network's cable subsidiaries (low production costs, non-unionized writers, none of that messy "creative process" Suits can't stand) make it exceptionally resistant to a backlash from an audience that frankly isn't discerning enough to teach Hollywood a lesson by refusing to have anything to do with the format.

* An abbreviated version of the roundtable discussion about the history of pulp science fiction magazines between Robert Silverberg, Richard A. Lupoff and Frank M. Robinson, up at the Locus web site. (Those intrigued by the subject may also want to check out this 2006 article by Brian Curtis for Slate Magazine regarding pulp fiction generally, across genre boundaries-and in knowing that since its redesign in October, Tangent Online has devoted a section to those same pulps, as well as one to classic science fiction in all formats.)

* Charles Stross on the possibility that a virus is responsible for the obesity epidemic, as well as the tiresome tendency to view physical illness as a matter of moral failure rather than biological disease. (Also of interest on Charlie's Diary: his commentary on the recent announcement of Prince William's marriage, which those similarly inclined may find a welcome respite from the tedious, fawning hoopla surrounding the event.)

December 7, 2011
* A trio of recent pieces from Jonathan McCalmont's Ruthless Culture on our "culture of passive-aggressive friendliness," Occupy Wall Street, and personal ambition (or to be precise, the lack of it).

* An amusing bit from Cracked about "8 Scenes That Prove Hollywood Doesn't Get Technology." (Five of the eight are actually from crime dramas on CBS – with NCIS accounting for two all by itself, the original and New York spin-offs of CSI for another two, and NUMB3RS rounding out the group. However, the 1995 film Hackers, well-known for its unique attempt to convey the experience of computer hacking on the big screen, also appears here.)

February 25, 2012
* Cory Doctorow on "The Coming War on General-Purpose Computing" and a response from Joe Brockmeier – agreeing about the import of the "copyright war," but raising some other, perhaps even trickier issues. Of related interest: Joe Karaganis on public opinion and heavy-handed online piracy crackdowns.

* Two recent pieces by Jonathan McCalmont, the first on Tim Maughan's indie short fiction collection Paintwork, which includes an interesting overview of the cyberpunk genre since the 1980s; and the second on the formulaic nature of American independent cinema. (Incidentally, McCalmont's discussion focuses on films of the 2000s like About Schmidt, Sideways and Young Adult, more than the angsty slackers, frustrated Hollywood-creative types and quirky lowlifes I personally associate the category with, but nonetheless does a good job describing a substantial amount of the recent territory.)

* At Strange Horizons: Susan Marie Groppi on her departure from the fiction department; reviews of two particularly intriguing books – Adam Roberts' new novel By Light Alone (the clever central gimmick in which is genetic engineering which endows human hair with photosynthetic properties, with huge consequences) and Ernest Cline's Ready Player One (which combines a bleak post-greenhouse future with the '80s geek nostalgia hinted at in the title); and Genevieve Valentine take on the new film version of John le CarrĂ©'s classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as science fiction.

September 5, 2012
* At Forbes, a lengthy article by David Vinjamuri on indie publishing. It seems to me especially notable for its critical take on the contempt to which these authors have been subjected by bestselling authors who came up the traditional way, like Sue Grafton (who has been especially nasty), and Vinjamuri's thoughts on the economics of book pricing.

* From io9, "Ten Rules of Blockbuster Movies that Hollywood Forgot." Given that the number of blockbusters made is so small, and reliant on such a small, closely connected club of people for their creation (the handful of producers, directors, stars and executives capable of getting them green-lit, and their advisers), it seems astonishing that the product does not reflect a more robust institutional memory in these respects - but as the article makes quite clear, this has often been absent.

November 19, 2012
* Charles Stross presents his predictions about the year 2512, which, again, are a far cry from what his more extravagant fiction would lead one to expect (with rather less in the way of transhumanism and outer space adventures, and rather more in the way of climate change's consequences).

* Ken MacLeod's essay "The Soul of Man After Socialism," in which he argues that socialism, or something like it, will be more rather than less necessary in a transhuman future, on the grounds that nothing has quite matched the socialist project's assertion of a common humanity - a position which will be all the more challenged by technological change. As MacLeod notes in his mention of the essay on his blog, he touched on these ideas earlier in a September post, "Mapping the Posthuman," which also provides some useful context.

January 24, 2013
* Ian Sales on taking Amazon's bestseller lists as a guide to larger trends in book publishing.

February 26, 2013
* Tom Shone of the Guardians' film blog on the end of what he called the "Oscar film," described here as "mid-range, mid-budget humanitarian epics like Dances With Wolves, Gandhi and Driving Missy Daisy, about the moral efficacy of the individual – one person making a difference, in costume" - and of course, how that led to Argo (a controversial win in quite a few quarters) beating Lincoln.

* David Walsh with quite another perspective on how the ceremony played out. As one might expect given his particularly pointed criticism of some of the year's nominees (like Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty, but also Argo), he criticizes the product on the grounds of politics as well as art, which he sees as broadly representative of problematic tendencies within the film industry, like the superficiality of its "liberalism" (limited to culture and lifestyle, while thoroughly conservative in its attitudes toward economics and international politics), and its refusal to "mention . . . a single problem of contemporary life" ("one had the distinct sense that some powerful anti-reality filtration system was at work in the hall"), with the implications of Michelle Obama's presenting the Best Picture award, and Syriana producer and star George Clooney's being among the recipients, naturally remarked upon.

March 18, 2013
* Kent Anderson on the cheapening of the word "innovation." That the post is itself a comment on an earlier post by Scott Berkun from more than five years ago only highlights how thoroughly this term has been abused by a certain kind of technology and business-hyping nit-wit, ruining it for everyone else, so that we are all far, far, far past the point at which we should, if not totally cease and desist using the term, at least use it only very, very carefully.

We can think of it this way: if you're saying it, you probably aren't doing it.

* on the prospect of a rise in the cost of video games with the next generation of consoles (Playstation 4, XBox 720 and the rest) now on the horizon.

I should say, though, that the $70 video game does not seem all that new to me. I remember such retail prices for 8-bit games way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Admittedly, such prices were a rarity, but given the inflation we have since then, which has almost halved the purchasing power of a dollar ($1 today is like 53 cents in 1989, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), a $70 game today is about equal to $37 then, a bit below what was average at the time - which suggests a slight drop in prices.

How many things can one say that about? Certainly not food. Or energy. Or education. Or health care. Or any of the other things that really do put pressure on people's budgets. And in contrast with all these other areas, it does seem pretty clearly the case that gamers are getting more product for their money.

* Charles Stross, considering the possible implications of a British exit from the EU (which he thinks will not be pretty for the British economy).

May 2, 2013
* John Winters on being a (self-described) self-publishing failure, a much needed corrective to the kinds of success stories our rags-to-riches-quick-fantasy-obsessed culture trumpets.

* By way of the Ukiah Blog, a piece by Victoria Beale in the New Republic which offers a critical take on Paul Coelho, as both artist and thinker, with her assessment of the author's Message tidily summed up in its last sentences:
[U]nder the platitudes Coelho’s philosophy has always been a harsh worldview: unhappiness or lack of fulfilment is only for the weak and unfocused. And increasingly in his books, success can only be measured against the author and the obstacles he has overcome. The gospel of self-reliance has never been so trite or unforgiving.
Make what you will of Coelho's star status at Davos.

* In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alec Ash's interview with writer Fei Dao about science fiction in China touching on the genre's history and influences in China (interestingly he identifies Soviet science fiction as one of the "big three" influences, alongside Western and Japanese science fiction), its current concerns (reflecting the country's modernization), as well as the audience for this type of work and the prejudices it is up against (which are not all that dissimilar from what it has seen in the West).

May 21, 2013
* At Fanpop, a well-constructed response to the enmity so many apparently feel toward Game of Thrones' Sansa Stark. (I would have to number myself among those who see her character as one of the series' more sympathetic - and a reminder that much as we complain about the prevalence of Mary Sue/Gary Stu characters, a large segment of the audience all but demands them, and becomes quite unreasonable when their demand is not met.)

* A provocative piece from Airlock Alpha's Amber Hollingsworth which takes on the issue of "Why Horror Isn't Scary, But Thrillers Are."

* A number of Charles Stross's recent posts, including his response to Margaret Thatcher's passing, and its aftermath; his "Public Service Announcement" about why it is best to ignore the news; his announcement of the release of The Traders' War (an omnibus edition of the first three Trade of Queens novels, "revised and reassembled as the single book it was meant to be"); and his piece on British nuclear disarmament, which offers a succinct critical history of the country's strategic deterrent.

May 25, 2013
* Three pieces by David Walsh. The first is a follow-up to his earlier consideration of Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty which responds to later revelations about the film's production. The other two discuss Baz Luhrmann's hit remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, with the first a review of the movie which considers a side of Fitzgerald and his book that you very likely did not encounter in high school; and the second an examination of some recent misadventures of the tiresome Prince Harry and company through the lens of the novel, and the film, in turn, through Luhrmann's associations with British royals.

* An amusing piece from SFX's Nick Setchfield on what Star Trek might have looked like had it first appeared in the 1890s, 1930s, 1950s or 1970s.

June 10, 2013
* Patrick Nielsen Hayden's obituary for British novelist Iain Banks, perhaps best known to science fiction fans for Consider Phlebas, the first of his "Culture" novels, and a founding work of the new space opera. He will genuinely be missed.

* Ian Sales reviews James Lovegrove's The Age of Zeus. (You may remember my review of Lovegrove's previous mix of mythology and contemporary military adventure, The Age of Ra, which I reviewed here.)

* Charles Stross's latest crib sheet on writing The Jennifer Morgue - in which he wrote the Laundry's Bob Howard into a James Bondian adventure.

June 17, 2013
* Gawker's Max Read on the accents in Game of Thrones (which has recently concluded its third season).

* As Jonathan McCalmont notes over at Ruthless Culture, Speculative Fiction 2012, a round-up of the best online nonfiction writing about the genre, is out. As might be guessed by those who followed the portion of the blogosphere devoted to science fiction, the debate kick-started by Paul Kincaid's September 2012 review essay about three year's best anthologies for the L.A. Review of Books has a place in it, with Kincaid's piece included, as well as Jonathan McCalmont's response "Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost the Future."

* Ken MacLeod's remembrance of Iain Banks in The Guardian.

* Also in The Guardian, Cory Doctorow on the recent revelations about the NSA's Prism program.

June 22, 2013
* David Walsh looks back on the career of the late James Gandolfini. (Naturally, he has plenty to say about The Sopranos, and what the reception of that show says about its cultural moment.)

* Shoshanna Kesock considers Syfy's Defiance.
* From io9, Charlie Jane Anders on the possibility of a Zack Snyder-helmed Wonder Woman movie. (I, for one, don't think this project is any more likely than the others, and certainly had a much more favorable view of Watchmen, which is probably the superhero movie I've enjoyed most in recent years, but the piece does touch on a lot of the relevant issues.)

July 9, 2013
* Last month io9's Rob Bricken asked "Does DC Have a Chris Nolan Problem?" after watching Man of Steel. I think DC certainly has a problem--but that it's the same problem everyone else has, and that the tendency he attributes to Christopher Nolan goes far, far beyond the role of any one individual. It reflects where the whole industry has gone in this postmodern era of "dark-and-gritty" everything with a side of still more dark-and-gritty.

* Jonathan McCalmont's review of Nikita Mikhailov's Burnt by the Sun 2, the sequel to the Palme d'Or and Oscar-winning 1994 film--which, surprisingly, seems to have wound up a Stalinist-Orthodox version of a Michael Bay movie according to McCalmont. (How many sequels to Cannes Grand Prize winners can you say that about?)

* Charles Stross, with a provocative piece on the troubles besetting British democracy, and what he thinks it says about the future of politics.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Release and Box Office Run of No Time to Die: A Summary View

(I have been posting on No Time to Die's box office run these past couple of months and decided to replace all those little posts with this single post consolidating the contents of the lot. Here goes.)

The 25th EON James Bond film, No Time to Die, which had already suffered a more than usually long and troubled production (with one director's walking out and having to be replaced, with Daniel Craig's interrupting shooting, and the rest already translating to two delays) was due out in April 2020. A schedule that had it slightly preceding the big rush of blockbusters coming that summer, while alarms about the pandemic indicated a massive disruption of everyday life, filmmaking included, on the way, its backers were the first to bump a major release due to COVID-19, from April to November. They ended up delaying the release yet again when fall came around to April 2021, and then from April once more to October 2021.

Of course, the pandemic was still very much ongoing that year and a half on, while the box office was, as those in the business had feared, still depressed. In the months immediately preceding No Time to Die's release films that could have been counted on to bring in a cool billion, like Black Widow, fell far, far short of such expectations, with even Hollywood's most successful release in the preceding months, Fast and Furious 9, doing only a bit better than half that franchise's accustomed business as of late, grossing just over $700 million.

Going by the same assumption of fifty percent or so of "normal" business, with the new Bond film following two more or less billion dollar hits (Skyfall blazed past the mark in 2012, while Spectre's $880 million works out to a billion when adjusted for inflation), I figured the movie (with some claim to being an event as the close of the Daniel Craig era and its story arc, but not enjoying Skyfall-like buzz) would do about the same--which worked out to a half billion dollars. And I seem to have been far from alone in thinking so.

Still, the weekend before it came out, in the U.S. at least, Venom 2 had a sensational opening weekend, taking in some $90 million in those first three days, while the international release that very same weekend saw a $119 million take that beat the expectations previously held for it (also about $90 million). Feeding into yet another round of "The pandemic is over!" exuberance to which the media has been addicted no less than governments analysts greatly upped their estimates for the new Bond film's debut in the days right before its release, with even moderate expectations running as high as $70 million and one prediction suggesting a North American opening north of $100 million, which would have been a new record for the series. The actual opening weekend gross was more like $55 million Friday-to-Sunday (and $62 million counting in the Monday, which was Columbus Day).

Far from a new record, it was a low for the Daniel Craig era (lower even than what Casino Royale made back in 2006, fifteen years of ticket-price inflation ago). Confronted with the reality of the lower number some analysts accepted that they had been overoptimistic, but others took a "Wait and see" attitude, suggesting that the Bond film would prove to have exceptional legs. There was not much basis for this thinking. The best argument those espousing this position were able to set forth was that the older moviegoers less set on seeing a movie opening weekend would eventually come out, though the truth was that for the most part they had already done so. (It was the young people who weren't bothering.) Unsurprisingly the drop was the predictable one, the movie taking in a little under $24 million the following weekend (a 57 percent drop, more or less in line with the pattern of the last few Bond films--60 percent for Quantum of Solace, 54 percent for Skyfall, 52 percent for Spectre after its less impressive opening). Going by the premise that ten days into their run the Daniel Craig Bonds had generally made between half and two-thirds of their money, with the more robust earners proving to have the better legs (Skyfall had made only 52 percent of its total ten days in, Quantum of Solace and Spectre about 65 percent) I ventured the guess that No Time to Die, which had made $100 million by that point, would probably make somewhere between $150 million and $200 million in the U.S., with the lower bound at that point seeming to me the more likely given the soft response.

Where the global take was concerned I looked to the British data as well as the U.S. data (precisely because Britain is, of course, an especially strong market for the Bond films). The film's second U.S. weekend coincided with its third British weekend, by which point the movie had made about $93 million--just four-fifths of what Spectre had made by the same point in unadjusted numbers ($118 million). Assuming that the U.S. would, as was seen in the past, account for a quarter of the film's earnings, and that lower bound of $150 million, I saw $600 million as a plausible low end to the range. At the same time working from the possibility of the movie scoring about four-fifths what Spectre did in unadjusted dollars (four-fifths of $880 million) I guessed about $700 million as the upper end of the range.

It turned out that I was right about the North American take. In its eighth weekend in North American release, with the film already out on video On Demand, the movie took in all of $2 million, bringing its total up to $158 million, and leaving anything much above $160 million unlikely. In inflation-adjusted terms that is less than half what Skyfall made, about a third less than what the comparatively disappointing Spectre made, and indeed, less than any Bond movie has made in North America since the famously low-grossing Licence to Kill way back in 1989, as the table below (in which all figures have been adjusted for 2021 prices using the Consumer Price Index) demonstrates.

Spectre (2015)--$229 million

Skyfall (2012)-$360 million

Quantum of Solace (2008)-$208 million

Casino Royale (2006)-$225 million

Die Another Day (2002)-$243 million

The World is Not Enough (1999)-$207 million

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)-$212 million

Goldeneye (1995)-$189 million

Licence to Kill (1989)-$76 million

However, if I was right about the North American take I was wrong--overly conservative--about the global gross. Rather than $600-$700 million with the low end of the range the more likely I should have guessed $700-$800 million, with the upper range the more likely. (As it is the film has already passed the $750 million mark.)

For any but the absolute top-line blockbusters that would be a solid performance in normal times, never mind pandemic conditions, which I think justify grading on a curve. If one assumes that it made half the money it would have made in normal times that would make it the biggest hit the series has ever had (bigger than Thunderball, bigger than Skyfall, with its $1.5 to $1.6 billion exceeding even the latter film's inflation-adjusted gross of $1.3 billion appreciably). If one less generously assumes the pandemic allowed the movie to make sixty percent of what it would have ordinarily then it is, perhaps, number two, after only Skyfall. And if less generously we assume that the pandemic's cutting into its gross reduced its earnings by just a quarter it would still be on par with Spectre, and very respectable indeed. Testifying to the plausibility of the more generous measures is the fact that, with the end of the year scarcely a month away at the time of this writing No Time to Die is the highest-grossing movie of the year globally (excepting two productions made in China for the country's domestic market, increasingly an outlier these days), a distinction no Bond movie, not even the biggest, ever previously achieved (with Thunderball having the misfortune to be competing with The Sound of Music, Skyfall with the original Marvel's Avengers). In fairness the competition was not what it would have been in a normal year, with movie attendance fluctuating greatly (had No Time to Die come out in April it would have done rather less well), while it has likely helped that other studios split their earnings between the box office and video--and that Marvel got shut out of China's exceptionally large and, by pandemic standards, exceptionally healthy, market. All the same, it has the prize for now, and seems likely to still have it at year's end.

Still, if an observer might grade box office performance on a curve when assessing the reception of a film this does not work where a company bottom line is concerned. Spectacular as a nearly $800 million take is in 2021 the fact remains that, with the already obscene cost of making a Bond film raised by the tortuous path this one followed to the screen even before the pandemic, the marketing costs blown on those releases that never happened, the interest payments on borrowed money and the rest, it seems the movie may have needed to gross $900 million just to break even. The movie is clearly short of that, and indeed we are now hearing that the producers may, in spite of this success, be in the red by as much as a hundred million dollars. But all the same, when all the other non-theatrical income streams are taken into account No Time to Die will likely turn a profit before too much longer, as the producers confidently move on to the next reinvention of a franchise whose salability has (in spite of the disappointing American release, at least, testifying to vulnerabilities, not least in attracting interest among younger viewers) defied the doubters once again.

Considering the franchise's future I personally see it as being on TV (more particularly, streaming) because that is simply how things are going these days, with Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jack Ryan and the rest happily shifting from the box office to Disney Plus, Amazon and the rest. This is all the more the case in that I cannot help recalling the reports about Apple having been prepared to offer $400 million for the film's video rights, and that the producers might have done better bottom line-wise to take that offer. (While the details can make a lot of difference a studio typically ends up with about forty to fifty percent of a film's gross, which coming out of a $750-$800 million gross would work out to be $300-$400 million, which they would have got their hands on a lot earlier, and before they had got deeper into the red.) Still, I can easily imagine that with nearly $800 million banked in pandemic conditions (and the expectation that this thing has to end sometime) they remain ready to take at least one more crack at theaters--especially if they can find someone who knows how to keep to a schedule and manage a budget in charge the next time around.

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