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Solar Opposites (Hulu)

This is a show from Justin Roiland, famous for Rick and Morty. In some ways it's just another way for Roiland to voice his frustration with the dumb things he sees in the world. Rick, the grandfather in Rick and Morty, and Korvo, the father-figure in Solar Opposites, are both science minded characters who rail against the stupidity around them. Neither is very good at empathy, and both have trouble with social conventions.

This story is much more sitcom-esque than Rick and Morty, and feels less radical. There's a basic story line of aliens trying to fit in on Earth with different levels how much they care about fitting in and different priorities. This story doesn't have much in the way to continuity between episodes. But there is a subplot involving Yumyulack's collection of shrunken people he keeps in his ant-farm-like terrarium bedroom wall; called "The Wall" by the people inside it.

(I say "he" for Yumyulack because that's the gender the character choose to emulate on Earth. The aliens, although clearly written to have human genders, are apparently supposed to biologically genderless.)

The Wall makes direct references to Escape from New York, and has a very 1970s or early 1980s future dystopia quality to it. There is a very definite story arc to these segments, and unlike the rest of the episode, seeing them out of order would be confusing.

To me, The Wall is the best part of Solar Opposites and I was very pleased with episode seven being almost entirely Wall story, with the titular story ("Terry and Korvo Steal a Bear") told wordlessly through what can be seen out of the windows of the terrarium prison. The rest of the show for the season is rather hit-or-miss.

Five of eight levels in The Wall.

Solar Opposites at IMDB
Rick and Morty at IMDB
Escape from New York at IMDB

Succession (HBO)

This is the story of a Rupert Murdoch-type media owner and the family of his that wants to take over the business. I've watched Season One of this show, there are two seasons released so far.

Second born son, although first from second marriage, Kendall Roy starts the season in a good place in the company, but is quickly sidelined by his father, Logan Roy, who has reconsiderd the C-level appointment for Ken. Only daughter Siobhan gets engaged, with a marrige ending the season; cousin (nephew to Logan) Greg gets fired from a terrible job at the company and then uses family connections to try to get a better job. First and third born sons Connor and Roman try to find themselves, one from outside the company and one inside. Third wife to Logan, Marcia, tries to establish herself and her son (from a previous marriage) to the discomfort of Logan's children.

The general premise is that Logan is a very shrewd and hardball media businessman who has never had time for his kids yet has high expectations of them. Now, at 80, he is finding that they are neither shrewd nor good at hardball business. Except that the show follows the kids' stories more than the old man's, helping to reenforce the notion that Logan is evil. (Okay, Logan is evil, but if told from his point of view, the kids are just incompetent evil to his masterful evil.)

The kids meanwhile, want to break out and do things on their own, but question their dad's continued competance in his old age. Except Greg. He is largely an outsider to the family drama and oscillates between oblivious and shrewd, with his eye set on the much more reasonable goal of staying in a cushy job.

Logan Roy and Roman Roy are the only two actors in this series I recognize from other roles. Logan is played by Brian Cox, who I most vividly remember as ex-spy Big John from L.I.E. I can almost see Logan and Big John as the same character: forceful characters used to getting their own way and good at reading other people. Roman is played by Kieran Culkin, who I remember (although not well) from Igby Goes Down, about a rich kid dissatisfied with family. The family here is also rich, but the dissatisfaction is much different.

Eight voting board members out of full twelve.

Succession at IMDB


Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trashpicking in the Anthropocene by Tim Dee. Copyright 2018, first printing February 2019.

I've read a bit about garbage, most recently Waste and Want by Susan Strasser (1999, but apparently used as a textbook, so easy to find new), so I thought this might be good to get some fresher information. The title, and subtitle, certainly pulled me in.

No. This is a British author writing a lot about his personal experiences, often as a reporter following more serious bird watchers than him. There are, it seems, a fair amount of bird watchers who specialize in watching sea gulls. In many cases these people hang around landfills and transfer stations because the gulls like the easy pickings.

Every chapter is essentially a self-contained essay with at least some tangential connection to gulls. There's one that compares and contrasts Hitchcock's The Birds to the original short story, with some attention devoted to the gulls in each for example. It's not what I wanted, but it's not a bad book.

When I found this in a bookstore (the famous "City Lights Books" in San Francisco, which I was visiting with some out-of-town house guests), I was drawn to the title and picked it up to read a couple of pages from inside. I happened upon chapter eight "London Labour and London Poor". This is one of the least gull-ish chapters, but also one of the most interesting to my tastes.

That chapter is about Henry Mayhew's three volume 1851 (based on 1840s work writing a newspaper column; volume four came out 1862) London Labour and the London Poor (at Wikipdia and volume 1 at Gutenberg, volume 2 at Gutenberg, volume 3 at Gutenberg, but apparently no volume four). Mayhew interviewed and wrote about the most marginal people of the time. The excerpt that made me buy the book:

Trash has a deep and determing place in Mayhew's cosmology. Waste management, in its widest sense, is vital to the story. This begins with the lowest class (Mayhew calls them low but was clearly sympathethetic to such people). The endeavoured to eke out scraps for a penny or two from what others had decided was useless. Contemplating suc lives and such labour makes Mayhew ask big questions. When do objects — or people — cease to have value?

There are dustment in Mayhew — men in the vanguard of professional waste collection. But they were far outnumbered by informal rubbish collectors. On these people Mayhew performs a kind of rescue anthropology. He describes them as if they were members of a ramshackle federation:

  • Bone gubbers and rag-gatherers
  • Pure-finders
  • Cigar-end finders
  • Old wood gatherers
  • Dredgers, or river finders
  • Sewer-hunters
  • Mudlarks
  • Dustmen, nightmen, sweeps, and scavengers

"Pure" is dog shit. Its name alone indicates our classificatory anxiety about its status. It was sold to tanneries, where it was used to cleanse and purify leather. In London, 200 to 300 men were "engaged solely in this business." A covered basket and a glove were required, though many dispensed with the glove, "as they say it is much easier to wash their hands than to keep the glove fit for use." There were even those who worked fakes and passed "mortar" off as pure.

That's great reading. The connection to gulls for this chapter? How the presence of so many and so varied human trash pickers squeezed the gulls out of the easy trash-pickings niche.

Altered Carbon

I wrote this first part in 2018 after watching season one. I've just finished season two and I'll add my thoughts at the end.

Altered Carbon is a ten episode sci-fi series on Netflix, based on a book by the same name. About all I know of the book is that it is the first of a trilogy.

Altered Carbon at imdb

Overall I liked this, but I had some issues with the puppet-master bad guy in the last two episodes. The motivations were trite and the dialog and actions seemed a bit poorly considered for someone who is supposed to be that powerful.

I felt the series did a great job with the central conceit: a small piece of technology that allows your mind to be moved (and for the rich, backed up). Bodies are called "sleeves" in a bit of language evolution that feels pretty natural. People can easily survive having their body die, even without backups, so long as their "stacks" (a little more awkward) are intact. The backups exist for the case of the stack being destroyed.

People swap bodies with some regularity in this series and yet I never once felt I didn't know who was who unless the story meant for it to be ambiguous. In one episode a guy with very distintive tattoos plays three people: a guy just arrested with a personality to match the ink; a woman's grandmother brought back from the dead for a Day of the Dead party; and an assassin whose regular body had just been destoryed "resleeved" for an interrogation. It was not hard to tell these people apart, and I think even the faceblind could realize it was the same The main character is a terrorist who has been in "jail" for 250 years, pulled out because of his special people reading skills to be a private detective on a case of a very rich man's attempted murder. The guy's stack and head were blown off a couple of minutes before the backup.

Weak point: Jail loses a lot of it's sting if it just means your stack sits on a shelf somewhere for that whole time.

Questionable point: there seem to be a lot of very random bodies about for people to be "resleeved" and a distinct lack of cheap generic clones to use. Only the very rich are shown to have clones.

Weak point: One character has a very powerful cloaking ability / technology. This is severely underused and never clearly explained.

Notable point: it is explicitly set in San Francisco, apparently about five hundred years from now. (Except for the flashbacks to the "before 250 years turned off on a shelf in prison" for the main character.) None of it looks like San Francisco.

If they make a second season out of the book series, I'll watch it. Five clones killed in one fight scene out of eight.

Season two was good, kinda different, probably a little weaker. It's still very violent, but there's hardly any nudity now. That goes along with very little of the body swapping, and almost no use of clones.

This season takes place off-Earth, on the main character's childhood home planet. Someone has a very effective way to kill people, simultaneously destroying the backups, and the "Last Envoy" main character from the first season has a reason to investigate this. He's got a new "sleeve" now, so our hero wears a different face. A couple of characters from season one show up in their same faces, and even the main characters's old face shows up for a while.

The story was entertaining, but not challenging. All the major plot points were well telegraphed and not much new is revealed about the technology of this future. How the backups are destroyed by the mystery "weapon" (as it is called) is never really explained.

Let's call it five out of eigth "meths" fried on screen.