Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, Jordan Stokes, John Perich, and Matthew Wrather overthink your listener feedback.
This podcast is dedicated to the memory of John Hollander, a great teacher and scholar.
Dr. John Hollander
As of last Saturday
(much for the worse)
can’t be described as the
living exponent of
Dr. John Hollander
Maitre of verse forms that
Others would poach,
Stirring with brilliance,
Est Quod Benedictus, the
Want new episodes of the Overthinking It Podcast to download automatically? Subscribe in iTunes! (Or grab the podcast RSS feed directly.)
Tell us what you think! Leave a comment, use the contact form, email us or call (203) 285-6401 to leave a voicemail.
- Breaking Bad Recaps
- Overthinking It on YouTube
- Overthinking It on Google+
- Overthinking It TVRecaps Podcast Feed on iTunes and as RSS
- Ender’s Game on Amazon
- The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov on Amazon
- Star Control 2: The Orz on YouTube
- Solaris by Stanislaw Lem on Amazon
- Darmok (Episode) on Memory Alpha
- Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and No. 2 by Edvard Grieg
- John Hollander, 1929–2013
- The Seikilos Epitaph
I’ve been looking for an Ender’s Game book club! This is so exciting!
Oh man. Super good call on Star Control 2, Jordan.
It is a spectacular work. It was totally formative for me in terms of what my notion of what video games can be, and the fact that a game with that level of narrative and atmospheric sophistication came out in 1992 is kind of mind-blowing.
Best of all, the original team (Toys for Bob, recently of Skylanders fame) released the source code into the public domain, so there’s a totally above-board freeware version of it available that runs effortlessly on modern hardware.
It’s here: http://sc2.sourceforge.net/
Man. Now I have to play it again.
After the podcast ended I remembered that the Mycon are very nearly as alien as the Orz if not moreso. A sample communication:
Mycon ship: “I have chosen my offsprings’ memories carefully from my set of remembrances/ the sweet and warm times of my existence and those of my parents’ parents’ parents/ the bits of a million lifetimes coalesced into a birth gift of complete awareness.” [Combat ensues.]
Thank you for mentioning Star Control II. Reading Austin Grossman’s “You” over the weekend got me thinking about shareware games I tried out, and while I could kind of remember the interface and kind of remember how the story began (getting a hyperdrive), the name eluded me. Thanks!
I’m shocked and appalled at the lack of love for Event Horizon, that move is a seminal work in the oeuvre of Paul W.S. Anderson. His works are ripe for over thinking (that they almost definitely don’t deserve). The production design of the gate alone is worthy of note, and certainly a must-see for any Lovecraft fans.
Of a different kind, but perhaps 2001 bears mentioning when discussing alien intelligences?
Also of worthy note, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves was the result of some serious Overthinking by Asimov’s on the fictional plutonium-186 and what kind of a universe would allow for such a thing (he was challenged to write a story about it).
Finally, thank you for the Further Reading / show notes, always appreciated. Which leads me to ask: I’ve heard mentioned on the podcast several times “That’s Overthinking It 101”. What exactly is contained in that 101 class? My undergrad was unfortunately not English Lit (or related), so most of my learning has been autodidactic and as such, patchy at best. Any recommended reading / watching / listening / study? Not just for enjoyment of the podcast, but Overthinking in general. Perhaps it could be a post?
P.s Are there any plans for more Overviews? Take my money, OTI.
I adore Event Horizon — it is pretty much Lovecraft in space, which is an awesome combination. And yes, the production design is fabulous, especially of the “engine (?) room”. My only disappointment with it, however, has to with said production design, and its failure to obey Chekhov’s rule — if you show us a spiky metal rotating tunnel that looks like an inside-out meat grinder, there should be some grinding by the third act.
@mezdef: There’s a PayPal link on the homepage. Just sayin’. :)
Xenobiology and xenopsychology are two sub-genres of hard-SF that the really good writers always take a stab at going back to Hal Clement of Mission of Gravity where the aliens have a legitimate fear of falling. Larry Niven put together species with very different motivations and psychologies in his Known Space universe with the Kzin/Puppeteers as well as the Moties in his books with Pournelle. David Brin created dozens of odd-ball species with all sorts of quirks for his Startide series. Perhaps the most sympathetic yet alien species in recent memory are the six-legged wolf analogs in Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon The Deep.
I really enjoyed the discussion of truly alien aliens, as it’s always been a pet peeve that ETs in most fiction are just odd-looking people with easily understood (and very human) psychology. Wittgenstein said that if lions could talk, we wouldn’t understand them, and surely that’s true for non-Terran creatures as well.
I’ll reiterate the mention of Solaris — it’s perhaps the best example of this approach to aliens. The book is great, as is the Tarkovsky film (I thought the Clooney version overemphasized the romantic relationship). Lem often wrote about this issue — the novel His Masters Voice is about an apparent message from space and (spoiler) humanity’s inability to decipher it. (Tarkovsky also dealt with inexplicable aliens, or at least their aftermath, in the brilliant Stalker.)
Another author who does a great job with intelligences that are profoundly alien to human understanding is China Mieville. His world of Bas-Lag is well-populated with very alien beings, but the most alien are the Weavers, immensely powerful multidimensional spider-like beings that speak in continual nonsensical free verse and manipulate space and time according to their own individual aesthetic sense, often with deadly results for humans.
Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe also has several incomprehensible aliens, including some where it isn’t clear whether they are even intelligent (his Pattern Jugglers remind me a lot of Solaris’ “being”).
China Mieville’s was the first thing that came to my mind as well, but I was going to go with his more recent
“Embassytown”. The aliens there are almost the opposite of the TNG “Shaka, when the walls fell” – they can only speak in literal truths. As a workaround, they stage elaborate events using real people, so that they can then refer to those things in metaphor.
So small tabletop RPG rant to come henceforth: D&D is, hands down, the most well-known system. It’s rules- and mechanics-based structure lends itself to being easy to follow because if no one is sure what the rule is, someone can always look it up. But then, that’s also somewhat limiting because sometimes rules can get in the way of the story the group is playing. Some DMs will ignore the rule for the sake of plot, others won’t- and that is something that happens on an individual basis, of course. The sad thing about D&D, I think, is that the rules don’t give space for rewarding particularly great in-character actions or fantastically well-acted moments on the part of players. But a lot of other systems do- D20 Modern, for example, has a bonus point thing the GM can give if the player does something they deem awesome enough (for example, calling a shot while rolling/breaking out of a window and landing on one knee on the chest of another enemy- and then making the appropriate skill and shot checks), and those points can be used at important moments in the future to assist in dice rolls or something. Similarly, 7th Sea has “drama dice” awarded for spectacular feats or well-acted scenes (like a really fancy entrance involving swinging from a chandelier or something, for example)- the GM gives one to the player, and they can add (I think) up to two (I haven’t used this system in a few years) to other dice rolls. I’ve played a number of other systems that reward story elements, and as far as I can remember, none of those rewards are ever limited strictly to successful dice rolls. In fact, some even reward failure if done theatrically enough. So I guess what I’m saying is the rules in D&D are helpful for people unsure of what to do, but if you’re more interested in telling a story, there are systems that make the in-character save easier and may even reward you for it.
And in defense of “plot” in RPGs, too, the sequencing of action events/fights is really not that different from any movie or tv series. You have a few squabbles with minions or maybe even an encounter or two with the Big Bad before the final battle in which you, hopefully, win, just as how the action in any action/adventure movie or show takes place. There’s no fun in watching a movie where the main baddies are finished within the first half hour- the rest is what, then? The main character(s) getting rid of the minions? Sitting around eating shawarma? Filing paperwork? In a movie or show, it’s in order for us to witness the development of the character(s), and to heighten the suspense of that final encounter. In an RPG campaign, it’s because you start out at a low level and need time to get tough enough to finish the job. But the “story” part plays out essentially the same. (The caveat I’d insert, though, is that there are also one-shot campaigns that, basically, are just one fight- in which case, you either start out incredibly beefy to begin with, or you just have one villain to fight that is of a comparable level to that of the party when they start.)
Okay, okay, okay… Sharknado: So the movie tries to explain the sharks in tornadoes by saying the tornadoes are water spouts, implying they’re made up of not just air, but water because they came onto the land from over the ocean. I’m guessing y’all haven’t seen it, which is fine, but I’d like to say, there are some striking parallels between it and M. Night Shymalan’s The Happening. Also, I predicted it when I was a kid.
I like how Fenzel had Jeremy Jarvis’s name on the tip of his tongue, because even among the M:tG community, Jarvis is not a brand name (even if he is a huge part of the brand). I’m kind of curious how much time you’ve spent analyzing the TCG business model.