About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Ghost of WorldCon Past

As I get ready to head down to San Antonio for LoneStarCon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention, some reminiscences of LoneStarCon 2 in 1997...

First and foremost, having WorldCons in Texas is good!  Both times in the life of JABberwocky that I've gone to San Antonio for a WorldCon, I have had a Hugo nominee on the ballot.  In 1997, it was Elizabeth Moon's Remnant Population for Best Novel, and this year Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul for Best Novella.  I have to confess I wasn't expecting a win in 1997.  The competition was amazing, with Kim Stanley Robinson winning and novels by Lois McMaster Bujold and Robert J. Sawyer as well as Bruce Sterling to split the Texas vote.  (Several years later when Elizabeth was a Nebula finalist for Speed of Dark, I was rather more optimistic and told her at breakfast the morning of that I felt she has as good a chance as anyone and better have a speech ready, which was good advice!)  I'm not as up on short fiction as I used to be and can't handicap the field as easily this year, but I feel Brandon Sanderson has a good shot at winning for Emperor's Soul.

JABberwocky was very different in 1997.  It was just me.  In the early years of JABberwocky, I made just enough to get by and to have a little bit above break-even that I could afford to go to a WorldCon.  Now, there are six people at the agency, and I won't have to watch my pennies on the trip quite the same way.

A good example:  in 1997, I walked to LaGuardia to catch my flight, a little over four miles.  I also stumbled in the median crossing Astoria Blvd., broke my glasses and had to spend my earliest hours in San Antonio going to get them fixed.  And then continued for many years to walk to LaGuardia, without incident.  This year, I will take a car service.  In part because I now live a mile further away, in part because I will have a heavier bag since I will be gone longer.  But in no small part, because my time is now as valuable to me as my money, and it's a lot harder to justify walking to the airport.

There are some drawbacks, however.  In 1997, I didn't have a lot of clients at the convention.  I was able to take some time to sightsee, such as the sightseeing is in San Antonio.  I absconded to the movie theatre in the RiverCenter mall to see GI Jane.  This year, anything that I do like that, I'm going to have to do on the days before or after the convention gets underway.  I've got many clients to meet.  I've got a group of 20 for the JABberwocky dinner, which is the kind of event I never could have afforded in 1997.  I have an Important Dinner with an Important Client, his Brilliant Editor & Major Publisher.  Back in 1997, I wasn't Important Enough for such things.

In 1997, I was excited that I would get to place a first-time visit to a Borders!  Now, I will reluctantly try and get to the local B&Ns, just kind of because, and am instead saving my excitement because I might be able to pay first-time visits to two Whole Foods Markets.

In 1997, Eos had a big soiree at some restaurant on the Riverwalk to celebrate the arrival of Eos.  Now, Eos is Voyager, and if they are having a party, no one told me.

In 1997, there was a Bantam Books party at a Country Club.  It was outside of town and they hired vans to take people there.  I was expecting it to be in the 18th Hole restaurant thing at a Country Club.  Instead, vanloads of New Yorkers got out of the bus and discovered to their surprise that the "Country" in this club was country music.  This year, Bantam Spectra Del Rey Ace Roc DAW are having a combined party, the first major joint event of all the newly merged sf/f imprints.

I met Adam-Troy Castro on the plane out.  We ultimately became author and agent.

Those are some of my major impressions of the 1997 trip.  It will be interesting to see in 16 years what lasting impressions and memories I have of LoneStarCon 3.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Surprise!

So the US Open has announced that the gates are going to open a half hour earlier.

Why?

Because, per my last post, their useless extra security procedures are almost certainly leading to much more than the "slight delays" predicted in the press release.

So much wasted money, so much wasted time, so much waste and stupidity in order to add absolutely nothing other than wasted money and wasted time to a procedure in which every bag was already opened and inspected on the way in to the tennis center.

The Never-Ending War

So New For 2013, as the main draw of the US Open tennis begins Monday, they have announced that this year everyone will get to be wanded and go through a magnetometer.

Why?

For the past ten years, you've only been able to bring in one small bag, and that one small bag has been hand-inspected as you go in.  There's no way that the Boston Marathon scenario could repeat at the US Open as it has been run, security wise, for the past decade.

Adding a magnetometer adds no additional security.

None.

Nada.

Zilch.

Of course, it is a nice make-work program, because now the company that provides the security forces for the US Open gets to hire more people!  Most of these people are temps of some or another sort, and I am sure the contractor that provides this service for the Open makes a nice additional profit.

Of course, it is a nice make-work program for the people who make wands and magnetometers.

Of course it makes everyone feel so much more secure.  Even though it doesn't add any actual security.

It does add nicely to the time people will spend queuing to get into the Open.  Let's be very conservative and say that it's just an extra two minutes.  That's very very conservative.  But there are 40,000 people a day going to the open, so that's 80,000 minutes, for 14 days.  That's over two years of lost time.

Just dandy.

And of course, there's no going backward on any of this.  The day will never come when the polie or anyone else will say that the world has gotten safer and we can go back and do less, spend less money and lose less time and less productivity and still be reasonably safe.  It will only get worse.  Because no matter what we do, we will never be 100% safe.  There is risk to everything we do every day, and some day some other bad thing will happen that will require us to come up with some other layer of security.

Happy happy joy joy.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Serving Out of Turn - US Open Edition

It's a really busy week, and I have started work on some detailed blog post about my annual (or as annual as I can make it) trek to the qualifying rounds for the US Open tennis tournament which begins on Monday.

However, since I'm not sure when I will finish those posts, I am going to jump the gun and offer now, before the tournament starts, some thoughts on how the 2013 Men's Qualifier crop might fare.  I'll be a little broad, looking at some players I've seen in years past as well as the ones who made it in this year.

And right at the top half of the draw, we have Ricardas Berankis from  Lithuania, who made it into the main draw this year but played disappointingly in the qualifying last year, playing Novak Djokovic, the #1 men's tennis player.  Um, if Berankis wins, that would qualify as an upset.

Donald Young had to make it through the qualifying this year.  He has had a long career that might be as interesting for things off the court as on.  It's hard to believe he's only 24 because he's been talked about in US tennis as a prodigy for close to ten years, and he had a decent year in 2012 rising to top 40, but then 2013 has been abysmal.  His relationship with the US Tennis Association over the years has been charged and awkward, with disagreements about coaching tactics.  I've been hearing about him so long that I've perhaps become a little too hard on the idea that he will ever amount to anything.  But on Friday, there were lines of people waiting to get in to the absolutely packed Court 11, one of the biggest typically used for qualifying rounds.  He has a winnable first round match, against Martin Klizan from Serbia, who is also 24 and currently in the Top 50, but nobody's idea currently of a major threat.  If he wins that, he has a potentially winnable 2nd round match.  But he could face Andy Murray in the third round.

Moving down a bit, we've got James Blake from the US playing qualifier Ivo Karlovic.  Blake was one of the top players in the US, is 33, is struggling to come back after injury and decline in the rankings, has to be playing now for real love of the game.  He'll be a clear favorite of the crowd.  But it's hard to root against Karlovic, who is 34, also struggling to come back after a lot of injuries, and has been in the top 10.  Karlovic is 6'8" and was one of the first really big tall giant types to come into the men's game. He has a huge serve.  But he's never had a truly great game outside of his ability to serve.  How do you pick this one?  

Marcos Baghdatis, whom I discovered in the qualifying many years ago when he beat Jeff Salzenstein on Court 7 in a match I wanted Salzenstein to win, goes up against a 2013 qualifier, Go Soeda.  I have to think Baghdatis will win, though the US Open has been his worst grand slam, never even into the 3rd round in spite of being a finalist, semi-finalist, and into the 4th round at the other three grand slams.

Also hanging around in the top half is Denis Kudla, whom I saw last year and believe has potential.  He has a winnable match against a Czech ranked #78.

There are only five qualifiers of 16 in the top half, though I've been going to the qualifying long enough that there are plenty of players, beginning with Andy Murray, whom I've watched in the qualifying in prior years.

Which means there are 11 qualifiers, plus a lucky loser, hanging out in the bottom half.

There is one Q/Q match, where two qualifiers are playing against one another.  The heavy-serving Albano Olivetti of France, whom I saw, certainly has a shot against fellow Frenchman Stephane Robert.  The winner will most likely face Richard Gasquet, the #8 seed and a fellow Frenchman and another player I've seen in qualifying, watching him get disqualified from a match for hitting a lines judge with his ball or racket (memory; the details fade with time!).

Phillip Petzschner has a definite chance against an up-and-coming American, Jack Sock, and most likely faces Jerzy Janowicz in the 2nd round.  Janowicz is the #14 seed, and a player I spotted in qualifying three years ago and predicted good things for.  He made his major breakthrough last fall.  So I like Janowicz, but I still don't think of him as a sure bet to win any/every given match he plays.  Should he be upset by another qualifier, Argentine Maximo Gonzalez, in the first round, then either Sock or Petzschner has quite the opportunity for advancement in this year's Open.

Nick Kyrgios, an Australian of Greek ancestry, and very highly touted, gets to face #4 seed David Ferrer.  I can't really see Ferrer losing that match.

Frank Dancevic has an opportunity.  The 26-year-old Dutchman Robin Haase is ranked in the 60s, peaked in the 30s.  Dancevic peaked in the 60s and is currently ranked in the 150s and is three years older.  I'll be pulling for Dancevic personally, just because I first spotted him in the qualifying years ago, and I have kind of a soft spot.  

Way down at the bottom half of the draw...

Ryan Harrison, whom I've seen play with guts, heart, skill, passion, in the qualifying in years past,  has shown other sides of his personality elsewhere.  Tantrums, petulance, etc.  He also has the absolute worst luck of any player I have ever followed.  He manages to draw Top 10 players as opponents in early rounds of even the most obscure tournaments way more than chance would have it.  So, of course, he gets to play Rafael Nadal in the first round.  All I can say, if Harrison pulls the upset, is that I'd say it's less unlikely than whomever it is Nadal lost to in Wimbledon.

Interestingly enough, Nadal can run through the entire section of his draw taking out players I've liked in qualifying over the years.  Harrison in the first round.  Then Canadian Vasek Pospisil, who had a breakthrough in this year's major men's tournament in Canada and will I hope prove to be "for real' outside of his home soil, and then possibly Rhyne Williams, who got a main draw wildcard this year but last year came through the qualifying, upsetting none other than Vasek Pospisil in the first round.  Won't that make for a strange year, if they have a rematch in this year's 3rd round.

So of the qualifiers I saw in 2013, I'd say that Phillip Petzschner and Alberto Olivetti have the best chance of making it to the 3rd round. 

I should fill this post with wonderful links to all of the earlier posts I've done dating back to 2008 that talk about some of these players, but I just don't have the hours in the day. 
But this here -- yes, HERE, is a link to all of my posts that have a Tennis label, and you can scroll down quickly enough to check for my insights from years past.

I've seen at least 30 of the players in this year's main draw playing in qualifying.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Securely Ranting -- For the World to See

Just to get on my high horse again about the ludicrousness of our allowing our government to waste so much money spying on us, bringing it back a little to the business of JABberwocky...

We at JABberwocky believe in information.  We rigorously spreadsheet pretty much every piece of royalty statement paperwork that comes our way, in varying detail.

Just like the NSA wants to vacuum up information because it may not know until after the fact which e-mails or which phone call metadata it may need at some future point, we can't predict exactly which information we might need at some future point.  Since modern spreadsheets allow information to flow upwards very easily, it just seems better to start out having everything in a nice spreadsheet that can flow up.  The first statement for your hardcover will flow upwards into a summary for the hardcover.  The paperback and e-book will flow upward.  They will merge with the hardcover information to give you the total sales for your book, and from there to your series, and from there to your work with a particular publisher and then a particular territory. We do that in all major territories for your work, we try and have basic information in smaller territories in spreadsheets.  If your career takes off after your fifth book, or Hollywood decides to take an option on your eighth book and some hotshot writer needs information on your sales to help get financing for the movie, we have your global sales information ready at hand.  If we need to gather that information after your eighth book is published when that call from Hollywood calls, it is a lot harder to gather all the information retrospectively.

Sounds great, doesn't it!

Who wouldn't want the government to do just that, so if in two years or four years some evildoer is involved in some terrorist plot, we've got all the data to find him, and find his co-conspirators, and save us all!!

However, we face real world constraints which apparently our government doesn't feel it needs to confront on our behalf.

Simply put, as our business grows and we have more clients selling more books in more places in more formats, the information we have to process keeps growing and growing.

We must make compromises.

We sold 200 books to Audible last year and are starting to get audio royalty statements for some of those.  Some of those books are titles that haven't been in print since ten years ago or more.  Suffice to say the spreadsheets we put together for those titles cannot and should not be as detailed as when we had only 30 books with Audible to keep track of.

As more information floods in, we have a harder time prioritizing it.  Do we do the big pile of Audible statements first because those still come in on paper and make a visible dent on the desk, while we delay processing Random House royalty statements for major agency clients like Peter Brett and Elizabeth Moon that have come in as PDFs?  Well, it is tempting to deal with the visible pile of paper first.

We also have a harder time doing all of it correctly.  Who is going to look over the person who does the basic entry work as we have more and more clients taking up more and more of our time?  Two years ago I could do that and it wasn't too big a hassle, but now it's kind of impossible for me to give the same quality time to absolutely everything.

I am running a business.  I have to justify expenses.  I can't just hire more and more and more people to deal with every last bit of data that can theoretically be processed.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

The NSA isn't worried about money.  It isn't worried about cost-benefit analysis.  Its budget is secret.  We don't debate it.  If we did, we'd be told that we should never for a moment think that our security can be valued that way.

Which is balderdash.

The NSA is no different from JABberwocky.  The more information it decides it must have, the less good it can be at dealing with all of that information, even with the ability to hire infinitely, and build office space and server farms and everything else infinitely.  And when it makes mistakes, those have serious consequences, way more than if JABberwocky screws something up.

It's not just wrong constitutionally and morally for the government to collect all of this information on us, but it's a bad investment for our country.

And just to make clear:

Yes, your information is being collected.

If you write "hey, what about Bad Guy X" in an email and the government is interested in Bad Guy X, it will start digging deeper in what you say and do just because you put the words "Bad Guy X" into your e-mail.

Oh, sure, there are procedures in place to be sure that they don't go too far, that they dig just deep enough to determine that you are a US citizen, or that you didn't actually conspire with Bad Guy X but really did just say "hey, what about Bad Guy X" in an innocent way in an e-mail.

But of course those procedures don't work perfectly.  The government admits to thousands of times when its procedures don't work.

No, thank you!  I'd rather you not be spending my money on this.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

WorldCon Schedule

I am attending LoneStarCon 3, the 71st World Science Fiction Convention in just a couple weeks, and I am putting my full schedule below followed by some comments and annotations.

One important thing to mention ahead of time:  I'm not open to query letters, but both I and my assistant Sam Morgan will be at the convention, we are always excited and interested to meet people, and often do agree to open the door a bit for submissions from people we meet.  Besides getting to hear me speak on several panels with a lot of other knowledgeable people in the field, I have a Kaffeklatsch this year which means a select group of people will get some extended quality time with me.  Opportunities like this don't come around often, and I hope you'll take advantage of this.

So here's the schedule:


How to Obtain an Agent
Thursday 14:00 - 15:00
You've written something. You're pleased with it. You're finally ready to shop it out. You think it might get published. How do you search for an agent? How do you recognize a real agent? What pitfalls do you need to avoid?
John Berlyne  , Joshua Bilmes

Self-Promotion: Everything You Know about it Is Probably Wrong
Thursday 16:00 - 17:00
Done properly, self-promotion is an important part of building a career. Poorly executed, self-promotion can do more harm than good. How is the conventional wisdom wrong? What are the more advisable but underrated neglected approaches?
Julie Barrett (M) , Gini Koch , Joshua Bilmes , Genese Davis , Teresa Nielsen Hayden

The Business Side of Writing
Thursday 19:00 - 20:00
So you've written a novel. What's next? How do you get an agent, get published, market to readers, network, avoid scams... writing was only the beginning!
Janet Harriett (M) , Mark Oshiro  , Joshua Bilmes, Genese Davis, Steven Diamond

The Role of the Agent
Friday 14:00 - 15:00
What does an agent do? Do you need an agent to get published?
Teresa Nielsen Hayden (M) , Eleanor Wood , Joshua Bilmes , John Berlyne

But Why Can't You See My Genius?
Saturday 13:00 - 14:00
Let's face it; nobody likes rejection, but every writer is going to get rejection letters at some point. Why the rejection? Why don't they love you? Your work may be wrong for the publisher, may have arrived on the wrong day, or it may simply be the 350th angsty vampire novel the poor sorry slush pile reader has seen that week. How can you turn a rejection letter into a "hell yes!"
Beth Meacham (M), Michael Underwood  , Eleanor Wood, Mary Robinette Kowal  , Joshua Bilmes

Publishing Intermediaries in the Digital Age
Saturday 14:00 - 15:00
Agents. Editors. Publishers. All obsolete in the digital age, right? We find out how useful these experts are and what services they can provide to authors and other creators.
Steve Jackson (M), Tom Doherty, Irene Gallo, Joshua Bilmes , Betsy Mitchell

Kaffeeklatsch: Joshua Bilmes, Ginjer Buchanan, William Ledbetter
Sunday 11:00 - 12:00
Ginjer Buchanan, William Ledbetter , Joshua Bilmes

And now some annotations:

On the Kaffeklatsch, I think this means there are three people doing separate, not that we're doing a joint sitting at the table.  But who knows!

Three of my panels are on Thursday when a lot of people are just arriving, getting settled and registering.  Sorry about that!  I am sure there will be some overlap between the 2pm panel on Tuesday and the panel on Friday.

Especially since my 2pm panel on Thursday is with our British partner agent, John Berlyne.  John said once that he first met/saw me, or at least I think he says this, when I was on programming at the WorldCon in Glasgow several years back.  John and I are on two panels together, and I'm also on two with Eleanor Wood.  I respect Eleanor quite a bit; we have some similar tastes and I quite envy some of the great authors she represents.

My panel on Saturday is particularly star-studded.  Many hours have been spent playing Munchkin at the games nights/days I host once a month or so, and we have Steve Jackson to blame for that.  Tom Doherty is the founder and publisher of Tor, and I know less about publishing than Tom has forgotten! To have both him and Tor art director and tor.com mastermind Irene Gallo on a single panel, I may just hide underneath the table.  Betsy Mitchell gave me my start in publishing 30 years ago, and I am super-excited that it looks like we will be doing some business together now that she is the Strategic Advisor for SF and Fantasy for Open Road Media.

If you can't make my panels, I'll be around otherwise at the convention.  Maybe you'll spot me in the dealer's room (everyone goes to the dealer's room, everyone!), or between drinks meetings at the hotel bar.  I'll be tweeting from the con, so if you aren't following us at twitter.com/awfulagent this might be a good chance to start so you'll have some idea what's up.

WorldCon is one of my favorite conventions.  I'm dreamed of going since I was a teenager, hitting up my father for $20 to buy a supporting membership to vote for the Hugo Awards.  Who'd'a'thunk that I get to go as a professional, and be on programming, and if I'm really really lucky have clients of mine nominated for Hugo Awards.

Besides Sam and I, my VP Eddie Schneider will be at the convention.  He's not on programming, but I'm sure you'll spot him around and about.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Disappointysium -- a guest review by Tim Akers


It was so much fun doing an exchange of movie reviews with Bryce Moore last month for Pacific Rim that I thought it would be fun to do another one with my client Tim Akers for Elysium.  Tim has just started selling an e-collection Bones of Veridon which collects some of the short fiction that first attracted me to Tim's work,  and you can also enjoy two Veridon novels, Dead of Veridon and Heart of Veridon.  Also highly recommended -- Horns of Ruin, the first fully realized blend of steampunk and sword & sorcery.
The JABberwocky page for Tim Akers
Tim's Blog, main link
My review, on Tim's blog.

Disappointysium

I want to start by saying that I kind of liked this movie, in the sense that I didn't walk out and I didn't feel like I had wasted my money and I only got blood-humming angry a couple times. But really, it was a movie of great potential that made dozens of small mistakes and one major mistake that killed it for me. I wanted to like it more, but didn't. Here's why.

Elysium felt strangely like a science fiction movie written by someone with no experience in science fiction. That's odd, because Blomkamp delivered the excellent District 9 (enjoyed it, will never see it again) and is supposed to be something of a ninja among science fiction directors. But from the very beginning there were a number of gaffes that felt like they were being made by someone who heard about this science fiction thing, and thought maybe he'd try his hand at it. Let me tell you, it's not for everyone.

Let's start with the science stuff. I'm not the kind of guy who freaks out about impractical science in my fiction, especially movies. I have a friend who hates Firefly because of the kitchen table in the space ship. It's too big, he says. You'd never waste that kind of space in a real space ship, and certainly not with a wooden table. I'm not that guy. But from the very start of the movie there were just. So. Many. Things. There's an early scene where a bunch of 'unfortunates' tries to sneak into Elysium with some stolen shuttle IDs. Three shuttles go up, two get destroyed en route by a (wait for it) shoulder launched missile system, and the third crashes into someone's lawn. Everyone is rapidly rounded up by adorable droids, except for a mother and her daughter. These two break into someone's house and, using the forged DNA-ID on the kid, use the rich people's health care to cure the girl of something debilitating.

Begin the questioning, sir.

Why are they shooting at this shuttle from earth, rather from the station itself? Wait, how are they going to land when there must be some kind of shield keeping the atmosphere in the... huh. Ok, how are they keeping the atmosphere in the... wait, they caught *everyone* in a matter of minutes? Well what's the point of trying to get up here if literally everyone gets caught? Oh, so this scene is some combination of the voter ID laws, universal health care and white privilege, I guess? Ok... but...

And that's all the stuff that came to me in one scene, and there's one thing I'm leaving out that's *huge* to the plot that, I guess, never occurred to the director. But I'll get to that later, when I'm yelling about the ending. Spoiler: fuck the ending.

This kind of bizarre, poorly thought out inconsistency in the mechanics of the world, both societal and technological, never ends. I kind of hoped it was just some convenient hand waving at the start of the movie to demonstrate the shape of the world and to foreshadow the rest of the plot, but no. No luck. I can't go through every little thing that happened because it's a lot of things, but suffice to say that there's not a scene in the movie where I wasn't questioning some bit of the technology. That bothered me mostly because I'm really, really not that guy. I'm *so* good at suspending disbelief. But for most of the movie, I just couldn't do it.

Ok, so that's the technology/science stuff. Next up, characters. Max is that type of main character who makes mistakes to move the plot forward. I don't like that kind of character. He basically keeps falling forward until everything works out (for everyone except him). Sure, the system he's stuck in is horrible, and he's just trying to make the best of a bad situation, but there simply wasn't a lot of appeal. I won't go into his girlfriend, because she was just a foil for her child. I won't talk about her child because honestly nearly every line they gave that child made me sick to the stomach.

Also, and this is important, the second you meet the kid she tells you she's sick. It's literally the first thing that she says. And you immediately flash back to that early scene I was bitching about, with the mother and the kid and they steal their way to Elysium so the kid can be cured. And now you know what's going to happen for the rest of the movie. The only person who doesn't know that this is the shape of the rest of the movie? The protagonist. And what active role does he take in this forward movement of the plot? None, at least not until the very end. The kid and her mom get up there on the same ship as our hero, but not because of anything specific that he's done. No, they're just along for the ride, and so the antagonist and his pals can constantly threaten to rape the mother. Got it.

There's other character stuff. The antagonist is just a monster. Jodie Foster's character... I don't know how best to say this. She's portrayed as one of these people who will do anything, commit any atrocity, push any boundary to accomplish her goals. She authorizes lethal force against those shuttles at the beginning. When those assets are taken away from her (without being replaced by more humane or politically acceptable systems. I really don't understand why they aren't replaced, or why there's NO APPRECIABLE DATA SECURITY anywhere in this world that apparently runs on data and algorithms) she conspires to overthrow the government by way of a system reboot (as a former helpdesk nerd, I couldn't help but say "Society not working? Have you tried turning it off and then back on?") because the programs that run Elysium apparently function in such a mechanical way that if you reboot the central computer and put your name in the data field labeled "President" you're suddenly the president. And when the homicidal rapist murderer who just got his face shot off and rebuilt does something stupid, she goes down there without any security and berates him. Because who would *dare* try to stop her? But when that same homicidal rapist murderer puts a piece of glass in her throat and throws her into a room with a nurse, and that nurse tries to bandage the wound so that they can get this woman to one of the billions of miracle-laser medbays that are just outside the door, what does this unstoppable force of nature do?

She gives up. She lets herself die. Because...?

Again, these are the most obvious things. There are more things, but I don't want to get into all of them. Suffice it to say that I doubted a lot of the character choices. But whatever.

I'm going to talk about the ending now, because up until the end I was still enjoying the movie. I know it sounds like I wasn't, but there was enough fun stuff going on that I was able to push most of this behind me. And then we got to the ending, and I was all 'Screw it!' and then there were some credits.

Here are the relevant details. Jodie Foster is going to overthrow the database. I mean government. She's going to overthrow the government with a database. To do this, she employs the assistance of Jerk #1, CEO of the company that builds all of these lovely droids that are everywhere. Jerk #1 does something in a unix shell that, when uploaded to the central computer in Elysium, will reboot the system and make Jodie Foster president.

Let's pause, because while that's ridiculous at nearly every level, I'm going to let it slide. It's the kind of big idea that science fiction sometimes depends on, and since the movie is nothing more than a clumsy metaphor for disenfranchisement, we're going to let it go. After all, in my first book there was a church that was based on strange pieces of machinery that floated down a river, and they built a god by fitting the pieces together even though they had idea which parts went where. So metaphor is a thing I enjoy. The problem, though, is one of plotting. Jodie Foster explains her plan to Jerk #1 while they're on Elysium. He then goes back to earth (with nearly no security) writes the program to carry out this mischief, encrypts it with a 'fatal' algorithm (more on that later) and then travels back to Elysium. Except, of course, he doesn't make it back. He gets hijacked by our hero, who downloads the contents of Jerk #1's brain into his own brain, to steal bank accounts or passwords or something. And instead of bank accounts, he ends up with this program to overthrow Elysium. Then Jerk #1 dies.

Let's talk about that encryption program for just a second. How is it supposed to work? I'm not going to dwell on how encryption actually works, because that's irrelevant in this world, it's just shorthand for 'protected'. So if it's supposed to protect this data with a 'fatal' algorithm, how should that work, if you really want to protect that data? Shouldn't it kill anyone who tries to download it without permission? That's how it would work if it were my head being hijacked. But no, that's not how it works. It kills the person carrying the data, but only after it's been download. Why? Because otherwise the plot wouldn't work, that's why. So Matt Damon is able to download this protected data, and then other people are able to view it, and finally he's able to run the program on Elysium (more on that later) and then tragically die. Very tidy. Almost as if someone wrote it that way.

Anyway!

At the end of the movie, Matt Damon runs this program on Elysium, only instead of making Jodie Foster the president (she's dead, anyway) they make all the people of earth citizens of Elysium. So now the droids can't arrest them, the medbays will heal them, and they all get matching polo shirts with the swell Elysium logo.

Actually, I want a polo shirt with the Elysium logo. I think that would be cool.

So all that happens and Matt Damon dies and the day is saved. All the world's problems have now been solved by universal health care.

Except obviously they haven't. Things are the way they are on earth because of overpopulation, environmental disasters, poor resource management and a general societal collapse. There are no jobs! Resources are scarce! Are you going to solve those things with the fifty or so medbays you just shipped down to earth? No. No you are not. You are going to cause riots, all while disabling the primary security system you've put in place (the droids, who can apparently no longer arrest people because they're citizens of Elysium) oh and now all of those people are probably going to try to fly up to the space station and live there because why not? What's to stop them?

Here's the final kicker? Remember that first scene I was bitching about, where the shuttle crash lands and the people go running out and then get apprehended and deported? Each one of those people had been given a valid Elysium ID, burned into their skin. The medbays scanned them as valid citizens. Theoretically, since it's all one big database, the droids would have too. Oh, and the droids were able to arrest those citizens, because...?

So when they reboot the system on Elysium and make everyone a citizen, those droids are not able to arrest the new citizens even though they were able to earlier. And there's no system in place for reversion of citizenship, or amending the terms of citizenship, or any kind of backdoor anything to undo this act. Because...?

Look. I actually liked the movie, kind of. But it failed on so many levels, in so many little ways. It was lazy in its metaphor, inconsistent in its application of technology, poorly paced (I didn't even get into the movie's structure. Gods, the pacing!), and the characters frustrated me. But that ending! What. The. Hell.

Seriously.

by Tim Akers