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The Secret Return of Alex Mack

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Review of chapter "Return" from fpb
Review:
Epileptic trees, smoke monsters, and magical tropical islands - all right, thank you. And thanks for warning me away from another disappointing story experience.

Yes, Diane, I am aware that there are deserts in the USA. (Like most Italian children of the last three generations, I probably know the geography of Arizona and New Mexico better than most Americans, thanks to an immensely popular and remarkably well researched Western comic called TEX, which every Italian child since at least 1960 has read.) I am also aware that there are mountains, ice caps, and swamps. Well, Italy is one-third mountains. Drive one hour due east from Rome, and you will be in sight of eternal snows - the well-named Gran Sasso d'Italia (Great Stone of Italy), not quite Mount McKinley or Mount Logan, but still a respectable seven or eight thousand feet in height. And much of the rest was originally swamp. My country's Constitution opens with the sentence: "Italy is a democratic republic established upon labour," and established upon labour she is - the hard work of five thousand years, whose traces I see everywhere I go and anywhere I turn. Terracing all the hills to avoid the precious topsoil sliding to the bottom; draining the swamps, or turning them into fishing lakes or salt drying areas, reserving forests for timber and hunting, and working out, long before history even began, the great network of paths by which cattle were herded from their summer grazing fields in the mountains to their lowland winter ones, and to the great cattle markets one of which became Rome. Everyone has heard of the Roman roads, but those roads were there before Rome became a town - the Via Latina, Via Appia (my mother lives within walking distance of both), Via Tiburtina (where my best friend lived all his life until he died), Via Salaria, Via Aurelia, all of them are transhumance and trade routes that existed before history began - and that were so well laid out that they still fill the same function today. It is not that all roads lead to Rome, but that Rome was built where all the roads met. Italy is the result of 200 generations of unknown workers, and so are most countries in the old world. That is why Italy is still capable of feeding herself, even with 60 million inhabitants in the territory of a large American state; that is, for that matter, why India's food producing ability has kept pace with its swift population growth since independence and before.

For many reasons, there has never been and there never will be a Malthusian mass death from starvation. The most obvious is that Malthus and his followers, all the way down to Crazy Maggie, just imagine that everyone except their enlightened selves will just go on having babies until they are no longer able to. Complete rubbish disproved by every bit of demographic history anyone can ever examine: people, on the whole - and that includes the lowest classes - will have babies according to eminently rational and clearly understandable criteria. How many of them will die in infancy? how many of the surviving ones can rationally be expected to find employment or work to do, or at any rate not to starve? Will we need our children to support us in our old age, or can we rely on some other source of support? (The introduction of the old age pension corresponds almost everywhere with a sharp fall in natality.) This is the case whether or not abortion is or is not legal. The loathing and contempt that can be felt in the Malthusian doctrine of the irrational greed to reproduce at all costs is the symptom of the detachment of such people from mankind as a whole, their sense of being a superior, wiser and more morally perfect generation, and therefore it is quite spectacularly artistically right to ascribe it to Maggie, the psychopath who loves to kill people and watches with cool indifference as her own student and collaborator Ristersen is devoured alive by a blob monster. Such a person would in fact express her viciousness and hate in the language of intellectual and moral superiority, as did such Malthusian mass murderers as Trevelyan, the man who made the Irish Famine of 1845.

And even assuming that peer-reviewed publication is always and everywhere honest, it is still no guarantee against bad hypotheses and faddish notions.
Review By [fpb] • Date [22 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from SirLee
Review:
To clarify a bit more, if you never watched "Lost":
All over the first season, there were sightings of trees being shaken (and sometimes felled) by some mysterious thing that moved quickly through the jungle -- which suggested some fairly big, VERY strong animal who simply didn't bother with avoiding bumping into the trees. But nobody ever saw the thing. One of the craziest fan theories that ran around was that there wasn't any monster -- the trees were shaking because they were epileptic. Then the "epileptic tree" meme came to mean any sort of elaborate fan theory, where one thing comes from another, like branches in a tree -- but it could all come down at any moment.

Well... eventually, about halfway on the second season, they showed the monster. Which was made of SMOKE. Which doesn't make ANY SORT OF SENSE AT ALL, since smoke wouldn't NEED to push trees aside. That was my "this is bullshit, I'm going to read a book" moment with "Lost." That is, the moment where it became painfully clear that the WRITERS hadn't any idea of what was going on with the island. Not even bringing in Mira Furlan could hold me in front of the TV anymore.

For "24", the "this is bullshit" moment came around 1/3 of the first season, when Stupid Daughter's Stupid Friend is ran over by a car... and taken to an hospital... that is, one of probably DOZENS of hospitals in the L.A. area... and it turns out that the villains had full control of the hospital security cameras. WHY WOULD THEY BOTHER TO INFILTRATE THIS PARTICULAR HOSPITAL'S SECURITY??? That came about one week after I read an interview where the writers as much as admitted that they HADN'T DECIDED who would be the mole in the organization.

Babylon 5 spoiled me. It has been 20 years, and I'm yet to see another TV series that well planned. The best I can get is season-level planning, like on Joss Whedon series. This is why I like Diane's stuff so much -- she plans well in advance, and her surprise reveals never reek of ass-pulls.
Comments from author:
Thanks!

And Babylon 5 was plotted with a ton of possible adjustments all through the concept, and JMS *still* got ambushed by Executive Meddling.
Review By [SirLee] • Date [21 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Return" from fpb
Review:
Epileptic trees? Smoke monster? Hey, dumb Italian here in dire need of explanation!
Comments from author:
Sorry. The term 'epileptic trees' arose in the fandom of the american tv show 'Lost' largely due to the immense amount of unexplained things in the show. It means 'crazy fan interpretations'. Since they were using a 'Lost' reference, I used another weirdness from the same show: the 'smoke monster' which was just weirdness with no decent explanation. People watched 'Lost' eagerly awaiting a full explanation of the huge numbers of unexplained events (much like 'The X-files') and were ultimately horribly disappointed by the lack of forethought on the part of the writers (much like 'The X-files'). I'm fine with a complicated story that takes a year or two to come to a big build-up (last show of Buffy season 4 all the way to season 5 finale), but fiction that keeps piling on the mysteries while never explaining enough stuff to keep up? Not okay.

Check out the TV Tropes pages 'Chris Carter Effect' and 'Claremont Coefficient'.
Review By [fpb] • Date [21 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from fpb
Review:
What Tera could do to destroy the base would be to go into space, pick up a large meteorite (or some piece of space wreckage such as the Envisat) and then personally steer it down until it hits the tepui with the force... well... of a meteorite. However, this would have two disadvantages; one, Tera would, with this little gag, kill not one but several villains; and two, she would risk bringing down some horror from outer space such as the fungus that had destroyed Sam Carter's colleagues.
Comments from author:
Yes. And three, she might kill all her loved ones who are being held there unless there's a big rescue operation first.
Review By [fpb] • Date [21 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from mooncowthree
Review:
The epileptic trees thank you for the food. *shudder* *shudder*
Comments from author:
That food goes great with roasted smoke monster.
Review By [mooncowthree] • Date [21 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from SirLee
Review:
OK, let's fertilize a few epileptic trees...

Fanreaderonetwo: while the concept of Tera attacking from orbit is amusing, it's not (currently) practical. Number one reason: how does that help in rescuing her friends _alive_? Number two reason: aim. Without Sam checking the telemetry and doing C&C, she's more likely to hit Caracas, Georgetown or Boa Vista with that maser (those are all bigger targets, you know) than she is likely to hit the Collective compound. Deorbiting stuff is even harder -- without adequate trajectory calculations, she's more likely to hit *Libreville* (the capital of Liberia) than the compound. Not to mention locating stuff that is actually junk, instead of dropping something like a GPS satellite. Oops!

fpb: My reading on the stuff Lupo said to Eddings is that it was a careful, calculated bluff. It's a fairly safe guess that Walsh would like to examine the only surviving result of her Galinka work, so claiming that "Walsh wants Action Girl alive" is bound to be believable. Also, it's fairly well known (Eddings probably heard the declassified parts of the Terawatt X Atron confrontation as SRI gossip) that Atron has a grudge against Terawatt, so claiming that "Atron wants to kill her and her little dog too" is believable. Sure, Tera kicked Danielle's butt last time... but that was before she had access to Collective resources. Even if they don't know the specifics (like that power armor), it's a safe bet that the Collective could supply with _some_ form of upgrade. Not to mention that anti-morph weapon they tested in Africa.

Locke's behavior is odd, but... I don't think he's being rational about this. I think in some level he considers Jack a "prodigal son." He does consider Maggie his daughter, and he sounded sorta personally disappointed with the paths his other "children" took. He's an old man who might be entertaining silly notions of having his "family" back with him during his twilight years, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Cordelia. Hmmm, you raise an interesting point. Yeah, Cordy's parents apparently had Nazi sympathies, and yeah, they did run to Brazil when their tax evasion was discovered, so it could just be that the Chases were involved with the Collective for a long, long time -- and Cordelia was just raised in the middle of it and bought into it.

But yeah, there is that U.S. military/intelligence community cabal -- the one General Flagg and (former) Senator Kinsey are part of. Their agenda regarding the Collective is still unrevealed -- are they Collective allies, are they working their own program against the Collective, are they just oblivious to it?

Canon!Cordy proved redeemable, so there is a chance that Tera!Cordy is not actually that bad. For one thing, she wouldn't want to destroy the current civilization -- it's where she buys her designer stuff, after all. Even the name "Collective" would be distasteful to a snob like her. So she might have her own agenda. which doesn't jibe well with the Locke/Walsh one, but she has to keep showing her bitchiness against Willow so people don't suspect her. And then, there's that "Salty Goodness" line, which I still think a bit out of character unless Tera!Cordy turns out to be bisexual... IF we go with the theory that Cordy is playing her own game, she might have used that out-of-character line deliberately to give Willow a hint that not everything is what it appears to be.

For that matter, Canon|Selina was a thief who only resorts to violence as self-defense and even so keeps herself in the non-lethal range, not the "let's see how many I can kill before Batman shows up" sort of villain, so Tera!Selina might not be that enthusiastic about this "let's kill a few billion people" plan. But we haven't seen Tera!Selina yet, so we don't know how much her personality diverges from Canon!Selina.
Comments from author:
One 'epileptic tree' thing you don't have to worry about: time travel. Or 'smoke monsters'. Two things. Two things you don't have to worry about. Time travel, smoke monsters and magic tropical islands. THREE things...
Review By [SirLee] • Date [21 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from fpb
Review:
I have been re-reading a number of passages, and I simply don't think Jo Lupo can be a traitor. But there is still something going on. She informs Eddings that "Walsh wants Action Girl alive, and Atron is going to deal with Terawatt - permanently." Now, we don't know what Walsh wants for AG, so Jo's words here could be just made up to pretend to knowledge, or else a lucky guess. But we know that Atron has taken over the Collective's battle armour program and intends to use it to destroy Terawatt. How would Jo know that Atron - and Atron specifically - has something very lethal in store for our heroine? After all, the last time they met, Terawatt literally punched the snot out of Atron, and she has since shown that she is invulnerable to antidote. If Jo is a double agent, then the SRI must know what Atron is brewing.

As for Locke's bizarre behaviour in keeping Jack sitting through a long session of Powerpoint rubbish while he has already done enough to earn the general's permanent hatred - I think he is just playing cat and mouse. His idea was to just talk and talk - and then present Jack with his wife's tortured body, explain to him that Halsey was ripping her to pieces while they were talking, and THEN kill him. Certainly his behaviour makes little sense otherwise. Maybe he even expected an attempt on the tepui to be made and fail, so he could present him with the bodies of, say, Terawatt and Finn as well. Of course that is not what is going to happen, but it would be very supervillain-y.

One thing nobody seemed to ask is what exactly is Cordelia doing in Badguy Central. It seems that everyone simply accepted that bad guys belong together. But I doubt Cordelia would want to be just one in a mass of Collective order followers. And we should notice that - under the cynical and threatening surface of her words - what she has just done is offer to save the life of Willow Rosenberg, one of the Collective's most effective and dangerous enemies. And we have reason to suspect that the Collective is not the only remaining clandestine power: what about the mysterious people who Kinsey contacted in Washington DC, for instance?

I also think that we may well see some pretty impressive Dark Willow bits before the end. Her promise to turn the whole place into a smoking hole in the ground if anything happens to her husband (or if she thinks that it has) should be taken seriously. This is the woman who went Dark in a few other universes. And all she has to do is hack into a few US nuclear missile controls, and direct the missiles properly, maybe with that geographical software she knows so well....
Comments from author:
Yeah, in every universe a Dark Willow is a serious threat. Try imagining a Dark Willow in the Jaime Sommers universe.
Review By [fpb] • Date [21 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Return" from fanreaderonetwo
Review:
"@fanreaderonetwo According to whacky Maggie, all of her creations have failsafes that she can use to control them, thus they could be deployed to sanitize cities and then be disabled leaving a huge portion of the globe intact and wiping out half the humans. But remember she flipped her shit when the alien fungus showed up since there was no way to control it.

Comments from author:

Maggie thinks she has all her creations under control. How many horror movies and monster movies have we seen where the scientist insists that nothing can go wrong?

*****

Maggie had all of her critters under firm control, just like Gojira after her sub was sunk.

Nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong......



I just had an amusing thought(s) about the Orphan's "impregnable" hideyhole.

Tera goes into orbit and start deorbiting _large_ chunks of space junk drops them on the Orphans. Most will miss or burn up, but a couple of tons falling from orbit onto their HQ could ruin the Orphans day.

Alternatively or additionally, I'm wondering if that Terawatt powered maser could warm up the Orphans......
Comments from author:
"Hey, this tungsten rod isn't doing anyone any good up here, I'll just de-orbit the poor little thing..."
Review By [fanreaderonetwo] • Date [21 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from mountainelements
Review:
After you said that Dr. Angleman wasn't the mole, my first suspect was Hank Marshall. He seemed to be trying to get closer to Terawatt by asking her to call him by his first name. I think I remember him asking Terawatt if she was a science major. Alex mentioned reading a paper of his as an excuse for requesting him at the computer conference, which I thought was a Chekhov's gun. Finally, he was part of the mission where Dr. Walsh managed to capture Terawatt.

Lupo was a distant second. I first took her absence from Joe Frady's articles as a sign that Frady was actually on the SRI's side or possibly working with Batman. While Frady tried to make Willow, Riley, and Carlson look bad, he also didn't mention anything too horrible about them. Lupo probably ticked off a lot of people while in the military, both with her attitude and by simply being female. She likely would have drawn a lot more negative attention than the others. Eddings was not even on my radar as a possible mole. Kudos!
Comments from author:
I've been planting hints all along. As a long-time reader of serious mystery stories, I always try to play fair with the readers. That's harder in a sci-fi or magical setting, because then you always have to cover the 'A Wizard Did It' cop-out.
Review By [mountainelements] • Date [20 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from mooncowthree
Review:
@fanreaderonetwo According to whacky Maggie, all of her creations have failsafes that she can use to control them, thus they could be deployed to sanitize cities and then be disabled leaving a huge portion of the globe intact and wiping out half the humans. But remember she flipped her shit when the alien fungus showed up since there was no way to control it.

@texaswookie I read it as more of "well the guard dogs know I'm here but they didn't try to stop me so might as well get to the wall asap instead of trying to sneak around."
Also I never guessed about jack since from Alex's point of view he was just as impressive as other jack who wasn't anything special, so why would this one be anything different? But given that I've only seen two seasons of sg1 I didn't know about original Jacks capabilities to compare and see if Diane was hinting at something more. Also I bought willows explanation that it was just his subconscious warning him,but the real question is when did he guess that he might have an artificially heightened intuition?
Comments from author:
Maggie thinks she has all her creations under control. How many horror movies and monster movies have we seen where the scientist insists that nothing can go wrong?
Review By [mooncowthree] • Date [20 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from texaswookie
Review:
Let me see if I'm getting this straight first they interupted his honeymoon, then they shot him, they then threatened his hot redheaded wife, they then kidnap him, they then do the whole luke I am your father with a slight twist. And now they expect General Jack O'Niell to sit down and listen to hours of power point presentations just so they can convince him to work for their cause? Yeah, that's not going to blow up in their faces at all. And that's before the rescue team comes. Why are smart people so socially dumb?

Interesting that there is actually something that can make even Hanna afraid. Even if they may share some DNA.

Does mental jig for having realized Jack was a predecessor to Orphans way back when Jack first mentioned being adopted.
Comments from author:
I did drop enough hints that I assumed plenty of people would suspect.
Review By [texaswookie] • Date [20 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from mooncowthree
Review:
Was scrolling through a list of terrible movies worth watching and came upon the toxic avenger, I hadn't seen the cover art before, no wonder the mayor was freaked out.
Comments from author:
Yeah, he's not exactly George Clooney, is he?
Review By [mooncowthree] • Date [20 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Return" from fpb
Review:
My dear Sir Lee, to extrapolate mass death from a few problems of supply - themselves mostly extrapolated; it's always some terrible future that we have to worry about somehow, never the present - is like diagnosing terminal cancer from a cold. And in fact it never happened. The worst ever case of mass death that I know about, the Black Death of 1346-48, which wiped out one-third of the European population in a few years, was the product not of scarcity but of abundance. The steady growth of Europe that had begun about 1050 had resulted in a situation where men huddled in ill-conceived, ill-designed towns and cities, with terrible sanitation - hideously vulnerable to contagion. The Black Death had already been having fun at the expense of the Muslim East and North Africa when it hit Italy and the Crimea, but its impact had been less extreme; why? because the society was rather less urbanized and densely populated.
No, it is simply a matter of marketing. "Be afraid, be very afraid" always sells. But I would rather get it from an honest fourth-rate schlocker about a bunch of pretty and incredibly stupid teens trapped in a creepy old house, than in a factitious pseudo-sociological presentation that always gets everything wrong.
Comments from author:
I don't think it's a matter of marketing. There are places where people have real problems. In general, we can't believe either extreme, but there are plenty of rational researchers who publish in peer-reviewed journals, and they're not paid by marketers.
Review By [fpb] • Date [20 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Vine Street" from SirLee
Review:
fpb, I'm not disputing your credentials regarding the political aspects of Malthusianism, but...

But. Resource depletion is a real problem that can't be wished away. Reliance on non-renewable energy sources is a problem we have to figure out. Water rights is already a problem in many parts of the world. Fisheries depletion due to overfishing is already a problem. Scientific consensus is that global warming/climate changing is a real thing. Ocean acidification is happening. We may have already passed peak phosphorus mining, and phosphorus is an essential component to fertilizers.

I live in a 10-million-plus metropolis. We have three major, and a few minor, water supply systems. The biggest of those bring water from hundreds of kilometers away. The last couple years have been exceptionally dry ones, and we are looking into the possibility of the water reserves drying up completely in the next month.

Thing is, even if it rains a lot this summer, long-term we are pretty much guaranteed to have water supply crises again. Because the city keeps growing, and there's nowhere else to bring water from -- we are already in competition with *other* metro areas. Drilling is also a short-term solution, since aquifers are replenished very, very slowly. Major aquifers like the one under my feet have been shrinking over the last century due to overdrilling.

So, Malthusianism or no Malthusianism, we as a species need to figure some things out. We need to figure ways to use water more efficiently. We need to figure out energy sources that don't increase atmospheric CO2 and other undesirable results. We need to figure out how to pollute less. We need to figure out how to stabilize theoretically-renewable (but which have been undergoing depletion anyway) resources like fisheries and soil.

And yes, we might have to figure a way to accelerate the stabilization of population. Because the projections I have seen aren't encouraging: more than doubling the world's population over the next century, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, before finally stabilizing around 2100.
Comments from author:
And we have a history of really being pretty lousy on our future population estimates.
Review By [SirLee] • Date [20 Oct 14] • Not Rated
Review of chapter "Where Raptors Dare" from fpb
Review:
Malthusianism is not an ideology, it's a pathology - or, ot be precise, a symptom. its predictive record is so pathetic it makes Marxism look like a sane and useful tool of interpretation by comparison; Marxism, at least, has produced some useful interpretative tools and categories, such as class interest and false consciousness. Nothing of the kind has ever come from Malthusianism; in fact, far from helping us understand reality, it prevents us from seeing what is under our own eyes - such as that every single major hunger in modern history is the fruit either of a war or of a governmental decision to cause starvation, or both. Malthusianism has even led us to believe that hunger might cause war, as if the most fucking expensive of all human activities, and the one that demands the best fed and fittest men, may begin in lack of men and means!
The extent to which Malthusianism is literally a feature of insanity may be seen by the fact that it was first proclaimed and believed (God forgive them!) in a country that had, over the previous two centuries, multiplied its population fivefold and its food production correspondingly, namely England in the Napoleonic age. Since then, every twenty years some git has made himself rich (it is nearly always a man) by revisiting the same stale rubbish about the inevitable starvation of mankind. The fact that a country the size of Italy produces 97% of its own food necessities even today should alone show that the amount of slack in the system is enormous. The US could easily feed five times its current population (that is what they would have if they had a population density like Italy's). The truth is that Malthusianism is a superstition that tries to shift the guilt for poverty and exploitition on the poor and exploited, and to that extent relieve the sense of guilt of a rich upper class. It's the poor's fault!! They have too many children!! Translated into the language of real meaning; "I see too many poor people, and they annoy me. There ought to be fewer of them, so I would not see them so often, and I would feel better." That was its point in the days of the very unreverend reverend Malthus (yes, the bastard was an Anglican clergyman - nothing new under the sun), and that is what it serves now.
Comments from author:
The US does not have the same resources as Italy across its entirety. In a place like Virginia or North Carolina, the analogy holds quite tightly, but in a place like eastern Colorado or southern Arizona, it does not. The easiest way to see that is to find a map of the U.S. that shows the density of a cow-calf unit (the amount of land needed to feed one cow and one of her calves).
Review By [fpb] • Date [20 Oct 14] • Not Rated
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