May 2012 Media Thread

by RobertLumley1 min read2nd May 201290 comments


Personal Blog

This is the monthly thread for posting media of various types that you've found that you enjoy. I find that reading the sequences makes me less likely to enjoy some entertainment media that is otherwise quite popular, and finding media recommended by LWers is a good way to mitigate this. Post what you're reading, listening to, watching, and your opinion of it. Post recommendations to blogs. Post whatever media you feel like discussing! To see previous recommendations, check out the older threads.


  • Please avoid downvoting recommendations just because you don't personally like the recommended material; remember that liking is a two-place word. If you can point out a specific flaw in a person's recommendation, consider posting a comment to that effect.
  • If you want to post something that (you know) has been recommended before, but have another recommendation to add, please link to the original, so that the reader has both recommendations.
  • Please use the comment trees for genres, which I was apparently too dumb to do.
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Video Game Thread

1[anonymous]10yI've been playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution on and off for the past couple months. It's pretty ethically naive, and doesn't hold up as a prequel to the original Deus Ex, but at least it's better than Deus Ex: Invisible War.
0RomeoStevens10yI'm impressed by anything in video games or movies that isn't caveman sci-fi. I enjoyed DE:HR.
0[anonymous]10yOh, I enjoy it too; it's very satisfying in places.
-1CronoDAS10yDid you play Final Fantasy X?
2DanArmak10yOnce upon a time, in the era of the Playstation, Squaresoft made three great, although very different, games. I think I'm not alone in feeling none of their games before or since measured up to these three. (It's a cherished sentiment of my childhood.) Xenogears. Vagrant Story. Final Fantasy VII. FF-VI is often mentioned in this company as well. As for FF-X, it's certainly a big improvement over VIII or even IX, but I don't think it's that great. Recommending the genre/series to someone who expects modern graphics, the Great Three are indeed problematic(*) - XII might be considered too. (*) But if you're aware of the technical limitations of the PS platform, Vagrant Story truly shines in its accomplishment!
0CronoDAS10yI never liked FF7 all that much, and Xenogears suffered from a translation that, while adequate and free from obvious errors, had a writing style I didn't care for. I'll certainly endorse Vagrant Story as being very good, though. Incidentally, my 3 most favorite JRPGs of all time are Final Fantasy 6, Lunar Eternal Blue (the original Sega CD version), and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.
0DanArmak10yFF7 was the first jRPG I ever played. I grew up with it. I may not be able to judge it dispassionately enough for recommendations. Xenogears suffered most obviously from being incomplete.
0CronoDAS10yUnlike most people, I liked disc 2 of Xenogears more than disc 1...
0RomeoStevens10yyes, but I can't stand jRPGs. I never finished it.
2CronoDAS10ySo you probably never got to the point where the game engages in a complete repudiation of the "caveman sci-fi []" ideal, then. (It happens when the group reaches present-day Zanarkand.)
2orthonormal10yPavement []. They made brilliant music (chaotically catchy melodies and brainy stream-of-consciousness lyrics) in the 90s, and heavily influenced every indie band you like. I suggest starting with Brighten the Corners [] (the most immediately enjoyable one).
1iDante10yNephew [\(band\]) Very entertaining lyrics from a Danish band. Watch the video for Va Fangool, it's pretty fun.
1dbaupp10yThanks for posting, the three songs I've listened to so far have been very enjoyable! (The video for Va Fangool gets, err, a little out of hand towards the end, haha!)
1BlazeOrangeDeer10yThe Shins, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes. I have no idea if you'll like them, I don't know how to properly recommend music but I can't stop listening to these.
1Bill_McGrath10yI like Vampire Weekend, but from what I've heard (most of their first two albums), their songs all sound very very similar to me. I thought A-Punk was amazing when it was released first, but I got a little discouraged by each subsequent single, because I felt I was just hearing A-Punk again. Oxford Comma is a great song though, and the video [] by Richard Ayoade is a nice bonus.
0BlazeOrangeDeer10yI'm not sure that they're that similar, there are a good number that share the sound but they have different melodies and everything, and that's only a certain number of the songs. And I really like the style anyway, so I don't mind.
0Bill_McGrath10yYeah, it's the similar sounds and arrangements that brought me to this conclusion. I'd still listen to them though.
1RobertLumley10yHorchata (Vampire Weekend) is one of my favorite songs, as is Montezuma (Fleet Foxes). Not very familiar with The Shins.
0Voltairina10yI've been watching Patient Zero a lot., I like the song "Upgrade Me Deeper", particularly:).
7Slackson10yI'm going to assume that the Valve New Employee Handbook [] belongs here. Just a good example of a successful company encouraging rationality in its employees, page 20 being particularly relevant. I'll post the link if anyone asks. EDIT: Link added.
4djcb10yI finally read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged []; the book needs little introduction, I suppose. I found the characters rather one-dimensional and unconvincing, the tone preachy. Still, somewhere in that tome there's an interesting speculative-fiction book hiding, and sometimes it shows. Anyway, it's an influential book, I'm glad I read it. And I know now who John Galt is.
2shminux10yRelevant recent XKCD [] (mouseover text is the best part)
2RobertLumley10yRelevant [], if you haven't read it.
1djcb10yThanks, that was an interesting read. I don't agree with EYs premise that just because Rand didn't use Bayesian probability theory, her work is somehow flawed --at least in Atlas Shrugged, epistemology does not play a big role, and POR (plain-old-rationalism) versus a probabilistic approach is not the level the book operates on.

It seemed to me that EY's point there was not to castigate Rand for not following Bayes, but rather to point out the flaw in ever creating a "closed system":

Science isn't fair. That's sorta the point. An aspiring rationalist in 2007 starts with a huge advantage over an aspiring rationalist in 1957. It's how we know that progress has occurred.

To me the thought of voluntarily embracing a system explicitly tied to the beliefs of one human being, who's dead, falls somewhere between the silly and the suicidal. [...]

The vibrance that Rand admired in science, in commerce, in every railroad that replaced a horse-and-buggy route, in every skyscraper built with new architecture—it all comes from the principle of surpassing the ancient masters.

Moreover, this isn't a "premise". EY is not assuming a premise that Rand (or anyone else) is bad-because-not-Bayesian; he is using Objectivism as an example of what has elsewhere been called "worshiping the finger that points to the moon."

-1djcb10yAgreed, the cultishness/orthodoxy is the overall point of the article, and on the whole I do agree with it. However, I was specifically referring to the part where it says: and I would argue that bayesianism is a typical tool for instrumental rationalism, which is not what Rand was writing about.
0AlanCrowe10yI thought that the heroes were wish-fulfillment fantasy figures, but the villains were drawn from real life.
2djcb10yIt's interesting indeed how one's sees the "anti-dog-eat-dog-act" and the like all around after reading the book. Still, I think the villains (and even moreso, their 'useful idiots') were caricatures as well -- certainly with a grain of truth, but overall pushed way beyond credibility.
3shokwave10yAnathem, by Neal Stephenson. If you've engaged with some common themes on LessWrong, this book will be incredibly rewarding. It does take a short while to get going.
0Bill_McGrath10yIt's kind of like a rationalist sci-fi Name of the Rose. Set in an interesting weirdtopia.
3Multiheaded10yWARNING: the below is arational. The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell [] I don't know how to talk of this book. Let's start with a new angle, popular on LW now: the author is your traditional virtuous bleeding-heart liberal, and for his unacknowledged humanist quasi-theocracy he has written THE account of woe, perdition and apocalypse - it has been called the Nazi Life and Fate [], yet I'd say it resembles the Book of Job as told by Satan. Yes, it's a gratuitous and grotesque fictional account of the Holocaust, but it's also a work of literary research, trying to puzzle out the implications of this convoulted nightmare - like Dostoevsky foresaw much of the things to come in his works. And if it doesn't give you nightmares of your own, you haven't been reading it right. I'm long done with it (a couple of years or so), yet occasionally it still haunts me. The question is, what, exactly does the industrialization of murder say of us as a species? Viktor Frankl [] famously abjured the notion of "collective guilt" after his liberation. Yet, with all the mounting evidence, might we all indeed have contacted the taint in some way? Or were we damned to begin with? Do you care to find out?
3praxis10yTrigger warnings on Less Wrong, I never thought I'd see the day.
3David_Gerard10yThe complete works of J. G. Ballard, looks like. I proposed a daily JGB quotes Twitter on the jgb list [] (a remarkably high-quality list, mostly because David Pringle [] is present) and it rapidly became apparent that collecting even a year's worth would be work. Read all of The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash over the weekend, extracting about 400 one-liners from them. The trouble is that Ballard wrote in precise and elaborate sentences, and there were so many perfect fragments that came in at 160-170 characters. Most annoying. But AE and Crash are basically made of one-liners. Now I just need to read the rest so it isn't all cars, sex and Kennedys. And by the way, AE and Crash are fucked-up shit as well as literary genius.
0Bill_McGrath10yI really enjoyed Crash but found it difficult to read (both for being fucked-up shit and for dense style). I will finish it at some stage.
0David_Gerard10yI was reading it line by line. Perhaps reading it out loud will work. Seems to work for Atrocity Exhibition.
2[anonymous]10yOn gwern's recommendation I'm reading The Shadow of the Torturer [] and The Claw of the Conciliator []. It's been alright. I'm also rereading the original Dune series, though I'm going to stop before the Brian Herbert-produced catastrophes.
0RomeoStevens10yDestination:Void is also fun.
0Anatoly_Vorobey10yI'm fascinated by these two authors meeting in the space of one paragraph. To me, it's an unlikely meeting of the great and the horrible.
1shminux10yCurrently listening too Orson Card's Shadow in Flight [], so far it is better than the previous couple of books in the series, with some rationality lessons along the way (somewhat ironic, given OSC's political and social leanings).
2BlazeOrangeDeer10yI love the Ender's Game/Ender's Shadow series, and have always been a bit confused by how his personal politics seem so at odds with the principles I see in his work.
2[anonymous]10yDo you mean the copious Ender/Bean shipping opportunities, or something else?
2ahartell10yI've always been confused by the broad message of acceptance (even/especially of alien species) and how that contrasts with his disapproval of homosexuality.
0BlazeOrangeDeer10yExactly. The whole "you can't truly know someone and not love them" just doesn't sound like it would come from a bigot. I guess he did call the aliens Buggers though lol
1RobertLumley10yI'm interested in people's opinions on The Hunger Games, if they've read them. A number of my friends like them, but I'm concerned that it might have tropes that kick me in my LW parts []. I don't say this because of anything I heard, I just want to be as sure as possible that I will like it if I'm going to invest the time to read them.

Well, you could read The Last Psychiatrist; some of his posts are on the topic that the first one is just pseudo-feminism because if you pay attention, the protagonist does little or nothing except initially volunteer and then be helped by others.

The protagonist's backstory (and first-chapter-or-two-story) is that she's been spending years sneaking under a security fence to hunt game, keeping her sister and mother from starvation and prostitution after her father died. Anti-feminist still? Two decisions to save other lives by risking one's own is still above average, no? I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of imaginary protagonists have done more, but real-life examples, particularly of teenagers, are less common.

Eliezer may claim that "it is an unvarying rule of fiction that problems are solved by protagonists", and maybe that's important for drama, but the idea that problems are all solved by the same character (or even few characters) is obviously grossly wrong in reality. If an author manages to pull off a story in which the plot-advancing choices are evenly split among many characters but the readers aren't put off by that, shouldn't we be congratulating Collins on her realism rather than criticizing her for not writing a superhero?

(I have my own criticisms of The Hunger Games, of course - please don't interpret this comment otherwise)

7Nornagest10yThing is, keeping this sort of thing mostly in backstory is problematic in itself. There's a truly astounding number of failure modes for media dealing with feminist (or other social, but I'll just talk about the feminist case for simplicity) issues, but one of the more common ones involves making a female character hypercompetent in exposition but limiting the latitude of her choices in narrative. The idea is probably that we get to feel good about watching an empowered woman (not to mention that Strong Female Characters are a selling point in their own right) but at the same time get the pathos that comes with watching other people (e.g.) save a damsel in distress. But the flaw in this line of thinking, of course, is that alleged empowerment tends to feel a bit hollow if it's not backed up by onscreen use of power. With a couple of honorable exceptions, after all, we don't watch action movies to hear the characters talk about how badassed they are. Now, that's all fairly orthodox feminist media criticism, albeit without the normal jargon. I should probably mention, though, that I think a related problem infects a lot of genre fiction, and not only that dealing with empowered females and other persons of social interest: namely, modern genre fiction takes a remarkably dim view of proactive heroes in general. You can blame some of this on the popularity of the straight Hero of a Thousand Faces plot: narrative conventions don't allow anyone playing Luke Skywalker to display latitude of choice, because all the choices have already been made for him. But even in highly non-Campbellian stories -- the James Bond plot, for example -- it's rare for protagonists to take major action which is neither requested by some authority nor forced by immediate moral or physical necessity. About the only conventional exception is in romantic subplots. There's also a partial exception in print SF, but in a lot of ways that's a genre isolate.
1gwern10yAnd herself.
0CronoDAS10yLike everything in fiction, sometimes this rule is broken. Deus Ex Machina is generally frowned upon, but it exists. And sometimes problems simply aren't solved at all, or end up being solved by people unrelated to the main plot.
1Alicorn10yI would like to issue an open invitation for anyone to name any book or movie (which I have already seen/read or feel like seeing/reading) with a protagonist I cannot damn as well as the Last Psychiatrist has apparently done with Katniss*. He's making shit up because it amuses him to take this contrarian position. There's nothing insightful here, just elegant bull. *said damning may or may not take the form of feminist criticism, depending, although this is reasonably likely to be as good an approach as any
[-][anonymous]10y 11

This could be interesting. In no particular order.

  1. Morgaine, The Mists of Avalon.
  2. Rakka and/or Reki, Haibane Renmei.
  3. San, Princess Mononoke.
  4. Lessa, The Dragonriders of Pern.
  5. The Rowan, The Tower and the Hive.

I'd add Saber and Irisviel from Fate/Zero, but I haven't seen it yet. No doubt you'd do a bang-up job on Fate/Stay Night's Saber.

1Alicorn10yThe only thing you mention that I've seen is Princess Mononoke. (I watched part of Haibane Renmei but not all of it and barely remember the contents.) I'll brush up on Mononoke and get back to you. ETA: It has become apparent that I do not have enough interest in this project to rewatch a movie. (Unlike reading a book, I can't really do that faster if I want.) Oh well.
6ShardPhoenix10yHis point wasn't that she was (necessarily) a bad character, just that she wasn't what the media and general public wanted her to be.
0mstevens10yCazaril, Curse of Chalion of course I don't know if you've seen it.
0Alicorn10yHaven't seen it. What's it about?
2Brigid10yIf you are concerned about time investment, let me state that most people can finish the book (and, in fact, do seem to finish the book) in 1-2 days.
2Anatoly_Vorobey10yI read the trilogy last month. The books are bad, but the first two at least are entertaining page-turners; the final book is much worse and I skipped a large part of it that was much too boring/stupid. I don't know so much about the specific LW-parts problems - I think those don't annoy me as much as they do some LW regulars. The world-building in general is very self-contradictory and has huge explanatory gaps; this'll annoy you if you're used to good SF. The characters are all cartoonish to the extreme. The prose is alright, however, and the emotional world of the heroine is shown deftly and convincingly.
1Suryc1110yWould you mind clarifying about the contradictory aspects of the universe that Collins creates? I am sure that there are logical inconsistencies and explanatory gaps along the same lines as the ones in the Harry Potter series (particularly relative to HPMoR), but I simply cannot recall any specific examples in the Hunger Games.
2shminux10yMy current solution to "I just want to be as sure as possible that I will like it if I'm going to invest the time to read " is to get an audiobook version and listen while driving or using public transit. Beats listening to radio or music.
0oliverbeatson10yI haven't read a wide plethora of fiction so I might have lower standards, but I enjoyed/am enjoying them (currently half way through the 3rd, skipped the 1st due to having watched the film, may not return to it). I've read a significant amount of the sequences and didn't feel like the books interact negatively with rationality ideas; the heroine is fairly lucid and has fewer than average dogmas, so isn't annoying in that respect.
-1Alicorn10yIf you read slowly, you might want to just watch the movie to determine if the series is worth your time. The movie is well-done and a faithful rendering of the book modulo reasonable alterations for the adaptation. The story's primary sin is economic unrealism; cultural unrealism is arguable. I liked all three books except the last third or so of the last one, which I kept expecting to be a dream or hallucination sequence because it was so confusing.
0taelor10yWould you mind elaborating on that?
5Alicorn10yI'd link you to the LJ post that pointed out the economic unrealism to me, but it's flocked. Basically, they have a rich high-tech Capitol and twelve downtrodden low-tech Districts, and with that much tech there is no reason for poor people to be living like that - it would make more sense for tech to be cheap and go out to as wide an audience as possible. The cultural unrealism is around the Games themselves - 24 teenagers, a boy and a girl from each district, fight to the death in a usually-hazardous-in-itself arena once annually. Winners get to be celebrities with PTSD; losers, obviously, die. In some districts these are habitually chosen by lottery, but in others select kids are trained and volunteer. This whole thing seems obviously abhorrent to our audience, but I don't think it's completely implausible for a society to work like that for the following reasons: * The Capitol, the ones who run the whole thing and threaten contestants' families and so on to ensure cooperation, has brainwashed itself into seeing this as retribution for a bloody uprising some 74 years before the novel starts. I think humans are pretty good at being brutal to outgroups they can conceptualize as evil or as having wronged the ingroup. Not punishing children for the sins of their ancestors is a fairly recent development, still isn't practiced effectively, and doesn't seem unlikely to be lost in a history like the one preceding the story. * The parts of the Games that ordinary Capitol people see (the "interesting parts" that are handpicked to air, the interviews under duress where contestants must be appealing in order to have a chance of being given resources while they're in the arena, etc.) are not crafted to highlight the nastiness. They are crafted to make it look like an exciting, if risky, action game full of fascinating young people. The fact that the contestants with training beforehand are a) volunteers and b) are most likely
6gwern10yThere's also historical precedent: Mesoamerican civilizations were able to extort sacrificial tributes with as much of a stick and less of a carrot than the Capitol, and in Western civilization, you have gladiators in the Mediterranean area.

Movies and Television Thread

5Alejandro110yI watched Bridge on the River Kwai for first time yesterday. Aside from being an excellent movie with a gripping final act, I found it exhibited a couple of themes analyzable from a LW prism. A duel of minds near the beginning of the movie between a prisoner and his captor ends with the first one winning (and quite literally getting out of the box!) because he has less to lose by not yielding, a Schelling-like lesson. And the main plotline of the film is a nice exhibition of Lost Purposes [].
3shokwave10yThe Dark Knight - the 2008 Batman film - is actually an enthralling film about decision theory. In every scene there is some dynamic that is fruitful to analyse: there's a Greedy Pirates game, a neat variation on Prisoner's Dilemma, a classic trolley problem ("endure") as well as several trolley-like problems, at least two games of Chicken, oodles of interesting precommitment and Schelling-style strength through irrationality moments, and more.
0RobertLumley10yI actually really disliked The Dark Knight. I don't particularly care for horrific movies, and a lot of that, I thought, was grotesque and over the top.
3RobertLumley10yI've been rewatching Burn Notice [] recently. It's about a spy who gets burned (fired/cut-off) and his attempt to find out who did it and get his life back. It's always been one of my favorite shows, but watching it after reading the sequences gives me a bit of a new perspective on it. It's not necessarily rationalist, per se, but it touches on some great ethical issues, and the protagonist is often solving seemingly impossible problems by very creative thinking. The characters in it are some of the best developed ones I've seen.

As in last month's thread, I'll suggest that in these threads, you don't make a "Books thread" as a parent of "Fiction books" and "Non-fiction books", just make the Fiction Books thread and the Non-fiction books thread, no parent between them.

Easy to remember, if you think to yourself that you're only making one level of parent comments, not a whole hierarchy thereof.

1RobertLumley10yOh, sorry. I'll try to do that. I forgot this time. Hopefully you won't be reminding me again come next month. :-P
0RobertLumley10yI remembered! Thanks.
0Emile10yWhen I came to this page, "Other media" was at the top, which meant I would have to scroll through all the threads in order to find which medias were considered "other". It would be nicer to have a little list ("theater, videos, comic books ...") or to at least mention which categories aren't in "Other".
0RobertLumley10yI comment in reverse order so that Other will always be at the bottom, but someone upvoted the other thread, which bumped it to the top of the list. Feel free to downvote it, and it will be fixed.
0dbaupp10yAt least one person (me) has the comments sorted by old which makes it backwards. (Although, obviously you can't satisfy everyone since there are orderings that are precisely reversed.)
0RobertLumley10yI wonder if more people have it set to "new" or "old". More importantly, though, I think "new" is the tiebreaker for "top".

Other Media Thread

2beoShaffer10yI'm getting really into the Orion's Arm verse []. Hard(ish) transhumanist Science Fiction. Also occasionally hilarious, like this article on Bayesjutsu [].
0iglu10yMinus [], a webcomic about a girl with godlike powers. It is probably most famous for this image []:
0RobertLumley10yThat's not really readable as is. It's cut off a bit on the right.
0curiousepic10yA Show with Zefrank [], "sequel" to The Show with Zefrank []. Quick, semi-daily shots of inspiration and motivation, with a huge dose of entertainment, like a Jason Silva [] with a wider audience. Highlights from this run so far:An Invocation for Beginnings [], Special Effects [], Robot Future [] (a quick rambling overview of the Singularity)
0RobertLumley10yGeek and Sundry [] is a YouTube channel started by Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, and others. This sort of belongs under television, but I thought I'd post it here. They've got several programs every week, including new episodes [] (And [] the [] old [] seasons []) of The Guild, probably the most popular web series ever; a podcast that reviewed popular Sci-Fi/Fantasy books that's now turned into a YouTube program, Sword and Laser []; Table Top [] , a show produced by Wil Wheaton that reviews indie (read: German) board games by playing them with mini-celebrities; motion comics [] from the largest indie American comic book and manga publisher, Dark Horse; and my personal favorite, The Flog [], which is Felicia's weekly video blog, where she does everything from blacksmithing [] to chainsaws []. Table Top, The Guild, and The Flog are all fairly comedic. Sword and Laser is mostly critical review/interviews with authors. Dark Horse comics are, I believe, dramatic, although I've only watched one. Future shows that are under production include Learning Town [], and Written By A Kid []. I don't know much about Learning Town, but it seems to be some ki