Look At Me Still Talking, When There's Science To Do

It's odd how seemingly disparate projects with similar themes pop up simultaneously. Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love. Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. Snow White & the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, and Once Upon a Time. Sometimes, it's fun to be able to compare and contrast different works about the same topic. Other times, you get the tedious vampire craze that refuses to go away.

Lately, I've gotten into one of the fun ones: Science Devoid of Compassion. That may sound like a weird topic, but it's actually a rich source of material for both drama and comedy: Scientists striving for progress with no thought given to the effects it has on actual humans. The heavy morality tales can be great, but I tend to go for the more light-hearted kinds of work in this vein, and just wrapped up three of them, each in a different genre.

The first was Max Barry's latest book, Machine Man. It's about a socially-inept scientist who knows all there is to know about mechanical engineering, but can't understand how little things like love or guilt or jealousy work. When the scientist loses a leg in an industrial accident, he happily replaces it with a prosthetic of his own invention that is capable of all of a real leg's function, with none of that pesky biology getting in the way. Plus, who wouldn't want a limb with wifi embedded into it?

Complications soon arise, as he starts to think about other parts of his body he can replace, he attempts to woo a very special lady with a very special implant, and his company starts plotting how they can use his technological advancements to, say, run the world. I like Barry's books as a general rule, and this one is no exception. Unfortunately, the one problem I do have with Machine Man is an important one, and that is that it has no ending. I mean, there's a last page and everything, but after the story builds and builds, it just comes to a gentle stop with no real resolution.

Over in the world of television, I thought it was time to revisit Better Off Ted, a criminally underrated show that only lasted two seasons. There are tons of workplace comedies out there, but how many of them involve the ethical implications of weaponizing pumpkins? There are countless laughs to be mined out of the horrifically realistic idea of a heartless company stopping at nothing to make a buck, and Veridian Dynamics is the perfect blend of exciting scientific achievement mixed with soulless corporate power grabs.

Jay Harrington is a charming and affable lead (and I desperately need to know where he buys his Handsome Pills), but much of the credit needs to go to Portia de Rossi and Andrea Anders, who basically steal every single scene. Both seasons are currently available on Netflix Instant, so if you haven't seen this show, go give it a whirl.

And finally, in the video game realm, I managed to beat Portal 2, though I have to admit to some...help. OK, fine. I looked up how to solve some of the tougher puzzles on YouTube. Happy? I named this my favorite game of 2011, and most of that wasn't even for gameplay reasons. This game has the best writing and voiceover work I've seen in a long time - better than many television shows. As in the original Portal, the backdrop is a science lab that's been taken over by a homicidal robot bent on putting you through the paces of testing, all to advance its/her knowledge. GLaDOS does have a human component, though, so in addition to her thirst for the advancement of science, she also has a thing for revenge. Revenge against you. Not only must you devise a way to pass her tests, you must find a way to survive.

It's a delightfully fun, witty game, and I'm looking forward to replaying it, just so I can hear things like this again.

Machine Man: B-
Better Off Ted: B+
Portal 2: A+


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