It’s a Media Roundup!

What I’ve been watching, reading, playing and listening to lately

Before we get to this edition of the newsletter, I want you to know that there’s a new episode of my video series over at YouTube and Nebula. This episode is about a filmmaker who traveled the country for 40 years making the exact same movie over and over again, hundreds of times, with different casts each time. Why? Find out!

Some of my favorite folks on the internet occasionally write about the media they’ve been consuming. I’ve discovered some good things to watch and read that way, so I thought I’d give it a try myself and see how it goes. So without further ado, here’s what I’ve consumed lately:


Pluralistic: Booklist on “Red Team Blues” (13 Jan 2023) – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

The publisher’s description of this book says it’s a “next-Tuesday thriller.” I’m not familiar with the phrase “next-Tuesday” in this context, so I looked it up. Most of the Google search results are debates over whether “next Tuesday” means this upcoming Tuesday or the one after that, and merchandise with the phrase “See you next Tuesday,” which I won’t explain further here.

ChatGPT suggested it might have something to do with the fact that new books are released on Tuesdays, and a “next-Tuesday” thriller might be one that keeps people waiting for the next installment, like a cliff-hanger. I don’t think that’s the case here, unless Cory has another book ready to go each week.

But now that I’m thinking about it, maybe a “next-Tuesday” thriller is one that is slightly futuristic, but not very much so. Kind of like how Max Headroom took place “20 minutes into the future.” That would certainly be in keeping with Cory’s recurring themes about technology’s affects on society. That’s probably it.

Red Team Blues is about a forensic accountant named Martin Hench. The story begins as he’s hired to help a tech billionaire recover some stolen crypto keys that unlock a huge amount of wealth. (There’s some technobabble here that may go over the head of someone who doesn’t follow tech on at least a superficial level, but probably not to too much detriment.) I assumed this search would be the driving plot of the book. So I was surprised when (light spoiler) that was resolved early. Then the plot takes a turn as Martin’s own life is now in danger.

It’s a pretty solid thriller, but what I found myself intrigued by the most is Cory’s decision to make the main character a 67-year old forensic accountant.

I didn’t know what forensic accounting is, so I looked it up. It’s “the specialty practice area of accounting that investigates whether firms engage in financial reporting misconduct.” It sounds boring, but the case that finally brought down Al Capone was established through forensic accounting.

I liked the decision to give the protagonist this superficially dull job. It reminded me of the old time radio show Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. The main character there is an insurance investigator, a person who examines insurance claims, another dull-sounding job. Each episode even included Johnny Dollar journaling his expenses as he conducts his investigation. But it was just a framework for his riveting stories.

The even more interesting thing about Martin Hench was Cory’s decision to make him 67 years old. Cory has written a fairly accessible book, and could have made his main character younger in the hopes of having some hot star play him in a movie version or something. But he gave his character a history and maturity than only come with age, and an understanding of Silicon Valley that comes from being there at the beginning. I don’t know what Cory pictured as he wrote it, but I pictured the late Robert Forster in my head as Martin Hench.

I look forward to the next Martin Hench adventure.

Disclosure: Cory sent me the book to review, along with the audio version read by Wil Wheaton. I switched back and forth between text and audio. I am a Wil Wheaton fan but did not particularly enjoy his reading of the book, which sometimes seemed as though he was reading without much thought to what he was saying. It wasn’t that bad, but I still preferred the text version.

This is the first book in a trilogy about how Earth reacts when aliens invade. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. It was an NPR Best Book of the Decade. The team behind HBO’s Game of Thrones is adapting it for Netflix, and I wanted to be in-the-know for when it comes out. I enjoy hard sci-fi. But I knew nothing about this book when I started reading it.

It was a slog. I forced myself to finish it. What’s the book equivalent of hate-watching a bad TV show? Hate-reading? I hate-read it. The book has some good ideas, but two-dimensional characters and a story that moves with the pace of molasses ruin it.

Remember that first sentence where I told you what it’s about? An alien invasion? That’s pretty much what you’ll find if you read a blurb on Amazon. But that really describes just about the last 10% of the book. The first 10% is a pretty interesting opening set against the backdrop of the cultural revolution in China. Everything in between is the waist-deep molasses you have to wade through to finish the book.

Just as I finished reading it, I saw that China has beat Netflix to the punch in adapting the book for television. And they have put their entire series on YouTube!

Even though I hated the book, I still found myself curious to watch the adaptation. I had a couple long flights coming up, so I downloaded a bunch of episodes.

I don’t know how it is possible to make a TV show adaptation about an alien invasion that drags even more slowly than the source material, but they succeeded. There are 30 episodes, totaling around 24 hours. I said to someone that it’s almost like the show is just reading me the book. But then I realized the show is actually twice as long as the audiobook. They somehow managed to make it even longer.

At this point I don’t have high hopes for the Netflix series, but perhaps they can turn this mess into something entertaining. I’ll probably hate-watch it, too.


I really wanted to like this AppleTV+ movie about the diplomatic drama surrounding bringing Tetris, a video game created in a communist country, to the capitalist world. But I found the writing very clunky and bailed out halfway through.

However, the story itself is fascinating. So I recommend skipping the movie and instead watching the 2004 BBC Documentary Tetris: From Russia With Love that covers the same material in greater depth with first-person testimonials from the real people who were there. I watched it a few years ago and have excitedly told the story to many people since then. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the new movie more if I didn’t have this to compare it to.

You can watch the full documentary right here:

TV Shows

We’ve been watching an episode each night with the kids, and while it’s a pretty uneven show, it has enhanced my enjoyment of the new Star Wars shows that Disney+ has been putting out. This series explains the origin and lore of the Dark Saber and Mandalorian history, etc. After seeing the trailer for the upcoming Ahsoka, I’m even more glad to be watching Rebels. It looks almost like Ahsoka is a live-action sequel to Rebels, with many of the same characters.

Yes, Family Ties! I like to listen to old TV shows while I fall asleep, and my latest nighttime pick is Family Ties. I’ve just started season two and I’m quite enjoying listening to it, having not watched any of it since it aired. I have a few observations from the first season:

  • The only kid whose character is really fleshed out in the beginning is Alex. Mallory is kind of a generic teenager, and Jennifer seems to be there just for dumb cute-kid one-liners, like some kind of Tanner kid.

  • Michael Gross doesn’t have a beard in the first season. I always picture him as having a beard on the show but maybe I never saw the first season. Other than that, the parents seem to be pretty well established from the start.

  • I’ve seen clips of Tom Hanks guest starring as Uncle Ned, but I didn’t realize his first appearance was so early in the first season. More surprising is that when he enters his first scene, the audience applauds. Was he already so recognized just from Bosom Buddies that he earned applause? I guess so!

  • The familiar “family painting” opening credits aren’t there. The first season has a different opening, with the family looking at pictures from their family photo album (remember those?), establishing that the parents were hippies as we see them in various 1960s contexts. It is the same song you remember, although the singers change halfway through the season.


You Must Remember This (podcast)by Karina Longworth

I knew I would love the Hollywood history podcast You Must Remember This by Karina Longworth, but I put off listening to it for years because I was intimidated by how many episodes there are. Eventually I started listening to it in the mornings while making my kids’ lunches, and every episode is a great listen.

When I first started listening to the podcast, I thought I would only be interested in the stories about movies and actors I was already familiar with. But I have added many classic movies to my watch list that I’d never even heard of after hearing the stories behind them.

Karina is currently six episodes into her new season about the erotic films of the 1990s, covering Basic Instinct, The Hand That Rocked The Cradle, and so on.

The Twilight Zone (radio show)

Did you know that there was a radio adaptation of The Twilight Zone in the early 2000s? I didn’t. A lot of your favorite classic episodes are there, recreated with famous guest stars in lead roles, and Stacy Keach filling in for Rod Serling as host. The scripts and sound design are excellent. It’s great for listening to in the car.

All 176 episodes are on the Internet Archive.

Video Games

Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

Recently my 12 year old said he wanted to spend his allowance on an original Game Boy Advance to play old Nintendo games. So we found someone selling one with a bunch of games on Craig’s List, and he’s been having fun with it.

Taking this nostalgic video game trip with him convinced me to revisit some of my own favorite old games through video game emulation (a way of playing old games on new systems). My Google search history must have prompted YouTube to serve me this video about the development of the Super Nintendo game Super Mario World, an hour-long documentary that sucked me in:

As a kid I had mastered the original Super Mario Bros. and also SMB 2. But somewhere around the time SMB 3 came out, my interests evolved, and I was never really into another Mario game after that, so I never played this game.

Watching this video, I realized that I missed out on what looks like a fantastic Mario game. So I’ve been playing it in an emulator. Exploring the levels remind me of the fun I had discovering the original Super Mario game’s secrets. And after watching that YouTube documentary, I have more appreciation for the work that went into it.

You can play the game at The Internet Archive, or in your favorite video game emulator (which may be dubiously ethical so go with your comfort level).

So that’s what I’ve been consuming lately. What about you? What have you been watching, reading, playing, and listening to?

If your answer isn’t “Actually, I just watched your newest YouTube video!” then I’ll make it a little bit easier for you by embedding it right here:

Thanks for reading. And watching! I’ll see you next time!


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