Snowpiercer: A Sci-Fi Movie Review

Back at the beginning of the summer one of my relatives recommended this movie to me.  He’s a sci-fi fan but of course tastes vary.  Well anyway, I watched it last week and it was bizarre.  The premise of the movie is basically ridiculous.  As a way to combat global warming, humans treat the atmosphere of earth with a chemical that ends up plunging them into an ice age.  The temperature drop is so severe that all human life is destroyed except for a tiny remnant that lives on a train that constantly circles the planet.  This is the eponymous “Snowpiercer.”  So, this is the first problem with the movie.  If the earth was becoming cold and uninhabitable would you build a train as a refuge?  I would think that an insulated bunker somewhere near the equator would make sense.  Or something under the ocean would remain warm for centuries.  It’s just a ridiculous idea.

Put the inconceivable nature of the premise aside and let’s look at the story.  The train has a population that is stratified by position on the train.  The back cars of the train are inhabited by the wretched refuse who are crowded into cattle cars and fed protein concentrate bars that look like sludge.  Moving forward the environment and the inhabitants become progressively more fortunate until by the front few cars we have the elite who live in luxury and eat delicacies like sushi and fresh fruit.  The proles in the rear are controlled by armed guards and punished for infractions with barbaric violence.  When a man whose child is taken away by one of the rulers throws his shoe at her we see an example of this.  For this offense, his arm is exposed through a gasketed aperture in the side of the train to the frigid gale whipping past the train.  After eleven minutes, his arm is brought back in and struck with a sledge hammer.  The arm shatters like one of those rubber balls that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen and bounced off the floor.  That’ll teach him!

The majority of the movie is the chronicle of the revolt of the proles and their battle to reach the front of the train and conquer their overlords.  Along the way we see details of how the ecosystem of the Snowpiercer works.  The prole food is revoltingly produced while the elite have whole car lengths of aquariums full of rare fish and rain forests of plant life to produce food and purify the water.  We also get some of the back story to explain how the proles became so downtrodden and the greater horrors that transpired when they first entered into the train.  The details are horrific and make you wonder why these people even bothered to keep struggling.

And finally, the climax occurs when the proles reach the engine.  At this point we learn the answer to how this train maintains the balance between life and death.  And we meet the engineer, Ed Harris, who charms us into seeing his point of view.  And of course, the movie ends on a catastrophic reversal that resolves the whole thing.

So, is it any good?  Parts of it are interesting and some of the characters are fun to watch.  I especially enjoy Tilda Swinton as the schoolmarmish sadist who has the man’s armed frozen off.  She’s quite demented fun.  But I’d say as a movie it’s just too jumbled a mixture of action, sci-fi and human drama to recommend.  It’s just too nuts.  But maybe there is an audience out there for this.  But it’s not me.

Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1

Years ago, I had read that Cowboy Bebop might have been one of the influences on the making of the TV show Firefly.  Being a big fan of Firefly, you would have thought that I would have tracked it down and watched Cowboy Bebop long ago.  And you would have been wrong.  I never did.  Now this might have been because it was an animated series.  Or maybe because it wasn’t originally an English language show.  Or maybe because I figured it wasn’t as good as Firefly.  Who knows?  Anyway, I started watching the first few episodes last week.  My first conclusion is that Joss Whedon definitely borrowed heavily from the look and feel of Cowboy Bebop.  Secondly, it is an enjoyable show and stands on its own merits.  Now let me qualify that second statement.  It’s a cartoon.  The characters and the action are larger than life.  When a gun fight breaks out bullets saturate every last square inch of wall space around the protagonist.  Every fight has fists and feet flying in all directions and every facial close up has clenched jaw muscles and popping eyes.  Basically, everything is exaggerated to cartoon level.  Oh, and there’s a Welsh Corgi as part of the crew of a space travelling bounty hunters.  Suffice it to say that reality is in no way a condition for something showing up in this show.  But the characters have consistent personalities, the look of the show is very well done, there’s a fascinating backstory with terrible enemies and mysterious women and the plots although wildly unrealistic are (in my opinion) enjoyable.  As I’ve said, I’ve only watched the first five episodes but I like it well enough to want to keep watching it.

 

Alright, now what’s it about?  Cowboy Bebop is a space ship that so far has a crew of three humans and one Welsh Corgi.  They are bounty hunters who work for whatever government (or other organization) that can provide a large enough pay day.  Like on Firefly the culture seems to be a combination of American and Chinese culture.  Also, as on Firefly, humans inhabit a number on moons and planets (but this time within our own solar system).  Cowboy Bebop seems to work on both sides of the interface between the criminal and legal spheres.  Their biggest problems seem to be monetary.  They are chronically short of funds.  The protagonist is named Spike and seems to be a young man in his thirties who enjoys his job as much for the fighting as for the rewards.  In his past, he worked for a very high-level mob boss.  Spike’s partner is an older man with a much angrier façade but can also be depended on in a fight.  The similarities to Mal and Jane Cobb in Firefly are pretty strong.  The regularity with which the ship comes up empty handed after a mission is also a point of similarity to Firefly.

I consider that I prefer live action movies to animation but I’ll go on record as saying that Cowboy Bebop seems a highly creative show and has many features that make it interesting and entertaining.  I look forward to seeing the remainder of the series and will report back on its qualities.

 

So now I know where Whedon got his inspiration.  And maybe his own effort may not have been the superior to the model.

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 2 – The Short Stories

In the first part of this post, I’ve given a little background on how I became introduced to Ray Bradbury’s stories.  After detailing Dandelion Wine, I feel talking about his shorter works is the next order of business.  I own a collection of these called “The Stories of Ray Bradbury” which includes what Bradbury considered his best 100 short stories.  I went through these today and picked out my favorites.  I feel it’s necessary to qualify that statement.  There are more than a few of Bradbury’s best stories that have become components of the longer work Dandelion Wine.  Since I’ve already reviewed that work I’ve left these short stories out of this selection process.

Here are my selections for the best of the best in the same order as they appear in the book:

  1. The Crowd
  2. The Scythe
  3. The City
  4. There Was an Old Woman
  5. There Will Come Soft Rains
  6. The Veldt
  7. A Sound of Thunder
  8. Invisible Boy
  9. The Fog Horn
  10. Hail and Farewell
  11. The Great Wide World Over There
  12. Skeleton
  13. The Man Upstairs
  14. The Jar
  15. Touched with Fire
  16. The Town Where No One Got Off
  17. Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!
  18. The One Who Waits

Now here’s the thing.  I could easily have added double this number.  Almost all the stories are good.  But these are the ones I especially like.  So, this selection probably says more about me than it does about Bradbury’s best of the best.  But that can be said about any critic’s choices.

An interesting fact I discovered after making this list is that there are at least three stories in this list which I don’t think have any SF&F content in them whatsoever.  They are just studies in human nature.  And yet they appear on this list.  Which I take to mean that Bradbury finds people interesting and knows how to make them interesting to his readers.  Now, that may not seem remarkable, but look at the people writing at the same time as Bradbury.  Let’s take Isaac Asimov.  If you read Asimov’s long or short fiction what you will find is that he is a purveyor of ideas.  But his characters, even his protagonists are ciphers.  There isn’t any emotional content worth mentioning.  And that even counts the scenes where the action is dependent on an emotional response from one of his characters.  He could just as well have been describing billiard balls ricocheting around a pool table.  You might even see the psychological logic of the emotional response but you won’t experience empathy or interest in the character as a human being because of it.  It’s just a plot device.

This was why Bradbury was different back then.  He wrote people in SF&F stories as if they actually were people.  Better writers back then were also doing this to some extent.  Heinlein’s characters displayed more individuality than the average and this is one of the reasons why he is still enjoyed.  But Bradbury brought this to a much higher level.

What else can be definitely said about Bradbury’s stories?  I would say that he almost exclusively deals in the foreground of the picture.  By that I mean that his subjects are almost always face to face.  If Arthur C. Clarke were describing a nuclear holocaust you would see it from orbit.  You would see the ballistic paths of the ICBMs and you would be at the top of the parabola when one missile starts to descend.  And you would see the individual nuclear ignitions across the face of the globe like some fireworks display.  That’s not Bradbury.  With him you’ll see the aftermath of a suburban home on the edge of the kill zone.  You’ll see the toaster in the kitchen and you’ll see the shadows of the family imprinted onto the side of the house facing the gamma ray flash.

Even when Bradbury does write a story of aliens invading earth you are not going to get War of the Worlds.  You’ll get that same suburban neighborhood with husbands and housewives and little Jimmy working on his hobby in the basement.

So now I’ve said a bunch of words about Bradbury’s short fiction.  If you’re looking for hard-core technical sf or even just plain old amusing space opera do not stop at Bradbury.  Move right along.  There’s none of that here.  But if you want to delve into the mysterious world within a world that is the human soul take a trip with him.  It might strike a resonant chord.  Or it might not.  Either way you’ll learn something.

What Good Sci-Fi is Out There? – Part 2

What Good Sci-Fi is Out There – Part 1

The first part of this post (link above) sparked quite a bit of interest and the feedback led me to re-evaluate how thorough I had been in tabulating what I thought of as “Good Sci-Fi Movies.”

One obvious omission is one of my favorite modern sci-fi universes, that is the ‘Verse of “Serenity” and all things Firefly. Sure, the creator of this space cowboy terra-forming future is Joss Whedon, perhaps the most virulent social justice warrior in all Hollywood SFF circles. And sure, River Tam is a five-foot-nothing, eighty-pound girl who can single handedly defeat an army of homicidal maniacs without even so much as a pop-gun. But any world that contains Jane Cobb must be doing something right.

Another omission that can be excused due to competing category confusion is “Galaxy Quest.” The movie is a brilliant parody of Star Trek. Humor is the primary motive of this film so assigning it to the Comedy shelf makes perfect sense. But it does include star ships, alien races and Sigourney Weaver so what the hell.

Three movies that were nominated by readers were Dark City, John Carter and Edge of Tomorrow. Now the mention reminded me that I had seen Dark City and liked it. It’s a very atmospheric almost noir-like film. And once you discover the mystery of the action it is seen to be a sci-fi film. So that was a good call.

I, of course, know of E.R. Burroughs Barsoom stories so I had heard of the John Carter film but the news coverage was all about how expensive it was and how much money it lost. Edge of Tomorrow was a big movie with Tom Cruise starring but it came out when I was too busy for movies unfortunately. So, I’m going to have to check these two films out on Netflix in the near future.
I’d love to hear from any of you readers out there that would like to put in a vote for a sci-fi movie that came out in the last twenty years or so. Give a little info on what you liked about it. The people who read this site are of course among the most discerning individuals so their opinions deserve to be heard.

Let me round off with some films I didn’t like (always a dangerous road to take). I hated the second and third Matrix installments. I thought they were plodding and incoherent. By the end of the third I wasn’t sure if there was anyone to root for. I was kind of hoping Agent Smith would win and destroy both the Matrix and Zion. After seeing how annoying they had all become I figured organic evolution should be given the chance to try again.

I really wasn’t crazy about Gravity. It was visually interesting and there was some dramatic tension and I like Sandra Bullock but I don’t think there was enough there, there, as they say. I know opinions will differ.
I tried to like Solaris. Some of it I did. But not enough to call it good. Let’s say it was pretty good.

I was told to watch Moon. There was some clever stuff in it. I didn’t love it. Maybe it was too realistic (claustrophobic) to enjoy. Well done but not enjoyable for me. Some people will really enjoy the cleverness.

So, there we have it. I’m pretty picky. I’d love to hear what you all think. Even (maybe especially) if you disagree. After all, wouldn’t it be boring if we were all exactly the same. Sort of like the Borg.
Next up will be my views on Fantasy films.

Why No Love for the Craft of Howard Phillips? – Part 1- The Whisperer in the Darkness

I originally discovered H.P. Lovecraft because in the 1970’s the Ballantine Fantasy book imprint put out a series of paperback books of Lovecraft’s stories that sported covers that were wonderfully disturbing.  The one called “The Shuttered Room” had an image of a human head with sharp shards of glass sticking out of the forehead and cranium area.  The eyes were alert but the head terminated at about the upper lip. Below that it was just a dripping ooze of decay.  How could I resist?

The world divides into two camps.  Those who think H. P. Lovecraft was a great writer and those who don’t.  I fall solidly into the second camp.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate the guy and some of his writing is somewhat interesting.   But his writing style (if it can be called that) makes you want to throw the book at a wall or tear it in half.  Plot twists are telegraphed so blatantly that surprise is virtually impossible.  The plots themselves are sometimes so badly contrived as to suspend the suspension of disbelief in even the most sympathetic reader.  The prose is so arch and artificial that it descends into self-parody.  Sometimes he appears to be imitating Edgar Allen Poe but Lovecraft never makes it work for him.  So that’s my case against him.

That being said, I think Lovecraft had a very powerful imagination.  Buried inside some of his stories are elements that strike a nerve.  Sometimes he’ll describe a scene or paint an image that resonates.  Something primal and disturbing.  It’s almost as if he could pluck things out of his nightmares and embed them into a framework of poorly written and inept story elements.  I believe that Lovecraft’s horror talent was of a visual nature.  I have a theory that the best way to present his work is cinematically.  If a writer/director was sufficiently attuned to what is authentically frightening in Lovecraft’s works, I believe films based on some of his stories could be much better than the stories that Lovecraft left us.  But is there enough there?  The stories are a hodge-podge of plot elements and scenes.  Quite a bit of work would be needed to create a movie from any or even several of them strung together.  And is there actually enough of an audience to even warrant the expense of a major motion picture?  Director Guillermo del Toro attempted to bring “At the Mountains of Madness” to the screen but failed.   So, we’re stuck with the stories.

In this series of posts, I will give a few examples of what I think is some of his worst writing and then I’ll finish with some things that I felt were well done.

The first story is “The Whisperer in the Darkness.”  This is the story of two New Englanders communicating mostly by letter about an infestation of super-intelligent space-faring winged, giant lobster-shaped fungus creatures in northern Vermont.

There are many examples of terrible prose to choose from but one of my favorite passages is the one where the narrator recognizes the lobster man’s footprints, “Too well did I know the marks of those loathsome nippers, and that hint of ambiguous direction which stamped the horrors as no creatures of this planet.  No chance had been left me of merciful mistake.  Here, indeed, in objective form before my own eyes, and surely not made many hours ago, were at least three marks which stood out blasphemously among the surprising plethora of blurred footprints leading to and from the Akeley farmhouse.  They were the hellish tracks of the living fungi from Yuggoth.”  (italics by HPL).  So, the footprints are blasphemous?  I’ve got 12 years of Catholic school education and not once were lobsters mentioned except as an abstention during Lent but no blasphemy angle.  And he calls them the living fungi.  If they weren’t alive wouldn’t the story be kind of pointless?

So here we have a giant lobster that walks upright and apparently is able to propel itself through interstellar space on wings.  Also, even though these creatures have technology that allows them to traverse intergalactic space, wage war on super-intelligent aliens and remove human brains from their bodies and keep them alive and sentient inside a metal tank they are unable to prevent themselves from being drowned in the flooding of small Vermont streams and are also highly incompetent when confronted by a farmyard protected by an old man with a rifle assisted by his german shepherd dogs.

And one of the dopiest plot holes is the fact that every night the old man would withstand a siege at his farmhouse by these creatures but by the next day, he was free to go unmolested for miles in every direction to buy bullets and new guard dogs and even post the letters that were the text of the story.  Why didn’t he just keep driving until he got to Montpelier and then show the authorities the proof of his discovery.  Or at the very least just drive away and escape altogether?  Was he afraid the lobstermen would come after him in Boston or Providence.  Wouldn’t they be kind of conspicuous with the wings and claws and fishy smell?  And also New Englanders really like lobster meat.  I’d think of this whole invasion as a sort of food business start-up opportunity for the protagonists.

In addition to the ludicrous details of the flying-lobster-mushroom-men is the absurdity of the protagonist being unaware that one of the lobster men is dressed up as his friend and talking to him in the same room.  Endless clues are provided that point obviously to the identity of the “Whisperer” but apparently the narrator is possessed of such indestructible stupidity that at the end of the story he is shocked to discover the truth.  Maybe this is Lovecraft imitating some 19th century gothic horror story convention.  But it’s just plain ridiculous.

This story more than any other had me for a while entertaining the idea that Lovecraft was actually writing comedy.  I was imagining John Belushi or Chevy Chase dressed in a giant lobster suit with big floppy wings and covered with mushroom decals sitting across a dining room table from Wallace Shawn performing the dialogue from “My Dinner with Andre.”

Then I wondered if Lovecraft was a morphine addict.  But finally, I settled on the obvious reason.  He was a starving hack writer chronically broke and churning out dreck as best he could.  And this was what he produced.  Very sad.

Stay tuned for more Lovecraft complaining soon.

The Real Tomorrow

The only advantage to getting old is grandkids.  Of course, I’m sure there exist grandkids from hell but as a general concept, grandkids are a great idea.  They allow us to have fun, hang out with young people and then send them back to the people who have the real work of attempting to civilize them.  All plusses.  No minuses.

Every year at about this time the local engineering school, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) sponsors a science exhibition for kids.  The call it “Touch Tomorrow”

( http://wp.wpi.edu/touchtomorrow/the-festival/wpi-research-exhibits/ ).  WPI is affiliated with NASA and provides robotics and other expertise for Mars rovers and robotic components that dig and manipulate objects and sense light and other functions.  So, there are exhibits and presentations on many subjects involving spaceflight, robots and futuristic technology of all sorts.  For my oldest grandson this is like being in heaven.

And it’s pretty good stuff for me too.  Being an engineer and an inveterate fan of science fiction many of the topics are highly interesting and even answer some of my questions about the whichness of what.  So, this event is an annual win-win for me and my descendant.

But, of course, being in New England and the bluest of blue states, the fair has its share of pc virtue signaling and progressive biases.  I won’t go into all of them but suffice it to say that the celebration of women in science and technology is just a little too loud and a little too shrill.  That being said, I noticed a couple of things that gave me some small reason for optimism.

The first was at the forensic medicine exhibit.  A woman who had worked for the coroner had a table full of bones.  She was explaining to the kids how physical parameters of skeletons could allow a coroner to estimate very accurately the age of a child based on evidence from a skull.  This had to do with the stages of dentition.  Then she had a skull of Neanderthal Man.  She was able to relate the difference between Neanderthal and modern humans based on the differences in skull shape and bone thickness.  Finally, she was able to point to the differences in skulls based on sex and also race.  She had skulls for the three major racial families (Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid) and for men and women.  I was shocked that a pack of screeching SJWs had not driven her out of the hall for espousing these hate crimes.  That not only were there physical differences between the races but that men and women were divided along anatomical lines.  Such an outrage.

The second thing I heard was during a presentation by a physics professor on the Universe.  He described the scientific method and very pointedly declared that no scientific fact was ever settled.  He stated categorically that a theory that was refuted by evidence was false.  And he further stated that a true scientist is always hoping that experiments used to prove a theory refute it in some way because these differences from theory are the basis for an increase in knowledge.  He said that when the Higgs Boson was confirmed last year, the disappointment was that it was exactly as calculated.  Even though the discovery was a great triumph of the standard model, the fact that nothing new was learned was a let-down to those hoping for new information.  I was tempted to ask what he thought of global warming data but I didn’t want to get this faithful acolyte of science burned at the stake by adolescents.

After the presentation, I spoke with this physicist and pinned him down about one particular “fact” that he showed during his presentation.  When describing the size of the universe he stated that the universe was potentially 93 billion light years wide.  I asked him whether the universe is currently believed to be bounded or unbounded.  He stated it was believed to be unbounded.  So, I asked him what the physical reality of this edge of the universe at 93 billion light years was.  He said all that it is, is the current guess at how far we’ll be able to observe based on the light after the big bang.  And he continued, “beyond that be dragons.”  Now that’s my kind of scientific answer.

After this presentation, we were finished with the exhibition and headed to a steakhouse for beef and potatoes.  I went with the ribeye and baked potato while this younger fellow heretically opted for sirloin and french fries.  Youth is wasted on the young.

During dinner, we continued our debate of the impossibility of producing a machine to endlessly produce electric energy from a single input of mechanical energy to a dynamo.  He wasn’t having any of it.  To prove my loyalty to the laws of thermodynamics and electromagnetism I agreed to fund his project and purchased a number of components for his machine on (of course) Amazon.com.  In this way, we could provide evidence to confirm or dispute his law of perpetual motion.

When we got to my house, his grandmother provided ice cream and I provided classic horror movies, specifically, “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”  Being a purist I strongly disapprove of TCFTBL being included in the Universal canon.  But we live in disordered times and allowances must be made.

After I returned him to his parents it occurred to me that the name Touch Tomorrow could also be a description for older people spending time with their grandchildren.  They literally are tomorrow and by influencing them we make probably the most lasting effect we will have on the future.  Considering all the negative influences on our children from the forces of progressivism I thought about how good it is that we can impact them directly and have fun at the same time.  So, family actually is good for something.  Who knew?

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 1 – Dandelion Wine

 

When I was a kid back in the third quarter of the twentieth century I came upon science fiction in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library.  And so I read Heinlein’s and Asimov’s juvenile sf stories.  As I got a little older I was able to borrow from the adult collection and soon discovered all the golden age authors and some of the newer, edgier writers.  But at a certain point I discovered Ray Bradbury.  I remember he had two collections called R is for Rocket, S is for Space.  But when I read them I found out he wasn’t writing space opera.  In fact, some of his stories didn’t seem to be science fiction at all.  At the time, I didn’t know what fantasy was.  They just seemed to be strange stories.  Later on, I found some of his stories showing up on “The Twilight Zone” TV series and this helped me categorize them as something weird and fun.  But whatever I called him Bradbury was different from the other writers I knew.  Each of his stories had to be evaluated on the merits.  Some of his stories lacked fantasy plot elements and at the time these stories seemed lacking in interest.  Others were almost horror stories and these kept my attention best.  Even his most externally identifiable science fiction stories, “The Martian Chronicles,” didn’t feel like other science fiction stories.  Even if there were ray guns and aliens and space ships it didn’t seem as if these were the point of the story.  They were more like parables or morality tales.  And to a kid this was perplexing.  But I always considered Bradbury as something worth reading.  He was high value.

Fast forward twenty years.  It was the late nineteen eighties.  I was in an old used bookstore in Boston during my lunch hour from a design engineering job I had.  I hadn’t read any science fiction in a while.  I was browsing through a pile of books that had been displayed earlier in the year as summer reading.  There was a used hard cover book with a mylar library-type jacket cover on and a cover painting of a little blond haired boy virtually covering the pavement with his chalk drawings of lines and shapes.  The book was called “Dandelion Wine” and the author was Ray Bradbury.  It was a novel length book and it surprised me because I didn’t remember Bradbury writing many novels.  At the time “Fahrenheit 451” was the only one I could think of.

On a lark, I bought it.  I put it on my bookshelf and figured I’d get to it when the project I was on slowed down.  Well I forgot all about that book and before that project slowed down I had changed jobs and was too busy for reading.  It was about nine months later in July, when I picked it up again.  I was going on vacation with my wife and kids to Old Orchard Beach, Maine for a week.  It’s a very working class old beach resort where middle class people go to sit by the ocean and let their kids dig sand castles and swim.  And later on, you can go down to the pier and buy bad pizza and ice cream for your kids and let them get fake tattoos or go down to the amusement park and watch them be centrifuged in the dozen or so kinetic devices that are used to extract dollars from parents and regurgitated food from kids’ stomachs.  The several years I brought my young family there are among the happiest memories I have.

Anyway, when the family settled in the beach house at night and the kids settled down to reading or watching the TV I picked up Dandelion Wine.  And I was surprised to find I had already read it.  But wait, not really, I’d read parts of it.  What Bradbury had done was patch together a number of his older stories along with transition scenes that tied them together, and make a narrative about a summer for a boy and his family and neighbors in Green Town, USA circa 1928.  What it really was, was an ode to the boyhood Ray Bradbury had lived and imagined in Waukegan, Illinois.  He used the memories of his childhood home and passed them through the story writing algorithm in his head and invented a world that struck me as remarkable.  Here were the mundane short stories that as a kid didn’t click with me because there were no monsters or space ships.  Now they were knitted together to talk about what was magical about being a twelve-year-old boy in a small mid-western town in the early twentieth century with three months of summer vacation ahead of you.  They are stories about family and friends and growing up and living and getting old and even dying.  And they are mostly about being a kid.

Since that summer I’ve re-read that book a dozen times in whole or part.  I mostly read it when I have some vacation time in summer.  This year I’ll be sixty.  When I read that book I’m not even sixteen, I’m twelve.  It’s remarkable.  I didn’t grow up in a small town.  I grew up on the relatively mean streets of Brooklyn, NY.  And I was born forty years after him.  But I can understand what he’s saying and feeling in his alter ego character.  He’s captured the essence of boyhood in its quintessential form, summer freedom.  And the setting is a simpler time and place.  It’s idyllic.  Not realistic but almost archetypal.

I imagine there are many for whom this type of story has no appeal.  It’s not high adventure or technical fun.  But if any of this strikes a chord try the book out.

The Shrieking Calliope of Rage

I think Steampunk exists because the steam powered devices of the 19th century were so impressive to the senses.  A steam locomotive fairly writhed with barely latent explosive potential.  Even the safety relief valves that prevented the whole thing from rupturing into a multi-ton shrapnel device assaulted your ears with a screeching shriek that hardly spoke to any sane person’s mind of safety or relief.  This impressiveness transfers well to the written page.  A good writer can weave a word image of the sights and sounds and the feel of the vibrations and even the taste and smell of steam coming off one of these mechanical monsters.  Off the top of my head, I can think of two examples from imaginative works.  The first is the Calliope and Carousel from Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”  The other is in the final scene in the boiler room from King’s “The Shining.”  In both cases the steam powered engine is almost an entity in itself.  A manic energy emanates from it and powers the action of the scene and drives the protagonist to attempt to disarm the menace of his shrieking foe.

So, where am I going with this? Oh come on, you know me by now.  The hissing, sputtering, shrieking machine that threatens at any minute to explode from apoplectic rage is the MSM and its faithful audience.  In the last week or so we have had any number of the usual suspects screaming, crying, cussing and threatening disaster over every and any action of the Administration.  In some ways it is impressive.  To keep up a hissy fit this long is no mean feat.  Some of these individuals are not young and so you’d think the risk of stroke is not negligible.  I’d say the most noteworthy instances to list were Stephen Colbert and Maxine Waters.  Colbert had a meltdown over Trump disrespecting a CBS reporter named Dickerson.  Colbert went into a rant against Trump and used some extremely derogatory sexual comments that even partisans of the left found offensive.  Following that a few days later, he extemporized to his studio audience on the breaking news of FBI Director Comey’s firing and was chagrined when the crowd cheered the news.  He claimed it was the result of a pro-Trump audience.  More likely, his constant attacks on Comey for harming Hillary’s election chances temporarily confused the audience into forgetting that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.  I’m sure he straightened them out on that right away.

Waters took the Comey firing as the one hundredth excuse, to once again, call for the immediate impeachment of Donald Trump. When asked if she would have supported Hillary Clinton firing Comey she said she definitely would.  Wow.

In the olden days B.T. (before Trump), a republican president or Congress would quail and jibber under the endless assault of the outrage machine. A Bush or a McCain would waffle and kowtow to accusations of racism or sexism or just plain ism.  They were a hapless bunch and the Media and the dems knew it.  That’s why they are still hitting this play so hard.  It always yousta work.

We may be in a golden period. A place in time where the libs are still using tactics that no longer work but before they figure out that they actually do real harm to their case.  If this is the case then the trolling of Trump may actually be a very effective way of turning the public against the public positions of the left.  Someone like Colbert blowing a fuse on screen might have a truly revelatory effect if at the same time an unapologetic President is managing to get things done in Washington at the same time.

As the inimitable Vox Day has noted SJWs always double down. If that is the case, then there may come a point when even the somnambulistic public wakes up to the fact that the Left has become a shrieking steam engine whose relief valve has been overwhelmed in furtherance of doubling down.  And with any luck the Left will blow the whole thing sky high or run it right into a brick wall.  If so I can make one last steam analogy reference, “God He stole the handle and the train won’t stop going, no way to slow down.”

Tolkien: A Very, Very Long Story – Part 1 – On the Screen vs. the Mind’s Eye

Okay, The Lord of the Rings, the big enchilada. Tolkien wrote about a half a million words about his war of the ring. His son Christopher has made a cottage industry of publishing every scrap of draft paper that his father ever scribbled and analyzing them as if they were papyrus palimpsests of the lost plays of Sophocles. In the last sixty plus years an unending stream of analysis both professional and personal has been generated about these books. Everything that could be said has been said and about a million times. So, what possible justification is there for me to add to the ocean?

Well, it’s my damn blog and I want to. So, without further ado…

I read the Lord of the Rings when I was about twelve. I was highly impressed. Obviously as I matured my opinion of the story was based on an evolving baseline of experience with fiction and personal experience of the world around me. Over the years my personal preferences among the various characters and scenes have altered somewhat. But my overall opinion of the work is still very high and very enthusiastic.
Over the course of the time I have been a fan of the Lord of the Rings, Hollywood has from time to time attempted to produce motion picture versions of it. Some of these were animated films. One was drawing superimposed over live action frames of film (Ralph Bakshi’s film). Recently a sophisticated live action and CGI combination was produced by Peter Jackson and managed to win the Academy Award for best picture. The relationship between these films and the text is the subject of this post.
I will state categorically that none of the film versions of the Lord of the Rings before Peter Jackson’s version ever succeeded (except in very small sections) in capturing the feeling of the book. The inability to draw the viewer into the reality of the story was always too strong. But in the Jackson version it succeeded.

Okay, here come the qualifiers. Do not confuse the above statement with an unconditional endorsement of every aspect of the movie. There are any number of things about the movie that I object to (some extremely strenuously). For instance, Denethor is rendered as a terrible man. I do not think that reflects Tolkien’s intent or description. Also, some aspects of the treatment of Frodo and Sam’s friendship is oddly portrayed and off-putting. The super human abilities of Legolas seem exaggerated and some of the silly treatment of Gimli are annoying. A hundred little and not so little problems exist.

Getting that out of the way I will say that Jackson’s movies bring the Lord of the Rings alive. In a certain sense these films will give Tolkien’s work a chance to become part of the mythology of the whole human race. Because although millions of people have read the books, billions of people will see the movies. Not every viewer will be impacted deeply by the story but enough of the books comes across in the films that the films will act as an amplifier of the story in the digital realm we now inhabit. So, on balance the Jackson films are a net positive for the Tolkien lovers of the world.

I’ll cut this first Tolkien post short here. After all this is an endless pursuit. Best not to drone on too much. But I’ll end with my opinion on the best scene in the Jackson films. And I’ll specify I’m talking about the extended versions. The best scene is the Ride of the Rohirrim at the Battle of Minas Tirith. It was stirring and well done. Feel free to leave your opinion on the best scene in the comments.

Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer – A Very Short Review (by Proxy)

 

I have a relative, a boy in seventh grade, who is a ravenous reader of science fiction and fantasy (among other things).  Being a conservative and being allergic to anything smacking of political correct narrative fiction I have made it my practice to pass along the older stuff that I grew up on back in the time before fun was banned.  He digests these old books at a rate that seems almost supernatural.  But recently I bought something modern to see how that would fly.

I had heard good things about Dave Freer’s “Changeling’s Island.”  I ordered it on Amazon but instead of the usual two days, it took about two weeks.  I guess it had to be printed on order.  I did a quick read of the first couple of chapters and found it engaging and appropriate for my young reading machine.  I dropped it off a week ago and hoped he would like it.

Well, I spoke with him today and discovered that not only did he like it, he wanted more of the same.  Apparently, this was good stuff.  I told him I didn’t have any more at the moment but would check for more stuff from Freer.  He was unpleased at my unpreparedness to feed the machine with its new fuel of choice.  In desperation, I foisted off a set of the Foundation trilogy on him that I had been holding onto since 1970, and told him I’d try to do better in the future.  So now I have to find out if Freer has any other young adult sf&f available.  If not I’ll be responsible for disappointing the next generation.  Wish me luck.