08MAY2018 – Quote of the Day

I grew up on this guy’s stuff.  We don’t see eye to eye on everything but he did get a lot of stuff right.  Plus he definitely was an American original.  In his novel “Friday” he represented the balkanization of North America.  I wonder whether he would be surprised by where we are today.  My guess, probably not.

There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.

Robert A. Heinlein

Heinlein – What Was He?

I’m a Heinlein fan.  That’s not to say I like everything he wrote.  I believe “I Will Fear No Evil” is remarkably bad.  I know of several other of his books that I don’t think very highly of.  But a lot of what he wrote, especially during his heyday was very good.  And comparing him to those writing at the time when he came on the scene it is striking how much better he was.

So why was that?  What made him so good?  First of all, I think Heinlein happened to be a very intelligent man.  Secondly, he was well educated and this included the fact that he had an upper middle-class upbringing that included good literature.  Thirdly, he had a decent work ethic.  Between these things he probably brought much more to the table than most of his peers.  And finally, I think he modelled his stories not on other science fiction authors but rather on successful authors in the wider literary world.  And I think this has been recognized for a long time.  Many years ago, I read some literary criticism that posited that Heinlein had taken Kipling’s British Raj and mapped it onto the Solar System or some such thing.  Another critic said that Heinlein created America as Science Fiction.  While I don’t think either of these premises are completely true I think they hint at the fact that Heinlein wanted to take science fiction out of its ghetto and make it interesting to the grown-ups.

And to a great extent, he succeeded.  Especially in his early future history stories, the feel is very much of a mid-twentieth-century American dynamism.  It combines wit, enthusiasm and confidence.  It belongs with such other products of the time as John Houston’s motion pictures The Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  He has turned the American Century into the source for his characters and their ethos.  And in some of his stories like Citizen of the Galaxy and Double Star, Heinlein did borrow some of the flavor of Kipling’s British Empire.

But really all this shows is that Heinlein wanted his stories to belong to the Anglo-American tradition of storytelling.  He recognized good work and he incorporated the spirit of the best works from his time and of the literary past that he enjoyed and projected them on the future.

Some might say that he thereby lacked originality.  This may be somewhat true.  But it is also universal.  Even James Joyce when he wrote his stream of consciousness in Ulysses is using Homer for his plot basis.  And to the extent that Ulysses is original it is also a failure as literature.  Every writer borrows from the past.  He has to.  As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  The trick is making it new and making it your own.  I think Heinlein was well within fair usage.

Coming back to the question of what Heinlein was, I believe he was the right man at the right time.  He was an intelligent, literate American at just the moment in the American Century when science fiction was becoming mainstream and relevant to the culture.  Atomic bombs and space craft were crossing over from science fiction to front page headlines.  Science fiction readers were seeing their stories become respectable and even literary.  Legitimate periodicals included some of the more refined writers between the glossy covers.

Will we see his like again?  I would have to say no.  Not so much because he was some towering genius, but because the times have changed.  No one would mistake our present culture for 1930s America.  Even in the depths of the Great Depression there was an optimism and solidarity that just doesn’t exist anymore.  Authors today reflect that despair.  And maybe that is interesting to some, a sort of decline of the Roman Empire sensibility, but I don’t think it lends itself to good storytelling.  Even in the most realistic story I think you need something beyond fatalism and ennui.  Otherwise it feels like the story is not even worth your time to read.

But, of course, maybe a change is just around the corner and an American renaissance is on the horizon.  Well, if that’s the case, I better reread Green Hills of Earth.  Delilah and the Space Riggers?  Sure why not?

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a mathematician and securities trader who also waxes philosophical.  The last of his books that I am reading is entitled “The Bed of Procrustes.”  Now the title alone would guarantee I would want to know about it.  In Greek Mythology, Procrustes is one of those idiosyncratic monsters that the Hero, such as Heracles or as in this case Theseus must conquer in order to eliminate Chaos and promote civilization or something like that.  Freud made much soup from this sort of thing.

So, Procrustes had a bed that he let travelers sleep on at night.  The catch was that if the sleeper was shorter than the bed then Procrustes would stretch him to the correct size.  And if the sleeper was longer than the bed then he would trim him down to fit.  According to the story up until Theseus arrived the bed-sleeper length optimization procedure had been 100% fatal to the “sleeper.”  And when Theseus shows up he turns the tables (more furniture!) on Procrustes and performs a bed fitting exercise on him.

Taleb is using the metaphor of Procrustes Bed to represent how often in life humans look at situations from the wrong point of view.  And he returns to one of the oldest formats to address his subject, the aphorism or proverb or wise saying.

The Bed of Procrustes is one hundred and fifty-six pages long.  His other books like the “Black Swan” are four or five times as long.  His next book will be written on the back of a match book cover.  I approve of this trend.

I’ve started reading them.  Some of them are pretty good.  I’m comparing them to those other aphoristic writers Solomon, Confucious and Robert A. Heinlein (through the agency of his alter ego Lazarus Long).  The emphasis is different.  Taleb is talking about life from the point of view of a savvy operator not a philosopher or a saint.  He has more in common with Lazarus Long.  But there are many interesting observations and some of them are original in some aspect.  When I finish reading Procrustes Bed and do some comparison to his peers I’ll probably have more to say, but one thing that occurs to me is to put out a regular quote of the day (week?) from someone.  I’m sure it will make me appear wiser.  Here’s the first one:

“What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.”

Shakespeare has Polonius declare that brevity is the soul of wit.  Polonius is a windbag so you have to wonder whether Old Will believed this statement or not.  But I find that, many times, less is decidedly more, especially when you’re under the gun to fit in blog posting into a busy day.  I see that many bloggers churn out a couple of thousand words in a post.  I like to put up about five hundred or so (and sometimes less).  I know everybody is busy nowadays and I don’t want to impose so let’s stop right here.

Reductio ad Absurdum

Back in the Paleolithic Epoch I read a story by Brother Heinlein called “The Year of the Jackpot.”  In the story a statistician named Potiphar Breen has detected a convergence of all the various human and natural cycles.  Everything from the sunspot cycle to stock market crashes are headed for a simultaneous crescendo that he predicts will shatter normal human patterns.  Proof of his thesis is detectable in a rash of lunatic behavior in every human grouping.  Aberrant behavior like transvestitism is becoming commonplace, ordinary women are spontaneously stripping in public and in general, people are becoming unhinged.  Based on his calculations he believes it will come to a head within a year and will result in cataclysm.  Not to ruin the story, which is actually quite fun, but as predicted, all hell breaks loose when all these metaphorical evil slot machines pay off at once.

As is typical in the age we live in, all Heinlein’s predictions fall short of reality.  His fictional transvestitism is now a feeble half-measure compared to the reality of transgender lunacy that we currently endure.  And all other aberrations he predicted pale in comparison to the actual insanity that currently reigns on our streets and in our homes.

As far as The Year of the Jackpot, well, all the trend lines for disaster have been pegged out as vertical asymptotes for so long that we’ve forgotten that they can slow down, never mind actually reverse direction.  Predicting catastrophe is meaningless.  We’ve been in a perpetual train wreck for decades.  All the stored-up reserves of stability and normalcy are completely depleted.  Every societal structure meant to support our civilization is dry-rotted and hollowed out.  The only real question is what straw will break the camel’s back.  So, in the spirit of Heinlein’s story I’d like to examine our current world and extrapolate where the trends will lead.

Probably most significant of the latest developments is the #metoo phenomenon.  The ongoing media circus is consuming movie, news and political celebrities in Hollywood, New York and Washington at a pretty good clip.  I think I read the current count is about one hundred accused.  The great majority of these are lefties so the entertainment value is undeniable.  But the hoped-for target is the President.  What is the likelihood of it succeeding?  I’d say extremely low.  The current targets all work for liberals (either in corporate leadership or as a constituency).  Trump owes exactly zero allegiance to feminists and their rules.  But will there be any other upshot of the continuing rollout of this phenomenon?  I think there will be.  As the numbers start to increase I predict that even the feminists will see the downside of removing all functionally heterosexual men from the liberal institutions.  What it will do is reinforce that politically correct rules of behavior are not only inherently anti-male but obviously unjust.  Due process and the presumption of innocence have no part in these proceedings.  All men are presumed guilty with no possibility of appeal.

All this will have a two-fold effect.  In the case of leftists their friends will throw them under the bus to toe the line.  Eventually, as the offenses become more and more trivial these men will start hiring lawyers to defend their interests.  The backlash promises to be substantial and equally hilarious as the accusers are made to look rightly ridiculous in their paranoia and pettiness.  In the case of right wing individuals not associated with left wing institutions, they will defend themselves against these charges and begin the process of rolling back some of this extra-judicial overreach.  Hopefully this will have the effect of discouraging exaggerated accusations.  It will also draw attention to the ridiculous state of sexual harassment laws and their irrational double standards of application.

But the much bigger story is the ongoing Trumpocalypse.  The enormity of this phenomenon is almost impossible to exaggerate.  Regardless of whether President Trump can achieve an actual reversal of the in-progress vivisection of the legacy citizenry of the former United States of America, he demonstrates just how desperate the situation actually is.  All the harassed non-protected groups banded together and elected a reality tv comic book character to be their savior.  And against all odds and expectations he has proven to be an heroic figure.  Almost single-handedly he has taken on both parties in Congress, the various tentacles of the Deep State and the entire Hollywood Media Complex.  While doing this he has provided endless entertainment and moral support for every down-trodden man in this troubled land.  So, if he succeeds in reversing the direction we’re headed and begins fixing the worst of the problems the leftists have inflicted on us (mass immigration, affirmative action) then that will be against a might upheaval of the cultural Marxist establishment.  There will be riots in the streets and insane propaganda unheard of since Baghdad Bob was running Saddam Hussein’s public relations office.    But even if he is brought down by the leftists I forsee him providing the spark to finally blow this whole powder keg sky high.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there would be a march on Washington that will make the various million-man marches look pathetic.  He has awakened a very large force of really pissed off men.

To get back to my original thesis, the Year of the Jackpot is upon us very soon.  Will things fall apart or improve?  Yes.  Maybe even both.  And it’s actually a relief.  Realizing that things cannot continue along the same trajectory is encouraging.  Something’s gotta give and hopefully it’ll be them.  But even if it’s actual dissolution it is better than the slow collapse.  This way at least something may be saved.  And as more people wake up to just how bad things are it adds to the weight pushing against the locked door of the burning barn.  We may get out alive.  Here’s to the Jackpot.

A Rambling Wreck – Book 2 of The Hidden Truth Series – A Science Fiction Book Review

Hans G. Schantz is the author of the “The Hidden Truth” series and based on the bio at the end of the book some sort of a genius.  He’s a PhD in theoretical physics and a high-tech inventor of radio frequency gadgets (e.g., near field electromagnetic ranging).   Suffice it to say he doesn’t need to use a macguffin in any of his stories to fake a scientific plot line.  So, it’s kind of ironic that the first chapter is named “Whatever Happened to Angus MacGuffin.”

I picked up this second volume of the series without having read the first because the premise caught my fancy.  The protagonist, Peter is a college freshman at Georgia Tech who is digging up information on a shadowy organization called the Civic Circle which seems like some kind of combination of the Illuminati and villains from a Bond movie.  They murdered his parents for getting in the way of an operation being carried out to hide the Civic Circle’s involvement in an assassination campaign.  This campaign was meant to prevent the leading minds in electromagnetic field theory from discovering a secret that would give its wielder enormous power.

Now imagine that plot line embedded in a story that includes a freshman pick-up artist, social justice warriors on campus, a Chinese demigod, a 17th century nuclear energy program and a freshman trying to keep his grade point average high enough to keep his scholarship money intact.

It’s sort of like what might happen if one of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes (say Kip from Have Spacesuit Will Travel) was thrust into the modern era and was forced to use “SJWs Always Lie” as his freshman orientation guide while battling the Black Hats.

The book combines an elaborate puzzle involving an ancient Chinese philosophical text that seems also to be a clue to the secret knowledge that the Civic Circle is protecting.  There’s a rationale involving historical figures from the early days of electromagnetic field theory to explain how this secret hasn’t been discovered by the physicists of today.  There are all kinds of geeky fun throughout the plot.

One other interesting note.  This is an alternate history world where President Gore was killed in the 9-11-2001 terror attacks.  So, they must have completely missed out on the joys of climate change.

The action moves along and the various plot elements reach their crescendo in a nicely coordinated climax.  Secrets are revealed.  The damsel in distress is saved and the hero moves up the ladder of experience and prepares for his next foray against the powers of darkness.

I thought the book was good.  I should probably go back now and read the first volume (but once you cheat it’s always tough to do that).  But I look forward to next installment.  Hopefully in it Donald Trump will be given super powers and a license to kill.

Summer 2017 – When the Blockbuster Formula Ran Out of Gas

What do most of the Twilight Zone episodes, the third season of Star Trek and Transformers VI (or whatever number they’re up to this year) have in common? They were no good, nobody wanted to see them and they were written by hacks. Sure, there were a few good Zone episodes and also a few of the Trek episodes were fun or interesting. What I think you’ll notice with these is that the episode was written by somebody creative. The rest of the dreck in these categories was ground out by talentless hacks who couldn’t even spell the word plot let alone write one. And that brings us back to Transformers XX or whatever it is. Great Caesar’s Ghost!

Is the business really that bad? Is there no other way to fund and produce movies than to pile sequel onto sequel? How many times can Sylvester Stallone climb into the ring or jump out of a crashing helicopter? How many times can that stupid alien ravage human colonies before somebody gets around to inventing industrial strength Raid for aliens and drop it on their ugly butts?

As even Deadpool himself said (before his upcoming sequel of course), and I paraphrase, how many times can Liam Neeson let his daughter be Taken before we assume he’s just a not a very good father. Wasn’t Godfather III enough to prove that even the best stories can’t be endlessly resuscitated without being turned into crap?

But you notice, TV is able to make some pretty good stuff. I’ve just finished Justified and I’d put that up against anything I’ve seen in the theater in the last five years. Why the disparity? First of all, Justified was adapted from the works of Elmore Leonard whose stories have time and again translated well into movies. Whereas with these endless sequel franchises, I assume they are assembled from some formula that is somehow supposed to capture the original flavor of the first episode but without the high price of the original screenwriter. Apparently, they’ll pay tens of millions to get Bruce Willis or Jamie Foxx and millions more to CGI the explosions but they’ll settle for the story line to be written by the corporate lawyers who put the financial deal together for the studios.

I think I read that because of the cable fees TV is actually able to monetize their quality shows pretty successfully whereas on the big screen only a giant blockbuster success is lucrative enough to even attract sufficient funding to get made. And that means Terminator 30 gets made before something well written and entertaining like possibly a faithful version of one of Heinlein’s juveniles. I imagine that Citizen of the Galaxy or Farmer in the Sky in the hands of a good screenwriter and director would be very entertaining and very commercial.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Focus Photog, focus. What’s your point? Bring this back around to the title. Bring it home.”
Fine, I will. Hollywood is dead. Long live TV. Except for some extraordinary slam dunks like “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” Hollywood is too paralyzed by the fear of losing gobs of money to try and put a quality product together from quality components. And that’s why I don’t feel deprived when I skip whole decades at the theater. There’s nothing there. Even the occasional stand out ends up being barely acceptable. I remember hearing raves about Gravity. When I finally rented it, I was puzzled what all the fuss was about. Okay would be a generous appraisal. The same with “The Martian.” Adequate would cover it.
And it couldn’t happen to a nicer set of people. If DiCaprio and Depp start only making seven figures instead of eight I certainly won’t cry. When they’re replaced by AI – CGI maybe the stories won’t be as insulting to the dirt people. What a concept!

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.

Trump vs The Time Hag – Episode 1 – The Origin Story

Scene 1:  Deepest sublevel of the Pentagon; 3:30 a.m.

Vice President Pence (VPP) – Mr. President, thank you for keeping this a secret and I apologize for the late hour.

President Trump (PT) – Mike, what the hell is going on here?  I was in the middle of a very important tweet.  I superimposed Jim Acosta’s head on a walrus and he was looking really stupid.

VPP – Sorry Mr. President.  I’m sure that was really important but this is critical.

PT – Alright, now that I’m here, what gives?

VPP – In this top-secret military lab our top men have been perfecting a practical method for time travel.

PT – Hey that’s great Mike.  Now I can go back in time and make bets on sports games and get rich like Biff did in Back to the Future Part 2.

VPP – Actually Sir, going back in time and changing it is a very dangerous thing to do.  And it’s one of the reasons I called you here.

PT – I don’t get it.  I haven’t even done anything yet.  Why are you already giving me grief about it?

VPP – Actually it’s Hillary Clinton that’s the problem here.

PT – What does Crooked Hillary have to do with my time machine.

VPP – Your time machine?  Oh, never mind.  Let me explain.  Secretary Clinton found out about the project from Obama back when he was pillaging the United States of America.  After your election victory she has been looking for some way to thwart the election results and she selected the time machine as the last resort.  She plans to go back in time and change history in some way that will allow her to become the president.  In fact, she has already used the machine.

PT – Doesn’t this old hag ever quit?  So how do we stop her?

VPP – Mr. President, if you’ve read Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” or watched “Back to the Future” you know that tampering with the past can be catastrophic.

PT –  Yeah, yeah.  Like when Michael J. Fox starts disappearing from the polaroid photo of his family.  Which if you think about it doesn’t really make any sense.  Boy, that Spielberg really was a slacker.  So, I’m in danger of ceasing to exist.

VPP – Precisely.  We think Hillary will attempt to prevent you from being born by interfering in your parents’ lives.  In fact, we think she’s already succeeded.

PT – Well, then why am I still here?

VPP – Because this lab has an inertial time field associated with it that delays changes to the temporal fabric of the universe within a range of 5 miles and for a period of about two weeks.

PT – Good thing for me.

VPP – Ain’t it the truth.

PT – Okay, get me the DeLaurean or put me in the machine and send me back.  Will I be naked like the Terminator?

VPP – No Mr. President.

PT – Good.  Because despite his terrible work on The Apprentice, Schwarzenegger definitely looks better naked than I do at the moment.  I really have to lay off the pasta.

VPP – Mr. President we don’t have much time.  We’ve got to set up the machine and plan out the mission.  Hillary is wearing a controller that looks like a lady’s Rolex that allows her to move forward and back in time to whatever point in history she wants.  We will provide you with an equivalent controller in a men’s Rolex.

PT – I’d prefer a Trump Chronichron.  It looks like a Rolex but can be purchased at Macy’s for only $450.  It’s quite a deal.

VPP – I’m sorry Mr. President, there’s no time.

PT – That statement seems ironic under these circumstances.

VPP – I am aware.  Now in addition to allowing the wearer to time travel the watch allows us to keep track of the traveler.  For instance, we know that Hillary is currently in 5th Century B.C. Athens.  We will send you there first.  Your mission is to thwart any actions by Hillary and protect the outline of Western Civilization throughout our timeline.  Do you have any questions?

PT – Yes, can I bring guns?

VPP – No Mr. President, that would be extremely damaging to the thread of history.

PT – I figured you’d say that.  You know Mike, you really should learn how to live a little.

VPP – Sure.

PT – Alright, I’m ready.  Let her rip.

VPP – God speed Mr. President.  We’re all rooting for you.  None of us want Hillary for a boss.  She’s a lousy bitch.

Epilogue:

As you know if you’ve read “The Funeral Oration of Trumpicles” Donald was successful in defeating Hillary (or as she was called back then Clintoninus).  Stay tuned for the further adventures of Time-Traveler-Trump as he does battle in the day before yesterday to save tomorrow!

What Good Sci-Fi is Out There?

Sci-Fi movies have a long and checkered past. They run the gamut from such high concept films as 2001: A Space Odyssey to such dreck as Plan Nine from Outer Space. And in addition to quality these films vary by sub-genre. There are movies that concentrate on technology and how humans will adapt to it. This category includes such movies as I, Robot and The Martian. There are movies that are mostly about contacts with alien life of one form or another. This would include everything from War of the Worlds to Independence Day. Then there are movies that are basically monster movies like Alien and The Thing from Another World where the science fiction is just a vehicle to allow things to jump out at the protagonists from dark corners.
I will confess that I can enjoy almost any of these types of movies on any given day if given the chance. But it seems of late the quality of sci-fi is in decline. All kinds of money is being spent on special effects and the acting is really no worse than it’s been in the past. So what’s different?
First, I would say, is the quality of scripts. The words coming out of the characters mouths are getting less interesting. I have been assured that motion pictures are a visual medium in which dialogue is an ancillary dimension of the experience and entirely superfluous. That a good movie shows you not tells you. I disagree. Of course the visual is primary. But if the movie is about people then they need to talk to each other and if the dialogue is bad then the film is bad even if you blow up all the planets in the solar system in alphabetical order in vibrant Technicolor. Let me clarify one thing. I am not advocating for highly polished dramatic set pieces. Dialogue between a street dweller and a policeman can be good without breaking into Shakespeare. All I’m saying is the dialogue is either lame or non-existent in most sci-fi movies today.
Second, the majority of the protagonists are not particularly likeable. Once again let me qualify. I’m not saying I want the good guys to be boy scouts, far from it. But a flawed character can still be the character the audience identifies and empathizes with. As an example from detective fiction, think about Sam Spade. He’s cruel, selfish and violent. But there’s never any doubt whether we want him or his adversaries to come out on top. The characters now seem either evil or just ciphers.
And lastly, the stories that these movies are based on are usually not very substantial. Think of some of the great stories that have been written. Even restricting myself to one author, Heinlein, I could point out a dozen books and short stories that could be made into excellent films. Wouldn’t “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” make a great movie? And how about “Farmer in the Sky”? And I think audiences would eat up “Have Spacesuit Will Travel.” The danger is that the studios would turn each movie into a franchise and we’d be subjected to hacks tacking sequels onto completed stories. I’ve heard “Starship Troopers” might be remade as a faithful interpretation of the book. That would be great. But I’m not holding my breath.
Now I’ve ranted against what I don’t like. Let me see if I can identify some that I do. Caveat, I haven’t gone out of my way looking for good sci-fi. But I’ve managed to bump into a lot that’s bad. And I’m leaving out all things Star Wars and Star Trek. I won’t even go there.
• “The Martian” was okay. Despite the fact that I despise Matt Damon he did a decent job and the story though far from brilliant was somewhat engaging and clever.
• The first installment of “The Matrix” was pretty good. Granted it’s almost twenty years old but being much older I will include it in recent.
• If I’m allowed to stretch apocalyptic films as science fiction I’ll point to the “Book of Eli.”
So that’s it. Maybe I’ve missed some. If anybody has any movies from the last twenty years that past muster, leave a comment. We can discuss.

More Anti-Asimov Ranting

So, in my last post about Asimov I decried his descent into collectivist propaganda (Foundation’s Edge).

I will continue my diatribe here and show how Asimov devolved from an anthropocentric viewpoint to a proponent of the hive mind.

In 1950 Asimov had a short story called Misbegotten Missionary.   In the story an exploratory mission from Earth visits a world named Saybrook’s Planet that is populated by communal creatures.  Although these creatures take on all the forms needed to make up an ecosystem (microbes, plants and animals) they are all part of one consciousness.  In addition, any one of these creatures has the ability to alter all creatures around it so that all their offspring will be communal creatures too.  The explorers took precautions to protect their ship from contamination by any biological contact.  But unbeknownst to them a solitary creature has stowed away on the ship and is waiting to reach Earth to begin the conversion process.  It somehow realizes that the earth creatures monitor bacteria and the mice that they have on board to detect contamination by an alien life form.  Because of this the creature refrains from altering any of the ship’s life forms to avoid tipping off the crew.  The creature is cryptic and disguises itself as a piece of wire in an electrical circuit on the ship.  By the kind of remarkable luck that only happens in fiction (or the 2016 presidential election) the wire that the creature is connected to is in the circuit to open the ship door.  So instead of converting earth to communalism he gets fried like a death row inmate in Florida.  The conclusion has the crew discover the bullet they dodged and everyone breaths a sigh of relief.

 

Apparently, Asimov was unhappy with this result.  So, 32 years later he corrected this mistake in the Foundation sequel, Foundation’s Edge.  Searching for a mysterious unseen hand in the Foundation universe he follows clues that lead to Sayshell (not Saybrook’s Planet) where he learns of the existence of Gaia, a communal intelligence that not only is composed of all the living things on the planet but also the inanimate components too.  Now of course, this reeks of James Lovelock’s trendy 1970’s theory, The Gaia Hypothesis, that Earth was one big super-organism that had become infected with the human virus (thus the Matrix, thus Al Gore).  Apparently, Asimov had bought into this theory and saw a harmonization (read Borgian assimilation) of humanity by the communal organism as the perfect solution.  And just to make sure no one thinks assimilation is soul extinguishing oblivion, he shows us a human component of the collective who is a cheerful woman who happens to like the protagonist.  So, you see, if you glue a smiley face onto the Borg it’s all good.  And just to make sure no connection to Saybrook’s Planet is possible, the protagonist in Foundation’s Edge is not forced into the hive but gets to choose whether humanity is melted into a collective consciousness with igneous rocks and hydrogen atoms.  You see it’s totally okay!

 

Asimov displays all the symptoms of the proto-sjw that he was.  He dislikes individualism.  He admires the hive.  He desires to remove choice from the currently free.  And he dislikes all this random doing what you want to do (except probably for himself of course).  And finally to hammer home the lesson that humans can’t be left to their own devices we find out that Earth is a radioactive corpse and the whole Gaia situation is a master plan put together by a super-intelligent robot to try to save humans from themselves.

 

So my question is, what the hell happened to this doofus?  And of course, the answer is he just followed the same trajectory as most of the progressives from the thirties who admired the Soviet Union before the Cold War.  Now, Heinlein started out in that camp too.  But when he changed wives and married a conservative he changed course and rejected the hive.  I remember in his novel Methusaleh’s Children Heinlein has a world where a race exists that also possesses a collective mind.  And the humans also had to make a choice.  If they remained they would be assimilated.  Only those who feared death remained.  Obviously, these collective races are the communists.  Heinlein rejected it.  Asimov finally embraced it, much to his detriment as a writer and a man.  But it did finally earn him a Hugo.  So apparently the Hugo had also made the transition by that time.