2001: A Space Odyssey – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Warning, this whole review is one long spoiler.  In my defense this movie is 49 years old.)

The only good thing about The Academy Awards is that for the whole month before, TCM plays many good (and not so good) old movies.  Last night I watched 2001.  As the exit music was finishing it occurred to me that this was the first time in almost fifty years that I had watched the movie from beginning to end.  Back in 1968 I attended the film in a large theater in Manhattan as part of a class trip.  At the time I was a sci-fi fan but I distinctly remember becoming incredibly bored during the “Infinity” sequence.  And sure enough, last night I found my eyes glazing over as I waited for Keir Dullea to stop making funny faces and show up in Versailles.  And then it also occurred to me that it was actually a very, very good movie.  So, let’s talk about it.  You already know I don’t like the “Infinity” sequence.  But I find the rest of the film is excellent.  Not everybody cares for Kubrick’s style in film-making.  There is a great deal of stylization and idiosyncratic imagery that bothers many people.  And without a doubt it is highly un-naturalistic.  In fact, the ape men were the most realistic as personalities.  The other characters are decidedly wooden.

But without a doubt this movie is an amazing spectacle.  The matching of images to the musical soundtrack is perfect.  The sequences of space ships landing and maneuvering are shown as if they were dancers in a ballet.  The “Dawn of Man” sequence is riveting.  I could believe that the actual event was very much like the portrayal (minus the monolith of course).  It captured the essence of human ingenuity.  The desperate and sordid circumstances of that ingenuity ring true.

And then there’s HAL.  I hate HAL.  I always have.  But he is the perfect Frankenstein Monster.  And the arc of his crime and punishment is, for me, a thing of hideous beauty.  His relations with the astronauts are as creepy and dishonest as some Dickens villain, something like Uriah Heep.  Some people feel sadness when Dave lobotomizes HAL and reduces him to the level of a two-year-old singing “Daisy.”  I never shared that sadness.  I guess I’m more Old-Testament.

So, that brings us back to the “Infinity” sequence which sucks.  But following it we have what I call the “Versailles” scene where I guess Dave lives his life out as a captive of the monolith makers.  This is weird and I guess necessary to set up the conclusion.  Dave dies and is reborn as the next stage of human evolution.  And he is returned to our solar system and the picture ends with him floating above earth to the sequence of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube Waltz” playing us out.

In sum we have a fifty year old movie that is still visually stunning, that addresses the inexplicable advance of savage animals to the brink of interplanetary travel and the frightening prospect of facing our masters in artificial intelligence.  What’s not to like?  Well he could have added a few good-looking space babes but nobody’s perfect.

Legionnaire (Galaxy’s Edge) (Volume 1) by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole – A Science Fiction Book Review

I read one of Nick Cole’s earlier books (CTRL ALT Revolt!) last year and liked it.  So, when I heard he was involved in a mil-sf series I figured I’d check it out.  It turns out it’s a dual authorship arrangement with Jason Anspach.  I ordered it (I like to read books on paper) and read it last week.

I like well-written mil-sf.  This is well-written.  The story chronicles an elite military unit involved in a supposedly routine diplomatic mission that devolves into a catastrophe.  It melds the feel of modern American military in the middle east (ala Black Hawk Down) with lineage going back to Rudyard Kipling’s India stories and translates it into a futuristic landscape of alien creatures, energy weapons and space cruisers.  But the technology is definitely beside the point.  The story is the camaraderie of men attempting to complete their mission and keep each other alive in an environment where bureaucratic amateur officers are just as dangerous as the enemy.

The protagonist (first person narrative for the most part) is an NCO in the “Legion.”  Through his eyes we see his comrades display various strengths and weaknesses and we observe the “regular army” that are combined with the legionnaires on this mission attempting to adapt to a combat role they are unprepared for.  And we observe non-combatants and the alien inhabitants of this planet at the “galaxy’s edge.”

If you like military science fiction you’ll probably like this book.  If you even just like war stories you might like this book.  It is volume one of a series but this book is sort of a stand-alone story.  The series chronicles the saga of the Galactic Republic through the eyes of the Legion as an elite force cleaning up the messes being perpetrated by an increasingly autocratic state over its subject worlds at the periphery of the galaxy.  Basically, it sounds like the Roman Republic devolving into the Roman Empire.  Or is it the American Republic?

As you can probably guess from my comparison with Black Hawk Down, it’s not a happily ever after kind of tale.  It’s a down beat story but if you like mil-sf then that’s probably no surprise.  If not be warned.

So, here’s my opinion.  This is a good stand-alone story.  The story develops and the action and the sub-plots unfold in natural way.  The characters are interesting and have enough development to allow you to cheer and boo the appropriate actors.  I can definitely recommend it.  For me the question is do I go forward with a longer series?  From what I understand the individual books are separated in time.  They document the history of this galactic civilization.  Implicitly this means none of the characters will carry over to the next book.  Can the authors generate enough new people to populate the series?  I think I’ll try the next book in the series and see how that works out.  I’ll report back on the next installment when I do.

Science Fiction TV Series Review – Stranger Things – First Season

Full disclosure, I am the only one I know who still uses Netflix for DVDs and doesn’t stream.  Oh, the shame of it all!  So last month the first season of Stranger Things became available to rent on Netflix (or as it’s now known DVD.com) and they sent me the two discs.  I was busy with life and the holidays so I watched it after the Christmas during some time off from work.  For anyone who hasn’t seen it but is interested or for anyone who wants my opinion here are my thoughts.

Let me start with the strongest impression the show left.  Almost everyone in the show is not particularly likeable.  Let me expand.  Many of the characters are annoying or worse.  In particular, the character who should most attract our sympathy, the mother of the missing boy, played by Winona Ryder, is hands down in the top three of the most annoying characters I’ve ever seen in a movie or tv.  Several times I was hoping the town sheriff would pull out his gun and shoot her or at least pistol whip her to make her shut up.  There was one character I liked.  He was a strong, caring, humorous, warm, responsible, regular guy who used good judgement and compassion to help a troubled runaway pre-teen.  He was shot in the head about six minutes after his first screen appearance.  After that it was annoying nerds, arrogant jocks, clueless suburban parents, alcoholic lawmen and nefarious government officials all the way down.  Eventually the hell-spawned creature makes some appearances, and interestingly, I found myself kind of rooting for him.  At least he didn’t blather on.

The season is eight episodes long and I finished them.  After reading what I just wrote, you may be wondering why I did finish them.  Well, surprisingly, I found myself sucked into the story.  Maybe this was an artifact of having all the episodes in front of me, time available to watch them and post-Christmas-Feast stupefaction.  But for some reason, at the end of each episode I wanted to see the next one.  And even after I knew how it would go I wanted to see it through to the end.

So, what’s my recommendation?  Well, guarded at best.  The plot is some kind of bastard spawn of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg and the X-Files.  The tropes are hackneyed and the characters, as mentioned, are mostly stereotypes and annoying ones at that.  Two episodes in you know how it will go and who will do what.  Honestly if someone had told me this ahead of time, there is no way I would have watched it.  But now that I have watched it I’m wondering if I should wait the year and watch Season 2.  My gut tells me that there is no way to make the next season even as mildly interesting as this first season.  And the thought of listening to Winona Ryder screeching at her unfortunate neighbors again is hard to justify.

I was starting to like how the sheriff usually settled difficult negotiations by punching people in the face.  His timing was really good.  The sheriff, played by an actor named David Harbour, is a big guy who drinks too much and sleeps around with the various lonelier ladies of the small midwestern town where the story takes place.  I found him the only character that I actually believed might exist in the real world.  But is seeing Sheriff Hopper pummel various “men in black” enough of a reason to sit through this thing again?  I doubt it, but it’ll be a whole year before I have to make that decision and pickings are so slim, so who knows.  Anyway, consider yourself warned, if a review that’s a year behind the times can be considered a warning.

Trump vs Independence Day Redux – Part 4

Trump vs Independence Day Redux – Part 3

 

Scene 1 – Bridge of the USS Ronald Reagan off the shore from Washington D.C., Thursday 1155 hours.  Present on the bridge are crew of the USSRR and President Trump (PT), General Adam Baldwin (GAD), Secretary Mattis (SM), Melania Trump (MT), Peter Thiel (PTh)

PT- General Baldwin, are we ready to implement the Musk protocol?

GAD – On your command, sir.

PT – Go!

(General Baldwin flips three switches on a panel on his desk console)

GAD – Cruise missile with explosive warhead will impact in twenty seconds.  Cruise missile with tantalum slug will impact 3 seconds after.  One megaton thermonuclear device is awaiting your command.

PT – Go!

(Baldwin flips a fourth switch)

GAD – Nuke will detonate in two minutes.  Flash guards are in place.  Prepare for turbulence.

(two minutes later the aircraft carrier is buffeted by a shock wave that knocks several of those standing to the floor)

PT – General, what is the status of the target?

(several service personnel cluster in front of an instrument panel attempting to restore the main console to life.  Slowly an image appears as the mushroom cloud clears away.  the ship remains in place)

GAD – Negative result.  The target remains.

PT – Mattis, where is Musk?

SM – As you anticipated, he escaped on his private aircraft shortly after your … erm … morale boosting speech.  His aircraft was admitted to the alien space ship a little while before the launch of your attack.

PT – What is the status of the space ship?

GAD – Radar shows the ship is in motion on a heading that will put it above us in five minutes.

PT – Put in a call to the “negotiations team”

(on the main console can be seen Obama, Gore and Musk seated and surrounded by several of the aliens.  the humans are all obviously pleased and quite relaxed)

BO – Well Donald, who could have imagined your presidency ending like this?  Elon said it was easy convincing you that tantalum was the answer.  Sorry it didn’t work out.

PT – So what does the future hold for you three?  Surely your new masters will dispose of you once they finish off the rest of our military.

EM – Far from it.  We have convinced them that we can provide information that will allow them to effectively harness a valuable natural resource, namely a large intelligent slave labor force.  Also, as it turns out, they like to eat meat.

PT – How delightful.  Thiel do your stuff.

Peter Thiel moves over to the main console and the screen splits between the image of the conspirators and a telephoto view of the approaching space craft.  Thiel presses several buttons and throws a switch.  The audio from inside the ship registers a high pitched squeal and the video from that half of the screen goes black.  At the same time on the other half of the screen the ship ceases forward motion and falls out of the sky like a stone.

PTh – Mr. President, the device has successfully disrupted their drive.

PT – General what is the current situation of the space ship?

GAD – Mr. President, the ship is falling at terminal velocity and will strike the Atlantic Ocean surface in a little over two minutes.

PT – Thiel, what do your bright boys think will happen when it hits.  Will the occupants survive?

PTh – Doubtful sir.  Without anti-gravity they will experience an instantaneous  stop from about 100 miles per hour.  And since the ship is not built to support its own weight against gravity it will fracture and sink to the bottom immediately.  Also the contact between the warp drive and sea water will be explosive.  Basically a total loss.

PT – Too bad.  I guess we’ll have to try to save one of the other ships when we take them down.

SM – But Mr. President, we can’t hope to gain admittance to a ship a second time.  They’ll immediately begin to destroy our cities.  And after the failure of the tantalum to disrupt their shield we are helpless to stop them.

PT – Yeah, about that.  Thiel, do the exposition.

PTh – Certainly Mr. President.  Elon was the only traitor on his team.  Tantalum does perform as he said it would.  But Mr Musk substituted another material for tantalum in the slugs he provided us.  Luckily the only other slugs he had were depleted uranium and the low-level radiation was detected and tipped us off to the deception.  When we figured out what was intended we switched Elon’s cell phone with one that would spray molten tantalum all around the control room of the alien spacecraft once triggered.

SM – So we can proceed to attack the other space ships with the tantalum sandwich approach.

PT – Yes.  Hey I like that phrase, tantalum sandwich.  Let’s say I thought it up.

SM – Sure …, …  sir.

PT – Good.  So, here’s the plan.  Get a team together at the Area 51 producing the tantalum tipped cruise missile payloads.  Work out a schedule for taking down the local ships but prioritize taking down the mother ship.  Get it to crash on the moon.  That’s our best hope of providing intact equipment to reverse engineer.  Thiel will tag along with the research team that Musk had and it will be his job to shepherd all this technology so it stays in American hands only.

GAD – But why weren’t they aware of how dangerous tantalum is to their systems and why didn’t they have counter measures?

PTh – The only thing we’ve thought of so far is that the star system these aliens came from did not have all the elements we have here on earth.  Tantalum is a fairly heavy element.  These elements are produced in fairly rare stellar events and they are not equally distributed around the cosmos.  I guess you could say it’s just blind luck.

PT – Alright, Carl Sagan, that’s enough.  Now get to work.

PTh – Yes Mr. President.  (under his breath) (what a jerk).

MT – Oh Schmoopy, you are the action hero.  Like Bruce Willis.

PT – But with better hair!

MT – Ahhh … …, sure.  But Schmoopy, how will we fix all the things the bad aliens have broken?

PT – Don’t worry Schmoopy, with the technology we’ll get from the aliens and my leadership we can make this a better and happier world.  As long as the democrats don’t screw it up again.

MT – So true Schmoopy, so true.  You are the wise man.

PT – And you are a wise woman for knowing it, Schmoopy.

PTh – Now I remember why I’m gay.

PT – Shaddap Thiel.

Trump vs Independence Day Redux – Part 3

Trump vs Independence Day Redux – Part 2

 

Scene 1: Thursday, 1145 hours USS Ronald Reagan flight deck,  On a raised platform is President Trump (PT), at the microphone, behind him on chairs are various government and military dignitaries and some celebrities and foreign leaders that appear to have been snatched away from their lives without notice.

PT – Okay people it’s time.  In a few minutes the greatest battle ever fought will begin and we will vanquish the evil ugly and reputedly smelly enemy or we will die.  Now I’m not talking about Hillary.  She’s already taken care.  In fact, she’s still bobbing around behind us.  I think she’s still trying to catch up to us but it’s not going to happen, it’s too late.  She’s too low energy.  Forget her.

No, I’m talking about the space aliens.  Have you seen these things?  Sure, they’re not as uncoordinated as Hillary but even she doesn’t smell as bad as these things.  I mean really, it’s awful.  So even if we didn’t have a beef with these guys wanting to steal our planet we still would want to get rid of them because of that smell.  And wouldn’t you know? What are they?  That’s right, illegal aliens.  They’re breaking our laws by being here.  And the aliens aren’t sending us their best probably.  They’re probably criminals without valuable skills.  I mean sure they know about interstellar travel but who needs that?  What’s there?  Probably just more smelly aliens and bad food and food poisoning like Montezuma’s Revenge.  And what do they want?  They want our jobs and to live off of welfare.  Also, they want to blow up all our cities.  Now a lot of those cities didn’t vote for me.  In fact, if there were no more large cities I’d win every election and we’d have enormous majorities in both House and Senate and I’d be able to make all kinds of good changes and we’d get amendments to the Constitution that would be fantastic.  But there wouldn’t be anymore Trump Tower or the Mets or Yankees so there is that.  Well anyway they want to blow up the cities and they want to take all our minerals and water.  So, we’re gonna have to whack all of them.

Now you may say how is Trump gonna do that?  How can he destroy star ships with force fields and giant lasers and antigravity?  Well I can.  I’ve got Elon Musk and he’s got tantalum which is a real thing and he’s figured out what will destroy these alien losers.  Now Musk is not my favorite nerd because he’s all about global warming and electric cars and other stupid things that don’t work.  But that’s because he was getting paid off by Obama who also isn’t my favorite but who I’ve sent to talk to the smelly aliens.  Anyway, I got Thiel who is my favorite geek to talk to Musk and I told him I’d let him wet his beak with whatever we get from the alien ships.  So, he got his nerd factory cranking on Ritalin and they came up with this tantalum thing which is a real thing and not a hoax. But if it is a hoax I’ll tie him to a missile and use his big fat head to knock a hole in the alien ship.  But that won’t be necessary because he knows where his bread is buttered.  So, the plan is in place and now all of you servicemen are going to get to work.  And maybe even some of you servicewomen if you actually know what you’re doing which I doubt.  But just stay out of the guys’ way and maybe make some sandwiches or something and some good strong coffee which always helps in cases like this.  I like pastrami if it’s lean and you have good brown mustard.  But I don’t suppose there’s good deli on this floating airport.  Well anyway, the important thing is we’ve got a big job to do and we’d better get to it.  But remember when you’re working with the missiles and the jets and the boat engines that you’re part of something great.  Because you’re working for me.  That’s right.  Even though you work for a sergeant or a general or an admiral, remember they work for me.  I’m the Commander-in-Chief of all of you.  I sign your check and I make sure you have the bombs you need and the food you eat.  Hillary wouldn’t have given you bombs and food.  She didn’t like the military because she doesn’t like men.  It’s like Rosie O’Donnell only Bill’s Hillary’s beard.  And you don’t work for the Congress.  They can’t even get out of their own way to get the budget done every year.  I mean, Little Marco, Captured McCain, Fauxcahantas, Cryin’ Chuck and Lyin’ Ted?  Give me a break.  And how about JEB!  He couldn’t even deal with human aliens.  He’d probably marry one of these things just to show how fair he is.  And forget about the rest of the world.  Right now, the Europeans and the Russians and Chinese and the rest of those foreigners are getting their clocks cleaned by these goons.  I’m going to take care of this problem for the whole world.  But they won’t even reimburse me for the costs.  I mean, I bet this tantalum stuff ain’t cheap and I know Musk is gonna charge top dollar.  But you have to pay for good help so I’ll fork it over.  It’s a good deal.  So anyway, remember this is about making America great and also keeping it from being blown up.  But don’t think there will be any United Nations rodeo clowns in blue helmets helping us out.  There won’t be and I wouldn’t want them if they offered.  Americans get the job done on their own.  Period.  So, remember that and do a good job and you’ll be able to say you helped Trump win this war.

And one last thing, any hope that a cease fire would occur is gone.  A message from the ship announced that Gore and Obama, after reviewing the aliens environmental record, decided to throw in with the aliens.  Well both of those guys smelled funny to begin with so that’s probably for the best

So remember, this is a fight to the death so don’t hesitate.  Give it everything you’ve got.  And I promise when we win, each and every one of you, even you ladies, will receive a very nice gift package including Trump steaks, Trump knives and a very nice picture of me with a beautiful facsimile signature that is just as good as though I actually signed it.  Trump out.

Trump vs Independence Day Redux – Part 2

Trump vs Independence Day Redux – Part 1

 

Scene 1: Bridge of the Aircraft Carrier USS Ronald Reagan positioned off shore from Washington DC.  Thursday 8AM EST.  In attendance Admiral Harmon (AH), officers and crew of the USSRR, President Trump (PT), Secretary Mattis (SM), Elon Musk (EM), General Adam Baldwin (GAD), Al Gore (AG), Hillary Clinton (HC), Barack Obama (BO)

 

PT – Okay Steve, we’ve got everyone here we’ll need.  Start the exposition.

SM – Mr. President, we’ll start with an update by General Baldwin on the current status of the ships above our cities.  Then Mr. Musk will review the status of his team’s scientific results.  Finally, former President Obama will speak as representative for the “Resistance,” whatever that means.

PT – Okay General, what can you tell us?

GAD – Mr. President, Gentlemen and Madame Secretary… (interrupted by Hillary)

HC – Stop right there you militaristic sexist Neanderthal.  It’s not Madame Secretary anymore it’s Mix Secretary.  Join the 21st century you deplorable despicable … (Trump interrupts)

PT – General, wait a second.  Admiral, have two seamen escort Hillary off the bridge and throw her over the side.

AH – Literally?

SM – Better hurry Harmon or you’ll be next.

AH – Yes, sir.

HC – You can’t do this!  I should be President!  I had more popular vote!  He’s not qualified!  He’s not the future, he’s the past… (voice receding into the distance as she’s dragged away).

PT – Barack, Al, any problems?

AG – Right there with you.

BO – She’s not who we are.

PT – Good.  Baldwin, continue.

GAD – As of this morning 0945 hours EST the three ships located over the continental United States have moved into position over New York City, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.  Based on the decaying signal currently bouncing through our satellites we believe they will deploy their primary offensive weapons at 1200 hours EST.  Some cruise missile tests we performed earlier confirm that these ships are completely protected by a force field that protects them from all projectile weapons such as conventional explosives.  Unfortunately, we have also determined that this shield is effective against energy weapons such as lasers or even nuclear devices.  Essentially, nothing in the American military arsenal will have any effect on these ships.  The best we can do is hide our weapons assets to delay their destruction by the small fighter ships housed in the main vessels when they are unleashed.

PT – Sucks to be us.  Any comments?

AG – Mr. President, I suggest we send a negotiation team to the local ship here over D.C. and hammer out a deal to avert this looming catastrophe.  And because we are ideally suited to see all sides of a problem, that is why myself, President Obama, I mean former President Obama and Madame Secretary Clinton, I mean the assumed late Mix Secretary Clinton joined this meeting.  We feel that our well-known empathy for aliens of all sort will allow us to prevent this crisis from ending in bloodshed or the shedding of whatever vital fluid our extragalactic visitors possess.

PT – Wow, that’s a lot of corrections.  Does Gore speak for you on this Barry?

BO – I prefer to be addressed as Nobel Peace Prize Winning Light Worker Barack Hussein Obama, Donald.

PT – I’ll bet you do but you didn’t answer the question.

BO – Maybe not how I would have said it but essentially.

PT – Good, I want you two to contact the aliens and see what you can do before we let the bright boys loose on them.

AG – You aren’t going with us?

PT – Do I look crazy?  Look no one is forcing you to go there.  If I were you, I’d see if you can negotiate at a distance but if you enter that ship you only have until noon to broker some kind of truce.  After that we’re going to war.

BO – Don’t worry we’ll be finished well before that point.

PT – Good.  General Baldwin, have your flight crew outfit our ambassadors with flight suits and prepare them for their mission.

GAD – Yes sir.  This way gentlemen.  (Gore and Obama exit the bridge).

PT – Good.  Now that those two yahoos are out of earshot Musk, fill us in on what you’ve cooked up.

EM – Mr. President, my team has worked out the physics behind the shield device and we’ve developed a counter measure.

PT – You mean you can turn it off to allow us to attack?

EM – No.  Let me give you the specifics.  The shield works by absorbing the energy of anything that impinges on the ship being protected.  During the time the energy is being absorbed, the impacted area is opaque to the shield sensors.  The ship cannot detect a second attack occurring there for at least ten seconds.  During this time the shield is still immune to energy weapons even nukes because it’s still able to absorb energy but it is vulnerable to projectile weapons to the extent that material can reach the hull.  Now the hull is incredibly strong.  It’s literally 100 feet thick and made of hardened alloy, basically proof to projectiles of any type we could muster.  But if within that ten second we can hit this opaque spot with a projectile composed of tantalum we will form a coated spot on the hull that will block the action of the shield in that area.  We assume that after the initial energy has been absorbed the shield sensors will spot the dead spot on the hull and repair systems will scrape the tantalum away rather quickly.  We approximate the time to remove the tantalum as fifteen minutes.  But during that time, we have a spot on the hull that will succumb to a nuclear blast.  So, the sequence needed is:

  • Time Zero – Initial high explosives detonation
  • 1 – 9 seconds – Tantalum projectile impact
  • 1 minute – 10 minutes – 1 megaton thermonuclear device

Any questions?

PT – Yeah, Poindexter.  Is tantalum something you made up like unobtainium or does it exist.

EM – No Mr. President. It’s a relatively common material.  There’s probably a good amount of it in your cell phone in the form of a capacitor.  It’s a refractory metal with a high melting point and chemical corrosion resistance that resembles that of glass.

PT – Yes we’re all really happy about the wonderful qualities of tantalum but what I want to know is if you’ve got any we can shoot at ET today?

EM – What kind of wunderkind would I be if I didn’t?

PT – Oh Lord give me strength.  Fine, just provide the Air Force with the details of how to incorporate your tantalum slug into our cruise missiles.  And make sure the programming of the sequence is perfect on this first one or all of us are going to wish we were somewhere else really soon after.  And hurry we have about an hour.  Mattis, has the negotiating team been blown up yet?

SM – No sir.  Their helicopter was permitted entry into the ship.

PT – Were any service member aboard?

SM – No sir.  It was remotely piloted.  We kind of like our people to live.

PT – Oh good.  Any communication back from Gore and Obama?

SM – None sir.

PT – Alright forget ‘em. We’re out of time.  Admiral, if you’ve got a chaplain that carries a King James Version have him meet me on the top deck.

AH – Yes Mr. President.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Trump vs Independence Day Redux – Part 3

Greg Bear’s Hardfought – A Science Fiction Book Review

Hat tip to Tom (one of our most active site denizens) for recommending this story.  I knew of Greg Bear but when he was most popular my reading habit was curtailed due to SYFMS (struggling young family man syndrome).  After reading Hardfought I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mr. Bear’s stuff.

Hardfought has a pretty complex structure and several important plot elements are intentionally obscured.  This makes the beginning of the story confusing.  But hang in there.  It builds to a good effect.  Because of the structure of the story I can’t go into much detail of the plot without spoiling it.  Suffice it to say that this is a very interesting take on human-alien war.  I liked the way Bear uses the details of stellar evolution (lack of heavier elements in first generation star populations) to define the contrast between the human and alien characteristics.  The human characters appear strange to the reader.  Their environment and social structures are very unusual and so it takes a little bit of plot revelation to start to put their behaviors into context.  The alien protagonist’s behavior and motivation are intentionally inhuman but his interactions with his own species and with humans highlights several traits that make him useful to the resolution of the story.

The story is a meditation on the consequences of total war or war to extermination.  I think it is asking whether survival at any cost actually is surviving.  If what is left of you at the end is unrecognizable did you actually survive?  And I don’t think Bear is answering the question.  He is just illustrating the end of the trajectory.  It is obvious to the reader what has been lost but everyone gets to decide if the price is too high.

A very interesting read.  I’ll have to look through Bear’s other stuff and see what else I should try.  Thanks again Tom.

Equilibrium – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I work with this young guy, he’s fresh out of college, maybe twenty-three-years old.  He’s an engineering graduate and is well read and has a good classical grounding in literature and history.  Good kid.  Sometimes we talk about popular culture stuff.  I can remember talking with him about the Matrix and saying there’s good and bad about it.  I think I said it would have been better if Reeves weren’t the lead.  And I think that’s when he recommended “Equilibrium.”  Now I think I know what he was getting at.

So, Equilibrium is set in a dystopian future after World War III has devastated humanity.  Mankind has decided that rather than chance another war, the root cause of war must be abolished.  If I remember the chain of logic is war is caused by hate.  Hate is an emotion.  Therefore, eliminate emotion, eliminate war.  So everyday every man woman and child self-inject with some kind of emotion deadening drug.  And of course, it doesn’t just eliminate hate and anger.  Love and happiness are extinguished too.  Brilliant.  Of course, it’s not explained why exactly they still want to live but whatever.

So just in case this premise isn’t bizarre enough, this society also has some kind of priest-like caste of ninja police whose job it is to hunt down and splatter anyone who doesn’t take his no-feelum medicine.  And of course, the Ubermensch of ninjas and protagonist of the movie is Christian Bale.  He is the most skilled proponent of the gun kata.  This stylized dance-like routine allows him to (somehow) avoid the bullets of apparently any number of gun toting opponents while literally mowing them down like grass.  The other mission of these holy stormtroopers is to root out any remaining pre-war artifacts that have emotional content.  And once located, apply a flamethrower to these emotional touchstones.  So, for instance, during one of Bale’s raids he somehow intuits that under a floor is the actual Mona Lisa.  He gives the order and the barbecue crew incinerates Leonardo’s mischievous lady.  So, what’s the problem?  It turns out there’s a resistance!  And it turns out Bale is not as emotionlessly happy as he could be.  It seems his wife unbeknownst to him was a secret feeler.  When she’s dragged away to be incinerated it seems to have left a mark.  And we’re off.  The rest of the movie is Bale going from emotionless executioner of the innocent to a guy who can’t let a puppy dog get shot.

Now let’s bring it back to my young co-worker who recommended this movie based on a comment about the Matrix.  Well, stylistically this movie is extremely dependent on the Matrix template.  Guns and swords abound and the wire work and fight scenes are very Matrix-esque.  Even Bale’s priestly cassock is like Neo’s garb in the second and third movies.  The emotionless police a level below the ninjas are close to the Matrix agents in appearance and behavior.  The Resistance is equivalent to Zion in the Matrix.  Without a doubt this movie is a reaction to the success of the Matrix.  But interestingly the dystopia is a completely different science fiction catastrophe from the AI revolution and human battery future of the Matrix.  What they share is humans fighting to be allowed to be actual humans.

What’s the verdict?  Well, it’s derivative in a number of ways but it is well done and Christian Bale is a slightly better actor than Keanu Reeves and there is the puppy dog, so there is that.  I don’t know.  I’m not a big Matrix fan.  So maybe I’m biased.  But I can’t say I recommend it unreservedly.  I will say if you really liked the Matrix you should give this a try.  It has all kinds of hyperkinetic gun and sword battles.  So, if that’s a big plus for you it’s definitely something to look at.  That’s where I’ll leave this one.

Since my readers don’t always stop by every day I figured I’d paste this poll on each post for a while to see what folks call themselves.  This is the post the poll came from  Who Are We?

… And that got me thinking. Who are the people who read my blog?  I thought it might be fun to see what the cross-section looked like.  If you feel like saying what you believe in, feel free to leave a comment and/or pick a label from the poll below.  I think it might be interesting.

 

Coming Soon
Total Votes : 54

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 6 – The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man, to be pedantically precise, is not a monster movie but a science fiction story.  H.G. Wells’ tale of a scientist who develops a technique to render the human body (his own) invisible is not really monstrous in a physical sense but because the technique drives the inventor insane we are back in the neighborhood of the Mad Scientist.  And since Dr. Frankenstein is then brought to mind we can shoehorn this science fiction story into the genre.  Claude Rains (the Wolfman’s father from an earlier chapter of this review) is the Invisible Man.  Or rather Claude Rains voice is the star of the movie, since until the very last scene we can’t see his face.  But it’s a very good voice.  And since often we can’t exactly tell what he’s doing he spends a fair amount of time telegraphing his actions to help us guess what his actions are that the other characters are pantomiming around.  And he’s an active fellow.  He kills a few people with his bare (invisible) hands.  He bludgeons some others and he goes in for some mass murder via railway sabotage.  He ends up a rather unsavory fellow.  But somehow there remains a somewhat sympathetic core to the character.  Based on the people who still try to help him he must have been a good man before his descent into madness.  Therefore, we can look at him as a victim of his own scientific curiosity.

All that aside, it’s a fun movie.  The scientific intelligence, megalomania and irritable persona of the Invisible Man is juxtaposed against the plodding mediocrity, skeptical common sense and parochial outlook of the English villagers and local constables who are dumbfounded and unbelieving as to the true cause of the strange goings on.  Whenever they declare the inexplicable events a hoax the Invisible Man steps in and gives them a painful (and sometimes fatal) object lesson in his reality.

In the thick of these goings on is my favorite supporting character Una O’Connor as the Innkeeper’s wife.  She is a wonderfully shrewish landlady whose suspicious and unkind treatment of the Invisible Man throws him off the deep end.  She possesses the most remarkable shrieking scream ever recorded on film.  She is a national treasure of sorts.  And as a tie-in she plays Dr. Frankenstein’s housekeeper in “The Bride of Frankenstein,” another movie where she chews up the scenery and shrieks a blue streak.

Of course, by the end of the movie and after murdering so many innocent people, the Invisible Man has lost almost all of the audience’s sympathy so that it seems just that he should pay the price for his crimes.  But he is allowed the touching death scene where he regains his humanity and seemingly his sanity.

So, to reiterate, this is not a monster movie but there is a Mad Scientist and several of our old friends from earlier Universal Monster Movies do show up.  It’s basically a tour de force for Claude Rains (or rather his voice). I give it my seal of approval.  Good stuff.

Orion’s Cold Fire – The Origin Story

Now, you’re gonna have to bear with me for a bit.  This will be a rambling seemingly incoherent rant.  But I’ll try by the end to bring it back to the point.

 

Over the course of the last few years I have become aware of the range of “philosophies” and personalities that exists on the right wing.  I do not have an exhaustive knowledge of all the players, nor do I want or need to.  I think it would be fair to say these personalities run the gamut from extremely sober to raving lunatic.  And over the course of the last few years this has given me reason to pause and consider how or if I fit in with this spectrum of individuals.  Surprisingly, I have learned that not all the serious individuals are right and not all of the nuts are wrong.  Now, that doesn’t make it easy to commune with the lunatics.  In fact, most of the time you probably shouldn’t.  Lunatics tend to the mercurial and don’t always play well with others.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear what they are saying.  And by the same token, the sober guys may be charming and polite individuals but listening to them may be counter-productive.  Especially if they are extremely clever.  Sophistry can be highly entertaining and unfortunately also highly deceptive.  To my mind that is kind of how we got where we are now.  Cheerleaders for supposedly conservative ideas convinced a lot of people that the Bushes and John McCain and Mitt Romney knew what the word conservative means.  That was sophistry.

 

So, the people you agree with logically aren’t the same as the people you enjoy listening to.  What that means is that you tend to have to compartmentalize your relationships.  Some people you can discuss your political beliefs with easily and other people you can’t.  Some people are fun to discuss zombie movies with and others only want to discuss the actual apocalypse.  It’s not the most comfortable arrangement imaginable.  It’s sometimes annoying.  And it’s the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future.  Trying to avoid this reality will lead to trouble.  For example, suppose you have a good friend who likes the same sports you do.  The two of you can go to a ball game anytime and sit up in the stands and talk all day about Joe Dokes’ batting average or who the best relief pitcher is.  It’s great.  But if you try discussing politics with him you’ll end up in a shouting match and probably won’t want to get together for months.  Very not great.  And alternatively, you might know someone either in real life or on the web who you agree with politically almost completely.  The two of you can discuss politics and even cooperate on political action and other projects.  A mutually beneficial relationship.  But otherwise you have nothing in common.  You like country music he’s a gangsta rap enthusiast.  You like science fiction he reads books on playing golf.  Absolutely no common ground.  What about these two scenarios?

What about them?  There’s nothing wrong with either one.  They reflect the reality of the world around us.  You accept that division.

 

Now, of course, the best case scenario is when both spheres align.  Now you can talk about baseball and the revolution at the same time.  Better still, you can start a fantasy baseball league for right wingers!  And for something like baseball or hockey or NASCAR you might do quite well lining up people who fit both sides of the equation.  No problem!

 

But what if your interest is photography or science fiction?  Now it’s not so easy.  If you happen to be a photographer and also happen to not be a left winger you’re probably aware that the majority of photographers both professional and amateur skew pretty hard left.  As with a lot of the “creative” professions these people seem to be steeped in a bohemian, urban culture that is extremely hostile to right-wing values and individuals.  When I first got interested in photography I experienced this hostility over and over at a number of photography websites.  It was both on a subliminal level and also on a purposeful, even confrontational basis.  Whenever anything in the news offended the denizens of these sites it inevitably was dragged through the forum pages in the most strident and challenging terms.  Basically, it was a public challenge to deny the libel being foisted.  And interestingly if you succeeded in presenting a logical argument that was too convincing, the powers that be on the site were very likely to step in and either erase your posts (or force you to erase them) or ban you from the site altogether.  To say this was a sorry state of affairs would be an understatement.  The only way to coexist (what a loaded word) in such an environment would be to keep your mouth shut and ignore these virtue-signaling spasms.  You can only imagine how much fun that would be.  But there was no other way.  Eventually I found one website that had a policy that I found commendable.  They specifically forbade divisive discussions that involved non-photographic topics.  So, no political, racial, religious or ethnic discussions were allowed to drift into an argument.  It could be a little restrictive but it totally avoided the type of nonsense I was discussing above.  Interestingly, I could still tell which individuals would be the worst offenders if it was allowed.  They were always the ones being censured by the moderators.  And it never was anyone on the right being stopped.  Always rabid leftists.  You could tell they thought it was highly unfair that they were not allowed to lecture us all on the topic of the day.  I have to confess I took a good deal of delight in posting complaints against the worst offenders whenever I could.  But it was still only a grudging allowance of what was obviously a despised minority opinion.  I believe the site owner was a right-wing guy who found that, to avoid alienating the lefties, the best he could do was try to avoid all flash points.  He knew that the demographics were against him and he settled for this uneasy truce.  I still have great respect for the way he maintained that arrangement.  It was the best environment that existed for right-wing photographers that I ever found.

Another of my interests is (or was and now is again) science fiction and fantasy stories.  Growing up in the nineteen sixties and seventies I can remember finding all the classic books by the Golden Age authors and just eating that stuff up.  And there was all kinds of range to the quality of the stories.  Some were great and some were pretty bad.  And even as a kid I knew that.  And yet, I could still enjoy even the bad ones because at least they were of a kind.  They involved science and adventure and space flight and alien creatures and time travel and inter-dimensional mumbo-jumbo and especially cover art involving scantily clad green-skinned women.  Who could ask for anything more?  But as time passed and it moved into the late seventies something started to change.  Fantasy books weren’t about orcs and dwarves.  They were about nature spirits fighting back against modern western civilization to protect Mother Gaia.  And science fiction wasn’t about humans exploring the galaxy but sexually confused individuals exploring their various orifices.  And along with all these “improvements” was the overarching message that the most important problem that science fiction and fantasy needed to solve was how can we make books that no straight white men would want to read?

And I’ll be the first to admit they succeeded with a vengeance.  For a few years I still picked up new books and gave them a try.  But without a doubt something bad had happened.  It was like all the nit-wits who had made the sixties into a stinking hippie nightmare went off and got MFA’s and started writing sf&f.  And worse still they had taken over the publishing houses and the awards ceremonies and only allowed their own kind of stories to make it to the bookstore shelves.  Well, eventually I stopped trying and gave up on the genres.  I figured it was me.  I was no longer a child and I had to put away childish things.  But a few years ago, I read about the Sad Puppies.  I think the link was at PJ Media.  After reading about the Hugo Awards and the way nominations were only handed out to those who fit the club and wrote only right-think it all clicked.  I read all I could about the Puppies and started picking up some of their books.  And they were good!  Of course, not everything was great.  Some was just okay.  But all of it was recognizable as sf&f.  And there was a community of people who believed in writing stories and not social justice agit-prop.  And they had websites where like-minded individuals could talk and discuss writing and stuff they liked without having to get approval from the better sort.  And I heard them talk about what it used to be like before the Puppy movement, how everyone had to kowtow to the better sort and if you wanted to get ahead you had to like the right sort of stories and hold the right kind of ideas.  And how even if you went through this kabuki act you still had to wait your turn and if you had the wrong plumbing and skin tone chances were you wouldn’t ever get a shot at the brass ring.

But what really sounded familiar was how everyone had to hate the same things.  There was an orthodoxy and if you didn’t hate George Bush and the military and straight white men, then you were cast out.  And that I recognized.  It was the same group-think I had seen on the photography sites.  These were the same people.  The Artists.

And it got me thinking.  If the Puppies could do it for sf&f why couldn’t I make a photography site where right-wing opinion wasn’t something you had to hide.  Now I wasn’t looking for some kind of gated community where only right-wing right think was allowed.  But a place where I wouldn’t have to hear a two minute hate every time Donald Trump’s name was in the news.

So that’s kind of my whole reason for making this site in a nutshell ( a very long 1900 word nutshell).  I wanted this site to allow me to discuss right-wing issues both seriously and with a little humor.  That’s for all those folks who agree with me politically but don’t speak my language on hobbies.

And for those who happen to also have an interest in either sf&f or photography it’s a place where I could talk about those things.  And other general things like tv and movies and other culture topics with like-minded people.  So, if any of those things interest you stop by and have a look and leave a comment.

And finally after the revolution when I am elevated to the highest circles of the new order, hopefully in the movie version of my life story I’ll be played by Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin will play Camera Girl.  And they really should include “Angel in the Morning” in the soundtrack but absolutely nothing by Wham!  They really suck.

See I told you I’d bring it all back in the end.