What Must a Good Science Fiction Story Have?

 

I’ve returned to the land of the living.  My eyes track.  I can walk through a doorway without colliding with a doorjamb.  I can even keep up a conversation without sliding sideways off my chair onto the floor.  Next week I climb the Matterhorn.  Bravissimo!

I looked through the news feeds.  And, so help me, I even considered watching the Georgia run-off.  But there just wasn’t anything the least bit interesting.  I even considered pulling a Jussie Smollett.  I was going to claim that a Canon camera enthusiast sent me a derogatory e-mail making fun of my many bison photos of the day.  But my hard-bitten honesty just wouldn’t let me do it.  I love those bison!

I thought, “I’ll just write about something I like.”  After all that post about nuclear war had some great comments and that stuff really interests me.  Why not do something like that?  So that’s why this is coming out of left field.  I just didn’t feel like beating a political drum that’s already been beaten to a bloody pulp.

So, for a theme I’ll select the question, “What’s the most important component of a good science fiction story?”

Is it the tech?  Is it a good plot?  Is it well written characters?  Or does it absolutely require some balance between the three?

Let’s explore this a little bit.  Start with tech.  I suppose that space opera has lost a lot of support among the modern readers of science fiction.  Stuff like the Skylark of Space, The Legion of Space or the Lensman books are probably disqualified as too naïve and hopelessly early 20th century for anyone under sixty to consider reading.  But is the inexplicable faster than light (ftl) drives of these stories any less plausible than whatever also implausible ftl drives are currently being used by modern science fiction writers?  I’ve got to say I don’t think they’re disqualifications.  I’d say the rule is it just has to be self-consistent with whatever “rules” you’ve made up for the tech.  So, it doesn’t have to be somehow scientifically accurate.  It just can’t be bone-headedly stupid.  What it does have to be is convenient.  The technology has to allow the plot to evolve the way you want.  If space travel takes centuries, then don’t kill off too many good characters by leaving them back on Earth.  Or if time travel can only go backwards then don’t leave your spare batteries for your ray gun in your other pair of pants when you head back to the neolithic.

And the tech should be a fun toy for the reader if you can manage it.  I always loved how Heinlein lovingly designed his “torchships” and made the passenger and service areas of his ships seem well thought out.  But I also know of authors whose tech is basically a black box and for all we hear we could be sitting inside the fuselage of a jet plane.

While tech is necessary (after all it is sf) it’s not the deciding factor whether a story works.

Well, how about characters?  Yes, they are important, in the sense that they must at least exist.  But I’ve read some supposedly classic science fiction where the characters are as flat as pancakes (Asimov and Clarke come to mind).  Now this may no longer be the case.  I’m not sure.  I enjoy a good amount of character development in my fiction and I’ve been able to find it.  But I could easily believe there could be a very good story where character was in short supply.

What about plot?  Well, I could imagine a story that had a strong tech component and interesting characters but the plot was almost minimal.  Maybe like some of Bradbury’s short stories like the one where the Ladies’ Sewing Circle is trying to ignore the impending nuclear holocaust by concentrating on their work.  It’s all character.  But I guess you still have to say there’s a plot or more like a scenario.

I feel like, for the most part, and except for very odd stories, the sine qua non of a good science fiction story is a good plot.  If your tech is passable and your characters are at least bearable but you have a plot that rolls along and interesting stuff happening then you have a chance.  But you can have great tech and witty, erudite, droll fellows populating your world and if not much of anything is happening except talk, then your readers will throw the book against the wall (or the digital equivalent) and go look for something better.  And that’s that!

Now I know there are many sf fans in the audience.  I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you disagree.  I’m always interested in the opinions of sf readers.  The floor is now yours.

Nuclear Armageddon as a Plot Device

Recently Joe Biden made the news when he reversed a campaign vow and stated that under his administration the United States would maintain the right to nuclear first strike as a military option.  Now the idea of Dementia Joe mistaking the nuclear football for his tv remote and ordering up an all-out nuclear blitz on Russia and China while trying to access some kind of hair fetish programming is obviously concerning.

But really this article is more about fiction writing.  In a story that I have been working on (forever) I reached a point in the story where I considered that the best way to escape from the corner I’d painted myself into was by having thermonuclear war break out between Russia and the United States.

Admittedly, that seems like a sad statement on my writing abilities but in point of fact it provided a definitive solution to multiple plot problems I was faced with.  After all, there aren’t many scenarios that can put the US federal government on its heels.  But three 20-megaton thermonuclear ICBMs detonating over Washington is a leading contender.  So, I will confess that I considered the scenario very carefully.

One thing I noticed though is that the impact of a nuked United States is extremely disruptive to a storyline.  Even the most tyrannical US administration looks quite different after the mushroom cloud sprouts over it.  Because now all of a sudden millions of Americans are dead and the ones still living are stunned, scared and desperate for a path forward.  At that point they’d follow Satan himself if he knows where to get food and fuel.

So, everything in my story is turned upside down.  Instead of the plucky rebels fighting the evil feds in a series of hit and run attacks, suddenly they find themselves wondering how they’ll survive without the now non-existent FEMA agency to save them from starvation and hypothermia.  Now what happens to my rebellion story?  All of a sudden enemies need each other just to survive.  Freedom and independence suddenly don’t mean much when staying alive requires all hands-on deck.

So that’s the change in the atmosphere, the feel of the story.  Does it still make sense?  Can the story survive the change?  Not as originally conceived.  I was looking at a series of stories with the rebels taking on the Deep State one step at a time with the rest of the country sizing up the battle and the balance of power gradually tilting toward the rebels.  But now the battle is over but without the dramatic tension and the action.  Instead, we have a tale of catastrophe and dissolution.

And to make that story work will require a change in emphasis.  Now instead of a slowly building wave of battle we have a nuclear wipe out and a tide going out.  Instead of a war with winners and losers we have the flotsam and jetsam from a deluge struggling to survive and trying to rebuild some kind of patchwork of settlements.  That’s a totally different thing.  It becomes a bunch of smaller stories at the village level.  Instead of armies we have farmers and mechanics, men and women and their children trying to survive without supermarkets and gas stations, even without electricity.  It’s nothing like the story I was envisioning but somehow it makes sense.  Because even though we may have forgotten about the atom bomb it hasn’t gone away.  It’s still there and it has its own internal logic that makes it the executioner of last resort.  If we decide that the arc of history bends in our direction and we can do as we please no matter what, we may find that the arc is just the ballistic track of an ICBM.

So inexorably I think the story is telling me to make a turn.  Even as a fictional plot device it does make one pause.  Imagine the largest fifty American cities reduced to rubble and charred bodies.  Imagine fallout killing off a quarter of the survivors.  And food and fuel gone for the rest of the survivors.  The grimness of such a tale is hard to overstate.  How do you tell such a story so that people will want to read it?

Well, that’s a subject for another day.  But this one has helped me get my thoughts in some kind of order.  Okay, hit all those buttons!

Burn It!  Burn It All!

Ah, the heady days of our civilizational maelstrom.  As the world we knew is ripped to shreds and flung around us in centripetal chaos I can recognize fragments of familiar things flying by.  Sort of like the images that Dorothy sees in the scene where she is riding in the tornado and sees her friends and relatives float by in a rocking chair or a row boat.

You recognize some normal American ritual or an icon of a former day.  There’s a flash of recognition and it triggers some reflexive emotion or thought.  And then it flies by and is gone and the reality of being spun around in a howling cyclone of fragmented bits of the former reality returns.

But when we’re not fighting for our lives, human beings have to search for the interesting and enjoyable things around them.  Even in hell there must be a coffee break where people gather around the water cooler (or battery acid cooler) and shoot the breeze.  It’s just the nature of the beast.

You know I really enjoyed thinking about the minutia in the giant ant movie yesterday.  Thinking about the characterizations and the movie conventions that they employed back then was the most fun thing that I have thought about in weeks.  And it occurred to me that here is so much substance, so much American-ness in these old silly things from sixty, seventy years ago.  And not because there’s great art on display.  This is a story about giant ants.  Nothing more absurd is imaginable.  Nothing less important exists.  And yet the people who wrote the script and acted the scenes managed to do a good job of creating this ridiculous world that they were employed to create.  The guy who played the booze-soaked hobo in the hospital ward was highly entertaining.  The general working with the cop to operate the bazooka for the phosphorus bombardment of the ant nest was amusing in his portrayal of upper management trying his hand at a front-line task.

Maybe that is what the future looks like.  We’ll be like the medieval monks copying and illuminating fragments of the classical world to preserve something for when the rampaging vandals have run out of places to sack and burn and whoever is left sets about the hard work of rebuilding civilization from what’s left of the wreckage.  So, I’ve found new direction in celebrating whatever fragments and shards of the old order strike my fancy and even any worthwhile new shoots as they present themselves.  Certainly, it’s an uphill battle while the orcs are still busy burning and pillaging all around us.  And from time to time, we’ll have to put down our quills and cap our inkwells and pick up a battle axe and shield to fend off the latest incursion of rampaging savages.

But there is absolutely more sense in celebrating the things that give meaning to life and to enjoy art; high or low, than there is in just bemoaning the destruction and dwelling on how low we have fallen.  After all, no one threw a switch one day and ended the dark ages and began the renaissance.  The knowledge was always there.  It needed people who were willing to apply that knowledge.  It needed human ingenuity and imagination and a little breathing space between them and the nearest barbarians.

So don’t be surprised if I sound a little happier.  Sure, the orcs may win this war.  Our whole civilization may come crashing down in an orgy of death and darkness.  We may be on the cusp of a millennium of ignorance and misery.  But as Hurin said in the Silmarillion, “ Aurë entuluva!”, “Day shall come again.”  It seems inevitable that human intelligence will persevere over entropy and stupidity.  There is in life that which strives against chaos.  I’ll bet on us.

Now, let’s take another look at that giant ant movie.  Have you ever noticed how annoying the girl scientist gets when she’s down in the ant nursery in New Mexico?  She starts yelling at her colleagues, “Burn it!  Burn it all!”

I mean who the hell is she?  Especially since Ben and Bob are going to have to haul her fat butt up several steep inclines by rope to get her out of that cyanide laden death trap.  It’s not like she has the upper body strength to get herself out.  She could at least act a little more polite.  An incipient girl-boss even back then.  Ah well.

Don’t Panic.  Pick Up the Flamethrower

Facebook crashes and burns, Musk guts the Twitter mafia, the Fetterman debate, Biden continues to spin his tale of a bizzarro world where inflation is low and he’s the most popular man in the world, the State Department muses about nuclear first strike over Ukraine, Chuck Schumer tells Biden the bad news about the Georgia senate race, Oregonians might elect a Republican governor.  And on and on and on.

The weirdness has metastasized.  Even Democrat voters have stopped claiming that “things are alright.”  We’ve reached the Howard Beale stage of things where almost everyone is confused, scared and angry all at the same time.  And I’m really happy about that.  I’ve been waiting for years for the rest of the idiots to catch up to where I’ve been for a decade.  And I count myself as one of the idiots.  Maybe I’m just a little less stupid than the rest of them.  Or maybe I was just a little more involved in what was playing out on the national stage.

The real reason is because I’m extremely vindictive.  I’ve taken personally all the lies I was fed twenty some odd years ago during the War on Terror and I want pay back.  I’m just as interested in seeing Mitch McConnell lose his job as I am in seeing Joe Biden go to jail.

So, it’s a great relief to see so many catatonic Americans open their eyes for the first time in their lives and realize that they’ve entrusted their country to incompetent ideologues who believe in things that don’t exist.

It’s good to see that America is getting a sense of what abandoning petroleum feels like.  It feels like poverty.  That’s a valuable lesson to learn.

So, this week I’m soaking in all of the rage, fear and panic that the Democrats are radiating around them and the confusion and lies that the media is pumping out.  I’m floating on my back in a warm ocean of schadenfreude and it’s wonderful.  There was a great video of a doofus from MSNBC interviewing Republican voters from Western Pennsylvania.  She’s trying to get them to say that January 6th is a terrible thing and any politicians who were there should be shunned.  And they’ll have none of it.  They scoff at her and compare it to the larger riots during the “George Floyd summer of love.”  The expression on the face of the woman interviewing them was a deer in the headlights look.  She couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t let themselves be shamed into condemning the protestors.  It was glorious.

I’m trying not to get too charged up by the good news that seems to come out of every poll I read.  There’s nothing worse than the let down after being subjected to a fraudulent election.  Especially when it’s brutally obvious that massive fraud is slowly being unrolled before your eyes.

But there’s no reason not to enjoy this run up to the election.  Listening to the excuses and bitterness as everything goes wrong for the Left is deeply soothing.  It puts a bounce in my step and a smile in my heart.  Just hearing Liz Cheney talk about how noble and honorable it is for her to sell her party out and support the Democrats makes me feel all the better about her failure to get re-elected and the bigger failure of her January 6th Hearings.  Very soon she’ll be carrying her box of stolen office supplies home from her cushy former office in the Capitol building.  And once the new Republican majority is in charge of the House no one will ever remember who Liz Cheney was.  And the receptionists will let her know that whichever Congressman or Senator she wants to speak to is not available but they’ll be sure to send her a fund-raiser envelope in the mail, have a nice day.

Tonight, I watched my favorite giant radioactive insect movie, Them!  Unsurprisingly James Whitmire (as Sgt. Ben Peterson) is, once again, killed by the powerful mandibles of a giant carpenter ant.  No matter how many times I yell out, “No Ben don’t try to get in the pipe.  Pick up the flame thrower, dammit man pick up the flame thrower!”  But he was too cocky.  When he heard the stridulations of the giant ant, he first lifted the second little boy into the exit pipe and then tried to exit that way himself.  Obviously, he should not have picked up the child but calmly and efficiently picked up the flame thrower that was nearby, pointed it at the murderous mega-insect and charbroiled the wretched invertebrate.  Then he could have exited with the kid at his leisure.

What is it about giant insects that makes otherwise rational public servants so erratic?  C’est la vie.

RoboCop (1987) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Paul Verhoeven directed this sci-fi adventure movie.  Strangely he made it to be a satire of the violence of law enforcement during the Reagan administration but audiences liked its anti-crime message.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

 

RoboCop opens up on a police precinct in Detroit (Metro-West).  It’s some kind of futuristic present (1980s) where the dystopian crime-ridden Detroit is being addressed with the introduction of robotic police.  The first prototype is being demonstrated at an executive board meeting of OCP, a technology company that surprisingly also has links to the underworld.  Unfortunately, the robot gets a glitch in his programming and kills one of the officers of the company during a demonstration.  This reflects poorly on Dick Jones, the senior vice president and also secretly, the contact for the underworld figures involved with OCP.  The failure of the prototype allows Jones’s competitor, Bob Morton to steer the company toward a different robot cop concept.  Morton’s version is a man whose brain has been destroyed in an accident and whose body can then be retrofitted with robotic limbs and an electronic brain.

Enter Alex Murphy a young cop with a wife and young son.  He’s just been transferred to Metro-West where he’s paired with street smart woman cop Anne Lewis who, of course, has a heart of gold.  They head out to do good and get involved with a criminal gang headed up by Clarence Boddicker (played by Kurtwood Smith, who played Topher Grace’s father, Red on “That Seventies Show”).  Boddicker is Dick Jones’s criminal partner.  He’s also a sadistic maniac.  When his gang captures Murphy, Boddicker personally mutilates him by blowing his limbs off with a shotgun.  Then his men finish him off with their guns.  Lewis escapes and goes for help.

In the next scene Murphy’s body has been converted into a cyborg that has been named RoboCop and assigned to Metro-West.  He has four prime directives

  • Serve the public trust
  • Protect the innocent
  • Uphold the law
  • Never arrest an officer of OCP

Of course, the last directive is a secret one built in by OCP to allow them to break the law with impunity.

Now RoboCop begins to discover the link between Boddicker’s gang and the murder of Officer Murphy.  Although RoboCop is not supposed to have any memory of his former life it does start to creep into his consciousness.  During this time, he captures several of the gang members and discovers the link between OCP and Boddicker.  At this point in the story Dick Jones has Boddicker murder Bob Morton.

Finally, RoboCop manages to arrest Boddicker and his gang but Jones has them released.  Identifying Jones as the OCP link to Boddicker, RoboCop attempts to arrest him but discovers prime directive four prevents him.  Now RoboCop is attacked by the OCP SWAT Team and escapes after being damaged.  Officer Lewis hides him in a factory where she assists him in repairing himself.

The final showdown against Boddicker’s gang includes the use of rocket powered grenades that OCP has provided to Boddicker.  After a drawn-out battle RoboCop kills the whole gang.  Boddicker offers to surrender but RoboCop tells him “I’m not here to arrest you.”  And so, he kills Boddicker in cold blood.  Apparently, his restored memories have superseded some of his programming.

Finally, RoboCop shows up at the OCP board room to expose Dick Jones as a criminal.  When Jones takes the Chairman of the Board hostage RoboCop reveals to him that he cannot arrest any OCP executive.  The Chairman says, “Jones you’re fired.”  And RoboCop immediately dispatches Jones with a full clip of bullets that drive him through the window of the skyscraper penthouse to his death on the pavement below.

RoboCop is a cartoon of a movie.  The villains are cartoon characters.  The hero is a robot almost completely devoid of personality.  Even the good guys are cartoon sketches of cop movie stereotypes.  The violence and weaponry are both over the top.  It’s definitely a 1980s action movie.  But within its genre and its intent it’s an enjoyable cartoon.  Everyone is waiting for RoboCop to finally kill off the sadistic psychopaths that murdered his alter ego who once was a husband and father.  I recommend this movie to fans of the genre.  If you liked some of Schwarzenegger’s movies from that era, like Predator and Terminator you’ll probably like this movie too.  If not then maybe not so much.

The Haunted Election

Election Day this year is the night of the full moon and I just saw the first wolfsbane flowers in my yard.

 

Even a man who’s pure of heart

and says his prayers by night

may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms

and the moon is full and bright

The damp cool autumnal weather certainly evokes a Halloween mood in my neighborhood.  We have our share of  jack o’lanterns festooning the house and the grandkids are already imagining their trick or treat loot.  But this year even Election Day has an unreal flavor to it.  Outlandish candidates like Fetterman and that creepy old ghoul haunting the White House add an Edgar Allan Poe tinge to even the political page.

Now am I claiming that werewolf John Fetterman will be lopsidedly prowling the woods of Pennsylvania in his stretched out hoodie tearing apart innocent Republican voters in his insane lust to become a United States Senator?  Well, read the poem and do the math yourself!  I’m going to add a little extra garlic to Camera Girl’s sauce this week and hope for the best.

Kwaidan (1965) – A Movie Review

Kwaidan means ghost story and was directed by Masaki Kobayashi.  This movie is a collection of four stories that I guess could be called supernatural tales.  They are based on stories written by Patrick Lefcadio Hearn, an ex-patriot of Irish/Greek extraction who settled in Japan in 1890.  Each of the stories deals in an unrelated supernatural event.  The stories are based on old Japanese folktales.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

In the first story (The Black Hair) a samurai decides to divorce his wife who is a weaver of cloth.  He is tired of poverty and has orchestrated a marriage to the daughter of a nobleman.  But when he goes through with his plan his new marriage is a disaster.  His new wife is selfish and spoiled.  He misses the good-hearted weaver and after a few years he leaves his new wife and heads home to Kyoto for his old life.

When he gets there his old house is strangely changed but the samurai finds his wife overjoyed to see him.  She looks completely unaged and comforts her ex-husband not to blame himself for his actions.  She mysteriously mentions that they have only a short time together.  When he wakes up the next morning his wife is a shriveled corpse on the bed next to him. He tries to flee but her hair pursues him and while we watch he grows visibly much older as it attacks him.

In the second story (The Woman of the Snow) a young woodcutter and his older partner become trapped in a heavy snowstorm and seek shelter in a hut.  During the night a Yuki-onna, a female snow vampire freezes the older woodcutter and steals his life-force.  She tells the younger woodcutter that she had planned to kill both of them but because he was young and attractive, she decided to spare his life but on condition that he never tell anyone what happened that night.  If he does tell anyone she will know and then come to him and kill him.

Out of fear he tells no one including his mother with whom he lives.  Shortly after, a young and beautiful woman travels through their town and the young man invites her to stay at his house.  Both the young man and his mother are impressed with her qualities.  Eventually they marry and she bears him three children.  But one day as she is talking to him, he notices that she bears a resemblance to the snow vampire and he tells her the story.  His wife then reveals to him that she is the snow vampire.  Because they have children that she loves she will not kill her husband but instead will leave him forever.  But she warns him that if he is ever a bad father she will return and kill him.  After she leaves, he puts a present outside his house for her.  Later she takes the gift thereby signifying an abatement of her anger.

In the third story (Hoichi the Earless) Hoichi, a blind singer of heroic songs who lives at a monastery is visited by a samurai at night who brings him to a noble house lost in the fogs of the night.  There he sings The Tale of the Heike about the Battle of Dan-no-ura, a sea battle fought between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the last phase of the Genpei War.

Eventually his brother monks go looking for him and find him in a cemetery.  It seems that the ghosts of the defeated Taira leaders want to hear the story of their heroic defeat sung by a great artist.  The monks tell Hoichi that the ghosts will come back to claim his soul permanently so to protect him they cover his whole body including his face with the text of the “Heart Sutra.”  But they forgot to write it on his ears.  When the ghost of the samurai reappears, he can only see Hoichi’s ears.  To obey his master’s order to retrieve Hoichi he rips off the ears and takes them away.  Hoichi survives this injury and recovers.  When the rumor of this ghostly action spreads, rich patrons of music pays great sums to have Hoichi sing the tale of the battle.  And Hoichi becomes famous and very rich.

In the fourth story (In a Cup of Tea) a writer of old tales (sort of like Patrick Lefcadio Hearn) relates a folk story to his wife that he is planning to sell to a publisher.  The story is about a samurai who is part of the escort for a great lord who is travelling home.  The samurai goes to drink a cup of tea and sees the face of a man staring up at him from the tea.  He is shocked and angered by the occurrence but drinks the tea anyway.  When he arrives back home a man appears in the great house with the same face as the man in the tea.  The samurai attacks him with his sword but the man disappears.  Later that night the samurai is accosted by three men who say they work for the man from the tea cup whom he has injured.  The samurai battles all three men.  Now the writer tells his wife that this is where the story ends uncompleted.

That night the publisher arrives to see the writer but when the wife and publisher look for him, they see his image in a large pail of water just as in the story and they run away screaming.

As you can tell these are very unusual stories.  They don’t fit the category of western horror stories.  They’re reminiscent of European fairy tales or folk tales.  I wouldn’t describe them as frightening but instead odd.  I can’t say that I highly recommend them to a general audience.  They’ve been praised for the artistry that they display as visual cinema.  But I think that for a Western audience they might lack immediacy.  So, let’s call these a curiosity that probably only would interest connoisseurs of Japanese folklore or Japanese cinema.  I thought they were interesting and some scenes, specifically the sea battle portions were well crafted.  Your milage may vary.

Of Ricotta Cheese and the Seventh Circle of Hell

What to write about tonight?  Today was a day for chores.  One was my semi-annual trip to the dental hygienist.  Such a strange thing we have to do.  Twice a year someone has to torture you with dental tools while trying to make small talk with someone who can’t speak.  You know it’s an interesting thing.  Someone who’s good at that must be a gifted person.  My hygienist only sees me twice a year but somehow manages to continue the conversation from where it left off six months earlier.  Quite the trick.  Either she has an incredible memory or she takes notes.  Either way it’s kind of remarkable.  And it’s funny.  This time she told me that my teeth and gums looked better than usual.  For some reason this slight praise filled me with a sense of accomplishment.  I was now some kind of flossing ninja!

Anyway, when I got back home with my slightly whiter teeth and my “free” new toothbrush I read through the news articles and I even commented on the OPEC move to screw Joe Biden to the wall.  And that was fun.  But nothing struck me as the nucleus of a post.

So, I watched an old movie that I recently bought.  I got it used at a library sale.  I’d never consider buying it new because it’s not that good.  It’s “Constantine” with Keanu Reeves as a freelance exorcist who battles demons while smoking a lot of cigarettes.  It’s really a goofy concept.  Constantine has a gift that allows him to see demons.  But he is damned to Hell for a suicide attempt he sort of succeeded at when he was a boy.  He was “dead for two minutes.”  During those two minutes he experienced a lifetime of torment in Hell before the doctors revived him.  In this movie he is battling semi-demons, a renegade angel and lung cancer.  As I said it’s a goofy movie but every three years or so I seem to watch it again.  Another problem with the movie is it costars Shia LaBeouf.  Well, what can you do?  But it was a good way to stop thinking about Joe Biden for an hour or two.

Camera Girl put together a nice manicotti and meat ball dinner for us.  Now that’s comfort food.  So, I complemented her on this delicious meal and then she told me that the cost for the meal had doubled in a little over a month.  She said, for instance, that ricotta cheese went from $3.50 for a container to $7.00.  Being the frugal and practical shopper, this kind of thing strikes her as madness.  I started to explain to her how energy costs associated with the green new deal cascaded through the economy and caused multiple increases in the costs of food because of transportation, refrigeration, fertilizer and of course the ever-popular supply chain problems.  She gave me a look as if I had blamed it on the demons from the Constantine movie.  So, I stopped beating that drum and told her we’d find a way to save money by eliminating something “scholastic.”  That’s the word she uses for anything that she deems pseudo-intellectual.  Which covers anything that I am interested in that she is not.

But there was Joe Biden again.  Annoying my wife by sabotaging the economy.  This monster had doubled the price of ricotta cheese in a single month.  Looking back at the logic of the Constantine movie I decided that for this monstrous act Creepy Uncle Joe should be consigned to one of the worst circles of Hell, possibly the one where an arch-demon gets to clean the teeth of the damned with a pickaxe for all eternity and where they’ve completely run out of free toothbrushes.  I started to wonder if Joe’s fake teeth would be more or less sensitive to pain.  But then I remembered that arch-demons really know their stuff so he would be in for it either way.  So, I felt a little better.

You know all the little problems that come out of the sabotage of the economy seem trivial compared with crime waves, nuclear war and the sexual mutilation of children.  But those little things add up to something important.  The United States was called the land of opportunity because a good chunk of its citizens, the middle class, was prosperous.  They weren’t rich but they weren’t poor.  They couldn’t buy a new car every three years but they always could go out when they felt like it to a burger joint or a Chinese restaurant and enjoy a good meal to give everybody in the family a boost.  Not since the days of Jimmy Carter have we been worried about having enough money to pay for the groceries and the mortgage.  Now we do.

And so, if I was going to consign Joe Biden to Hell for his crimes, I wouldn’t leave out this charge.  Because along with everything else he’s done he’s killed the natural cheerfulness of the American people.  That’s a pretty monstrous thing.

Well, that’s what I’ve come up with.  It seems a bit random but life is a stew.

It Came from Outer Space (1953) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I won’t put in the typical spoiler alert because it just doesn’t matter.

In this movie an amateur astronomer, John Putnam, happens to be out in his backyard in what looks like Arizona, looking through his telescope when what appears to be a meteor hurtles to earth in his vicinity.  Being a man of action, John gets his friend Frank to helicopter him to the scene of the crash.  And of course, he brings along his girlfriend Ellen.

When they get to the crater John goes down to the “meteor” and finds that it is a spacecraft with something alive in it.  But somehow the ship causes a landslide that covers itself up.  From this point on John attempts to convince everyone that he isn’t crazy when he claims there is a ship from outer space in the crater.

Only Ellen believes him and they go around town trying to convince the sheriff and the scientists from the local college.  Eventually the aliens start kidnapping humans and replacing them with look-alikes.  But because these aliens are so boring people start suspecting something is wrong.   And here is where we meet the biggest “star” in the cast.  One of the kidnapped humans is George played by Russell Johnson, better known to the world as the “Professor” on Gilligan’s Island.  Johnson plays his part with all the acting skill that he would later demonstrate on that famous island.  Amazing.

Anyway, eventually the rest of the town figures out that John knows what he is talking about and under the leadership of Sheriff Matt Warren they organize a posse to go and put the smackdown on these aliens.  But by this point John has finally located one of the aliens and gotten their side of the story.

Apparently, the aliens crashed to Earth and have been attempting ever since to repair their ship.  They’ve impersonated humans to obtain supplies for the repairs.  Apparently copper wire is an important part of faster than light technology.  The humans they captured have not been harmed and will be released if the aliens are able to repair the ship before the humans have a chance to interfere with them.

When John asks the alien why they don’t just come out in the open and meet the humans, he comes out of the cave he’s hiding in and reveals his appearance to John (1), (2).

Apparently, their appearance is so terrifying that John goes into hysterics for a few moments.  Personally, I think it would be more likely that most people would break out into laughter if the aliens showed up in town.  They sort of resemble what a giant Mr. Potato Head toy would look like if only one eye was stuck on where the nose should go and then asbestos was glued on as hair.  After his hissy fit John agrees to help the aliens escape by preventing Sheriff Matt from rousting them out of their cushy lair in the convenient old gold mine outside of town.

It is while John is trying to prevent the sheriff from attacking the aliens that Matt makes a speech which was the only part of the movie I remember from when I saw it fifty some-odd years ago.  Matt looks at the thermometer and says, “It’s ninety-two degrees!  I remember reading that more murders are committed at ninety-two degrees than any other temperature.  Below that temperature people are in their right minds.  Above ninety-two it’s too hot to do anything.  But at just ninety-two people get irritable!”  I really enjoyed that scene.  In fact, I enjoyed it more than the whole rest of the movie put together.

Anyway, the posse is rounded up and on the way to the mine they manage to kill one of the aliens driving a pickup truck.  It was a pretty nice truck.  John heads down into the mine first and one of the aliens disguised as Ellen tries to kill him with a laser wand.  But John manages to shoot her and she falls into a puddle in the mine.  Then John finds the leader of the aliens who is disguised as John(!) and talks himself into waiting before attacking the humans with his death ray.

John gets all of the hostages out of the mine and uses some handily placed dynamite to close up the mine entrance to prevent the posse from lynching the potato heads.  As the posse and the freed hostages watch the space ship breaks free of the earth and heads back into space.  And John tells us that one day they’ll return and human and potato heads will live in peace together.

Wow!  This movie was based on a story by Ray Bradbury.  I’ll have to go back and read that story.  If it really resembles the plot of this movie, I’ll have to rethink my appreciation of Bradbury.  Anyway, this is all harmless stuff from the early days of B-movie sci-fi.  I’ll recommend this thing as campy nostalgia from simpler times.  It would have made a good movie for a drive-in date.  Something you wouldn’t have minded missing during the clinches.  Your milage may vary.

When Worlds Collide (1951) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I haven’t seen this movie since I was a kid.  Back then I had read the book and the sequel, “After Worlds Collide.”

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The plot is relatively straightforward.  Astronomers discover a small star and a planet circling it entering the solar system.  It is calculated that within a year the star will collide with and destroy the Earth but the new planet will be captured by the sun and might provide a possible home for some humans to colonize if a rocket can be launched.  At first most scientists discount the crisis.  But a few industrialists believe the danger and begin building a rocket for the journey.  One selfish millionaire, wheel-chair-bound Sydney Stanton, agrees to finish funding the rocket only if he is on the passenger list.  The project team races desperately against time to complete the rocket before the end of the world.

The project is run by Dr. Cole Hendron who along with his daughter Joyce and Dave Randall provide the human interest for the story.  Randall doesn’t want to go along on the trip because he doesn’t believe he is entitled due to a lack of needed skills that the mission requires.  But Joyce (of course) is in love with him so eventually they trick him into going based on his abilities as the only qualified but unnecessary co-pilot.  As the moment of truth comes, we see Earth devastated by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tidal waves that destroy all the coastal cities.  Finally, the fifty passengers are drawn by lots and just as the ship is preparing to launch the unlucky lottery losers attack the ship with guns.  Dr Hendron decides at the last minute to remain on the ground to provide a margin of error for the fuel and while he’s at it he prevents Stanton from getting on the ship too.  As the ship launches Stanton staggers to his feet.  An Armageddon miracle.

We get to see Earth destroyed.  Improbably the Earth blows up in a giant fireball without coming in contact with the star.  The ship reaches the new world and Randall finally has to glide the rocket to a landing after its fuel tanks are completely emptied during the braking maneuver.  The landing is rocky but doesn’t kill them.  And of course, the air is good and there’s green life growing on the ground and it looks like there may be the ruins of cyclopean buildings nearby.  Joyce and Randall embrace, a dog gives birth to puppies and everybody rejoices at the first dawn on their new world.

The only familiar faces were Larry Keating playing Dr. Hendron and John Hoyt as Stanton.  The rest of them were completely unknown to me.  The special effects aren’t very good.  But they weren’t awful.  The acting was sturdy B movie Hollywood acting of the time.  About what you’d expect in a decent western or a melodrama.  I quite enjoyed it.  The plot is simple but quite relatable on both a human-interest level and as a science fiction story.  I’ll say this is recommended for science fiction fans especially for connoisseurs of the 1950s period in the genre.