My Time Was Better Spent with the Gorgon

Today I intended to do some politics.  I read a bunch of articles I checked the various dissidents to see what was ticking them off and I thought about “what this country really needs.”

And I came up with nada.

Basically, the Democrats are convinced they’ve won everything and the country backs them up 100%.  And the GOP establishment think they’ve shut down Trump so they’re pretty smug too.  Well, they’re both mostly wrong but since nothing works better than to give the people what they voted for I can’t think of a thing to say.  Let’s see how bad they screw up the country this coming year.

So instead, I decided to have some fun today.  I did a couple more of those focus stack macrophotography exercises on Nancy Pelosi’s prettier and more personable younger sister, Medusa.

So, this is kind of a bone of contention between Sony and me.  They’ve never provided their cameras with a focus stack capability so I have to use work-arounds.  There’s a Bluetooth remote “commander” that will send a signal to the camera to move the focus back or forth by a small increment and then I can trigger an exposure and then repeat the process by however many exposures needed to get everything in focus piece by piece.  It works but it’s painfully manual.  I also have a tiny software program on my laptop that automates the process but then I have to lug the laptop around in the field.

Other camera makers have added the programming to shoot focus brackets automatically in the camera.  One camera maker, Olympus even has the camera “stack” the bracket into a single composite file automatically.  Now there’s a company that loves its customers.  Sony?  Well miracle of miracles they just added bracketing to the brand new A7R V.  So now the software exists in Sony’s system.  Will they retrofit it into some of the more recent cameras through a firmware upgrade.  Don’t make me laugh!

So here is poor photog, Sony’s laughing stock with his workarounds and his decade plus of Sony tone deaf customer service.  Will he never learn?

Here are some of the bracketed files.

For the first stack I used six files.  This didn’t quite get everything in focus in the first stack.

Next time I took sixteen files and the final product was a lot better.

Blood on the Moon (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Blood on the Moon” is a western that manages to transcend some of the cliches of the genre.

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

When we first meet Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, he’s riding through an Indian reservation to reach an old partner of his, Tate Riling (played by Robert Preston).  He’s intercepted by a cattle outfit run by John Lufton.  He tells Garry that Riling is trying to prevent Lufton from getting his cattle off the reservation in time to avoid their confiscation by the government over a voided contract.

When Garry finally reaches Riling, he finds out what kind of job he’s been summoned to perform.  Riling is in cahoots with a federal agent named Pindalest that procures the cattle for the reservation.  They’re trying to force Lufton to sell his cattle for pennies on the dollar and then sell them to Pindalest at the full price with a goodly bribe to Pindalest.  Out of the huge profit Riling will cut Garry in for ten thousand dollars for being the gun hand to make sure nothing interferes with Riling’s plan.

When Riling and his men and the homesteaders that he’s fooled into helping him attack Lufton’s herd they manage to scatter it thoroughly which should be enough to guarantee that Riling’s plan will succeed.  But one of the homesteaders, Kris Bardon (played by Walter Brennan) loses his son in the stampede and Garry decides the whole plan is too dirty for him to go on with.  He quits Riling’s crew and manages to save Lufton’s life when two of Riling’s men were preparing to gun him down.

To further confuse the situation Lufton has two daughters.  Carol Lufton is in love with Riling and has been providing him with information about her father’s plans and actions.  Amy Lufton starts out hating Garry but over the course of the movie as she sees his actions are well-intentioned, she changes her mind and comes to trust him.

When Garry quits the crew Riling goes looking for him and they have a huge brawl in a cantina.  Garry finally knocks Riling out.  When one of Riling’s henchmen gets ready to execute a defenseless Garry, Kris Bardon shoots the gun hand.  Now Garry goes to Lufton and reveals the whole plan about Riling conspiring with Pindalest to steal the herd.  They come up with a plan to defeat it.

Garry goes to Pindalest as if he’s still working with Riling and tells him to suspend the government’s seizure order on Lufton’s herd and creates a ruse that has Pindalest go with him out into the mountains to give Lufton enough time to gather the herd and bring it off the reservation.  The ruse succeeds up to a point but then an Indian whose friends with Riling tips him off that Pindalist is being stalled by Garry.  Riling and his men come after Garry and in an altercation, Garry is stabbed and Pindalist is rescued.

A badly wounded Garry escapes to Kris Bardon’s cabin where Amy Lufton joins them to nurse Garry’s wound.  Soon Riling, Pindalist and one other gunman show up and surround the cabin while Bardon and Amy hold them off with rifles.  That night Garry, sensing that eventually the outlaws would manage to overcome the defense, tells Bardon and Amy to provide a diversion while he slips out the door and sneaks behind the gunmen and takes them on.

He manages to pistol whip Pindalist into unconsciousness and shoot the other gunman.  And in the final confrontation he shoots it out with his former friend Riling.  Garry is victorious and he reappears at the cabin.  Later John Lufton and his men appear at the cabin.  They take Pindalist into custody for delivery to the marshal.  And as the drama ends Amy tells her father of her plans to marry Jim Garry.

Although this western was made during the heyday of that genre, this production differed substantially from the typical black hat, white hat conflict.  Mitchum’s character is more reminiscent of the characters he usually portrayed in film noirs where he would be a small time criminal or a gun for hire.  He straddles the line between good and evil pretty thoroughly until almost the end of the movie.  And that’s what keeps the movie from devolving into a typical good guy, bad guy shootout.  Mitchum and Preston manage to keep the battle between light and darkness alive and interesting throughout the movie.  The rest of the cast isn’t afforded much opportunity to rise above the normal western tropes.  The two actresses in love with Garry and Riling are given fairly stereotypical plot and dialog for those roles and the other parts fairly equally follow the conventions of the genre.  But Mitchum and Preston provide the fireworks and it boosts the movie well above the average.  Highly recommended for fans of westerns and fans of Robert Mitchum.

Dunwich Complainer – Avalanche 2022 (In Rumble-Rama)

Yesterday as I lolled around in my lazy recuperative stupor, I was suddenly aware of a booming sound and the sensation of shaking.  At first, I assumed I was still goofy from the COVID and had imagined it but then I saw that the dogs had picked up on something too.  I thought, “Maybe a truck came down the driveway and banged into the house.  So, I got up and went to look outside.

And what I saw was a boulder sitting on the lower driveway.  I could see where it broke off from the wall.  What I had heard was it falling, bouncing and rolling to a stop.

I was still kind of lethargic yesterday so I left it as, “to be continued.”  Today I felt more myself.  So, I investigated.  It’s roughly 4’X2’X1.5’ and I estimate it weighs about 1,500 lbs.

Looking at the exposed surfaces it looks like over time the rock has been fracturing and finally the weight was too much for the remaining stone to support.  It’s these lousy New England winters.  Freezing and thawing incessantly wreaks havoc with structural integrity.  It’s why I’m the broken-down husk of a man that I am.

So, this boulder is a metaphor for how the world wears down even the best of us and then sends us crashing to earth abandoned and out of sorts like a modern day Humpty Dumpty.  Very sad.  Very abstract, so deep.

But now I have to move the darn thing and then figure out how to prevent the dirt that was being held in place by it from eroding away.  Camera Girl will see me like a modern-day Sisyphus toiling to roll this huge stone up the hill.  What’s next?  The extinction level asteroid strike?  Yeah, why not?

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.