Television, my window to other … times (#SFWApro)

I finished watching three shows this week, all qualifying for my book, none of them qualifying as a recommendation.
THE FONZ AND THE HAPPY DAYS GANG was an early-1980s Saturday morning cartoon, following a long tradition of adapting prime-time TV shows into ‘toons (My Favorite Martian, Gilligan’s Island, The Addams Family and The Dukes of Hazard all went that route). In this Happy Days spin-off, time-traveler Cupcake (Didi Cohn) crash-lands in 1957 Milwaukee in  a malfunctioning time machine. Arthur “Fonzie” “Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) restarts it, but Cupcake’s magic transports the Fonz, his friends Richie and Ralph (Ron Howard—yes, the Ron Howard—and Donny Most) onboard, after which they’re stuck bouncing from era to era battling vampires, sorcerers, robot invasions and dinosaurs as Cupcake struggles to return them to Milwaukee. Only Fonzie’s uncanny abilities to seduce women and control machinery keep them ahead of the week’s perils. A weak show; I do wonder if the console in Cupcake’s time machine doesn’t look an awful lot like the TARDIS. “There’s nobody driving this coach except—a bat!”
CHARLIE JADE is a plodding, would-be SF noir from a few years back. In a parallel world where Vexcor and other multinationals control everything, Charlie (Jeffrey Pierce) has managed to stay independent, building a career as a PI. While denying the existence of other realities, Vexcor has built a dimensional link into our world and the idyllic Gammaverse to suck out water for their own use. When a Gammeverse revolutionary blows up the link, Charlie gets hurled into our world and begins working against Vexcor to find out what’s going on. Pierce doesn’t convey any of the toughness the role really needs and the corporate dystopia doesn’t feel anywhere near as vivid as Continuum. On top of that, the story moves with hideous sluggishness—I think this might have made a decent TV movie, but no more. “You said none of us have a choice, but I don’t think you believe that.”

The British import MISFITS started its fourth season (I’ve already seen the first, second and third) without any of the original cast and a pretty flat season it was—I know it’s not primarily a show about the characters’ powers, but this really felt at times like it aspired to be nothing more than Skins, the Beeb’s raunchy teen drama (I had problems with Nathan in the first couple of seasons but Rudy’s several times more annoying). The final episode with the Four Bicyclists of the Apocalypse picked up, though, and so did the fifth. In that one, the cast and some of the other metahumans begin to consider becoming actual super-heroes and Rudy joins a super-power support group to boot.

Unfortunately the relationships are really a mess (and not in a good way). Finn’s obsessed and possessive over Jess despite her making it clear she doesn’t want him, but the stories seem to treat him as if he had some legit claim to her. Rudy, having started dating Jess, decides to discourage Finn (without losing him as a friend) by secretly filming Jess taking a crap, then emailing that to Finn. This behavior is, I think, supposed to be endearingly stupid, not creepy. So I wouldn’t quite recommend it, despite some entertaining strangeness. “So you’re saying you have an ironic penis?”

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TV, my window to other times (#SFWApro)

I finished watching three shows this week, all qualifying for my book, none of them qualifying as a recommendation.
THE FONZ AND THE HAPPY DAYS GANG was an early-1980s Saturday morning cartoon, following a long tradition of adapting prime-time TV shows into ‘toons (My Favorite Martian, Gilligan’s Island, The Addams Family and The Dukes of Hazard all went that route). In this Happy Days spin-off, time-traveler Cupcake (Didi Cohn) crash-lands in 1957 Milwaukee in a malfunctioning time machine. Arthur “Fonzie” “Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) restarts it, but Cupcake’s magic transports the Fonz, his friends Richie and Ralph (Ron Howard—yes, the Ron Howard—and Donny Most) onboard, after which they’re stuck bouncing from era to era battling vampires, sorcerers, robot invasions and dinosaurs as Cupcake struggles to return them to Milwaukee. Only Fonzie’s uncanny abilities to seduce women and control machinery keep them ahead of the week’s perils. A weak show; I do wonder if the console in Cupcake’s time machine doesn’t look an awful lot like the TARDIS. “There’s nobody driving this coach except—a bat!”
CHARLIE JADE is a plodding, would-be SF noir from a few years back. In a parallel world where Vexcor and other multinationals control everything, Charlie (Jeffrey Pierce) has managed to stay independent, building a career as a PI. While denying the existence of other realities, Vexcor has built a dimensional link into our world and the idyllic Gammaverse to suck out water for their own use. When a Gammeverse revolutionary blows up the link, Charlie gets hurled into our world and begins working against Vexcor to find out what’s going on. Pierce doesn’t convey any of the toughness the role really needs and the corporate dystopia doesn’t feel anywhere near as vivid as Continuum. On top of that, the story moves with hideous sluggishness—I think this might have made a decent TV movie, but no more. “You said none of us have a choice, but I don’t think you believe that.”

The British import MISFITS started its fourth season (I’ve already seen the first, second and third) without any of the original cast and a pretty flat season it was—I know it’s not primarily a show about the characters’ powers, but this really felt at times like it aspired to be nothing more than Skins, the Beeb’s raunchy teen drama (I had problems with Nathan in the first couple of seasons but Rudy’s several times more annoying). The final episode with the Four Bicyclists of the Apocalypse picked up, though, and so did the fifth. In that one, the cast and some of the other metahumans begin to consider becoming actual super-heroes and Rudy joins a super-power support group to boot.

Unfortunately the relationships are really a mess (and not in a good way). Finn’s obsessed and possessive over Jess despite her making it clear she doesn’t want him, but the stories seem to treat him as if he had some legit claim to her. Rudy, having started dating Jess, decides to discourage Finn (without losing him as a friend) by secretly filming Jess taking a crap, then emailing that to Finn. This behavior is, I think, supposed to be endearingly stupid, not creepy. So I wouldn’t quite recommend it, despite some entertaining strangeness. “So you’re saying you have an ironic penis?”

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Like sands in the hourglass, so are the movies of our lives (#SFWApro)

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT (1970) is an animated TV version that captures more of Twain’s vision and story than any other adaptation I’ve seen. This Sir Boss (voice of Orson Bean) really does set out to educate and improve the people as well as import tech (modern tech as Hank’s a 20th century man—instead of a rescue on bicycles, it’s a rescue by motorcycle), and we get scenes such as the destruction of Merlin’s tower, Hank freeing a blocked-up spring, the quest with Alisande (though as noted in the previous post, her behavior is so odd that scene made no sense to me) and the final battle—though we substitute Merlin’s scheming for the Catholic Church and this being kid-friendly, nobody gets killed (there’s also an ending scene where Hank discovers a picture of Arthur on a motorcycle is in the encyclopedia!). Despite the technology updates, remarkably faithful. “I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a pipe so much!”
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE (1931) has radio engineer Will Rogers hurled back from the 1930s to the Arthurian era for a story that’s neither faithful to Twain’s spirit (this Yankee has little interest in the people beyond selling them modern goods) or to his plot, with details such as Morgan (Myrna Loy in the young, Bad Girl phase of her career) falling for Sir Boss and Clarence being his descendant (when Hank realizes this, he’s at pains to avoid changing history in ways that would kill him off). Unremarkable (even before getting to It Was All A Dream …) and Rogers’ on-screen persona is much more shy and awkward than I imagined (I’ve never seen him before). “Am I in my right mind—and if I am, canst thou tellest me where I am?”
TIMESTALKERS (1987) has Old West buff William Devane and time-traveling historian Lauren Hutton join forces to stop Klaus Kinski from changing history by assassinating Hutton’s ancestor (I will mention here that any time a character in the past a time travel movie is presented as a mysterious, incredibly wise adviser to someone, I assume he’s another time-traveler—though in this case, he’s not). Written by Brian Clemons (a writer of the British Avengers series), this has several touches I like and is quite entertaining. “I can’t break the rules but I sure can bend them.”
THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT (2012) is a better remake than I expected, as a modern-day Mad Science experiment yanks the USS Eldridge into the present, leaving the sole survivor of the crew teaming up with the granddaughter he never knew he had to get the ship back home before either time falls apart or sinister Gina Holden eliminates them both as a loose end. The man-on-the-run plot is stock, and this in some ways is like a SyFy Freak Weather or Giant Monster film (with the Eldridge as the monster, teleporting everywhere and destroying stuff). Better than Philadelphia Experiment II, though. Malcolm McDowell plays a scientist and Michael Paré (star of the original) is a hit-man.“You must remember these two words—ivory gate.”
209007_1020_AQUEST FOR LOVE (1971) is based on the same John Wyndham novel as Random Quest, in which a physicist’s (Tom Bell) experiment thrusts him into a parallel world where he’s a celebrated writer, married to Joan Collins (all rights to image belong with current holder). Unfortunately his counterpart is a drunk and a womanizing douchebag, so despite falling in love with Collins at first sight, Bell has to struggle to win her. And then it turns out she’s terminally ill (I suspect Love Story from the previous year influenced this adaptation, given Collins stays beautiful even as she’s dying)—after her death can Bell find her counterpart in our world before she dies of the same fatal condition?
This devotes more time to the divergence than I remembered, and I like the little details (Leslie Howard’s still alive, Everest hasn’t been conquered). However it also cops out by having Bell’s douche of a counterpart comatose in “our” world so he can’t cause any trouble. Ultimately it’s a love story, and I like it (though if you want something non-melodramatic, this ain’t for you) despite the perennial assumption that the Collins in our world will be the same person as her counterpart. “I just want you to know that if the time we’ve had together is all there’s going to be, it’s enough.”

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Thoughts on Twain’s Yankee (#SFWApro)

Following up on the previous post, to cover the books flaws (besides the polemic angle), including one I think people miss a lot. And the difference between the book and the movies.
One of the biggest flaws for me is the sequence where Hank goes on a quest with Alisande, who claims he must free a castle of captured women from three terrifying ogres. When he reaches the castle, it’s actually a pig-sty. The ogres are swineherds, the women are pigs. When he points this out, Sandy assures him otherwise and concludes he’s been enchanted so he can’t see the truth. Sir Boss realizes Sandy is so mired in superstition it never occurs to her these are just pigs.
The mired-in-superstition bit works fine when dealing with Merlin and other fakers, who are actually trying to gull people, but here? Based on what I read, Sandy has made this thing up out of whole cloth, and genuinely sees the pigs as women. That’s not superstition, that’s insanity. It doesn’t work, at least not for me.
This is another of themes Twain thumps throughout the book, the ignorance and naivete of the ancient English. They’re children. They’re animals. I find this a little creepy; it’s one of the things that makes some critics see the book as a metaphor (intentional or not) for imperialism. The Yankee is very much shouldering the white man’s burden, convinced he can transform these backwards savages into modern-day Americans. At the same time he’s blind to how arrogant and brutal he himself is (as witness the mass killing at the end of the book).
One of the flaws most frequently pointed out is that Hank’s engineering skills are super-human. He can, as he brags, make anything from telephone wires to guns to sewing machines to matches. He can also build the factories to make these things in quantity. By implication he can also smelt and alloy the metal and find power sources. It’s the inspiration for deCamp’s Lest Darkness Fall and Poul Anderson’s “The Man Who Returned,” both of which take a more realistic view of what a modern man could build.
What very few people touch on is that Hank’s social engineering skills are every bit as amazing. He not only sets up a press to print a newspaper, he trains journalists. He sets up schools, so presumably he trains the teachers (he’s not using educated monks, as he assumes correctly the Church will oppose everything). He introduces new coinage, sets up a patent office, organizes a stock market and spreads literacy. That’s quite an unbelievable skill-set.
The movies, unsurprisingly, cut out a lot of this and squeeze the Yankee into a stock swashbuckler mode. Twain’s anti-Catholic bigotry (yeah, I think it’s that bad) never makes it to the screen, and the books are fine with the divine right of kings so long as they’re good kings.As the book Swordsmen of the Screen points out, for all that movie swordsmen are overthrowing tyrants, the movies tend to be very pro-monarchy. The problem isn’t that monarchy is bad, it’s that we’re stuck with a usurper instead of the rightful (and therefore good) king, or that the evil vizier/prime minister has misled the king. Time and again, the incognito trip the Yankee takes with Arthur is seized by the usurpers as a chance to overthrow the king. And rather than reform and educate the people, all that’s necessary to create a better kingdom is to make the king see the light (as in the Keshia Knight Pulliam version).
I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but it has been informative to read it and compare to the adaptations.

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The original Connecticut Yankee (#SFWApro)

Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a tough book to slog through.
Twain’s writing this book with a message (no sending it Western Union here): monarchy is bad, aristocracy is bad, slavery is bad, the Catholic Church is the biggest bad. He hammers this message home in repeated lectures to the reader, over and over, to the point of tedium. It made the book close to unreadable.
That said, here’s the plot (though a lot of you probably know it already): Hank Morgan, foreman at a gun-making factory (though he brags he can build anything made out of metal) tells a stranger he meets touring English castles that he’s seen these monuments in their prime, 1300 years earlier. To prove it, he presents a manuscript of his trip, which the stranger (who narrates the intro) realizes is indeed centuries old.
The manuscript tells how Hank gets hit on the head, wakes up in Arthurian England (Twain has the right century for Arthur, assuming he existed [I'd like to think he did] but presents him as a Malory-ian medieval knight rather than a Celtic warlord), gets captured by Sir Kay and sentenced to burn. He remembers the date of the next solar eclipse in this era and uses it to bluff Camelot by proving he’s a powerful wizard who can turn off the sun (a trick countless characters would pull over the next century and a half of fiction). In return for turning it back on, he becomes “Sir Boss,” the prime minister of England. He sets to work transforming the country with both modern technology and modern education: His goal is to build up an educated mass of common folk so when he overthrows church and state for a modern democracy, he’ll have the nation’s support.
In between all that, Sir Boss goes on a quest with the Lady Alisande (initially thinking she’s a ninny, he eventually falls for her and marries her), wins a joust with lasso and gun (I’d thought the lasso, which shows up in several films, was a post-Twain touch), destroys Merlin’s magic tower, and takes Arthur on an incognito tour to see the kingdom from ground zero (they’re sold into slavery, then almost hung, before the Round Table arrives on bicycles to save them). Finally while he’s away in Europe with Alisande and their baby, the fall of Camelot takes place (as in Malory, though the trigger for it all is Lancelot crushing Mordred and Agravaine on the stock market) and the Church steps in. Everything Hank built gets destroyed, an army of 30,000 knights rises against him and his remaining allies, but bombs, Gatling guns and an electric fence wipe them all out in a grim and bloody climax (it’s a pretty good guess at how tech was going to transform war).
In the aftermath, Clarence (Hank’s page and sidekick) carries the wounded boss to a cave where a kindly old woman treats him with herbs. Only it turns out it’s Merlin, who curses Sir Boss to sleep until his own time (Twain blithely ignores that he’s treated Merlin as an utter fraud the whole book). Finishing the manuscript, the stranger goes in to Hank in time to see him die, calling for his wife and child. The end.
Some thoughts on the book in the next post.

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Not as much time as expected (#SFWApro)

Tuesday, you see, I had my semi-annual checkup, which took up a lot of the morning (everything fine, I’m happy to report). I’d planned for it, but it’s still a chunk of time and I have a lot to do.
Then Wednesday night I discovered the insulation on my laptop power cord had broken in one spot—probably nothing dangerous, but that sort of thing bugs me enough that I went and got a new cord at the Apple store Thursday morning. And as my computer had too little left on the battery, that ate up most of the morning (I used the time to finish Twain’s Connecticut Yankee novel).
And as I’ve mentioned before, I’m very easily thrown off my game when I have appointments. It seems like it takes a couple of hours to refocus after I get home, and so it was the case.
As usual of late, it’s the fiction that took a hit. Much less done on Southern Discomforts than I’d planned. On the plus side, I read a revised story my writers’ group had critiqued to another group of beta readers and I think I fixed all the complaints my group made.
Other than that, I did well on my Demand articles, got an idea for a couple of nonfiction queries and did the usual ton of movie viewing for the time-travel book. Which, of course, we’ll get to tomorrow …

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The clever insight (#SFWApro)

“It’s said a man who’s lying to you will avoid your eyes—when a woman lies, she meets your gaze.”—Haruka, Beyond the Stream of Time (Not a verbatim quote, but it gets the gist).
I have my doubt that’s true, but it is easily the best moment in the rather bland Haruka anime series. That’s one of the perks of putting a witty little insight into a story—readers may remember it long after they’ve forgotten most of the other details.
The flip side, of course, is that what you think is a clever insight may not be so clever. And people remember it in the wrong way.
In Poul Anderson’s The Man Who Counts, the conniving trader Nicholas Van Rijn sends his alien allies into battle, then tells his two-fisted sidekick that of course he’s not going to fight himself: generals never fight because if they get killed, the army loses its brain.
That was thought-provoking when I read it in college, but as I grew older, I realized it was bull. Lots of generals go to the front lines—to inspire the troops, to see how the battle’s progressing. Generals who stay away from the fighting (as John Keegan points out in Mask of Command) can wind up making battle plans that have no basis in reality. And, of course, a good army has a replacement leader ready to promote.
None of that matters here because Van Rijn’s plan is good and he, on this planet, is indispensable. More to the point, he’s a lying manipulator who would have no problem saying something like that just to get out of fighting (and may, of course, believe it). So on the whole, it works fine.
Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road has quite a few supposedly clever insights, most of which I’ve forgotten (I don’t find Heinlein particularly clever). One that does stick in my mind was a comment that prostitution and marriage are both based on a myth, that there’s a limited supply of something women can provide in infinite quantities.
Given that the speaker comes from a libertine, polyamorous culture, I suppose that might just be her cultural perspective. However my definite impression (in fairness, I read the book a long time ago, so I can’t guarantee this) was that it was offered as an insight into relations and sex.
If so, it’s a daft one. As I said when reviewing Island of the Mighty, the assumption that if women are sexually uninhibited they’ll sleep with anyone doesn’t make much sense. The odds are that some people will end up without a partner, or without a partner they prefer, which is one reason for prostitution. And marriage, despite all the jokes over the years about just being a form of prostitution, is something different. So not so clever.
And then there was a scene in one of Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s Darkover novels in which an Earthman is shocked to discover his pregnant wife’s sister in law climbing into his bed. She’s just as shocked he objects: my god, what sort of sick, twisted world does he come from, where it’s wrong for a loving sister-in-law to relieve your urges when your wife is too pregnant to do it.
This one, actually, I could easily see as some Darkoveran cultural quirk. It’s a patriarchal society and the very arbitrariness of it (not “you can sleep with your sister-in-law” but “you can sleep with your sister-in-law provided your wife is very, very pregnant.”) makes it oddly real. But at the same time, the way Bradley wrote the scene it comes off very much as somewhere between a clever debating point and a polemic, as if she really thinks it’s a crushing argument.
Which given she was apparently very open sexually (in addition to the abuse mentioned at the link) may be the case. But as someone who isn’t polyamorous, it just falls flat as a pancake.
Which is the risk, of course, of trying to be clever.

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