The Parallel World Solution (#SFWApro)

As I’ve mentioned before, time-travel films have logical paradoxes aplenty. Most typically the grandfather paradox where changing the past eliminates the time-travel trip ever taking place.

The standard solution to this is that the time traveler didn’t really change history, she just created a parallel world. In the old world, everything remains as it was; the happy ending is for the new timeline.

This doesn’t always work. Some movies, such as The Black Knight, have other logical problems. The horror film The Caller (2011) which I caught last weekend has someone changing the protagonist’s past and affecting the protagonist’s present—so it’s definitely history being changed, not world-line jumping.

A bigger problem, as I noted at the link, is that it doesn’t work dramatically. Take Against Time, in which a drunken, broken-down Robert Loggia travels back in time to stop his teenage self from causing a tragedy. After he succeeds, his personal history changes so he never makes the trip; instead he makes an unrelated trip at the end of the film, showing his new alt.self is happy, healthy and contented.

If all he did was create a parallel world, then somewhere out there in the old timeline he’s still drunken, broken-down and miserable. In that timeline, his younger self will still make a stupid mistake that gets two dozen kids, including his own son, killed. Nothing’s changed.

Dramatically speaking that just doesn’t work. It might work in fiction, but it definitely doesn’t when I’m actually seeing the characters up on the screen, flesh-and-blood rather than printed words. I want Loggia to heal himself. I want him to avert the tragedy. If it’s just a new timeline it’s a cheat.

Likewise, if all the cast of Terminator 2: Judgment Day did was create a new timeline without the machines (of course T3 subsequently made it clear they hadn’t beaten Skynet anyway), that’s a good thing (millions of people live without going to Skynet’s death camps) but it’s still much less satisfying. It’s the problem Larry Niven raised in his short story “All the Myriad Ways”—if every action creates multiple timelines then you accomplish nothing—it’s just random luck which timeline you wound up in (as Crisis on Two Earths points out).

It’s similar to my reaction to Family Man when I realized Cage’s kids were erased from existence when he left the magically created alternate world. I wouldn’t have batted an eye if it happened in a book, but on-screen they’re so real ….

So unless a film specifically invokes parallel worlds, I’m going to assume there aren’t any. Paradox or not, history changed. Screw logic, movies work better that way.

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Another libertarian myth

A perpetual argument for the glories of the unregulated free market is that while some companies may profit from bad behavior in the short term, in the long run the invisible hand guarantees the best product or service wins.
If that were true, hotels wouldn’t be following airlines in tacking on extra fees for what used to be standard stuff (like having a safe in the room—even if you don’t use it—or putting your own stuff in the mini-fridge). And Comcast wouldn’t have such infamously bad customer service.
Meanwhile—
•Echidne reminds us that statistically, having a lot of angry sexist/racist/whatever comments on a post doesn’t prove anything about how common these views are in the general public. I agree it’s easy to inflate them and to think the comments prove what They (whichever They is involved) Are Like. Even the worst comments only prove there are horrible people out there, and we already knew that.
•I don’t believe ISIS is an existential threat to the US but they are hideously horrible. Unfortunately the people who screwed up the Iraq war are still treated as if they know how to fix this (How? Kill people of course!).
•And then we have right-winger Erick Erickson’s explanation for why we shouldn’t worry about global warming: We’re all going to die someday, so what’s the diff? Which reminds me of some right-wingers during the Iraq war who’d brush off troop deaths as “less than the annual deaths in car accidents” (unsurprisingly they never applied the same standard to the deaths of 9/11). And contrary to Erickson, DDT does have bad side-effects. And Rachel Carson didn’t demand the world ban it.
•Some right-wingers just hate the idea that poor people can get help without being judged or stigmatized. And that includes poor kids who get free or subsidized lunch, presumably instead of … I don’t know, working as chimney sweeps to earn lunch money? Funny how it never applies to all the corporations, sports-stadium owners and other moochers with money, though.
•The National Pro-Life Coalition asked Arizona Democrat James Woods to support anti-abortion policies. He sent them a box of condoms and encouraged them to work with him on guaranteeing universal access to birth control.
•Online retailer Accessory Outlet says anyone who does business with it will have their credit card billed for $250 if they criticize the company publicly, threaten to criticize it or try to cancel a bill. I respect their nerve,but not their ethics.
This guy isn’t fond of criticism either, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do about it.
•OMG, Obama’s playing golf before solving all the world’s problems! It’s an old issue with right-wingers.
•I’m not linking directly, but this is an unintentionally hysterical article warning about how Katy Perry is so much worse for American morals than wholesome singers like Madonna, and that Nicky Menaj will corrupt virtuous twentysomething women with her coarse lyrics.

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Story sold and unrelated writing group thoughts (#SFWApro)

First a big squeee for Leave the World to Darkness finding a home in Love, Time, Space, Magic, a romance/fantasy/SF anthology coming out next year. This is easily the fastest acceptance I’ve ever had, less than a week from submitting it, so yay!
This story was done well before I joined the writing group, but I did get quite a bit of feedback along with rejections from various editors and that definitely helped. And that got me thinking about writing group feedback, so ….
My group is sizable, easily 20 or more at a typical meeting. Inevitably this means some of the feedback is white noise: not that it’s stupid or wrong, but it’s going to spread out over the spectrum which makes it harder to utilize.
The last couple of shorts I’ve read, I had several people who loved them. A couple of members hated them. Several had specific changes, but not all the same. Some got exactly the point I was trying to make, others felt the point was blunt.
The thing is, like any writer I want as many people as possible to like my work. Sometimes most of the feedback is compatible and I can incorporate all the suggestions, sometimes not. So I have to figure out which suggestions to go with.
Do I decide the people who liked the story (albeit with corrections) are the ones to trust? Maybe not. If someone gets my point when nobody else did, maybe the point really isn’t clear enough.
On the other hand, it doesn’t always follow that the people who dislike the story are spotting genuine flaws and that fixing them guarantees wider appeal. Some suggestions just don’t work for the story at hand. The same is true, for that matter, of editor responses. Before I sold One Hand Washes the Other to Abyss and Apex a few years back, I had an editor tell me the protagonist was too unlikable. It’s a fair point—he is unlikable—but too bad; it’s a redemption story, and I needed to make him enough of a dick he needed some redemption.
What I usually do is write down everything, let it sit for a week (more if I don’t have time), then review. That’s usually enough time for me to think clearly about it. Some criticisms I find I agree with, some I don’t. Usually there’s more useful than not.
Finding ways to fix the problem … that, of course, is a different story.

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Filed under Short Stories, Story Problems, Writing

A few quick writing links (#SFWApro)

Good advice on how to keep editors happy. More for nonfiction writers, though advice about not following directions or not responding to editors’ calls are sound for any writer.
•Remember the debate over whether a monkey’s selfie was public domain? The U.S. Copyright office says it is.
•The Last Word on Nothing blog talks to science reporters about the challenges of doing good work in the “gig” economy, especially when gigs are paying less and less or just “exposure.” LWON also links to this article about Forbes’ reliance on freelancers and whether it’s benefiting the bottom line at the cost of Forbes’ journalistic brand.
•A visual explanation of the difference between your synopsis, your query and your book. (hat tip to Walk of Words)
•An agent argues it’s a mistake to send your book to publishers before you find an agent. As someone who’s sent novels to plenty of agents and plenty of publishers and been turned down by both, I don’t think I agree. Being turned down by agents doesn’t mean it’s unmarketable, and I think if I ever found myself saying “No, I never sent it to a publisher, just agents.” my soul would curdle.

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Sunday morning linkage

A look at how much Tea Party groups spend on fundraising vs. what actually goes to candidates.
•RIP Aero. The company that planned to deliver broadcast TV over the Internet lost against the broadcasters (who claimed this violated copyright) and now failed to get itself reclassified as a cable company.
•Jim Fallows looks at the parade of Iraq “experts” who were completely wrong about the merits and outcome of attacking Iraq before, but are still taken seriously as worth of consideration. Case in point, William Kristol and Fred Kagan, who insisted back in 2002 that “The Iraqi threat is enormous. It gets bigger with every day that passes.” No argument with Fallows here—I’ve mentioned before how pundits almost never suffer (at least in terms of being taken seriously by their publishers) for being massively wrong.
•Best way to keep women virgins until marriage: Make ‘em marry young. Courtesy of defeating the dragons.
•A place in Europe where crossing borders is fun!
•LGM argues (as it has before) that Obama is indeed the most liberal president in recent history, and discusses the difficulties in shifting the “Overton Window.”
•Increasing discussion of campus rape has some male students worried asking a woman out will get them tarred as a rapist/harasser. This is actually an old, old bugaboo—as one student says, better training about consent and harassment and which is which might help a lot.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Blogs were going to change the world, remember? (#SFWApro)

Writing earlier this week about “entrepo-journalism” got me thinking about a decade ago, when journalism was supposedly transformed by the power of blogging.
Professional reporting, according to several articles and columns on the topic, was bogged down with bureaucracy, with editors and publishers who controlled what was put in the paper, with being tied to a daily or weekly publication schedule (conservatives usually threw in that bloggers were free of the political correctness that supposedly smothered the mainstream media). Bloggers were nimble, able to post anywhere, anytime, unfettered by requiring approval. During the Iraq War, Kathleen Parker discussed with awe how a blogger for National Review was turning out pieces day and night, without regard for when the magazine’s next issue was coming out.
What was missing from all this was, of course, that most political bloggers aren’t reporters, they’re pundits. 99 percent of people blogging about the Iraq war were blogging about news someone else had reported, commenting on it, not adding any new data.
Obviously I don’t think that’s a bad thing or I wouldn’t do it. But it ain’t reporting, any more than taking photographs by itself is photojournalism.
Don’t get me wrong, some bloggers did (and do) serious reporting, including bloggers who weren’t part of any news organization. And blogging is sometimes a great tool for reporting: I liveblogged city council meetings for a couple of years, and it adds a lot of texture to the event that can’t get into print (details that are interesting when blogged as they happen are damn dull when recapped the next day, trust me).
But most blogging isn’t reporting. And enough bullshit crops up on blogs to make me appreciate editors going over stories and working for organizations that value accuracy.
And of course, contrary to predictions, blogging did not sweep the newspapers of the world away. While newspapers are in decline, it’s not because anyone came up with a superior method of reporting. Blogs themselves have faded from those days as the social aspect of blogging has been taken over by Twitter, FaceBook and so forth. And a lot of blogs are, in fact, coming out of the media institutions blogging was going to topple.
Journalism has changed a lot in the past 20 years or so, and those changes haven’t worked well for professionals. Fewer jobs, tighter budgets, etc., etc. So the fixation on discovering something that will either make the whole industry collapse or show the way to a new exciting career world isn’t surprising. To date, however, it hasn’t been accurate.

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Plus a time-travel movie or two, of course (#SFWApro)

ABOUT TIME (2013) stars Domhnall Gleeson as a young man who learns from Dad Bill Nighy that men in his family all have the ability to jump back through time to make do-overs, which Gleeson uses to help win the heart of Rachel McAdams. The do-over method is odd, as it requires physically jumping back while presumably the past self disappears (which in at least one scene would have been in front of witnesses) and the movie starts making up new rules midway through (some of which Nighy should really have told his kid). This doesn’t work as romance either, Gleeson coming off like he’s trying to imitate Hugh Grant’s shy-but-endearing persona (and the way he screws up his first date with McAdams is pure idiot plot). “If it had been a very bad day, I would have had to have sex with you to make up for it.”

Legendary hack director Bert I. Gordon’s THE BOY AND THE PIRATES (1960) looks a lot like a Treasure Island knockoff with the emphasis on lovably roguish Blackbeard bonding with the protagonist, a pirate-loving kid who gets sent back to the pirate age by a genie. As usual, Gordon’s direction is pedestrian and this is dull without the entertaining lunacy of films such as Beginning of the End. “Squirt, bind, square—I have never heard these words.”

SPY KIDS: All the Time in the World (2011) is a Next Generation sequel in which the step-children of retired super-spy Jessica Alba become the new Spy Kids when a masked villain tries to stop all the time in the world. Which wouldn’t count as time-travel if it wasn’t for this being Step One in a plan to go back in time and save his father (which doesn’t make much sense with a father who died of old age). Way, way below the quality of the original film, with uninteresting kid leads who somehow know enough about time travel to explain exactly what the fatal flaw in the villain’s plan is. With Jeremy Piven as Alba’s boss, the original Spy Kids in supporting roles and Danny Trejo as “Uncle Machete.” “Either that’s a coincidence or … that’s just an incredible coincidence!”

MY FUTURE BOYFRIEND (2011) takes my breath away for recycling that hoary cliché, the super-logical future society that has no concept of love or passion (though I suppose it’s possible for younger viewers, the idea’s so old it’s new). I could overlook that if the results were entertaining, but the story of a time traveler returning to the present to learn the meaning of such things from a romance novelist is just as stock in execution as concept. It does have a distinctly novel finish for a cross-time romance, though. “Earth will not be destroyed by a polar ice shift in the year 2012.”

Moving into the Not For the Book Zone, VANISHING ON 7TH STREET (2010) is a deadly dull film in which a Rapture-like event has most of humanity disappearing, leading to a handful of survivors huddling in downtown Chicago as light fades from the world and things lurk in the darkness. “I think God’s closed up shop, just like everybody else.”

Despite Netflix listing the animated FREEDOM FORCE (2012) it’s only in the sense the characters are traveling into Jules Verne’s 19th century novels to reboot them after a mysterious villain mixes everything up (“Quickly Passerpatout, board the flying train so we can reach the volcano and journey to the center of the Earth!”). Jimmy Neutron would have done it better and funnier, and I’m curious about the choice of From the Earth to the Moon and Five Weeks in a Balloon (alongside 20,000 Leagues) rather than a bigger-name Verne. Still, every movie I don’t include frees up more space in the book. With Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christopher Lloyd among the voice talent. “I understood everything the day the president said I was to be his right-hand man!”

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Filed under Movies, Time Travel Book