Pheeew (#SFWApro)

As I predicted Tuesday, this was not a productive week. I spent a lot of Wednesday reading about dogs, then today I was cleaning up for a human houseguest getting in this evening. So even less done than expected.
No word on when we get the puppies yet, but I’m anticipating Monday. Pictures will be posted.

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Destiny is a stacked deck (#SFWApro)

My friend Rebekkah Niles sent me a link to this post on paranormal romance writing site. It’s a quick overview of the different ways time-travel might change or not change the past, something I’ve of course blogged about myself (such as here and here). This time I want to focus on the first section on the article: Reasons time travel can’t change the past,

The writer, Angela Quarles includes, for example, the time traveler who’s part of his own history, such as the first Terminator. And stories in which the laws of temporal physics resist changes to the time stream. In Fritz Leiber’s “Try and Change the Past,” for instance, a man plucked out of time tries to avert his own death, but against all odds, the universe adjusts to keep events constant.

As I’ve mentioned before, screen time travel doesn’t do much with the idea the time stream is fixed. I haven’t run into many inherent strength stories either, where the natural course of events just can’t change the way you want—you shoot Hitler, for instance, but someone takes his place and nothing changes (I’m inclined to agree with author Ron Rosenbaum that it’s more “no Hitler, no Holocaust,” but I wouldn’t be totally surprised to be wrong.

What I do see quite a bit of is talk about destiny. The idea that something or someone has decreed the way things should be and that you just can’t change. Or if you did, it’d get worse. You’re tampering, as Ed Woods once put it, with God’s domain.

220px-Repeat_Performance_posterCase in point, REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947), a do-over film (all rights to image with current holder) which starts seconds after Joan Leslie (playing a stage actress) guns down her husband in self-defense (unusually for a do-over, there’s no time spent on set-up, nor is it needed). Best friend and escaped lunatic Richard Basehart walks her to a friend’s apartment to report the tragedy, and Leslie tells him she just wishes she could have the year back to rewrite it like a bad third act. And when she arrives at the apartment, it’s a year ago, New Year’s Day 1946. She has her change.

It doesn’t seem too difficult. The attack on her resulted from drunken shit-bag playwright husband Louis Hayward’s affair with a female playwright (Virginia Field) while Hayward and Leslie were in London. So Leslie moves to California instead, then back to New York to star in a play, after the producer assures her Field won’t be back from London for months. Only she turns up, and soon Hayward’s having the affair again … Leslie also fails to talk Basehart out of becoming the boy-toy for socialite Natalie Shafer, who had him committed on the first go-round (the reasons why are a bit blurry, the weakest point).

But then Shafer catches Hayward and Field in a balcony embrace and the drunken Hayward falls off, putting him in a wheelchair (he shamelessly uses this to manipulate Leslie into quitting the show to care for him). Leslie tells Basehart that this didn’t happen the first time and her friend quips that “Destiny slipped …maybe we can escape while she’s picking herself up.”

Ultimately, they can’t. Hayward snaps when Fields dumps him, convinced she’ll take him back once Leslie is dead. Only this time when he attacks her, Basehart shoots him (saving Leslie the trauma and the scandal). He tells Leslie that destiny doesn’t care about the details, just the outcome.

There’s no real explanation of what destiny is, but then there doesn’t have to be. Whether or not we believe in it, we all know the word and the concept; it’s simpler and maybe more dramatic than discussing how the laws of temporal cause-and-effect apply. And it works here, though Hayward is such a complete dick it’s hard not to think Leslie should have blown him off sooner and solved everything.

Another example is ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, which I’ll be reviewing this weekend. When two chimps who escaped the cataclysm in the previous film land on Earth, it eventually leaks out that humanity’s time as ruler is doomed. The president’s chief adviser argues we should kill or sterilize them to avert them passing their intelligent genes to present-day apes, but admits he’s not sure “which future has God chosen for man’s destiny?” By contrast Ricardo Montalban, who helps the apes, asserts that if God wants humanity replaced, he will not defy God’s will. Three guesses which one is the good guy.

It’s a useful concept for a film, not necessarily for a hard SF story. But of course, few time-travel films are that.

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Filed under Movies, Time Travel Book

Let’s talk politics!

First off, here we have a handful of right-wingers who are attempting to milk Gamergate for whatever notoriety they can get out of it.

Echidne and Jill Filipovic look at claims that more American men are raped than women, based on the number of prison rapes. As the two posts point out, this takes a lot of statistical fudging, such as ignoring that “prisoners are raped” is not the same as “men are raped” (it happens to women too).

And I think it’s telling that the issue is not framed as prison rape but as men raped—i.e., men have it worse than women so stop all that blathering about rape. This is not a novel approach: men’s rights activist Warren Farrell devoted a chapter of one of his books to all the things that happen to men that are just as bad as getting raped (getting fired is like getting raped! Getting c-word teased is as traumatic as rape! [I have been fired and I have been teased—which I quite enjoyed—and I think Farrell's full of it]). The point is not to fix the problem of prison rape but just to shut feminists up.

•A National Review writer is unsurprisingly shocked that the issue is “are people who refuse blacks or Latinos service racist?” (not a direct quote) rather than “how can the government tell me who I can or cannot serve?” Except as LGM points out, the norm under English common law and later American was that anyone who offers food or a bed for the night couldn’t refuse a legitimate customer. So the idea of turning people away was an aberration.

•George Will asks why the Democrats think anyone might take away women’s right to use birth control when it’s been legal for decades. As Digby points out at the link, so has abortion—and he has plenty of Repub quotes to show they don’t like birth control much either.

•Government prosecutors not only seized the assets of one Las Vegas gambler, they did it under a secret court seal so there was no public record, and even the victim didn’t know anything about the case.

•The Convention Against Torture bans countries from using torture, even outside their borders. Obama may come out against that part as W did before him. And as detailed here, our government is already violating other provisions: not providing redress for torture victims, keeping information and names of torturers classified, refusing to cooperate with foreign investigations.

•Current federal law bans “disparate impact” in housing: if there’s a pattern where blacks or Latinos don’t get loans to buy homes in Town X, that’s illegal even if the people redlining don’t specifically admit to discrimination. A Supreme Court case may gut that rule.

•Remember how the Gremlins in the movie Gremlins turned evil? One South Carolina Republican says that’s what will happen with gay marriage.

•White people riot in New Hampshire, some throwing cans at cops. Some people notice the difference in the police response to Michael Brown.

•LGM looks at right-wing enthusiasm for suffering and how it builds character. Why don’t we have more Americans like the the cannibals of the Donner Party (yes, William Bennett did express great admiration for them, also for the suicidal military mess called the charge of the Light Brigade)? This post discusses other conservatives who think a happy, thriving economy and easy living are bad, bad, bad.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

If nominated I will run, if elected I will serve (#SFWApro)

So Shannon Thompson nominated me for the One Lovely Blog award which requires a)I thank the nominator; b)I volunteer seven things about me you don’t know; c)I nominate other blogs. So, things to know:
•In my teens I could identify any Gilligan’s Island episode from the first 30 seconds. Possibly I still can, but it’s been a while since I tried.
•My first stuffed toy was Stripesy, a striped cat.
•I hate corn, peanuts and eggplant. Inconvenient for a vegetarian, but there you are.
•Animal Man and Flash were the heroes whose powers I most wanted as a child.
•When I was little, I wanted to believe all the extinct dinosaurs were now living in heaven. I still think that would be pretty cool.
•I’m a graduate of Oberlin College.
Casablanca is my favorite movie.
Nominees:
•Rebekkah Niles of Walk of Words.
•Elizabeth Berger of Relative Chronology.
•Michal Wojcik of One Last Sketch.
•Allegra of Yogishaman
•And Heather J. Frederick of Fine Feathers.
Now I have to post on their blogs and notify them. I’ll get to that … soon … honest …

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Pummeled by—puppies? (#SFWApro)

I may have mentioned that we’ve been hitting the Durham shelter to find a dog to adopt. We’ve gone several times, without finding quite the right puppy. Today we struck paydirt. Twice, actually: we couldn’t decide which dog we liked best, so we’re taking too.
Dudley is a lhasa apso/Unknown crossbreed, about four years old. Fairly quiet, affectionate, very soft to stroke (that I must admit was a big selling point.
Trixie is a 1-1.5 year old cairn terrier/chihuahua, very bouncy in the ping-ping-ping mode, kind of scraggly looking but on her it works.
I was a little nervous that taking two dogs home (technically we don’t take them home for several days yet) might be more than I really wanted to take on (as the one who works from home, I will be primary parent), but even though it’s been a couple of hours and the dogs aren’t here to influence me with their cuteness, I don’t feel a smidgen of regret. So I think we made the right call.
Of course, I figure that with the challenges of walking them outside (we don’t trust our fence), feeding, petting etc., I may not get much time for fiction for a while (the paying gigs and the time-travel book come first, as usual). But that’s okay, this is a good reason not to get stuff done. Like I said, no regrets.

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And a few more book/TPB reviews (#SFWApro)

Because invariably I’ll have another post’s worth by next week.
THE ALL-NEW INVADERS: Gods and Soldiers by James Robinson and Steve Pugh is an enjoyable-enough book in which the Invaders—the WW II retcon team of Sub-Mariner, Human Torch, Bucky/Winter Soldier and Captain America—reunite in the present to battle a Kree plot to obtain an ultimate weapon. James Robinson’s work is very hit-or-miss with me (loved Starman, hated his Justice League) but this is enjoyable, though not a standout.

WONDER WOMAN: Down to Earth launched Greg Rucka’s run on the book (several different illustrators contribute) as a new staffer joins the Amazonian embassy, various plots get launched in both Earth and Olympus, and Wonder Woman writes a book. Impressive that it stays interesting without any major super-action for most of the story. However I do wonder why Diana no longer uses her lasso as a weapon (it’s indestructible, super-elastic and was always her go-to weapon up until the Perez reboot, so why use it just to make people tell the truth?).

18361516-1THE UNWRITTEN: The Unwritten Fables by Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham is an oddball crossover between the two Vertigo series. Escaping the underworld, Tom finds himself in the Fables’ world except in this version the war against Mr. Dark has gone very much against them. The combination doesn’t quite work for me (Tom is almost sidelined) but it obviously has seeds for the future: Pullman gets a new lease on life and a new plan to take out Leviathan and Tom learns that the barrier between reality and story isn’t as clear-cut as he thought (“Perhaps the stairway of worlds goes up and down to infinity, with no top and no bottom.”).

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS was a groundbreaking miniseries by Frank Miller set in a future Gotham where increasing urban collapse finally drives the retired Batman back into action, much to the displeasure of everyone except the people he saves. This vision of Gotham in urban decay was shocking at the time,and still better executed than the endless Gotham in Flames storylines we’ve seen since. The handling of the aging Batman, new Robin Carrie Kelly and the retiring Commissioner Gordon are also striking. On the downside, Miller’s portrayal of everyone else feels like recycled right-wing cliches from the late sixties (Dirty Harry, for instance): reporters are cheap sensationalists who don’t give a damn, politicians are weaselly cowards (which in this world-view means they’re soft on crime, not calling for tougher sentences) and police can’t do anything because the law ties them in red tape (although in fairness to Miller, he’s quite happy to have Green Arrow sinking nuclear submarines and other actions you don’t usually see in a comic). A classic, but I can see why I waited so long to reread it.

As we’re looking at adopting a puppy, I picked up HOW TO SPEAK DOG: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication by Stanley Coren. The author argues that dogs understand us quite well, including both reading body language and recognizing words and that their own language of barks, tail-wags, raised ears and mouth movements give them a fairly sophisticated level of language. From the practical viewpoint, it also includes a breakdown of What Your Dog Is Saying and suggestions for training (dogs staring at you are trying to establish dominance, so feeding them only reinforces that; using the dog’s name before you give the command ensures she’s paying attention). A useful primer.

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And a Little Bit More Time Travel (#SFWApro)

Although I’ve been disappointed in Woody Allen’s early 1990s films, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011) shows he hasn’t lost his touch. it doesn’t hurt that Owen Wilson is one of Allen’s best surrogates (he’s clearly in the role Allen would have taken 20 years earlier). During a visit to Paris with his overbearing fiancee Rachel McAdams, Wilson finds himself stumbling into the 1920s, where he gets literary criticism from Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and falls for sexy actress Marion Cotillard who laughs at the idea the 1920s are a golden age compared to the Belle Epoque of the 1890s. A charming film that’s as much a love song to Paris (we get three minutes of Parisian scenery before the title credits) as Manhattan was to the Big Apple, also very much a classic fantasy of living in the past—getting to hang with great artists is the equivalent of imagining we’d be dining with aristocrats rather than the serfs. Nevertheless, Allen avoids the delusion Everything Was Better Back Then, and he gets extra point for not using Cotillard’s Exact Present Day Double to provide a happy ending. “That’s what the present is—it’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying.

LOOPER (2012) is the story of how hit-man Joseph Gordon-Levitt finds himself in hot water with boss Jeff Bridges for failing to “close the loop” on his future self Bruce Willis, who’s determined to go Terminator and wipe out the crimelord who will murder his wife 30 years down the road. Even buying the premise this is the best way to eliminate inconvenient people, there’s no question it has plot-holes galore; that said, I found it more fun than 12 Monkeys or Donnie Darko. With Emily Blunt in a supporting role “Why don’t you do what old men, do—and die?”

TIME WARP TRIO was a 2005 TV series based on the children’s books about a boy who gets a history book for a birthday present, then discovers it can magically transport him and his best friends to the past; the book being a family heirloom, it turns out the trio’s female descendants in the future are a corresponding trio of adventurers. This has a lot of humor (“We don’t actually make people walk the plank, but after you boys mentioned it we thought we’d try it.”) but didn’t click with me the way say, Mr. Peabody and Sherman do (obviously I’m not the target audience of course). “It wasn’t such a bad place if you like fatty strips of roasted seal meat.”

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Filed under Movies, Time Travel Book, TV